MUSSOORIE, June 24
You see them standing oblivious to the buzz around, well at least most of them. While some fell to commercialization and a few to politics, several others stand brave, offering dramatic views of the Doon valley or splendid sunsets.
For the hawaghars (airing houses) are probably one of the few memories of the old world charm of the Mussoorie, the quaint hill town as it once was, that seem to have stood the test of time.
At select spots throughout the hill station, these canopies known as hawaghars were built as resting spots and view- points. Interestingly most are very distinct from each other. While some have intricate architecture, some are Plain Square, cemented and a couple have the builder’s love for animals imprinted on them, why there was one which also had strange looking peacocks on top of it but was broken down a few years back. But what they all have in common is the fact that they are situated at spots which offer dramatic views of the Doon valley or the Mussoorie hills.
Initially a numbered few built by the Britishers as resting and view spots, others were added after Independence. Interestingly while most things about the hill town might have changed, these hawaghars continue to be popular with both locals (mostly to sit and catch up on old times) and tourists for just sitting and admiring scenic views on a clear day.
The most popular one for example is the one called scandal point on the Camel’s Back Road said to have been built in 1920. The name obviously comes from the various clandestine meetings between lovers. Let’s not forget Mussoorie was once also known as the pleasure capital during the British Raj. Another reason for the name is probably the proximity to Lover’s leap, a spot not too far from the hawaghar where a Britisher’s girlfriend with her horse is supposed to have fallen down. So heartbroken was the Britisher that he is said to have made his horse with him on it take leap into the khud below.
Sadly the benches in this hawaghar which were put in 1930 and bore the mark of Glasgow iron foundry works were broken a few years back.
Another popular one was the one at Library point which was called the Bandstand where various bands are supposed to have performed in the evenings during the British time. In 1915 band house, shares Mussoorie’s chronicler Gopal Bharadwaj was rebuilt by Maharaja of Kapurthala. Today of course it has had several modifications and is a favourite with political parties.
A historical one built by Shafi Ahmad Kidwai (younger brother of Congressman Rafi Ahmad Kidwai) in 1947 was sadly broken by to make way for a statue, shares Bharwadwaj.
But besides the historical aspects, most of these hawaghars have memories of several old-timers associated with them.
Take for example author photographer, Ganesh Saili who says, “Places for rendezvous, that is what hawaghars were back then. They were a place where young folks met in innocence to exchange sweet nothings. “
His personal favourite is the hawaghar at the hair pin bend near Claire Mount in Landour, “Where Asharfee the kite maker in Mullingar would teach us how to fly kites. It’s today’s selfie point and a favourite hangout for youngsters wanting to do more than just smoke,” he says with a smile.
Urmila Joshi who got married and came to Mussoorie from Doon in 1974 remembers it being a favourite resting spot for tourists and locals. “The expressions on their tired faces flushed with all the walking was always so brilliant to observe. Milkmen and vegetable sellers from villages often rested at these. To me hawaghars have meant a beautiful place where people from all walks of life enjoy the beauty and peace of nature.”