the-south-asian Life & Times          October -December 2009



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Mussoorie – Mountains, Mist, and Monsoons

By Nalini Chibber

The Nabha Residence in Barlow Ganj

One of the nearest summer retreats to Delhi, in fact a seven-hour drive away, is Mussoorie. I had last visited it about 25 years ago in the company of my brother and a nephew. Our two days there were spent hiking and trekking – and of course, a quick mandatory trip to the tacky mall. It was over - all too soon. In the two decades and a half since the trip, I have travelled to many hill stations within India in the north, south, and east. Some known and popular destinations – some not so.

A quarter century after my first visit to Mussoorie, I was curious to reacquaint myself with the ‘Queen of Hills’ – so romanticised in the writings of Ruskin Bond, Steve Alter and Bill Aitken – and many, many others. They are the celebrity residents here. I allowed myself the luxury of three days from work. The first priority in my scheme of things, while travelling, is a clean, comfortable place to stay. I accept my weaknesses. It can make or break my experience of a holiday – perhaps I need lessons in meditation. A quick Google search and many properties popped up on the screen – thereafter instinct, intuition, cyber-judgment, and luck take over. Based on the first three (luck can be elusive) I decided to book a room at The Claridge’s Nabha Residence for two nights. September is off-season in northern hill towns – but not so at the Nabha Residence. We had to juggle around the dates to find a two-night slot. The rest followed.

Claridge’s Nabha Residence – the first halt

The Nabha Residence is a few kilometres short of Mussoorie in a wooded area called Barlow Ganj. The former residence of the Maharaja of Nabha, it has now been leased to Claridge’s – and the present owners have kept a suite or two for themselves. The 22-room hotel is up on a hill, comfortably away from the winding road below. Built along three sides of a gravel courtyard, it instantly calms the adrenalin-charged nerves after an exciting taxi ride.

Nabha Residence is a heritage property – its first owners were Alexander sisters who sold it to the Nawab of Bhopal, who in turn sold it to the present owners – the Nabha family - in the 1940s. The original features in the main residence have been retained, while a few rooms around the courtyard were subsequently added by the Bhopal family for their executive staff.

Interestingly, just a short walk from Nabha Residence towards the Barlow Ganj village, is Sikandar Hall – the residence still owned by the Skinner family.(of Skinner’s Horse fame) – descendants of a Scot father and a Rajput mother. The house still stands there, visited occasionally by some member of the family or the other, but generally looked after and maintained by a grumpy caretaker.

To Sisters’ Bazaar

Saturday morning was overcast – but thankfully not raining. Though I had to forego my plan to visit George Everest’s House – a picturesque spot near Mussoorie that offers views of the Doon valley on one side and the Yamuna valley with snow-covered Himalaya on the other. Sisters’ Bazaar was planned for the afternoon but given the fast changing weather conditions, I decided to go there in the morning – since Everest House was out.

Read the complete article in the print issue of SALT




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