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Estate affairs.

Summary: Get smitten by the old-world charm of a country cottage, surrounded by deodar and walnut trees and away from the madness of a popular hill station.

We'd reached the tail end of my daughter's school vacation without a holiday in sight when I was unexpectedly invited to review a small boutique resort in Mussoorie. Normally, I would have been a bit wary of visiting the Queen of Hills in peak season but my daughter persuaded me otherwise. Friends who had just returned from Mussoorie informed us that it was abominably hot and that there was no question of 'taking the air' at the Mall either, as it was choked with people and fumes. Having nevertheless decided not to let any of this put us off, we soon put Delhi behind us.

The very first glimpse of the secluded Vermont Estate made us glad of our decision. Though not quite in the league of Mussoorie hotels such as The Jaypee Residency or The Claridges Nabha Residence, it is pretty as a picture. A charming old estate established--in the best of hill station tradition--by an Englishman it changed several hands before being turned into a boutique resort by its present owners.

Surrounded by a wealth of deodar and walnut trees, the latter attracting more than their fair share of langurs for their ripening fruit, it is just the place to soak in some scenic beauty.

The resort was much cooler than we'd expected. Situated along the higher end of Hathipaon Road above the congestion of Mussoorie, its altitude, the green cover around it, and the fact that it lies in the shadow of a mountain keeps it from heating up too much. The Vermont Estate scores when it comes to location.

As we washed the dust and grime of the road off us, I quietly took in the room. Though extremely well furnished and designed, it was a bit cramped. As I wandered over the property later, I discovered that this was true of all the rooms in the new wing--about eight of them. Though very contemporary in their look, they are unarguably small, just about all right for a couple. Throw in an extra bed for a child and you're likely to have trouble finding floor space to walk on. The original structure though is more open and spacious. However, scant attention has been paid to maintaining a particular style of decor.

For instance, while this part of the resort is all old-world and country cottage, the newly designed sun deck right adjacent to it flaunts a keen contemporary look that's completely at odds with it. I couldn't help thinking that the entire place would have gained atmosphere from being treated as a whole.

We spent our first day at the resort at leisure, sampling the excellent Indian fare on offer. I was struck by the chef's judicious use of herbs and spices that lent each preparation a unique edge without overwhelming the flavour of its main ingredients. The breakfast buffet, in particular, deserves special mention. What didn't quite measure up was the selection of continental dishes. A seasoned traveller is unlikely to find it more than adequate.

The next day dawned cool and cloudy but we didn't want to go anywhere near the madding crowds that throng Mussoorie's legendary Mall and the done-to-death Kempty Falls. Instead we set off for Yamuna Bridge, a scenic spot along the banks of this river perfect for camping and rafting. Unfortunately, the road to it snakes past the Kempty Falls so we had to suffer through a half an hour traffic hold-up that rather vividly reminded us of Delhi. But all was forgiven and forgotten the minute we reached the riverbank.

Muddy from the rain in the upper reaches of the Himalayas, the Yamuna flowed fast and furious with a roar that echoed through the valley. With the wind rustling through the trees and lush greenery as far as the eye could see, we spent a blissful hour perched precariously on the rocks that edged the river. Later we walked along a narrow track that snaked through the surrounding woods, exclaiming at the myriad shades of green nature had made possible. Back at the resort, as the evening closed in on us, it began to rain. Loud, thunderous and torrential, the rain poured down in buckets. And sipping our wine moodily, we watched the stunning spectacle.

Our last day in Mussoorie was dedicated to its well-preserved twin, Landour. This Raj-era cantonment town was strictly the domain of the British; not even the princes of India were allowed to build their homes here. It is reached through Landour Bazaar, a narrow serpentine stretch of shops. If you're lucky, you might spot a real beauty in one of the antique shops or an exquisite pair of handcrafted shoes. But the biggest prize is the deeply silent Landour walk that takes you through deodars, oaks, pines, firs and rhododendrons.

Eons away from the chaos of Mussoorie, Landour possesses a timeless appeal. As you walk through the hushed forest and listen to the birds overhead, you'll understand why celebrities such as Ruskin Bond, Tom Alter and Victor Banerjee cling to it with such fervour. But the walk and the lungfuls of oxygen made us hungry too. We asked for the local pizza place not far from Sisters' Bazaar and I swear that it has the best pizzas and garlic bread I've ever tasted. Perhaps sitting there amidst the majestic deodars and in the lap of the magnificent Himalayas, the food somehow took on a special flavour.

It was time to head back home next morning. But weren't we so glad we had come!

Fact file Getting there: Mussoorie is at least 90 minutes by road from Dehradun, which is connected by air and rail to Delhi. When to go: Avoid visiting Mussoorie in the rainy season. Plus says Stay: Vermont Estate; tel: (0135) 263 0202; Eat: Pistachio and almond biscuits as well as stickjaws from Ellora's Confectionery, Dehradun. Shop: Peanut butter from Sisters'Bazaar in Landour. See: Make a daytrip to Dhanaulti.

Reproduced From India Today Travel Plus. Copyright 2010. LMIL. All rights reserved.

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Publication:India Today Travel Plus
Date:Sep 1, 2010
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