The hill of fairies. Witches' Hill. The place where all settlement attempts have been answered by lightning. Where ghostly lights are seen, and no one dares to spend a night. How could I resist? I went there this Saturday.
For help, I took along Bill Aitken's description of the walk which is available online here, and my trusty falling-apart-at-the-seams H44G03. To eat: bananas, sweets and water. A cap, an umbrella. The description of what one should do is there in Aitken's article. This is what I did.
I left home a little after six am, and was in Mussoorie (by bus, standing all the way)by 7:30 by which time it was already hot. I needed to go to Landour, but instead of getting down at the Landour bus stop, elected to go to Mussoorie and walk to Landour from there. This is a much flatter route, and also shorter if one wants to go to the parts above Tehri road.
Anyway, I walked to Landour Bazaar, past the clock tower, and took the road to Dhanaulti till I came to the little concrete road that goes downhill to Dhobi Ghat. This is an easy, beautiful path with oak trees, ferns, birds and ladybirds. At one point, just past the electricity sub-station, the path meets the main road again. Here I turned left, walked a few paces, and again turned right into another concrete path. This turning is the one in the photo. This moves steeply downhill past a sports field till it reaches Dhobi Ghat. I loved that I was greeted by several lines of washing when I approached the village. This is to be expected of course, but I was quite prepared for the name to be a vestigial remnant of a washers' village.
I continued along the same path, which turns right and then left to Pari Tibba. This path then flanks the hill and continues down to Chamasari. Some day, I plan to follow this path, go to Jharipani and then Rajpur.This time, I turned off the path and took the one that leads up to the hill top. This is not a broad road, but a little forest path with a comfortable (though slippery) covering of leaf litter.
This part of the walk was my favourite. The path is definitely there, but obscured enough by leaves to be non-obtrusive. The forest is made entirely of oak and rhododendron trees, some of which still had a few dried flowers. There are also some deodar and pine trees- just to keep things interesting. I remember reading Peter Matthiessen's 'Snow Leopard' and drooling hopelessly over his description of Himalayan forests. And here I was! I still cannot believe it, and stood looking at the forest with a more than usually vacuous grin.
I didn’t see too many birds, though I heard rustlings. I did see the maroon oriole earlier, on the way to Dhobi Ghat. But as Salim Ali said, forests are disappointing places for the bird-watcher. But I am not disappointed. This is why. To go downhill, one needs to leave the path and walk along the ridge. I was doing that a little unsteadily and concentrating on suppressing the soundtrack playing in my head (George, george, george of the jungle; Watch out for that TREE! I watched the movie Friday night. These things happen). Suddenly something went Bump! Crash! Just a few feet from me. That had to be a deer. So close. I stopped dead and peered into the trees to try and see it, but no luck. And it is good to know that the deer was smart enough to stay out of sight- there are poachers here.
After this, things became a little difficult. There are many tracks running along the face of the hill, and I was tempted into following them rather than sticking to the ridge. Not surprisingly, I got lost. After spending an hour or so wandering aimlessly around the forest, I made my way to a house I had seen on another ridge. The people here were kindness itself. They offered me water and tea (both of which I gently refused- there is a water shortage in the area, and the nearest source was a long walk away), and pointed me to a path which would take me across two ridges and to a pine tree.
It was funny when he was explaining it, because he pointed at a forest of mixed pine and oak and told me, "go to that pine tree. whatever you do, go there and you'll be ok. There is a water tank and a road that will take you to chamasari"
I of course was looking at Pari Tibba, and said, "oh, ok. The big one in the deodar grove,no?"
"No. The round one on the top of the third ridge"
"splat!" That was my heart plummeting to my toes.
Anyway, the path was good because it followed the contours of the hills and was nearly level. It was also extremely beautiful, with a thick bed of oak litter and bronze ferns just uncurling themselves. All went well till I reached the pine tree. I went up to it, touched it, and circled it. I also cast around in concentric circles like they taught us in the Scouts and Guides. No water tank, no path.
After briefly panicking, I thought of going down to the main drain line that should be at the bottom of the slope and following it downhill. If the Song watershed, I would come to Chamasari, and if the Ripasana watershed, I would come to Rajpur. Either was acceptable. I did that, and it turned out to be a smart move, because I came to a forest path with reasonably fresh cowdung and happily followed it till I came to a village. Make no mistake, people. I was a wee bit scared- running low on water, storm clouds gathering overhead, and I was tired. I was happy to see that village.
It seemed empty at first, but soon half-a-dozen little children wandered up. I shared out my sweets and waited till the mother came. She, bless her, gave me water, told me the name of the village (khetwala! At the bottom of Pari Tibba! I wasn't lost after all, I'd merely taken the long way around!), and send the eldest child to put me firmly on the path to Company Bagh. After I said bye to the child and made it a gift of my bananas, I toiled up the long and impressively boring path to Company Bagh, then downhill to Barlowganj, and even more downhill to Bhatta. And home by bus.
So to sum up: The route I followed was Mussoorie-Landour-Dhobi Ghat- Pari Tibba peak- Khetwala-Company Bagh- Barlowganj-Bhatta. This is pretty much a cheat's walk, as barring isolated stretches, one walks downhill all the way. It is also exceedingly beautiful and gives the walker a taste of walking in the forest. If one is sensible enough to stick to the ridge, then it is very easy as well.
Would I do it again? I am definitely planning to. This time, I will take more water (1.5 ltrs is NOT enough) and stick to the ridge. I need to go there in winter to see the peaks, and in April to see the flowers, and a few other times just because.