Dehradun will make you fall in love with travel and writing all over again, with its vivid landscape dominated by nature.
By Bindu Gopal Rao
Having grown up in South India, I had visited several hill stations in the region. But, somehow never had an opportunity to see the hills of the North. However, a trip to Dehradun a few years ago ensured that I could tick that off my bucket list. Incidentally, Dehradun is also a city I have visited quite a few times since. And while I see it differently each time, I must admit that it is this city that has often helped me overcome the dreaded writer’s block.
It starts with the mountain air…
Disembarking after a rather long flight from Bengaluru to Dehradun’s Jolly Grant airport in Uttarakhand brought a smile to my face. The airport, surrounded by greenery, is tiny. And as I walked from the tarmac to collect my bags, I started my sojourn with the city. It harks back to a simpler time, in a way, but with all the embellishments that make it a modern city. While Dehradun was a place I wanted to see, I was also stuck in a rut with writing as I was clearly out of inspiration. I felt that the words were not flowing as well as they should. I was desperate for some form of visual and mental stimulation.
The crisp mountain air, however, pushed these thoughts into the background. The journey to my retreat was great—courtesy of the stunning mountain backdrop, flowing streams and tall evergreen trees. I saw school children walking who waved back cheerily when I smiled at them; a sense of happiness unconsciously wrapped all around me. On reaching, I had a quick lunch as I wanted to visit the Rajaji National Park.
It stuns you with its vistas…
A unique repository of the biodiversity found in the Shivaliks, the Rajaji National Park is spread over an area of 820sq km. It is home to Asian elephants, wild boars, spotted deer, sambhar, Himalayan black bears, and over 300 species of birds. While I did not see the elusive tiger, I managed to spot elephants, deer, peacocks and several birds. Apart from admiring the beauty of the jungle, you are overcome with an overwhelming feeling of being an individual. And not a cog in the machine—as you often do in the city.
As I returned to the resort, I felt calmer and more at ease, ensconced in a hug of green. A quick stop at a café followed, and as I sipped on hot coffee, I felt a slight nip in the air. Just then, my eyes fell on a beautiful tree, beside which a board read: “Just breathe. You’ll never live this moment again!” That’s when it struck me… I knew that having writer’s block was normal. And, that perhaps I needed to loosen up and free my mind. And, despite the urge to document my thoughts that night, I decided to turn in, instead. To give my fatigued mind the rest that it needed. I slept to the rustling of leaves and the urgent calls of the night birds.
It moves you with its sights…
The next morning, I woke up early and was treated with a pink-hued sky and a rather magnificent sunrise. Perhaps it was the previous day’s experiences that made me feel happier and, soon, I was on my way to the Forest Research Institute. Set up under the aegis of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, this is a stunning building. Its architecture is a mix of Greco-Roman and Colonial styles. It is set amidst a green landscape that occupies 450 hectares. I was interested in visiting the museum that has a stunning collection, renowned the world over for its profundity.
Housed in different rooms—where photography is prohibited—are the Pathology Museum, the Social Forestry Museum, the Entomology Museum, the Silviculture Museum, the Non-Wood Forest Products Museum and the Timber Museum. Extensive, I know! The sheer volume of the collection and the research done on trees and everything associated with them blew my mind. The kind of documentation around the exhibits is so detailed. I quickly realised that my writing is a far easier job! You also can’t help but admire the architecture of the Institute. The symmetry of the arches and the geometry of the brick façade is sure to inspire you. Well, at least for me, it was a lesson in perfection and dedication.
As nature envelops you…
After a couple of days of laid-back star-gazing and nature trail-walking, my next stop was the Malsi Deer Park. It is spread over 25 hectares, an ex-situ conservation site for wild animals, which houses many species of native deer. Around the park, these furry, spotted, hopping creatures are a sight. But what was as interesting for me was the variety of birds. Being an avid birder myself, I felt that nature was helping me improve my concentration. As I looked for birds, and so, I followed their call.
Follow the literary lead…
I seemed to completely acclimate myself to Dehradun. Maybe it was the city, maybe the pace, or maybe, it was just a combination of everything Dehradun is. On one of my walks a few days in, I stopped to buy a book by Ruskin Bond. He grew up in Dehradun and lives in Landour, a small town quite close by.
Reading All Roads Lead to Ganga, I came across this line: “I have come to believe that the best kind of walk, or journey, is the one in which you have no particular destination when you set out.” My driver told me that the Tapkeshwar Temple was on the way, in case I wanted to visit it. We were out and about the city, so I told him to stop at the temple. And, was hoping to catch some more facets of the city. This famous temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is on the banks of the Asan river, next to a forest.
The river was gushing in full glory as I made my way to the natural cave temple. I was amazed to see how the water trickled from the ceiling directly on top of the Shivalingam. Perhaps it was divine intervention after all, as that night when I sat with my laptop, words seemed to flow effortlessly. My troublesome writer’s block was history. Leaving the city the next day—very reluctantly, I might add—I let my eyes soak in the stunning landscape. I did feel my heartstrings tug a bit but I remembered Robert Frost’s words: “The woods are lovely dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” Dehradun is not a town you can visit just once. I know I will be back.