When asked if I wanted to join in with a group of classmates on a pony trek to Cloud’s End, I enthusiastically put up my hand not thinking for a moment that I haven’t been on a horse (or a pony for that matter) for over 40 years. I was on a three week 35th Woodstock School class reunion/ excursion back to Mussoorie, India (via Delhi and Rajasthan. It was a reunion like no other. The reunion of a life time – jammed packed with so much excitement, fun, activities, excursions, gourmet meals and catching up!!
What started off being a group of a dozen or so ended up being a mere four. While the four of us sourced our ponies (or were they small skinny horses?), the rest of the group opted to take taxis for the relatively short (but cheap!) distance of eight kilometres starting west of the Library. On our departure, we passed Whispering Windows where another group of classmates waved to us while waiting (for hours) for gin and tonics!
The first five kilometres on the sealed Hathipaon Road via Waverley Convent School was relatively easy going. The last three, however, consisted of a narrow steep shadowy forest track, thick with conical shaped Deodars (Himalayan Cedar)! While our little ponies struggled up the track, slipping and sliding all the way, I was anxiously waiting to find out what was at Cloud’s End (and finally get off the pony).
The forested path eventually led to a bungalow. In front of the building was a clearing from where the view was breathtaking – the most spectacle display of cosmos I have ever seen in my life!!! Cosmos flowers in bloom everywhere you could see. Beyond the cosmos, we had a magnanimous view of the Doon Valley and what should have been a panoramic view of the snow-capped Himalayan Mountains, covered in clouds and cosmos. I had plenty of chances to capture those mountains at Landour but this was a moment of glorious cosmos – a most unexpected surprise!
After basking amongst the cosmos, we ventured around the old bungalow on the 400 acre estate known as the Cloud End Forest Resort. It was originally built by a British major in 1838 and has been maintained to keep its unique architecture, furniture, paintings, books and trophies. We rested outside, drinking tea and fresh lemonade served by waiters that could have been out of Faulty Towers. In fact the whole place had that feel – quaint and quirky!! And totally out of British India. I love these places!
After refreshments, most of the group resumed their places in the waiting taxis while the remaining four climbed up into our saddles and quietly rode back to town. By the time we reached Library, I could barely sit on my pony. By that evening, my bum (butt in USA English) was so sore , I could not fathom the thought of getting out of my bed and walking up Landour Bazaar and the steep road at Mullingar Hill and on to Parker Hall to attend a Sixties dance party. How pathetic is that (for a baby boomer)? Did I mention how amazing the cosmos were? Well worth the sore bum!
Actually, I’m jealous I didn’t take the taxi option now. “The group that spared their “bums” stopped by the surveyor’s residence of Mt. Everest on the way back from Cloud’s End”.
Colonel Sir George Everest (July 4, 1790 – December 1, 1866) was a Welsh surveyor, geographer and Surveyor-General of India from 1830 to 1843. He was largely responsible for completing the section of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India along the meridian arc from the south of India extending north to Nepal, a distance of approximately 2400 kilometres. The survey was started by William Lambton in 1806 and lasted several decades. Everest retired in 1843 and was replaced by Andrew Waugh as Surveyor-General. Waugh continued his work and surveyed the Himalayas reaching its highest peak in 1852. In 1865, Waugh named this peak Mount Everest in honour of his predecessor.
In 1832, Everest built a house and laboratory in Mussoorie where he had panoramic views of the Doon Valley on one side and the Aglar River valley and Himalayan ranges on the other (see photo above, courtesy of Kenneth Miller). According to Wikipedia:
The house is under the jurisdiction of the Archeological Survey of India but it has been long neglected. The underground water cisterns can still be seen, outside the house. These underground water tanks are quite deep and lie uncovered, in the front yard, posing danger to humans and animals, especially during snowfall, when the ground is wet and slippery. The interior has been stripped but fireplaces and the door and window frames still remain. The wooden beams that support the ceiling also seem to be in good condition. The floor is littered with bricks, stones and cow dung. The house is also used as shelter from rain and snow, by the cows, goats and horses, from the nearby village. The walls are covered with graffiti, which mostly are declarations of love. The kitchen shows some signs of recent renovation, in the form of ceramic floor tiles, several of which have already broken or chipped. This could be an excellent tourist spot with a little care but personnel and funds seem to be in short supply.
In spite of derelict conditions, as the state of many of India’s heritage buildings, Sir George Everest’s old house and lab is still an interesting tourist attraction in Mussoorie and a valuable piece of British colonial history in India.