The last leg of this trip has been a bit unfortunate, as I’ve spent about a third of the time in bed, either due to a bad cold I picked up in Ahmedabad, or food poisoning from some under-cooked fish. Fortunately, however, I am staying at my in-laws where I was well looked after and able to recover quickly from both. The sad thing is that I missed being able to really explore the region, which borders Nepal and Tibet. Home to two of India’s most important rivers (both agriculturally and spiritually speaking), it is a frequent stop for tourists, many of whom stop by on their way to Mussorie, Haridwar, or Rishikesh. I, however, have spent much of my time, quite pleasantly mind you, reading, resting, and visiting my in-laws’ family friends.
Dehradun is now the capital of the new state, Uttaranchal, founded in 2000. It is one of the wealthier and more literate regions of India. Neither of which is surprising when you realize that two of the major industries are oil and education. Although it is not a region with much oil, Dehradun is home to the ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited), for which my father-in-law worked. It is also home to over 200 schools and colleges, including the famous Doon School, India’s top prep-school. Where the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and the writers Vikram Seth and Amitav Ghosh all went to school. (As did my father-in-law, and one of my former professors at Temple.) St. Joseph’s Academy and Welham’s School (for girls) are also well known, but it is the name “Doon” which is used by schools all over the country to build their prestige. There is even a documentary film about the school by the famous ethnographic filmmaker David MacDougall. This year, the school may even begin admitting girls. This is a good thing, considering how important the Doon “Old Boys” network is among India’s ruling elite.
The city was founded by Guru Ram Rai, an heir to the seventh Sikh guru, Har Rai. He was disowned, apparently over a matter of textual interpretation (although I am inclined to believe there must have been more to the story than this). Although Ram Rai was disowned and excommunicated by his father, he was a favorite of Emperor Aurangzeb who, in 1675, granted him land in the “present site of Dehra Dun” (quoting from Lonely Planet‘s India guidebook, which seems to erroneously assert that Rai Ram founded the Udasi sect of the Sikh religion). The word “Dehra” means “camp” and the name of the town comes from the camp set up by Guru Ram Rai. Today their is a beautiful mausoleum which Aurangzeb ordered to be built upon Ram Rai’s death in 1687, with an outer structure built at the end of the 19th century. It is a fantastic structure which is currently being restored. I will post some pictures when I get home. Lonely Planet asserts that it is devotees of the Udasi sect which now maintain the mausoleum, known as the Ram Rai Darbar, but I was told that it is actually done by Hindus. There were definitely both Hindus and Sikhs worshiping there, just as both Hindus and Muslims seem to worship at the temple devoted to a local Sufi saint. (There are a significant number of Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists here.)
There are also some great bookstores in town, with the work of local celebrity, Ruskin Bond prominently featured. Although now that it is the state capital it is no longer the sleepy town featured in old Ruskin Bond stories, it is still a very pleasant, vibrant, city. Next time I’ll be sure to make time for exploring the mountains as well.