It is an exceptionally hot summer this year. The rush from the plains towards the mountains is huge. The hill station is overcrowded and people are not finding it easy to even read up. The town is already crowded and queues of cars are trying to find their way into the town. However, the large number of tourists on the Mall Road says a lot about the fondness visitors have always had for this road. It is the lifeline of the town. Tourists as well as locals meet on The Mall and exchange news over a cup of tea or coffee at its innumerable cafeterias. It is once again time for crowds to gather on The Mall and spend the long summer days.
This is the only road in India which has experienced footfalls of people like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, GM Modi, Vinoba Bhave, Madan Mohan Malaviya, GD Birla, V Shantaram, Dilip Kumar, Bina Rai and Dev Anand. The list of VIPs and celebrities who have walked on this road is indeed long.
Driving up the thirty kilometres from the Doon Valley to Mussoorie, the traveler comes upon a point with a fork in the road a few miles before the end of the journey. He can either carry on straight or take a wide loop to the left. If he carries on straight he will end up at the Picture Palace end of Mussoorie. But if the visitor decides that one more swinging loop to the left can really do no harm, he will end up at Library Point, which no old timer will ever call by its other name- Gandhi Chowk. This is the point from where the road branches off towards the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), Kempty Falls, Happy Valley and Clouds’ End.
If one reaches the Picture Palace end, one can walk the two kilometre stretch to Library Point, down the twisting and turning historic two kilometer stretch known as the Mall Road, a name evocative of restaurants and cafes, souvenir shops, cinema halls, honeymooning couples, children on horseback. Almost every hill station built by the British has a Mall- and even some other cities, including Delhi and Amritsar- but the Mall in Mussoorie is special for the simple reason that it is the oldest, hitting 182 years now. In these long years it has seen a lot, from a time when it was open only to British gentry for their evening walks and their summer dalliances to the present day when every Indian tourist willing to make the journey is welcome to its sounds, scents and scenes. It is in fact a mirror of Mussoorie in which one can see all aspects of its present day existence and then, if one looks hard enough in a certain light, even its long dead past. Or not so dead, say some of the old buildings, dating back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
After passing by the Picture Palace, the visitor sets off down the Mall at a leisurely pace, past the shops with their extended fronts crowded with sweaters, knitted caps and walking sticks.
On weekends, even in off-season time, the market on Mall Road is quite bustling with activity. The several small cafeterias and sweet shops begin preparing for breakfast time. Weekend tourists from Dehradun, the odd honeymoon couple and some foreigners can always be seen on the Mall, all the year round.
Walking forward on the historic road, one comes across many shops old and new, selling branded woolens which are in great demand by the foreign tourists, Tibetan artifacts, pastries, shoes and artificial jewellery. The cinema halls including Rialto, Majestic and Vasu have closed down, changing the landscape of the road to a great extent. The old red, Clarke’s building, built in 1920, stands as good as new around the middle point of the Mall Road. Near this is the famous Chic Chocolate bakery which has catered to the locals and tourists for the past many decades. From here, one moves towards what is known as the “Kwality” corner of the Mall. The two-storeyed Kwality restaurant disappeared some years ago.
Yet downwards is the “Jhoolaghar”, the place from where the trolleys (cable cars) leave for the Gun Hill. Finally, one heads towards the Library end of the Mall.
Horses around the Hawa Ghar at the turn towards Camel’s Back Road used to wait for those who would take a pony ride. They are no longer there. Just a little bit away is the Library Point where the old Mussoorie Public Library, built in 1843 stands, housed in an attractive green building. Here ends one’s journey down the stately Mall.
Needless to say that without The Mall, Mussoorie would never have been the famous town it is.
Thursday, 13 June 2019 | Jaskiran Chopra | Dehradun
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