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April 19, 2024

A micro-vacation to the Queen of the Hills 

Payel Majumdar Upreti 
Family vacations are difficult to plan, especially if you have different age groups at your party. Inevitably, the kids will pick a pool place, the parents might want to do some sightseeing, and the food will be a crucial aspect of the trip. The drive can’t be too long otherwise you might feel driven up the wall. If not planned well, it can end up being so stressful that one needs another vacation to recover. If you, like me, don’t do very well with long detailed itineraries and need a quick fix, read on. Mussoorie is one destination that I’ve returned to with different sets of people at different times of the year, and it has never failed to charm me with its beautiful pine forests, majestic Himalayan view and simple but easily available delicious food. Its easy treks work for every age group, it has a mix of street food and fine dining options, and the weather is sure to put you in a good mood on most days, a rarity for most of India.  
Photo Courtesy: JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove and Spa
The Queen of the Hills, Mussoorie has got the moniker for several reasons. One of the closest hill stations to Delhi, the weather is temperate during most times of the year and affords a clear view of the majestic Himalayas. Perfect distance for a family holiday, one can either drive down all the way or take a flight to Dehradun, which is what we did. Our destination was JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove and Spa this time, one of the marquee five-star properties in all of Uttarakhand. Built around a walnut grove, if you want to enjoy the forest while simultaneously nestled in comfort, this is the place for you.  
Hills can be a difficult destination when it comes to small kids or elderly folks, and the landscaping of the property makes sure these small details are taken care of, with the main building being accessible with a lift everywhere, and almost all locations available for a cart ride.  
The two-hour drive from the Jolly Grant airport to the property affords glimpses of the hills passing by, as the road curves into the beautiful resort. It is difficult to catch a glimpse of the place earlier, and therefore, the sheer scale is difficult to grasp.  
The rooms are a delight to behold, large which begins at 410 sq ft, they have French windows which give direct access to the majestic Himalayas up close. The sheer scale of the mountains is overwhelming at first to take in, especially if you’ve flown down from the city. The luxurious marble flooring and pillowtop mattress with king beds, with space for a crib ensure the room is comfortable as a family room.   
JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove and Spa
Photo Courtesy: JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove and Spa
Landour, a beautiful outpost in Mussoorie, full of pine forests and quaint hill bakeries is but a 40-minute drive away. Slightly colder and less crowded than the main city, Landour houses several old colonial bungalows, pine forest pathways and the famous house of Ruskin Bond and other luminaries! Jim Corbett’s parents had settled here in the old British cantonment, as had the writer Emily Eden while accompanying her brother Lord Auckland to India.  
One could also end up walking till Lal Tibba (translates to Red Hill from Tibetan), the highest point in Mussoorie. There is also the lesser-known and densely forested Pari Tibba (Fairy Hill) near Woodstock School, one of the more famous boarding schools in that area. 
Our second day was spent indulging in a picnic post a short pine forest trek that the kind folks of JW Marriott Mussoorie were good enough to arrange for us. A local guide, Rohan helped us trek the trail that began right behind the hotel, and within 30 minutes, we reached a clearing amidst the beautiful pine forest. There we set up our tent, emptied our picnic basket, and met the dearest dog who came to befriend us. Our guide made us some yummy maggi and chai, two items that have got cult status in the hills, and it was perfect. Mussoorie has many gentle trails for those who would like to trek but don’t have much experience. The efforts are relatively less, and the views are glorious! Picnics are a childhood favourite, especially if you’ve grown up on a diet of Enid Blyton books, and the cool English weather is hard to come by in many parts of the country. But it is perfectly possible in Mussoorie to open a stuffed picnic basket full of croissants and scones, or kachoris if you so prefer! We had brought along goodies from Landour’s famous Bakehouse, which makes small eats and pastries with recipes that go back to Anglo-Indian and British families who stayed in that area. Other places of interest include a trout farm, Mussoorie’s famous Mall Road, where Dolma’s Chinese or a very famous omelette shop remains the star attraction.   
But even if you’re not much of an adventurer, the property has other joys to offer. Its culinary delights are manifold. From the modern appeal of its Trout House Grill and Bar to authentic Italian at the open-air Wisteria Deck to the more mysterious and fine dining experience of Teppan, which features a live grill teppanyaki experience upon a 24-hour prior notice.  
The open-air Trout House Grill and Bar is housed in Chesterfield furniture, with wooden flooring, and a panoramic view of the mountains in front. The Harmony Sculpture at the deck, a giant fugelhorn is a note to the British-era tradition of dining over music. The perfectly grilled fresh trout in a lemon butter sauce completed our feeling of being tucked away with fresh produce in the hills. 
Photo Courtesy: JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove and Spa
Wisteria Deck on the other hand is styled like a trattoria, rustic Italian look and feel complete with a full-blown wood-fired oven. Their tiramisu was our favourite, followed by a roast chicken, and a Himalayan wild rice risotto which we kept digging in for more.  
The beautifully designed greenhouse on the property, styled with rows after rows of flowers, supplied with a white swing and fairy lights to make it look stunning is the high point of the property. The gently sloping landscaped grounds in front of it and the majestic Himalayas behind make it attractive from the outside as well as inside the premises.  
On our first day, we enjoyed a special wine and cheese date under a geodesic dome installed on the property, right next to the greenhouse. The unusual setting, under the night sky, with soft music playing made the whole atmosphere special, a true break from the mundane.  
The next day, we indulged in a sumptuous Pahadi thali, with items regional from the place. The thali included items such as gahat ki dal, pahadi mutton, sisod ka saag (stinging nettle) and madwe ki roti (local millet). The rice and aloo ki sabzi was tempered with a local spice called jakhiya. The sweet was bal mithai, a famous fudgy sweet typical to Uttarakhand.  
Photo Courtesy: JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove and Spa
The calm interiors of the greenhouse, twinkling lights and delicious thali served in brass serveware made the experience really special.  
JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove and Spa
Photo Courtesy: JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove and Spa
The indoor pool area is heated, with a separate baby pool for the tiny tots. Similarly, the kid’s area has activities throughout the day, if you want to leave the kids and enjoy some alone time. The L’Occitane spa is well-reputed, even though it was booked out during my stay.  
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