• Susan Kiskis

Sitting at the Feet of the Himalayas: A Visit to Mussoorie

6 days ago, I walked off the plane in New Dehli. Less than one week in the country, I feel like I've been living in India for months. Traveling does that to you. When your central compass is no longer your watch, appointments and to-do list, life is about the moment.

Time stands still in Mussoorie, where after having arrived this morning by car, I could swear I've been here for several days. Mussoorie, situated in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Dehradun District in Uttarakhand, was "founded" by Lt. Frederick Young of East India Company, who came here for hunting and subsequently fell in love with the place.

Like many places around the world, this place was once restricted to Indians. During British occupancy, Indians were denied being in this magical space with signs such as "Indians and Dogs Not Allowed." Today, it is overpopulated with tourists, frankly like myself, yet due to India's laws, owned by Indians.

Unlike the hills at home in Pennsylvania, Mussoorie shoots up into the clouds at almost 6,200-6,500 feet in elevation (depending on exact location). To make your way here, you circle round and round the hill praying that everyone obeys a civil speed, correct side of the road, and like all vehicles in India, honks their horn when making a turn to warn you of their oncoming vehicle. As a point of reference, I became so unnerved driving up "the hill" to the sacred pilgrimage spot, Yamunotri, that this was the furthest up I could go. Sitting here today, my second visit this week, (as the first time involved driving back down to lower elevation), I feel a sense of accomplishment making it this high up and immersed in a place that reminds me of the film Avatar.

One cannot sit on the cliff of Mussoorie without being embraced by it's charm. Monkeys climb up these Himalayan foothills. Cows somehow walk up the steep roads, taking breaks to lunch on fauna growing on the side of the hill while balancing like ballerinas in training. The mist of monsoon season lays a thick blanket on us through most of the day. (Monsoon season hasn't seemingly decided to end yet.)

Restaurants and vendors fill up Mall Road, a Main Street in the town. Quiet pockets fill in the rest. Close by in Happy Valley, a couple of kilometers that could take 30-60 minutes to reach due to winding roads, is a Tibetan settlement. Around 1959, when Tibetans fled their homeland, Mussoorie was established as a settlement. While His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, moved his permanent establishment to Dharamsala, several thousand Tibetans live here today.

Waterfalls spring down from the sides of the hill while larger ones such as Kempty Falls are a must see during one's stay here. Gun Hill, the 2nd highest point in Mussoorie, provides a supposed 360 degree view of the Himalayan range. It was so named Gun Hill for the days when a gun was mounted at this point and fired mid-day for everyone to adjust their watches to have the correct time.

The Library (known as Library by locals), is a section of Mussoorie, that not only has the typical shopping bazaar, but the Mussoorie Library, an old British Library with a collection of rare books.

As sunset draws near, the temperature dips into the 50's, leaving me to sip hot ginger honey tea, looking straight ahead into a cloud covered hill.

Susan Kiskis is the publisher for Freedom Journal and author of memoir, Born Fire Dragon. She has a deeply seeded case of wanderlust.

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