Exploring Ruskin Bond’s Fictional Worlds In Mussoorie And Landour

A fan explores the hill stations of Mussoorie and Landour to discover that Ruskin Bondʼs fi ctional world is alive in the many nooks of this Himalayan region, if only one were to look!


Let’s rewind to two decades ago. My after-school timetable comprised a study-and-sleep schedule that remained unshakeable, except for one factor capable of crumbling it all— an irrevocable obsession with Ruskin Bond’s stories. Those were the days when I’d wait for summer vacations to devour books of all kinds. If you were to tell that bespectacled kid that one day she would meet the legendary Ruskin Bond—in the very region he calls home—there’s no way she would have believed it. But, occasionally, real-life miracles do take place, too. And it so happened that one day, several years later, I found myself in the lovely Himalayan landscape of Uttarakhand: all set for a quintessential hill station getaway and with a fervent desire to meet the literary legend.

Pristine mountains, terraced fields, and colourful homes dot the lush, hilly landscape of Mussoorie.


Cosy interiors of Chick Chocolate in Mussoorie.

Fresh out of wedding revelries in Dehradun, my family and I headed up to Mussoorie for some R&R. The drive takes a little over an hour to complete and the winding roads are punctuated by verdant beauty, cosy cottages, and paradisiacal hills, which give you no time to be queasy as you slowly snake your way up the mountains. As true-blue tourists, our first stop was inevitably the Mall Road, where we savoured coffee and pastries at the iconic Chick Chocolate—a café thronged by locals, visitors, and boarding-school kids out for ‘tuck’ time. There’s nothing quite like the charm of a buzzing, home-grown eatery in an Indian hill station: it’s one of the best ways to get acquainted with the vibe of a place. And here, the spirit was instantly warm and welcoming. From there, we made a quick, two-minute hop to the iconic Cambridge Book Depot. And it was here, totally unexpectedly, that my childhood dream was about to come true! Outside the bookshop was a large poster announcing the presence of celebrated author Ruskin Bond, who would be there, every Saturday afternoon, to meet with fans and sign books. (I must mention that this was a few years ago. The author is older and more reticent now, so this meet-andgreet doesn’t take place anymore). It was Friday and I remember praying for ‘tomorrow’ to come soon. I bought a copy of Bond’s A Face In The Dark And Other Hauntings and headed to the Tibetan market to pick up some sweaters and trinkets. After all, retail therapy gets a girl’s heart racing, too.

Ruskin Bond meets his excited fans at the Cambridge Book Depot in Mussoorie.


You may fi nd my choice of book unusual (I was tempted to pick up A Mussoorie Mystery before realising I had a copy at home already), but genuine Ruskin Bond fans will know he’s a master of haunted stories marked by eccentric characters. Like the fake-nosed Mr McClintock, who, as per Bond’s short story ‘The Ghosts of the Savoy’, was a previous owner of The Savoy Hotel in Mussoorie and is said to haunt the establishment. You may also be surprised to know that an unresolved case at that hotel even served as fodder for Agatha Christie’s 1920 novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles. I smiled to myself as I passed by the front façade of the very same property, now known as Welcomhotel By ITC Hotels, The Savoy. Seeing these quaint, picturesque spots, marked by such vivid presences, it becomes very apparent why and howt hey inspired so many great writers, thinkers, and personalities.

The sunset casts a warm, romantic glow over The Savoy, Mussoorie.

Moving on from there, we spent the rest of the afternoon riding the town’s cable car, The Ropeway, to Gun Hill, said to be an extinct volcanic spot about 400 feet above Mussoorie’s Mall Road. The views here are spectacular and we indulged in some local snacks before descending to our starting point and calling it a night. After all, the next day was going to be epic!


The writer poses with Ruskin Bond at the Cambridge Book Depot in Mussoorie.

It was noon by the time I joined the queue of eager fans waiting to meet Bond outside the Cambridge Book Depot. I could feel my heart racing as the line became shorter and shorter. And soon, there he was! A rotund, rosy-cheeked man with the widest of smiles and thickest of glasses dominating his radiant face. He was smiling and chatting with the ‘Bond’s buffs’ (as I like to call his fans), while sipping chai and eating paneer pakoras. I don’t exactly recall what I said to him: a jumble of praises, gratitude, and gushes, as he signed my book, shook my hand, and posed for a picture. It remains a special moment I haven’t stopped speaking about since, and likely never will! Till today, this signed copy of his collection of haunted short stories, mostly set in Mussoorie and the surrounding areas, has pride of place on my bookshelf.


While it’s hard to top this memory, many locals urged us to head about 20 minutes further up north to the hill town of Landour (where Ruskin Bond’s actual residence is) for another spectacular experience. During the British Raj, this scenic retreat was established as a cantonment and convalescence spot with a sanitorium for soldiers. Even today, it’s home to a sizeable Anglo-Indian community. Perhaps these townsfolk influenced Bond to create the character of Robert Astley, who returns from the grave to take his faithful servant to the world beyond. Ah, the possibilities of literary inspirations are endless! Given its close proximity to Mussoorie, Landour has always been considered contiguous with the former. Peaceful, pristine, and poetic, it’s truly reminiscent of a fictional idyllic village in a book. And dotted as it is with romantic cottages, meandering pathways ensconced within tall deodars, old-world shoppes, churches, and cheeky (and sometimes thought-provoking) sayings carved on wooden plaques hung up on trees, it’s thoroughly Instagrammable, as well!

A cosy cottage by a picket fence in the forested environs of Landour.

Our first stop in Landour was Char Dukaan—as its name suggests, it houses exactly four shops selling knick-knacks and treats like chocolate chip pancakes, instant noodles, hot parathas, chai, and more. We treated ourselves to a veritable feast here and then decided to explore the rest of the area on foot. A 15-minutes walk brought us to Lal Tibba, a great viewing point to take in the splendour of the majestic Badrinath and Kedarnath peaks; the telescopes available for use there are perfect for enhancing the experience. Such is the inherent power of the Himalayas that it literally takes your breath away.

Visitors enjoy snacks and hot drinks at the famous Char Dukaan market in Landour.


From there, we set our sights on the Sister’s Bazaar, where we purchased locally made jams and cheeses. It was here that I bought The Landour Cookbook, a collection of recipes curated over a period of a hundred years. It’s a piece of Anglo-Indian heritage I’m glad I have access to. Within the same area is the Landour Bakehouse, which we promised to visit before our departure the next day for it was time now for a hearty dinner at the charming Rokeby Manor Hotel. Their English-style restaurant, Emily’s, is known for it wholesome food and rustic ambience. And rightly so, as we discovered while devouring platefuls of stroganoff, lasagne, and apple pie, followed by delicious coffee. Heavenly.

The romantic interiors of Emily’s at the Rokeby Manor Hotel in Landour.

As darkness fell, it was time to return to our snug bed and breakfast. We decided to make a dash through the woods. It was then that I thought I saw something sinister: two eyes twinkling in a bush nearby. I was sure it wasn’t an animal. Not one to believe in ghosts, I felt my imagination was running wild, given that I had just read the short story ‘A Face In The Dark’ by Ruskin Bond. I rubbed my eyes and looked once more. Those mysterious eyes winked again. Not waiting for any logical reasoning, I did what most people in that situation would do—I ran away! And as I did, I wondered: was Bond’s story about the grotesque faceless face in the dark not a fictional fantasy? It’s a question I’m seeking answers to till today.

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