The lure of Landour

Anyone uttering “road to the bazaar” sounds music to my ears. Local bazaars in the places that I have visited have always fascinated me. But the one that beckons me all the time is the Landour Bazaar in Mussoorie, although it now has its share of unmanageable traffic and severe shortage of space.

The mountain road that zigzags through it, rising steep at every other bend, offers not only holes in the walls, but also the shops catering to the need of the natives and the tourists alike.

You have cyber corner juxtaposed to a fruit store, a restaurant specialising in breakfast dishes cheek by jowl with a medicine store, a bookshop jostling with an eatery that attracts customers with hot jalebies and sweet tea and Gulab Jamun.

The sun filters through the trees on the ridges and creates pools of light on the road. There is a languid old world charm about it all. Through the chink between shops, you could see the misty mountain ranges lying beyond, its mood and colour changing by the hour. You lose track of time here strolling or window-shopping, whichever takes your fancy.

You find all this in the classic stories of Ruskin Bond; and his oft-visited Ivy Cottageis a few hair-pin bends up from the bazaar.

Wandering along the bazaar one morning, I ran into biographer and travel writer of repute Bill Aitken buying fresh vegetables.

Just then a monkey swooped down on a bunch of ripening bananas, and in a fit of blitzkrieg, made good its escape.

While I was petrified, Bill seemed quite familiar with such escapades. A few shops further along, there’s a breakfast corner selling masala dosas. We moved in. Rubbing shoulders with Bill my muse got cracking!

I asked him about his recent visit to the World Book Fair at Pragati Maidan. “There I found the god of commerce everywhere and the Muse of literature nowhere,” sighed Bill.

Bill, who’s friendly with animals, is serenity personified.

Only once I saw him losing his cool in a lit-fest. According to him, the publisher of a certain book of his had it translated in a foreign language, but Bill the author never got any credit for it. What upset him most was that even the original author’s name was missing on the cover page! Renowned names in the publishing world like David Davidar, V K Karthika, Ravi Singh, to name a few, are very close to him. The reason is that he’s an extraordinary wordsmith who possesses the heart of a genuine poet.

I then pointed out how Landour, over the years, has lost some of its sheen. Bill’s response was upbeat: “Despite an increasing number of visitors, Landour retains its original unspoilt lines and its mystique continues to hook travellers.”