The beautiful city of Dehradun is India’s unofficial boarding school capital. The colonials set up elite institutions in this quiet valley and sparked a trend that is still going strong.
Traditionally, Dehradun has been little more than a thoroughfare to the giddy thrills of Mussoorie. If you stop for a look around, locals will point you to the salmon-pink colonial building of the Forest Research Institute. This Greco-Roman structure, set within a massive estate of 1,100 acres, has six museums and is the most recognisable Dehradun icon. In fact, when Prince Charles visited the valley, he was made to cut a sponge cake scale model of this historical masterpiece.
If you press them to divulge more “sights”, Dehradunwallahs will inevitably direct you to the crowded waters of Kempty Falls, which is closer to Musooorie, or in a desperate moment, show you the Tibetan market, a scrawl of tarpaulin-covered stalls. But the better way to discover Dehradun’s delights is to simply follow the townsfolk around. In their daily routine they visit places far more interesting than the obvious tourist attractions. A visitor is bound to understand the fuss about this town’s laidback charm.
Robbers’ Cave is a local haunt where colourful umbrellas and plastic chairs are anchored in a pebble-strewn stream. Visitors sit with their feet dipped in the ice-cold, gurgling water as they feast on soupy Maggi. You can get to the underground source of the stream by wading in hip-high water through a partial gorge. The rock walls glisten with trickling water while sunlight filters through the green canopy overhead, bathing the passage in an ethereal glow. As the name suggests, Robbers’ Cave was once a hideout for stolen treasures, and it still makes for a great adventure. It is spine-tingling to feel your way around the rocks underfoot as you slosh through the water in the semi-darkness. Don’t go alone and do be careful (about 4 km from Governor’s House on New Cantonment Road; entry ₹20; Maggi₹40, tea ₹10).
The Mindrolling Monastery in Clement Town houses the “Great Stupa of Buddha’s Descent from Devaloka Which Liberates Upon Seeing”. With a promising name like that, who wouldn’t want to visit? The stupa is one of the world’s largest. It is spread across 100 sq ft and towers 185 feet high. The structure is adorned with richly coloured murals and a serene Buddha statue at the top gazes out at the city below. At one end of the monastery is a cluster of eateries that serve Tibetan fare. For great street food though, head to Mussoorie Road at the opposite end of town, where you will find Maggi stalls every 20 feet. Dehradun has a Maggi fetish unmatched by any other city; it even has a hotel named Maggi Star. Enjoy this ubiquitous snack along with steamy momos dipped in fiery red-chilli chutney at local favourite K.C. Point (stupa open Tue-Sun 9.30 a.m.-12 p.m., 3.30-5.30 p.m., Mon 2.30-5.30 p.m.; 2nd floor terrace open only on Sun; mindrolling.org).
The abundance of boarding schools might explain the bewildering array of bakeries in town, some of which have become local institutions over the years. You can score colonial-era treats like sticky jaws, gooey plum cakes, and chewy toffees from Ellora’s Melting Moments and Sunrise in Paltan Bazaar. The oval shaped, melt-in-your-mouth rusk is a speciality of Doon Valley and a perennial favourite. Locals also swear by the chutneys, jams, and preserves of A. Prakash & Sons. The family-run establishment’s store is in Landour, but you can visit the factory on New Cantonment Road. Peaches, apricots, apples, raspberries, gooseberries—all the divine delights of Uttarakhand converge here to be washed, sliced, boiled, and packaged. Sharp, tangy aromas fill the air as succulent fruit, fresh from the orchards, is turned into bubbling vats of sticky-sweet syrup (House 15 E, next to Punjab National Bank; 97569 04833).
Windlass is a unique steelcrafts factory that manufactures ceremonial swords, replica medieval battle gear, and old armour for military forces across the world. Hollywood and fantasy-fiction nuts will be most impressed, since Windlass also produces life-size replicas of helmets, bodysuits, and weapons used in the popular Game of Thrones television series and blockbusters like Iron Man, Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, and Troy among others. Visitors can observe the manufacturing process from start to finish. The factory is located 10 km outside the city on Haridwar Road. Ask any resident to direct you to the “khukri factory” (+91-135-2686470, 2686624; windlass.com; contact director I.K. Chaddha to arrange a visit between 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, except Sundays).
Appeared in the April 2015 issue as “Doon Valley’s Hidden Delights”. Updated in October 2017.