We arrived in Mussoorie on Sunday morning, exhausted, sheets of rain coming down, after an all-night bus ride from Dharamsala. Mussoorie was a place where, as we settled into our fancy hotel, black-faced monkeys with dewy white coats appeared out of the mist on our room’s balcony, wild eyes and babies clinging to their bellies. It was a dripping wet, green-mossy place that sprawled unattractively across a steep hillside, 7,000 feet above sea level. Mussoorie seethed and honked with Indian tourists, too many people, even in the low season, too many aging hotels way past their glory days, too many identical trinket shops sellign so much crap from China (a far cry from Dharamsala whose Tibetan crafts shops all declared the “made in China” label as anathema). The rains barely dampened the vague and tired carnival feeling of “the mall,” an endless main street of activity, a strange Indian cross between Coney Island and a cheap flea market.
Still, the people came: families and honeymooning couples from Delhi; Kanwaria pilgrims on their way to the Ganges in their orange shirts and flag-adorned motorcycles; and uniformed students, back in session in Mussoorie’s many elite boarding schools. The oldest of these was Woodstock, formed by foreign missionaries 151 years ago. This was where Dr. Stewart decided to send his two daughters, Ellen (S.’s “Jama”) and her older sister Jean. They spent nearly their entire childhoods here, sometimes traveling home to Rawalpindi in the summer, where, we imagine, they accompanied their father on his many botanical forays.
Campus is still a lush place, surrounded by miles of unbroken forests; snow-capped Himalayas to the north, the wide Dehra Dun valley to the south — not that we could see any of these things for the clouds. So we can only imagine how wild it must have been, back in the day when Jama and her sister were here. A snapshot: Tay standing under the WOODSTOCK SCHOOL sign, the same spot under which her Jama must have passed hundreds, if not thousands of times. Wet black pavement, gray clouds and overhanging pine branches, too dark for a good photo, even at midday, but I tried anyway. Then there were the close-up shots of the girls’ files, partly destroyed in a fire, which made the blackened edges and contents even more interesting — report cards, letters from the U.S. after they’d graduated and were applying to college, the familier signature of Dr. R.R. Stewart.
The school was modern, active, and precariously perched on the hillside, far from the bustle of the mall, where, we were told, students were allowed to go to the bazaar each week. There are 450 students now, Indians, Nepalese, Tibetan, Bengalese, and a handful of Americans and Euros. Our stay in Mussoorie was short, our visit to the school even shorter.
Despite our discoveries there, Mussoorie was a place we wanted to leave — especially after five one hundred dollar bills disappeared from our hotel room and there was nothing we could do about it. We felt angry and frustrated, but extremely fortunate that (1) we were not harmed and (2) our travels can still go on.