17 July 2011
Currently, I am sitting in the dark, with only the light of my computer to see by. I am used to the very, very frequent power outages by now, but am still frustrated when they occur. Anyway, today, four of us went on a hike (or trek, as it’s called here) up in the hills above Mussoorie. As we had all heard stories about people getting lost and horribly dehydrated on these hikes around Mussoorie, we made the decision to hire a guide. And I, at least, am so glad we did.
But it was not our original intention to hire a guide. Originally, Aileen (another ETA) and I, headed over to “Trek Himalaya,” a mountain adventure type of company, to ask about trails, and possibly purchase a map. Well, the owner was not about to give us any useful information (if we hiked by ourselves, he would miss out on the money we might have paid for a guide), and the map we found was incomprehensible. Eventually, we agreed to take a guide. The owner convinced us that the two main sights, George Everest’s House and the Jwalaji Temple on Benog Hill were “not a problem” and “very possible” to see in one day. I was a little skeptical, as all guide books had described both as day hikes. Additionally, when the owner communicated with our guide on the phone, I understood enough of the Hindi to know that there was a little disagreement as to how much was possible in one day. Still, we agreed.
So, on the appointed day, Aileen and I, along with two other people, headed over to Trek Himalaya, where we met our guide, Kuldeep, a Mussoorie native and a true nature lover. The monsoons began as we started walking, and seemed to follow us on our way. Someone else who chose to follow us was a very friendly, black shaggy dog, who we named Shadow. Our soaked clothes (and probably, Shadow’s soaked coat) were uncomfortable at first, but eventually, we all got used to it. And really, despite the monsoon rains, we really did luck out with the weather. The rain continued as we hiked up hill, but stopped almost as soon as we reached our destination: George Everest’s House. George Everest, Kuldeep explained, was a surveyor in India during the Raj. (And yes, Mount Everest was named after him.) His house and office are now somewhere between “in disrepair” and “in ruin.” Additionally, the floors are now littered with cow dung: symbolically an interesting end for an old Raj era general’s house to come to.
|George Everest House|
Besides the house itself, the peak upon which the George Everest house sits provides beautiful views. On one side was the town of Dehradun, on the other, was Happy Valley. Interesting fact: Mussoorie was the Dalai Lama’s first Indian home before Dharamsala, and Happy Valley is a fairly large Tibetan settlement. In the far distance we could just barely make out the peaks of the Himalayas covered with fog (or maybe those weren’t the Himalayas quite yet, but I’d like to think so). We enjoyed our lunch up on Everest’s survey point, salted our leaches (yes, leaches) then continued on along the ridge, where we observed more beautiful views. All the while, Kuldeep answered all of our questions about the plants, animals, and history of the area. Again, I am so glad we had him! There were many, many trails, and all looked alike. While hiking along these remote paths, we passed by a number of tiny dwellings, mostly pieced together with sticks, rocks, and tarpaulin. Kuldeep (who knew nearly all of the people we met along the way) explained that the majority of them were subsistence farmers. When asked if the children went to school, he replied “sometimes.” It really is a very different way of life up there. Surrounded by beauty, but poverty as well.
Eventually, we reached a paved road, which led to a place called “Cloud End Forest Resort.” There, we rested and took shelter from the fresh torrent of monsoon rain (again, we really did luck out with the weather!). Cloud End was really a very weird place; truly a relic of Victorian British India. Inside the Hotel was a small gallery with photos of Mussoorie during the 1800s, Victorian crockery, watches, flasks, and other sundries, and a huge tiger skin hanging from the wall. Once the rain stopped, we left the 1800s for the 21st century once again, and hiked back down to Mussoorie. Shadow, our faithful guard dog, followed us the entire way down, and stayed with us until we entered the taxi to take us back to our guesthouse.
As it turns out, the Trek Himalaya owner was indeed a little too ambitious; we never did make it to Benog Hill or the Jwalaji Temple, though we did see them from a distance, and were able to make out the clang of the temple’s bell. Oh well. All the more reason to return to Mussoorie and hike once again, perhaps after the monsoon is finished!