Dehradun is a name that instantly conjures up vistas of an idyllic life in the mountains. One of India’s most cherished hill stations lies approximately 240 km from New Delhi, in the Doon Valley. It is famed for its spectacular landscapes and pleasant weather all year round. Situated amid lofty mountains, under the cover of sal trees, Dehradun is the gateway to many attractions and purposes at the heart of the region.
Having never been to Dehradun before, I discovered myself there on three separate occasions within a month recently, each time for a different purpose. The city has gained in importance as many bureaucrats and celebrities have made it their home because of its weather, facilities and enviable location. Today, Dehradun is a city that attracts people for both business and leisure. Once a sleepy retirement haven, it now has modern amenities such as cafes and restaurants to add to its many attractions, but it still retains its charm. In many ways, it reminds me of Chandigarh.
One of Dehradun’s draws is as the education hub of northern India. Prestigious educational institutions such as Welham Girls School, Welham Boys School, The Doon School, and several other schools are near the city. Dehradun is also the proud home of the Indian Military Academy, which, since its inception in 1932, has been shaping boys into army officers. Another icon, the Forest Research Institute of Dehradun, housed in a majestic colonial structure, has served as a bastion for geology students for generations.
Sundeep Bhutoria with the Honorable Governor of UttarakhandCourtesy Raj Bhavan, Uttarakhand
The city of Dehradun is a gateway for religious pilgrimage, as the point where lakhs begin their journey to Kedarnath and Badrinath and other places of religious and tourist interest, such as Hardwar, Rishikesh and more. People arrive for the yatras, as the locals call it, at many times of the year, and you will find the roads teeming with such folks.
With all this interest, it’s not a surprise that the road from Dehradun to Rishikesh, which should take 40 minutes, took me over two and a half hours instead. The traffic seems to emanate from the sole airport that caters not only to Dehradun but to the entire region: Jolly Grant Airport. About 20 kilometers from the main hub of Dehradun, it contends with the multitudes who descend for their various purposes.
The name Jolly Grant is bound to pique curiosity, but try as I might, I could not arrive at a very convincing explanation as to its origins. Some believe the airport gets its name from a British Air Force officer named Jolly Grant, who was highly acclaimed but perished in a plane crash. Others believe the name comes from a ‘grant’ of land given by the Shahs of Nepal (as Garhwal at that time was under Gorkha rule of Nepal) to the British. There are many other grants in the city, such as Arcadia Grant, Markham Grant and Majri Grant. There is even a hospital bearing a similar name. Yet another explanation is that a village named Jaeuli was handed over via a grant to the British by the Nepalese royalty, from where the name evolved over the years to Jolly Grant.
Well, grant yourself the liberty to choose what appeals to you, as the fact of the matter is that the name is a mystery. What is very obvious, however, is that the airport is groaning under the onslaught of countless arrivals. Incidentally, the Uttarakhand government has renamed this airport after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but our plane tickets still bore the name Jolly Grant.
Ganga aarti is a must for every hotel you stay in and around DehradunManjari Maheshwari
The spurt in footfalls has resulted in the mushrooming of hotels and, from a scenario as recent as five years ago when only one hotel of stature, namely Madhuban Hotel, was the destination of choice, today there are multiple options. Just before the pandemic, Hyatt Regency Dehradun Resort & Spa, a luxury hotel at the foothills of the Himalayas on the Dehradun-Mussoorie Road, had opened its doors. Overlooking the picturesque Malsi Forest or the majestic Himalayan mountains, this hotel has become a much-hyped property for weddings, largely because of its locational advantage.
A security guard holding a sign en route to the hotel in DehradunBhumesh Bharti
On my way, I noticed a person sitting on a chair by the road with a signboard to show the route to the hotel. This was odd, as usually, boards are affixed on the sides of the road. Apparently, the hotel could only put up a board on land that belonged to them. As the spot where the board was needed was not theirs, in came the man with the chair and the signboard! I unfailingly saw a person at that spot each time I passed by.
Overall, however, I found the service at the hotel to be quite average. Perhaps my expectations were high, as I had heard so much about the property beforehand. Weddings there can be lavish affairs with quite a bit of gimmickry. I’ve even heard of a flower shower from a helicopter and various other extravagant displays. The hotel, however, is still not fully operational, thanks to some unresolved engineering issues. I understand this hotel bears the enormous burden of being the luxury property nearest to the city or in the city, but it still needs improvement in pretty much every sector, apart from the spectacular views it offers. When the hotel opened, quite a few people from Hyatt Kolkata were part of the operations, but inexplicably, they all moved out. With JW Marriott Mussoorie and Taj about to enter the region, the onus now lies on the Hyatt group to pull up its socks.
View from the Taj RishikeshManjari Maheshwari
There are other options even now. The Taj Rishikesh isn’t far, and during my stay there, I dined at another Taj property, Anand Kashi by the Ganges, located approximately 15 minutes away. Personally, I found Anand Kashi by the Ganges to be the more peaceful of the two, and I believe that in the days to come, Taj Anand Kashi by the Ganges will become a highly sought-after destination. On the bank of the Ganga, this hotel provides its visitors with the unique experience of being able to feel the gentle caress of the sacred river against their fingertips amid an idyllic, tranquil setting.
Sundeep Bhutoria with (left) Nagendra Singh NegiCathy Tongper
Hotel aside, the most pleasant part of my visit to the city was the opportunity to interact with a cross-section of the city’s dignitaries and folk artists. Thanks to our network of Ehsaas women, my list included the honourable Governor as well as authors, folk artists as renowned as Nagendra Singh Negi, amongst many others.
En route from Dehradun to Rishikesh, there is an elephant corridor and leopards are also sighted on the way to Taj Rishikesh. Leopards were not in sight but a lizard popped out to surprise usManjari Maheshwari
Food is another high point of a visit to Dehradun. There are, of course, countless coffee shops and eateries that beckon even the most critical of foodies. But don’t miss a stop at the evergreen Dwarka Bun Tikki. City folks are extremely proud of their ‘Bun Tikki’ – the tikki or patty made with potato and chana dal, flavoured with spices, served in a lightly toasted bun with tamarind chutney and other condiments. There are many places that make this dish, but one and all would unanimously agree that the Dwarka Chowk Bun Tikki stall is the hands-down winner.
My first visit gave me many new experiences and Dehradun is a city that I absolutely want to visit again and again.