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A Book Depot, Writer’s Bar, & Ruskin Bond – Celebrating Mussoorie & Landour’s Deep Literary Heritage

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Apart from being one of the most popular hill stations in India, Mussoorie is also well-known as the residence of famed writer Ruskin Bond. However, the town—and its twin, Landour—have a much-deeper literary connection as well.

The twin towns of Mussoorie and Landour are famed for their scenic beauty and the rare winter line phenomenon. However, not many people know that they have a rich literary heritage, and one of the highest densities of authors anywhere in the world.

Landour is home to many writers, the most well-known being Ruskin Bond, who shifted here in 1963. Other notable authors from Landour include Ganesh Saili, Stephen Alter, and his cousin Tom Alter. Authors who have made Mussoorie their home include Bill Aitken, and Hugh and Colleen Gantzer. John Lang, Australia’s first native-born novelist, died in 1864 and is buried in Mussoorie. His memoirs present a fascinating account of the town.

Rudyard Kipling has portrayed ‘the Great Ramp of Mussoorie’ in his book Kim. His story The man who would be the king was inspired by Mussoorie’s Pahari Wilson. Travel writer Lowell Thomas, who visited Mussoorie in 1926, writes about the Savoy separation-bell in India: Land of the Black Pagoda (1930), “This was rung before dawn…so that the pious may say their prayers, and the impious get back to their own beds.” Novelist Anita Desai was born here. Two legendary landmark institutions pay tribute to this literary association of the twin cities.

View of the Dun Valley and Mussoorie in the evening. (Source: By omkar k (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Writer’s Bar at Savoy hotel

In 1999, Nandu Jauhar, owner of the landmark Savoy hotel, revisited the historic Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The Writer’s Bar there—with brass plaques on the walls stating that Somerset Maugham had been there, and Joseph Conrad, and Graham Greene—inspired him to do something similar at his own Savoy hotel.

Ruskin Bond reminisces about the interesting conversation he had with Nandu before the Writer’s Bar was officially inaugurated in the spring of 2001. “For some time now, Nandu had had this notion, or dream if you like, of naming the old Savoy Bar the ‘Writers’ Bar’. ‘But to do that,’ I said, ‘you’d have to get a few writers in here, wouldn’t you?’ Nandu replied, ‘Well, you’re one, aren’t you? Don’t you have any writer friends?’ ‘Hardly any. The few I know are teetotalers.’

‘The Hemingway type is out of fashion,’ I responded.”

The Savoy Hotel, Mussoorie

“Nandu would not give up, however, ‘Yes, but they stayed there, and they must have had the occasional drink at the bar, even if it was only a nimbu-pani.’ I had to consent to that argument, ‘Well, in the good old days, the Savoy must have had the occasional writer staying here.’ Nandu nodded, ‘There was Pearl Buck. I still have her autograph in one of her books. She won the Nobel Prize, didn’t she?’ ‘She did, but I doubt if she frequented the bar. I believe she was the daughter of missionaries,’ I quietly pointed out.”

“Nandu would not hear of it, ‘All the more reason for taking to drink! In any case, she must have looked in here from time to time. We’ll put her name on a plaque.’ ‘All right,’ I acquiesced. ‘We’ve got Pearl Buck.’ ‘What about Rudyard Kipling? He must have stayed here,’ Nandu asked. ‘My dear chap,’ I said, ‘The hotel opened in 1905. By that time, Kipling had left India, never to return.’ ‘You’re not being very helpful,’ said Nandu. ‘What about John Masters?’”

Today, plaques of Rudyard Kipling, Philip Mason (the Commissioner of Garhwal, who wrote under the pseudonym Woodruff), Lowell Thomas, John Lang, John Masters, Charles Allen (Plain Tales from the Raj), Pearl S Buck (Good Earth), Peter Hopkirk (In search of Kim), Ruskin Bond, Ganesh Saili, and Stephen Alter are proudly displayed at the Savoy’s Writers Bar.

The Writer’s Bar at the Savoy

Cambridge Book Depot

Laxman Das Arora was born in Dera Ghazi Khan in 1924. When he was 11 years old, he came to Lahore, where he worked as a helper in the Cambridge Book Depot. After gathering some experience, he moved to Ambala, where he worked at English Book Depot for 2-3 months. Later, he took the plunge and set up his own bookstore in Saharanpur in the 1940s while still in his teens. He named it Cambridge Book Depot.

But after a decade in business, his health began to deteriorate, and he went to Mussoorie to recuperate. Impressed with its weather, he bought a Tailors & Drapers shop on the Mall Road for a princely price of ₹100, and established another Cambridge Book Depot here in 1952.

Arora’s sons, Sunil and Surender, joined him in the trade in 1976. In the summer of 1997, famous author Mulk Raj Anand visited the store, and Sunil realized that he did not have a visitor’s book.

He decided to immediately have a visitor’s book, which could document famous people visiting the Book Depot.

A page from the Visitor’s Book at Cambridge Book Depot, Mussoorie.

In the very first entry, made on October 24, 1997, Ruskin Bond writes, “It’s a privilege to start your visitor’s book. May the Cambridge Book Depot enjoy many many years of providing the reading public with good books.” In 2000, Sunil requested Ruskin Bond to join his fans and sign books every Sunday. Later, Sunil realized that people on short weekend trips generally leave Mussoorie on Sunday evenings. Hence, this tradition was then shifted to Saturday afternoons. I also met my favorite author Ruskin Bond for the first time here in 2006.

Another tradition was started by Sunil in 2003. It was celebrating Ruskin Bond’s birthday at the book store, where his fans could be a part of the celebrations. Since then, whenever he is in town, Ruskin Bond’s birthday is celebrated with great fanfare here.

With Sunil and Surender at Cambridge Book Depot

I hope discovering this grand literary connection inspires you to add Mussoorie to your must-visit travel list.

About the author: Vikas Singh is a Brand Marketing professional who loves travelling and meeting new people and experiencing different cultures. Ruskin Bond is his favourite author, and he holds the Limca Book Record for the largest collection of books by any author (Ruskin Bond).

For more information, you can reach out to The Writers Bar and Cambridge Book Depot on Facebook.

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