The British Empire Library

Mussoorie & Landour: Footprints of the Past

by Virgil Miedema

Book Review by kind permission of Chowkidar, the journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia
It is exactly two hundred years since the Irishman Frederick Young first explored the hills north of the Dun Valley to find a suitable spot for a hunting lodge. The area, known today as Mussoorie, was then thickly forested and full of game. However, it was not until 1823 that Young, together with Frederick Shore, built a 'shooting box' on the slope of the Camel's Back, the oddly-shaped, and oddly-named area that now houses a large cemetery. This was reckoned the first 'house' in Mussoorie and no longer exists, although two other properties built by Young are still here - Mullingar House and Mullingar Cottage. Young was supposed to have introduced the potato here, so his house was nicknamed Mulliagoes, or the Potato Garden. Many similarly fascinating snippets of information are provided in this engaging book, so that to read through it is almost as delightful as walking through Mussoorie itself. Or rather climbing up and down, for a hill station is not just on a hill, it is full of hills too.

It is easy to see why this particular hill station has attracted so many writers, from Kipling, to Ruskin Bond, and now Virgil Miedema and his daughter Stephanie, who have produced a well illustrated and informative history. (The Foreword is by BACSA member, Stephen McClarence.) Mussoorie was a place where the British, and Indian royalty, could let down their hair. It was briefly considered as a summer retreat for the British rulers of India, but luckily for Mussoorie, Shimla was chosen instead. This meant that Mussoorie saw less of the protocol, snobbery and pomposity associated with the British at their worst. Everyone remarked on how pleasant the climate was too - healthy and invigorating after the stifling plains below, and of course it has spectacular views. It is still magical today to catch a glimpse of the Himalayas when the clouds lift.

With its almost British weather, it was ideal for British children too and schools were soon established, the first, the Mussoorie Seminary, in 1834. This closed long ago, but others have flourished and are still going strong, like Waverly Convent (1845) Woodstock (1854) . Wynberg-Allen, which was open to Anglo-Indian children, St. George's (1853) and Hampton Court (1876). The book's authors make the valid point that it was those schools which were prepared to adapt to changing circumstances, particularly after Independence in 1947, that survived and prospered .

Mussoorie was home to a number of well-known personalities, some of whom chose to live here, and others who were forced to, like the Amir of Afghanistan, Dost Mohammad Khan. He spent two years here during the first Afghan War (1839-1842), holed up in the local 'Bala Hissar', named in mockery of his own fort in Kabul. The Second Afghan War saw another Amir, Yakub Khan, exiled here, although he rather seemed to enjoy it. The unhappy Maharaja Duleep Singh spent two seasons here, in 1852 and 1853, before moving to England. Indian royalty, like Kapurthala, Baroda, Bhopal and others, all had summer retreats here because the colonial government readily granted them permission to establish bases, whereas it was harder to get permission to settle in Shimla. Shops, hotels and clubs grew up to support the summer visitors. There was entertainment too, in the form of The Rink, which was used not only for roller- skating but as a concert hall and theatre too. For sp iritual needs there were a number of churches , the oldest of which is Christ Church, founded in 1836. In fact this is the first Protestant church in the entire Himalayan region, and its recent restoration is a cause for pride. For those who know Mussoorie, this book will be welcomed, and for those who don't, then perhaps it will inspire them to visit the hill station, using this informative guide. Warmly recommended.

British Empire Book
Virgil Miedema
First Published
Rupa Publications India
Review Originally Published
Autumn 2014 in Journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe