Paradise In The Hills: Homegrown's One-Stop Guide To Landour

Paradise In The Hills: Homegrown's One-Stop Guide To Landour
Ambalika Sen

Landour does seem straight out of a Ruskin Bond book, even if you didn’t know that Ruskin Bond actually lives there. Contentedly small, idyllic, serene, and making a willful walker out of every slob.

For a city lover, I tend to run away to the hills every now and often. Landour being a firm favourite. Between soaking in the silence and the air quality fit for the gods, I am always reassured and stabilised by the Garhwal region that hugs Landour. Quiet and solid. Never clamouring for attention with the blinding glamour of snow peaks or gushing streams.

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Something over an hour’s drive from Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun, Landour is a rare hill station with easy access. Therefore making it a busy one, too. Pro tip: avoid all the times that you think Landour would be perfect in – weekends, summer, December and other peak seasons. Crowds and voices being prominent features in our bustling cities, a quiet and empty Landour is really the only way I like it. Which is why I’ve only always found myself there in the bleak winter, in the afterglow of a tailing monsoon, a span of four days smack in the middle of the week. You get the drift.

Having visited Landour over multiple stages of my annual CTC, I have had the opportunity of staying on all kinds of budget there.

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My first tryst with the iconic Rokeby Manor was breakfast at the restaurant Emily’s, one dreary monsoon day in 2017. Not as a resident guest, but as a visitor. Because when you’re in Landour, the Rokeby Manor is sure to lure you in, despite whatever other plans you may be running late for. While it’s a luxury stay - as are most stays in Landour - at least a meal here and a walk around the property should make your day!

I went back there in the winter of 2020, this time for a nice long weekend stay. And while we had initially booked ourselves for two nights, Rokeby Manor is such an upfront charmer, that we extended our stay by another day. To do nothing and hang around in the premises. Snug beds, robust wi-fi, an in-house library, heated bathrooms, hospitable staff, the cutest gift store and the private lawns which are the best seats to the sunset – what’s not to love? For the unpopular morning people like me, the buffet breakfast is a wholesome, handpicked spread. Served at Emily’s within the premises, sipping on some coffee with other unaccompanied morning people, in that tavern-style restaurant, while looking out at the dense rows of Himalayan trees, is bliss right there. In addition to the main building, the Rokeby Manor extends into a few independent colonial-style cottages outside, which are all a short walk from each other, holding the entire neighbourhood together.

La Villa Bethany is a stay that I’ve somehow always missed out on. When you’re a nomadic traveler like me, who doesn’t pre-book, you end up missing out on exotic, in-demand places like this one. Unless of course the hosts of a place sometimes turn out to be just as delightful as the place itself. Sunita and Amarjeet Kudle, for all of us who are constantly updating ourselves on what’s happening in the mountains, have been quite an inspiration already. Having stumbled upon an abandoned but majestic villa on a holiday in Landour, they just committed to it and with blood, sweat and years of dedication, have turned it into a place that is intoxicating, even if you’re over there just for tea. Luckily, my husband and I once got in an unplanned, casual hang over chai, walks and many pauses to just stop and take in the sheer enigma of La Villa Bethany. At our very first meeting, Sunita and Amarjeet let us in like old friends, shared generously and only dropped us back to our hotel after a heartwarming homemade pav bhaaji dinner.

On another visit in 2021, The Cliffe Cottage around the Mullingar bend had me right at home. When what was supposed to be a two-day trip to Landour, turned into a ten-day retreat. Budget hotels in the hamlet being scant, The Cliffe Cottage was by far the best option I found, for a fuss-free, inexpensive and longish stay in Landour. In my sabbatical year, while living my best life in the hills, this unassuming, no-frills, non-interfering place kept me safe, at peace, warm and so at home. With its clean, basic rooms and a buzzy café, here's to The Cliffe Cottage for bringing friends and neighbours together in jam sessions, in graffiti-making or just whipping up some piping hot noodle soup when it's -3°C outside.

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A special mention for the dogs of Landour. They are goofs. Large, handsome, fluffy goofs. They want to walk with you, close enough to trip you up, but the moment you think it’s the start of a friendship, they fumble and backtrack, only to hop back again when you’re not looking! Especially Max. It was a mutual sense of belonging at first sight. He'd wait near the entrance of The Cliffe Cottage every evening till I've played catch and petted him long enough. He even strolled into my room sometimes and would snuggle up under a chair, to share the heating, I think. I played my uke to him once. He didn't much care for my crooning, but croon I did. On what was going to be my last day there, I was startled awake by some noisy shuffling at my door at 5am, only to find Max there, not wanting to play or be petted, but just to bum in the vicinity, I guess. He chilled, I napped and then he left. Just the kind of low-key friendships with just the kind of friends I’d like!

Unlikely to go sightseeing, I’m mostly just walking endlessly on the cobbled inclines of Landour, soaking the place in. All the turns and bends that offer different angles to the ‘Winterline’ - the second horizon at sunset, most prominent in the region. The lone SBI ATM at Chaar Dukaan is both an essential landmark and a terribly cute one. While I found the food at all the stalls here passable, I’d strongly recommend not leaving Landour without a bag full of goodies from the Prakash franchise - cheeses, jams, chutneys and friends. For more local products and souvenirs, there is The Prakash Store in full glory, flanked by some other tiny shops, right uphill, next to the Landour Bakehouse. For your fill of coffee, baking goods, more jams and cheeses, fabrics, decor, soaps and just the general toytown flare.

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Which brings me to the legendary Landour Bakehouse. The delicatessen extension of the Rokeby Manor, with all of its old world charm intact, this place really has you even when you’re waiting outside in line, peering in, wondering whether to order the madeleines or the scones or the shortbread to go with your cuppa. Tavern style, cosy, just the right amount of bustle and the freshest baked goods with a hot drink of your choice, the Landour Bakehouse is where I’ll surely be, first thing, every morning in Landour.

Lunch choices come with the problem of plenty. The walk in Landour makes everything better, but it can be a task weighing the options. A Tibetan Pork Shyaphala followed by some butter tea at Doma's Inn, or the Naga smoked ribs platter at The Little Llama Cafe a little further downhill, or just some grills at Emily’s? If you’re there for a day or two, lunch at Little Lama is probably more efficient, only because it is a bit of a trek down to the Clocktower. Being closer to the hotels, the others become the usual suspects for dinner.

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If having your socks knocked off by low-key local cuisine sounds appealing however, Landour doesn’t quite spoil you with choices. But it does more than spoil with a slightly faraway eatery in Jaberkhet called Hills-e-ishq. Landour is so heavily 'angrez' that it took me days to finally find local flavours and man, was that steep, solo, forty-minute walk uphill worth every vegetarian bite! Bichhue ka saag (local stinging nettle), kulath (horsegram) ki daal, red rice, finger millet Rotis, kulath ke paranthe, a unique (non-intoxicating) bhaang-ki-chutney and a soup of the day with roasted bhaang seeds for crunch. Cafe Hills-e-ishq in Jabarkhet, with uninterrupted silence and panoramic views, run by a most radiant Ashu and her four-legged goofs Tiger and Bosky, all went straight to my heart. 

Throw in the many cups of coffee and plates of cookies and muffins in between, downed at the hipster cafes in the region - Mudcup Cafe and Lotte's (Landour Coffee). Landour Coffee also roasts its own beans right there and if you happen to walk in just when they’re roasting, just give in and treat your senses! The cafe-owner Lotte’s menu is perfectly inspired by both her hometown in Holland as well as the Himalayas. So if you want to try some freshly baked pepernotens with a cup of Honey Lemon Ginger (a pahaadi signature), then this is the place to sit and devour it in! Since they opened access to the rest of India, I get my coffee home delivered from and the Clocktower Roast is a firm favourite. Dark roast lovers, have a go?

Being a teetotaler, the singular bar I visited was The Writer's Bar in Mussoorie, sipping on my lemonade, scarfing down some beer battered fish by myself and reading Ganesh Saili's brutally honest gup on the hill station that he (and I) adores!

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While Mussoorie remains the nearest, most easily accessible tourist spot for shopping, eating and sight-seeing from Landour, if you are more of a solo-hiking-through-forests-to-enchanting-hilltops sort of a junkie, the George Everest Peak, I’d say, is unmissable. A 30-minute drive from Landour early one morning, I reached Hathipaon from where one can hike up to the peak. Not without some sustenance at the very inviting Seegreen Cafe, before and after, though. Factoring in some stops for breath, stops for views and detours from getting lost, the George Everest peak is a couple of hours’ climb for beginners, from the makeshift base camp at Seegreen Cafe. Do account for constant distractions like wading through conifers, picking pine cones, spotting marijuana plantations and the absolutely stunning rhododendrons.

Pro tip: start this day early, so you can return to base before you lose light. Seriously. 6 AM. You know why? Aside from really lazing through the trail, once at the top of the peak, the Himalayan flags fluttering loudly in the wind, your solitary self in that endless expanse, with the snow peaks at eye level, can easily shut out the rest of the world; having you truly lose both yourself and track of time.

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