A Walk on the Camel’s Back

I usually dread visiting the hill stations of North India during summers simply because the chaos generally replicates that of Dadar Station of Mumbai during peak hours. Simla, Kullu and Manali gives us no respite from the teeming populace. Couple of years ago, the family decided to say “Nyet” to visits to any hillstation during summers. But by some twist of fate and bad planning, we had couple of days to ourselves to kill, before we embarked to our first ever Himalayan Trek. We zeroed on Mussourie since geographically it was the closest to our pick up point to the trek!

The drive from Dehradhun to Mussourie was uneventful and quick. Since four wheelers are not allowed to ply on the main streets, the good old cycle rickshaw took us to our dwelling.

The better half casually chimed that we should go for a walk on the Camel’s Back the next day. I cannot fathom why anyone should go for a walk on a holiday and why in Mussourie of all places where a steep incline meets every slight decline and vice versa doesn’t exist. Moreover, walk is what we were going to do in plenty during our upcoming trek.

After a lot of groans and threats of violation of human rights failed to pass the muster, I found myself standing, all decked up, at the reception of the resort. Mother and son were quite happy to hit the trail, and soon we touched the Camel’s Back road. The Camel’s Back is a 3.5 km long road which winds around the outskirts and will finally bend into the far end of Mussourie town quaintly named Library. The walk was pleasant and relaxing, I must admit. There are several spots of interest as you walk by. You will come across a Tibetan designed group of buildings neatly built on a slope. The colour of the roof and the window panes seemed to melt with the topography of the land. The sight of a building perched on a hill top with a mountain overlording it in the back ground was peach!

We rounded a bend, and my son, Krishna, pointed to a large white signboard which read Mussourie Boys School. I wondered aloud how nice it would be if we can get him admitted to this school right away. The suggestion was met with stony silence, and I continued to guffaw and tease him. And then I did a double take and re-read the board. It also said it has an affiliation to Welham Boys School, Dehradun.

It immediately brought back stories of my aunt- Gangu who was the Matron at the Welham School approximately 60 years ago! She was the one who introduced me to the crazy world of Tintin, Snowy and Captain Haddock. I suddenly missed the bunch of 5 Tintin books she presented to me when I was all of eight years. My son was amazed at how quickly his father can turn from a sadistic monster who wanted him to join a school in Mussourie to this excited man who has got a story to tell after reading a school signboard.

After couple of kilometres, we spotted a Chapel-like structure on the right side of the road. Krishna quickly went ahead and stopped in front of a signboard. He came back running to me with a wide grin and said “You will love it. It talks about dead people”. I went white, hoping nobody heard him. He went on to clarify that, it is a cemetery and not a chapel, as we thought.

It was established in 1829 and houses a couple of anecdotes of our history which will knock the socks off your feet! Mr. John Lang who was a barrister for Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi and represented her against the British, is buried here. Interesting fact- John Lang was an Aussie and Aussies never liked the Pommies. No wonder, then. The first Ashes cricket series was yet to be played in 1882! Then there is Major Hughes Fraser who was in the same contingent which fought against Rani Laxmibai near Gwalior in 1858 which is The Eighth (King’s Royal Irish ) Hussars. Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust, Aussie and Pommie laid to rest!

Have you ever heard of a battle where out of 600 soldiers of a contingent, 500 died while assaulting a Russian position, that too on a wrong interpretation of a command? It happened in 1854, Crimean War. Of the balance 100 who managed to survive, one Mr. John Hindmarsh lived to tell his tale and finally found his final resting place in this cemetery. Alfred Tennyson immortalized this battle in his poem titled “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” So much of history in a small cemetery!

It is strange how a random piece of information triggers memories of a long narrated story and the entire perspective changes. For John Lang, Hughes Fraser and Hindmarsh too, it was a long way from home. Strange are the actions of some, I must say.

The bottom line is that to walk is to pay homage to the basic call of human migration. If our ancestors had not walked across continents, we would not have been here, would we? Hence, walk you must.

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