The twin towns of Mussoorie and Landour are famed for their scenic beauty and the rare winter line phenomenon. However, not many people know that they have a rich literary heritage and highest density of authors anywhere in the world. While Landour is home to many writers, the most well-known being Ruskin Bond, who shifted here in 1963. Other notable authors from Landour include Ganesh Saili, Stephen Alter and his cousin Tom Alter. Authors who have made Mussoorie their home include Bill Aitken, Hugh and Collen Gantzer. John Lang, Australia’s first native born novelist died in 1864 and is buried in Mussoorie. His memoirs present a fascinating account of the town. Rudyard Kipling has portrayed ‘the Great Ramp of Mussoorie’ in his book Kim. His story The man who would be the king was inspired by Mussoorie’s Pahari Wilson. Travel writer Lowell Thomas who visited Mussoorie in 1926 writes about the Savoy separation-bell in India: Land of the Black Pagoda (1930)-“This was rung before dawn, “….so that the pious may say their prayers and the impious get back to their own beds”. Novelist Anita Desai was born here.
Two legendary landmark institutions pay tribute to this literary association of the twin cities.
Writers Bar at Savoy hotel
In 1999 Nadu Jauhar, owner of the landmark Savoy hotel revisited the historic Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The Writers’ bar there with brass plaques on the walls stating that Somerset Maugham had been there, and Joseph Conrad, and Graham Greene inspired him to do something similar at his own Savoy hotel.
Ruskin Bond reminisces about the interesting conversation he had with Nandu before the Writers bar was officially inaugurated in spring of 2001.
“For some time now, Nandu has had this notion, or dream if you like, of naming the old Savoy Bar the ‘Writers’ Bar’
“But to do that,” I said, “you’d have to get a few writers in here, wouldn’t you?”
“Well, you’re one, aren’t you? Don’t you have any writer friends?”
“Hardly any. And the few I know are teetotalers. The Hemingway type is out of fashion.”
“Yes, but they stayed there, and they must have had the occasional drink at the bar, even if it was only a nimbu-pani.”
“Well, in the good old days, the Savoy must have had the occasional writer staying here.”
“There was Pearl Buck. I still have her autograph in one of her books. She won the Nobel Prize, didn’t she?”
“She did, but I doubt if she frequented the bar. I believe she was the daughter of missionaries.”
“All the more reason for taking to drink. In any case, she must have looked in here from time to time. We’ll put her name on a plaque.”
“All right. We’ve got Pearl Buck.”
“What about Rudyard Kipling. He must have stayed here.”
“My dear chap,” I said. “The hotel opened in 1905. By that time Kipling had left India, never to return.”
“You’re not being very helpful,” said Nandu. “What about John Masters?”
Today plaques of Rudyard Kipling, Phillip Mason, Commissioner of Garhwal who wrote under the pseudonym Woodruff, Lowell Thomas, John Lang, John Masters, Charles Allen (“Plain Tales from the Raj), Pearl S Buck (Good Earth) , Peter Hopkirk (In search of Kim), Ruskin Bond, Ganesh Saili and Stephen Alter are proudly displayed at the Savoy’s Writers Bar.
Cambridge Book depot
Laxman Das Arora was born in Dera Qazi Khan in 1924. When he was eleven years old he came to Lahore where he worked as a helper in the Cambridge Book Depot. After gathering some experience, he moved to Ambala, where he worked at English Book depot for 2-3 months. Later took the plunge and set up his own bookstore in Saharanpur in 1940s while still in his teens. He named it Cambridge Book Depot. But after a decade in business, his health began to deteriorate and he went to Mussoorie to recuperate. Impressed with its weather he bought a Tailors and Drapers shop on the Mall road for a princely shop of Rs.100 and established another Cambridge Book Depot here in 1952.
Arora’s sons, Sunil and Surender joined him in the trade in 1976. In summer of 1997 famous author Mulk Raj Anand visited the store and Sunil realized that he did not have a visitor’s book. He decided to immediately have a visitor’s book which could document famous people visiting the book depot. In the very first entry made on 24th Oct, 1997 Ruskin Bond writes-“It’s a privilege to start your visitor’s book. May the Cambridge Book depot enjoy many many years of providing the reading public with good books”. In 2000 he requested Ruskin Bond to join his fans and sign books every Sunday. Later Sunil realized that people on short weekend trips generally leave Mussoorie on Sunday evenings. This tradition was then shifted to Saturday afternoons.
I also met my favorite author Ruskin Bond for the first time here in 2006.
Another tradition was started by Sunil in 2003. It was celebrating Ruskin Bond’s birthday at the book store where his fans could be a part of the celebrations. Since then whenever he is in town, Ruskin Bond’s birthday is celebrated with great fanfare here.
With such a grand literary connection I hope that it inspires you to add Mussoorie to your must visit travel list.
* Vikas is a Brand Marketing professional who loves travelling and meeting new people and experiencing different cultures. Ruskin Bond is his favorite author and he holds Limca Book record for largest collection of books by any author (Ruskin Bond). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org