The Doon Valley Across the Years takes the reader through fact and fiction, history and legends, myths and folklore of the Doon as it was over the last two centuries and more.
Wedged on four sides by the Shivaliks and Himalayan ranges, the rivers Yamuna and Ganga, is the oasis of the Doon through which innumerable explorers, adventurers and settlers have come and gone, leaving behind their impressions in words. Most of the early British travelers in the area were invariably government officials, intrepid soldiers or freebooters wandering through the verdant valley: like the Anglo-Indian family of the Hearseys, who were diddled of their rightful title by the not so honourable John Company. F. Bodycot and H.C. Williams, editors of the Mussoorie Times, and G.R.C. Williams, whose Memoir of the Doon stands like a bookmark amongst literature on Dehra Dun. Of course, foremost among the early administrators was Capt. Frederick Young, who came out an ensign, all of fifteen years, who came out an ensign, all of fifteen years old, retiring to Ireland forty-four years later, as a 'General'. Amongst his many laurels, he is today remembered for pioneering the hillstations of Landour and Mussoorie. Then there was John Lang, the Australian-born maverick who was no soldier at arms. He managed in a life of just forty-seven years, to carve out the time to be a novelist, a journalist and a bar t law, representing the Rani of Jhansi in her succession litigation with the East India Company. To publish his garrulous essays, he chose Charles Dickens magazine Household Words. The anthology, with its many more interesting tidbits, is sure to take you down the ages of the Doon valley. In spite of the changes that dot the valley, its very essence remains as fragrant as ever.
About the Author
Ganesh Saili has had a lifelong love affair with the Himalayas. Having had the good fortune of living a mile high in the sky, he has from his aerial perch on the first foothills, always had a grandstand view of the Doon valley. For thirty years and more, he has researched and trekked the high mountains, capturing in words and film the awe-inspiring beauty of these regions. Numerous periodicals, journals, magazines, films, books and national awards are a testimony to this love for his roots. Settled in Mussoorie, he teaches English and American literature at the local post-graduate college.
If you look up from your perch in Mussoorie or Landour, the night does have 'a thousand eyes.' But should you gaze at the valley below, a million stars lie scattered like a treasure trove. When I mentioned this to my old friend, Sudhakar Misra, he, with his matter of fact farmer's attitude, quipped: 'Looks more like fields of electric bulbs ready to harvest!' Who could argue with that?
As usual, Misra always has it right!
It was this vista that my father fell in love with in the 1920s. He had made his way here, from our village in the remote hills of Chamoli, Garhwal, joining the male exodus from the hills in search of a Job. At the Rishikesh bus stand stood a strapping sixteen year old, with little more than his dreams, deciding where to go next. And, years later, he would tell us: 'I had no money, so I looked for the cheapest ticket. Dehradun and Mussoorie won the prize!' This is the beginning of the story of my family in the hills. Years later, I too, stood at the same cross-road, but I hung on like a mollusk.
Why you wonder?
Well! I simply forgot to go away!
And, living next to Dehra, one is a part of the only district in India, whose boundaries are more famous than the district. Bounded to the north by the towering Himalayas, to south lay the ancient Shivalik ranges, while to the east gently flows the Ganga and to the west broods her dark sister, the Yamuna.
We are told that countless ages ago, this forty-five miles long and fifteen miles wide valley was an immense fresh-water lake. On its edges roamed pre-historic life forms-large dinosaurs: the iguanodon, the woolly mammoth, weighing over two thousand pounds with 10 feet tusks; hippopotami; dinosaur gobbling crocodiles; a saber-toothed tiger; and a three-toed ancestor of the horse. Their fossilized bones are on display in the Calcutta museum. These were excavated in the Shivaliks in the middle of the 19th century by Dr. Falconer, Sir Proby Cautley, Lieutenants Baker and Durand. Today few remember Cautley as a devoted cryptopalaeontologist, for he is better known for building the Ganga Canal in the Doab. Whatever happened to that great lake with its dinosaurs? The Babar Nama tells us 'In the language of Hindustan, there is a Jagla (or Dale) Dun. The finest running water in Hindustan is that in this Dun. Today, its reduced to a small stretch of water, less than an acre, near the Gurdwara Sri Guru Ram Rai.
Among the other legends associated with this fertile valley, my favourite has the sage Kasyapa preparing a great feast for the gods. Indra, the God of Rain, was on his way there when he stumbled upon a group of 60,000 pygmies trying in vain to cross a cow's hoof print filled with water- to them a vast lake- Indra found this funny and scoffed at them. Offended, the indignant pygmies decided on revenge. Immersing themselves in austerities, mortification and penance they strove to unseat the arrogant Rain God. Sweat flowed from their tiny bodies and a river was born-known, at first as the Sobhan, 'The Pleasant Waters,' and in our times it's called the Suswa. But what happened to Indra, the Rain God you might wonder? Well! He, like all the other gods in distress, appealed to Brahma who appeased the pygmies!
But the swashbuckling Hyder Jung Hearsey was no pygmy. His descendants insisted that he was diddled by the East India Company of what was his rightful purchase of the Doon from Raja Sudarshan Shah. We remember him, as the first person of European descent to see the ranges from that famous bend near Lal Tibba, in Landour.
Then in 1654-1655, Shah-Jahan-Nama tells us, 'Khalilu-lia Khan
. Having reached the Dun, which is a strip country lying outside of Srinagar, is 20 Kos long and 5 broad, one extremity of its length being bounded by the river Jumna and the other by the Ganges.' In more modern times, if you could call 1676 that, the Sikh Guru Ram Rai arrived at the court of Raja Fateh Sah of Garhwal with an imperial firman from the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and settled in the village of Kharbara, building his Gurdwara in 1699 in the adjoining village of Dhamawala.
Down the ages, the Doon picked up a reputation as a 'city of grey hair and green hedges', where every bungalow, in more idyllic times, had a garden in front, an orchard at the back and a hedge wrapped around it. Of course, more than water has flowed down the Ganga and Jamuna rivers since then. Just take Astley Hall, today's plush shopping place, which was once home to the English freebooter, Pahari Wilson. Its three hundred acres had stream running across it and was rented, one season, to the viceroy, Lord Dufferin. Even up to the late 1940s and the early 1950s, there was Phillip Ryper, (a nephew of A.R. Gill, author of Valley of the Doon in 1952) who single handedly turned the Doon Cemetery into a beautiful garden. Lamentable, the garden and hedges have vanished, gone are the litchi orchards, leaving in their stead- a clutter of concrete buildings. You don't need a genius to tell you that the Dehra has changed! If G.R.C. Williams, Assistant Superintendent of the Doon and author of Memoir of the Doon were to to through the town today, he'd throw a fit! Our population of 66,299 in 1865 has shot up to over eight lakh today! But there is something to be said in defence of our early bureaucrafts! What began with collecting facts and figures in 1871, after many transfers and postings, was completed in a little over a hundred days by Williams!
The Gurkhas ruled over the Garhwal and Kumaon region from 1798-1815 and were indirectly the reason why the not so Honourable John Company found a foothold in the northern areas. Foremost among the new rulers was Frederick Young, a fifteen-year-old ensign. As a Captain, he was A.D.C. to Gen George Gillespie and was to serve in India for forty-four years in various capacities. As Commandant of the Doon, he took time off from his duties to chase 'shikar' in the foothills. Liked the place, and he helped set up a Convalescent Depot near Sisters' Bazaar, a shooting lodge for himself and for the spiritual needs of his soldiers, the St. Paul's Church at Char Dukan. A rare biography of General Young by his daughter, L. Hadow Jenkins, inscribed to his granddaughter Patricia came to me, courtesy a Swiss friend, the journalist Robert Huchison. Robert had other things on his single-minded pursuit of the Wilson legend- by that hangs another tale for another day.
Meantime, a little later, at the other end of the town, on a ridge near the Library rose Christ Church, the oldest Church in the Himalayas built in the best Victorian, Indo Cotswold style replete with a William Hill organ. Memorial plaques announce the march of time. 'One announces the passing away of Major Edmund Swetenham of the Bengal Invalid Establishment'. His family built Cloud End, now a popular resort at the western end of the ridge.
Atop the other ridges came the schools. For by 1835, Mussoorie had acquired quite a reputation as a centre for western education. While some like Wynberg Allen School, established 1888, were for orphaned Anglo-Indians or parents who were too poor to send their children home, others like the Convent of Jesus & Mary, Waverley, was for girls began in 1845, and the Patrician Brother's St. Georges College in 1856.
Despite all these schools or may be because of them, naughty Mussoorie has always had a risqué reputation. While her cousins, Simla and Nainital were home to officialdom; the glorified babus were always a bit stiff, because you had the funny feeling that the Viceroy was looking over your shoulder. Not in Mussoorie though, people left you alone here and did not bother you. They still don't!
Of course, schools too had their fair quota of scandals, which got hushed most of the time. The gossip invariably rakes and vamps, grass widows and bored housewives.
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