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Tragedy at Hathipaon

Bhupesh Bhandari  |  New Delhi 

I was in Mussoorie on a recent vacation. The locals claim it is the "queen of all hill stations", but then so do the residents of and There is history strewn all over the place. Beautiful churches, delightful colonial bungalows, old schools, mall and stories - the inescapable hill-station gossip. You could visit Rokeby Manor at Landour, a hotel that is more than 150 years old and was once owned by Fredrick "Pahari" Wilson, a controversial army deserter during colonial times who went on to establish a huge timber business up in the mountains. The legend of Pahari Wilson, who liked to call himself the Raja of Harsil, remains strong to this date. He took a Garhwali wife and even minted his own coins. Not far from Rokeby Manor is the house where once lived Fredrick Young, the man who first set up units in the colonial army.

But it will break your heart if you were to drive up to Hathipaon where lived George Everest (pronounced Eve-rest), the surveyor-general of India from 1830 to 1843 and the man after whom is named. On a ridge that overlooks the Dun valley stand the ruins of his house, surrounded by scrub. Cattle come here to defecate. The floor of one room, for some strange reason, has cheap ceramic tiles. If you want to see how we neglect our monuments, come to Hathipaon. There is no signage that leads you here. The taxi driver hadn't heard of it in his 20 years in Mussoorie. "Let's go; there could be wild animals here," he announced within five minutes of arriving.

On the way back from Mussoorie, we went to Nalapani, where stands a memorial to the short but fierce battle fought between a large English contingent and a small company in November 1814. The English suffered huge casualties, and the force evacuated the fort only after their water supply had been cut off. This is the only instance when the victor put up a memorial to honour the enemy. Finding it was an ordeal. Even cops didn't know of it. We were the only visitors this morning. There are two obelisks here to honour the two armies. Not far from Dehradun is Rishikesh where, during those times, Gurkha officers used to run a slave market - Garhwali men, women and children were sold to plainsmen.

It is essential to read up on a place before you visit it. For Mussoorie, I would recommend The Doon Valley Across the Years (Rupa & Co, 2007) edited by Ganesh Saili. It contains eight delightful articles, all written by Englishmen during the colonial times, and a short but sweet commentary by Saili. The book will tell you how Hyder Young Hearsey (a Eurasian soldier of fortune; he was named Hyder Jung, after the formidable Deccan chieftain and Tipu Sultan's father, but anglicised his name after he went to England for studies) bought the Dun valley from Sudershan Shah, the deposed king of Garhwal who had fallen on hard times, for Rs 3,000 in 1811. After the Gurkha war, when the entire territory from the Sutlej in the west to Kali in the east fell into the hands of the English, Hearsey laid claim to the valley. All his efforts, of course, came to naught.

To know more about Everest, you could read The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India was Mapped and Everest was Named (HarperCollins) by John Keay.

bhupesh.bhandari@bsmail.in

First Published: Sat, June 08 2013. 00:18 IST
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