To say I was surprised when I received the invite from Suryagarh to visit them in July 2016 is an understatement. The reason? I had already visited them in 2013 as part of a group of bloggers and was puzzled as to why I was being invited again. My first reaction was that the invite had been sent to me by mistake, and I re-read the mail just to confirm!
The invite brought back memories of a visit of many firsts for me. Suryagarh was my first invite as a travel blogger; it was also my first stay at a luxury hotel — a memorable, if somewhat overwhelming, stay. Like many firsts, the Suryagarh experience also set a benchmark for many things — the attention to detail, the hospitality, the warmth, the music, the celebration of all things local, and the food.
Curiosity soon replaced the surprise over the invite. A curiosity about whether Suryagarh had changed in the three years since I’d been there or if it was still the same. Added to this curiosity was a tempting itinerary sent with the mail that included a visit to the temples of Kiradu near Barmer, about 160 km away. This deadly combination of curiosity and temptation was enough to make me accept the very gracious invite.
And on the 20th of July, after a flight from Mumbai to Jodhpur and a road journey to Jaisalmer, I reached Suryagarh where familiar faces and a traditional welcome by the Manganiyar singers and dancers awaited me. The chandan ka tikka and the fresh, chilled watermelon juice followed. The Suryagarh experience has begun. Again.🙂
Nothing seems to have changed, I thought to myself happily. I was both right and wrong about this thought as I was to find out during the course of my stay at Suryagarh.
The topic of discussion on #TSBCfor Sunday, June 26th, earlier this year was “Literary Cities”. It was an animated discussion and towards the end, one of the participants (I can’t remember who it was now) tweeted that the literary capital of India was Mussoorie or Landour, because that’s where many of the writers were based.
I couldn’t help smiling when I read the tweet for I was leaving for a much awaited short holiday in the hills to Landour and Mussoorie the very next day. My agenda for the holiday was to relax, read and generally chill out. Literary capital of the country or not, seeking out or meeting writers in Mussoorie / Landour was not on my agenda. I know this sounds strange coming from someone who loves books and all things bookish, but talking to writers is not a priority; I prefer reading their books instead.
But Mussoorie / Landour had other plans in store for me as I was soon to find out. It began with my coming across a shelf full of books by Mussoorie-based writers at the Landour Bakehouse (see photograph below) making me realise just how many writers were from the area. It ended me having serendipitous and unexpected tête-à-têtes with two writers and exchanging greetings with another writer.
Landour has to be, without doubt, one of the most beautiful and charming places I have been to.
With a picture postcard setting, fresh and invigorating mountain air, small and intimate size, Landour was just what I needed for a short holiday in the hills in June this year. Add to a this mix, two churches and a graveyard to explore, a scenic walking trail, friendly locals of the human, canine and feline varieties, cafes with some delicious food to get stuffed on, and Rokeby Manor as the place to stay in… Landour was just about perfect for me.
Landour is also very different from Mussoorie, which is just 5 km away, in the best possible way — very few tourists visit it and I often felt that I had Landour to myself. The only thing they have in common is the mist/clouds that cover everything. [PS: If you haven’t read my previous post on Mussoorie, then this is the time to do so before getting on with this one.]
Like most places, Landour is best explored on foot and that’s the way I’m going to take you around. Put on your walking shoes and lets set off on the Landour Loop or the Gol Chakkar, a walking trail that covers most of ‘sights’🙂
I had very unusual local travelling companions during my visit to Landour and Mussoorie earlier this year in June — the mist or rather the clouds that accompanied me wherever I went. The mist/clouds were a constant companion from the time I arrived in the area till I left.
Sometimes the clouds would be wispy and scraggly; but mostly they were the kind that covered everything, obscured visibility and lent an air of mystery to everything and everyone it enveloped. It was magical to see the clouds descend and disperse and descend and disperse… Mostly they were the perfect companion for leisurely walks and strolls, but at other times, a spoil sport of sorts like on my first day there which was all about exploring Mussoorie.
I can pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with Rokeby Manor in Landour.
It was about 7.00 in the morning and I had just arrived at Rokeby after a lovely drive from Dehradun. Since I was early and the hotel was fully occupied, the room meant for me was not ready. I was, therefore, offered the use of another room till my ‘real’ room was ready.
I agreed and once the registration formalities were completed was led up a flight of wooden stairs and shown to Room 11 — a cosy little room, with a single bed, a tiny writing desk, windows with a view of the valley, and a bathroom that was probably as big as the room itself. One look around the room and I knew that I wouldn’t be shifting to another room.🙂
My Room – Room No. 11 at Rokeby Manor
Later on in the day, the hotel did try to persuade me to shift to a better, more comfortable room, but I declined for Room 11 was just perfect for me to read, write, look out of that window with a view, dream, and generally relax. Room 11 wasn’t also the only reason I liked Rokeby. Its history, heritage, decor and the people who manage it contributed just as much to make my stay a memorable one.🙂 Continue reading →
The morning of June 26th dawned grey and bleak and wet in Mumbai. It was a Monday and normally, I would have had a touch of Monday morning blues. But on that day I woke up feeling very happy and I bounded out of bed for I would soon be on a flight heading out of Mumbai for a short holiday in the hills. It was a break that I was looking forward to after weeks of chasing deadlines and more deadlines at work.
The countdown to this holiday in the hills had begun in early May when I accepted an invitation from Rokeby Manor at Landour in Uttarakhand to stay with them and explore the area. I had the travel details all planned out — fly to New Delhi from Mumbai, take the overnight Nanda Devi Express from New Delhi to Dehradun, and then make the short road trip to Landour from there. On my return journey, I would spend a couple of days with my friends in Dehradun, before taking the Shatabdi to New Delhi and then a flight to Mumbai.
Yes, I had it all planned out. I applied for leave from work, booked the necessary air and rail tickets, and informed Rokeby Manor of my itinerary so that they could make the necessary arrangements of picking me up and dropping me to Dehradun. All I had to do now was to wait (rather impatiently like a kid) for the holiday to begin.
And the holiday began with the cab ride to the airport. It normally takes an hour and a half to the airport from my residence, but being particular about arriving early, I left home a full three hours before the check in counter closed at 12.15 pm for the flight at 1.00 pm. I didn’t know when I set out that morning that Murphy’s Law was at work for me, in the sense that “everything that can possibly go wrong, will go wrong”.