By Sreejita Basu
I always awaited Thursdays, for that day of the week brought a special supplement called Telekids along with the daily newspaper. I loved solving the puzzles and enjoyed reading the jokes contributed by kids across the city (of Calcutta, now Kolkata). But what I most looked forward to was the story section by a gentleman called Ruskin Bond who wrote about a boy called Rusty. As I look back, I can confidently say that my childhood would have been a little less complete without Rusty and his world, just like my trip to Mussoorie last month would have been without meeting the man who created that very world.
The idea of a road trip to Mussoorie germinated when I chanced upon some old pictures in the family album. The year was 1994 and a puny child (ah yes! that’s me!) posing at Kempty Falls stood staring at me. Something told me that it was time to revisit. Taking advantage of the fact that I stayed in Delhi, my husband and I packed our bags and were off the next morning.
Before we knew it, the upright rhododendrons and the November nip greeted us at Mussoorie. We found ourselves a quaint place to stay in atop a steep slope – replete with bright sunshine and some monkey mania (the room prominently bore the sign of ‘beware of monkeys in the balcony’). It was a Saturday and being Ruskin Bond fanatics we knew that the author visits the Cambridge Book Depot in Mussoorie every Saturday without fail unless he is traveling. We decided to take our chance. A quick call to the bookstore confirmed that Mr. Bond was indeed at the store! Ditching lunch, the husband and I grabbed our car keys and were off lest we missed the chance of meeting our most beloved storyteller in person. However, a combination of fatigue, careless driving and bad luck had our car finding its way into a small ditch. I am not superstitious by nature but this time I kept my fingers crossed. What if Ruskin Bond had already left the store? Banishing such thoughts aside, I prayed to the powers above to send some help which arrived in the form of a group of local school kids lending their arms and successfully salvaging the i10 and our chances of meeting the man.
We reached Mall Road, where the book store is located, and walked some distance before reaching our destination. The uphill road did its best to mock our fitness levels but we managed to reach at a record time, huffing and puffing, only to be greeted by the octogenarian author asking us to catch our breath before anything else. A man with a wonderful sense of humour, Ruskin Bond is nothing like you would expect a celebrity to be. We had the chance to speak to him about our love for his books and the hills and would have continued for a few more hours when we realised that a huge group of school kids had already surrounded him. There were people who knew that he would be there; there were some like us who hoped he would be there, there were passers-by who just walked in to realise that he was there and there were those who did not have much of a clue as to what the crowd was all about. But what was heart-warming was the way Ruskin Bond interacted with all these different groups, happily signing copies of his books and posing for the shutterbugs in spite of being camera shy. We left the store, happy and content, with our autographed books and the hope of meeting this charming man once again.
What followed was a scrumptious Tibetan meal at Kalsang, a stone’s throw away from the bookstore. We then took a ride on the ropeway which took us to Gunhill Point. This place offers a panoramic view of the city of Mussoorie and a brilliant spot for photography enthusiasts. We indulged in some fun games, some souvenir shopping and some Deja-vu moments as I clearly recalled the memories of my trip twenty years ago at the very same spots. We walked hand in hand down Mall Road; we warmed ourselves with milky masala chai and followed it with freezing Softy cones. We haggled with hawkers and gifted ourselves cute gloves and caps. We stood silently and took in the magical Mussoorie air as much as we could before trudging back to our hotel, occasionally stopping to stare above at the countless stars in the sky, a rarity now in my part of the world.
The next day was spent in visiting Company Garden and being mistaken for a honeymoon couple given our inclination to get ourselves clicked in traditional Mussoorie costumes, totally complying with all the weird poses suggested by the photographer. This was followed by a trek to Lal Tibba which happens to be the highest point in Mussoorie (alas, we could not squeeze in ‘Pari Tibba’ into our itinerary, one of the most talked about places in Ruskin Bond stories, apparently inhabited by fairies) and a drive down the winding roads of the adjoining town of Landour (home to not just Ruskin Bond but also the likes of actors Victor Banerjee and Tom Alter).
The weekend went by in a jiffy and it was time to turn back towards Delhi. We bade goodbye to the ‘Queen of Hills’ with a promise to come back, very, very soon again.
Take a trip to Mussorie and its neighbouring hill stations in 2015. Visit our website to book from 17 Homestays in Uttarakhand.
About the Traveller: Born in the steel city of Jamshedpur, Sreejita grew up in Calcutta and Bombay and now resides in New Delhi. She loves unfamiliar roads and uncommon tastes. When she is not working as a communications professional for a living, she likes to read, eat, travel and pen down her random thoughts in her blog.