In the little town of Landour, we find a colonial-era language school still crowded with foreigners
We were in an idyllic little town called Kanatal nestled in the hills of Uttarakhand, content to gaze at the glistening white peaks that peeped through the deodar trees. Conversations around travel filled the air and various destinations were tossed around. I was in no mood to leave my little balcony that looked out at the vast expanse of the mountains. There was something about Kanatal that made you want to look at the peaks endlessly. But I was beckoned and off I went, a reluctant traveler, to explore Mussoorie, the Queen of the Hills.
The winding roads took us through verdant paths and the peaks continued to give us company until the clouds veiled them. We stopped for tea and walked through a little market and watched men play cards on the streets. Time had stopped for them. The journey took us into a little town called Landour, often referred to as Upper Mussoorie, which had a distinct European feel to it. There, thanks to my fellow traveller and blogger Mariellen Ward from Canada, we discovered a century-old institution lost somewhere amid the trees.
It was the Landour Language School. There was pin-drop silence inside. A couple of classes were on, with every student in charge of a private tutor. Mariellen, fascinated by India and everything Indian, was keen on learning Hindi and we followed her as she went around meeting people.
This was where the British learnt Hindi during the colonial era. And it explains the evolution of Landour today — from a British cantonment to a literary, artistic and cultural hub. The school continues to attract students from all over the world who want to learn Indian languages.
On a little board was a timetable with the names of students and tutors. Some of the tutors were third-generation teachers. I was fascinated to hear that Urdu was the most sought-after language besides Hindi while Sanskrit, Punjabi and Telugu were taught as well. The school boasted of more than 100 students at one time and the demand for Indian languages seemed to be increasing. The teachers told us that while some students were interested in Indian literature, some others were missionaries, while others purely wanted to pick up language skills.
We met Rebecca from Sweden who was fascinated by Urdu and had been learning the language here. “I love Urdu poetry… I am now reading Ghalib,” she said, and talked about her many visits to India. All of Landour town welcomes these foreign guests who live here for months to learn an Indian language.
Later, sipping tea at the fifth shop in Chaar Dukaan, a popular locality in Landour, we find Mars chocolates stacked with Maggi noodles and homemade jams and cheeses. Everything in Landour seemed reminiscent of the Raj era. The names of manors and mansions, taken from literary novels, the eeriness of the cemetery, the silence, the quaintness, the slow pace of life —they all seemed like pages from a Ruskin Bond novel. Only, we missed seeing the town’s most famous resident, although we looked in cafes and book stores. As we left, the bells rang, signally perhaps the end of day. We took the cue and continued onwards to Mussoorie.