Ruskin Bond’s books were my mates while growing up and the writer is famed for basing his stories around these few towns in Uttarakhand. I was obviously excited about the trip on that account too – to find myself facing those shops, houses, to walk in the trails of woods and the warmth of the people he’s written about. But I’d forgotten about the two big words – commercialisation and globalisation. With the ease of access to the towns, better roads and influx of tourists, Dehradun no longer is the regular hill station – there’s nothing hilly about it, all flat land and roads marked by McDonald’s and Bengali sweet shops, malls and Park Avenue stores. We picked up drinks from a Tibetan township thinking it’s a concoction they’d brewed at their place only to find it spread all across shops later on. So much for trying to experience something local. Well, at least, I sort of learnt to use chopsticks from one of the diner owners in the Tibetan township. Sort of.
Mussoorie has a dual face though! It’s got the ups and downs of a hill station, the roads which allow vehicles but has no space to fit two of them side by side, a mall road – typical of hill stations, which seemed commercially successful and now stretches for almost 3 km with people flocking it all times, even as late as 10:30 pm at night. The mall road boasts of eateries, brands, shops selling insignia for surrounding hill stations to be carried back as mementos of the visit and countless shops selling the same clothes! But if you take a diversion from the mall road, you’ll find the cobbled roads intact, men and women silently going about their lives, no tourists in sight and the clamour of the mall road light years away! The peace, though short-lived, I was hoping for. I also found the quaint coffee shops that take you back 50 years ago at Landour, where Bond is supposed to reside currently. On further observation, I realise the town was being redecorated to capture the old world charm by Dharma Productions for a film. Well, at least this commercialisation is pleasant to the eye!
Oh and don’t even get me started on the waterfalls! They’re no longer natural. They’ve been cemented and structured to flow the way man wants them to, with water rides, fun activities, shops, tea stalls, changing rooms set close to the rock bed of the fall. Ain’t saying it’s bad, au contraire, it’s brilliant for the people who live there. It’s just not what Ruskin Bond had written about. And no longer the spot for a getaway for me.
I came away from the hills renewed, of course, but disappointed with what we had done to places remote and almost preserved naturally till a few years ago. The human touch, we should call it.