“ Mussoorie's top tourist attraction is Kempty Falls - a waterfall and pleasure park set in the Himalayan mountains. „
~Escape from Dehradun~
On our arrival in Dehradun we'd arranged with the Doon Castle hotel to get us a car for the next day to take us to Mussoorie, the nearest of the great old hill stations so beloved of the Brits back in the days of the Raj. When the temperatures rose in the summer, anyone who could afford to would head up into the mountains to escape the searing temperatures of the rest of the country. Discovering that Dehradun was a lot hotter and more humid than we'd expected it to be, we too were looking for respite from the heat and some good clean mountain air.
We'd booked a rather small car - an Indica - and it arrived at 11 am and would be ours until 7pm that evening. Our driver was young, smiley and although he didn't say much, he understood us well enough for us to all get along just fine. Despite his car having a worrying rattle which my sister diagnosed instantly as a 'dodgy drive-shaft' we weren't worried. We've been up mountains in India in vehicles with much more life-threatening defects.
Getting out of Dehradun was the first challenge and it took almost 40 minutes just to get across the city, squeezing through the traffic as it crawled noisily through the centre in a blare of horns. Finally hitting open road we were more than happy to be moving again. We started to climb up out of the city passing some of the schools and academies for which the city has long been famous. After about another twenty minutes the air was cooler, much cleaner and tinged with the scent of tree sap. We stopped a couple of times to grab some photos of the mountains but mostly our driver was intent on getting us there in one piece, negotiating hair pin bend after hair pin bend (helpfully sign posted as H.P. Bend). About an hour and a half after leaving our hotel we hit Mussoorie, passing a small roundabout in the centre of the town and then sailing straight on. None of us had a clue why we hadn't stopped and nobody liked to ask. The driver was going with such a sense of purpose that we just went along with him. I wondered if he was taking us to a view point to get the best of the Himalaya mountain views but over the next thirty minutes we drove down hill without any clear idea of why or where we were going until we started to see signs for Kempty Falls and put two and two together - we were off to see the waterfall.
~Cable Cars and Concrete~
We were dropped off at the end of Kempty town with instructions to be back by 3 pm. At this point it was about 1.00 pm and that seemed like it might be quite a long time. The driver pointed us in the right direction and went off to park the car. The road took us past scruffy little shops and cafes, places dripping
in really sparkly fabrics where you could dress up and have your photograph taken with the falls behind you and souvenir stalls selling all sorts of weird junk. We spotted the sign for the cable car - the so called Kempty Ropeway - and headed down through a small bazaar to take a look.
My husband is a hero in general but he's a complete coward about heights and things like cable cars put the fear of God into him but he was willing to be a big brave boy and give it a go. We bought some bottled drinks and took some photos whilst my sister tried to work out which of the two toilets what were labelled only in local script was intended for ladies. Whilst we waited and reassured hubby that the cable car was pretty solid, we met a main from Assam and his family. When he told us he was a mechanical engineer and he'd already been on the cable car we decided it must be pretty safe.
Three cars go up whilst another three go down. They're brightly painted in red, blue and yellow and each can hold up to about 6 people with seating on either side. Tickets will set you back 80 rupees per adult although we weren't sure if that was one way or return. We queued up with the other people who had tickets and piled into the last of the three carriages. To be honest, as cable cars go, it's pretty lame and you can't see much more on the way down than you can from the top or the bottom.
Landing at the bottom we were baffled by what we found. I've commented before that if there's a national organisation in charge of "Health and Safety" in India it must be a very small and very busy one and clearly with not enough people to send anyone out to check up on Kempty Falls. Having just used a cable car on the assumption that it must be safe, we found some shocking examples of accidents waiting to happen at the bottom.
At the base of the falls three swimming pools have been created. The topmost one was being used by a group of men who seemed unperturbed that there was a large lump of concrete in the middle with several big rusty pieces of thick wire sticking out of it. A woman with a small child was about to get into the water when someone pointed out that she was right next to a sluice and would probably be sucked straight through and into the next pool about 12 feet below. Who needs health and safety regulations when you've got reincarnation?
The second pool wasn't tempting many and we spotted a family standing on a spit of gravel having their photographs taken. There was more rusty wire in this pool and a lot of gravel. The bottom most pool was very shallow and nobody seemed interested to try it out.
~The Biggest Lake in Mussoorie~
We followed the path around the edge of the pools towards the so-called 'Mountain View Lake' - a man-made pond about the size of a swimming pool with pedal-boats for hire. The signage proudly claimed that Mountain View Lake is the largest lake in Mussoorie. We concluded it was probably the only lake in Mussoorie. Below this far from spectacular body of water were two swimming pools with sludgy turquoise water, mock wood sun umbrellas and a snack bar. To say we weren't tempted is no exaggeration.Unclear about whether our cable car tickets were one-way or returns, we decided to walk back up to the top. At such altitude and in high sun it was quite a work-out but an enjoyable climb. We stopped frequently to look at the shops or talk to the monkeys before finally getting back to the road and heading back to our car to be aggressed by a mother goat who didn't seem keen that we take photos of her kids.
As an example of how to turn a natural wonder into a bizarre and dangerous tourist attraction, Kempty Falls was second to none.
After our visit to the falls the driver finally turned back and drove us to Mussoorie. We'd all been quite excited earlier in the day when we'd arrived in the town and then baffled that the driver had just kept going without stopping. When we had crawled back up the mountainside we were hungry and eager to see what the town had to offer.I have a weakness for the Indian hill stations, enjoying the historic sense of their importance to the European settlers who were desperate to survive the worst of the sub-continent's extreme heat. We've been to Shimla, the winter capital of the British administration and to Darjeeling, more loved as the bolt-hole of the Calcutta Brits. We've even spent a couple of days in Ooty, one of the southern Indian hill stations but Mussoorie was unknown territory. It has the dubious benefit of being simultaneously both more and less accessible than the other two. More accessible because Dehradun is a little more than 200 km from Delhi with a good train connection and then a drive of about one and half hours up the mountainside and less accessible because unlike the others, it doesn't have a mountain railway.
Our driver parked up in the town's main car park at the far side of the town and gave us a couple hours to look around. Initially I thought it might not be enough but Mussoorie isn't a big town and you can easily cover it in two to three hours. We stopped to look at the hotels and houses clinging to the mountainside, defying gravity and looking a bit mouldy. Most had metal roofs which we'd previously learned were needed because monkeys pull off any other type of roofing material.
We found a small bakery in the town centre and bought some snacks, eating them beside the statue of Gandhi, trying not to trip over the chap who was sleeping next to it. It was cold - notably a lot colder than down in Dehra Dun. We took out the guidebook just to reconfirm what we'd already worked out - that there wasn't much to see - and decided that the absence of hot attractions meant we really could just chill out and wander. Like many of the hill stations, there's a main drag known as The Mall which bears no relationship whatsoever to the contemporary USA-led idea of a shopping mall. The Mall is a place to wander, to promenade and if you're an Indian tourists to strut around in your woollen hat and warmest clothes revelling in the sense of being cold. Cold is too familiar to us Brits though and foggy mist was spoiling the best of our views.
The bakery we found was on the terrace of a so-called department store - a tiny shop that crammed in pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, stationery, toiletries and all manner of other bits and bobs. The shop was one of a run of small places in a block that had a beautiful cast iron balcony upstairs that reminded us of Australian architecture but must have just been what was really fashionable in Victorian times anywhere the British left their mark.
Transport in Mussoorie is less controlled than Darjeeling or Shimla where in each case the main shopping and promenading streets are pedestrian only. There were no auto-rickshaws in the town and all the rickshaws were proper old cycle-pulled ones, with collapsible covers. I hate to think how hard it must be for a rickshaw-wallah to get one of those up even a slight hill. There are also a lot of horses on The Mall and we were surprised to see everyone from small children to full grown adults taking a little pleasure ride on the horses. Equally surprising the horses seemed to be well kept and not smelly.
There were some lovely old cast iron shelters along the road side which must have been perfect for stopping to get some shade and watch the great and the good wandering past. They looked as if they'd not have been out of place on the seafront in Brighton or Bognor Regis. There was a particularly attractive shaded look-out point next to the public toilets.
The guidebook had alerted us to a Tibetan market and after I'd spotted a few ladies in long aprons with oriental features, we worked out where it was and were quite excited to see what was on offer. Sadly the market sold nothing of interest and was mostly filled with counterfeit branded clothing probably imported from China. The road on which the market stood led to a pretty old church that was sadly closed but must have once been a very important building and central to the summer community that inhabited the town.
With time to spare and the fog coming down across the city we stopped off in a coffee bar to get out of the cold and enjoy a decent drink for a change (hotel coffee and tea is awful in India and you don't realise how much you'd kill for a cappuccino after only a few days). I'd also been on a mission to find momos, the fabulous Nepalese steamed dumplings that I'd been addicted to in Darjeeling two years earlier. We were amazed to find only one place, a small restaurant with spectacular chandeliers that looked like it might have once been a very grand meeting place. Whilst my sister and her girlfriend went hunting for beer in the liquor store, we waited patiently for momos to be made.
Strolling back through the town we returned to the car, gobbled up the momos with the driver's help, and then started the trek back down the mountainside. Mussoorie isn't really a place to see things; it's much more a place to just wander around, soak up the atmosphere and - if the fog clears long enough - to take a deep breath of clean air and enjoy the views.
If Mussoorie had been easier to get to, I think we'd have planned to stay a day or two. On the basis of just a couple of hours there, I think we'd have been bored rather quickly. Mussoorie does seem to be a place to visit on a day trip rather than somewhere to stay for a long time but in combination with Kempty Falls it makes for a very good trip. We paid approximately £30 for the four of us for the day.