Dehradun, the present capital of the state of Uttarakhand in India, is situated in the famous Doon Valley of the Garhwal Himalayas.
Ramayana and Mahabharata Connection
The city has a historical background going back to the times of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Lord Rama and Laxman is said to have visited this place for penance after war with Ravana. The Laxman Siddha Temple, which is just 12 km from this city, is said to have been built on the place where Laxman did penance. Guru Dronacharya of Mahabharata times is believed to have born here.
Sikh, Nepal and Afghan Connections of Dehradun
During the British times, the city took the characteristics of a military township as military garrisons began to be stationed here. In fact, it was the ‘dera’ or the camp for Baba Ram Rai which led to this city to be called as ‘dera dun’ or ‘dehradun’ right from 1676 onwards. Baba Ram Rai was highly favoured by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb who had instructed the Maharaja of Garhwal to take good care of him. The Maharaja helped in construction of a gurudwara at the place, the modern version of which was completed in 1707 and which is known to us as Guru Ram Rai Darbar Sahib.
Dehradun has Nepal connection as well. In 1806, Prithvi Narayan Singh, the King of Nepal, united many territories of India which included many part of modern day Uttarakhand and as far as Himachal and Punjab on western side and Sikkim and Darjeeling in the east. The king ruled these territories till 1816 when the British East India Company won these from Nepal after a war.
Even more profound is the connection between Dehradun and Afghanistan. After the First Anglo-Afghan War, the Emir Dost Mohammad was sent into exile to Dehradun and he stayed in Mussoorie for 6 years. Similarly, his grandson was exiled to Dehradun after the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The Afghan Royal Family also maintained presence in the city. The present day Mangla Devi Inter College was once called the Kabul Palace. Dehradun was also the birth place of the king Mohammad Nadir Shah who was second last ruler of Afghanistan. Ashraf Ghani, the present Afghan President, also pointed out that his grandmother lived in Dehradun. A section of Afghan royalty which used to live here has now intermingled with rest of the residents of the city.
The city, located at an altitude of around 652 meters, has a pleasant climate, with hot and humid summers and cool winters. During the peak of summers, the temperatures can run into 40 degrees while during the peak of winters, it has close to 0 degree centigrade temperature. Due to recent development activities and increase in the population of the city, the last decade or so has seen the temperatures of the city rise a bit, but it is still cooler than Delhi in summers which makes it a top tourist destination.
Military Establishments and the City of Retirees
The city has seen military stationing for more than a century. Military training institutions, such as the Indian Military Academy and residential colonies for the armed forces began to be established here from the time of the British Rule. It also took the characteristics of a city for retirees from the British army and the government as it became the favored city for living after retirement from the government jobs.
Since the city has been known to provide a peaceful life to the retirees who were old-aged, there is a culture of care and obedience for the senior citizens. This has paved the way for the creation of modern old-age homes, which are apartments with many common facilities to help the aged live together in a community setting with happiness.
Education has always been a unique hallmark of this city with some of the finest schools, particularly boarding schools, of India located here. This has been given a new impetus with many new schools and colleges, including vocational, industrial and information technology educational institutes being set up. The Doon School, Welham Schools, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Indian Military Academy, ONGC, Survey of India, the Forest Research Institute are some of the top education institutes of the city.
Abundance of nature and easy going life
The general cool environment of the city with abundance of natural elements and distinctive flora and fauna gave a unique relaxing ambience and cultivated an easy-to-go lifestyle for the people. This image of the city was kept alive through the centuries and even after India attained Independence.
Dehradun- A City of Lost Canals
A remarkable man-made feature of the yesteryears was the presence of canals which used to flow through the Doon valley. Some of these were Kalapathar, Bijapur, Rajpur, Jakhan, Eastern Canal and Kalanga. The last one remains till date. These were used to provide drinking water to the city residents, water for horses and also for irrigating the fields. These pathways on side of these canals were used for leisurely walks.
Development and the Shift
However, the past few decades are witnessing a marked shift from that characteristics with more holistic development with diversification of economy. From being a rather easy-going and sleepish city, it is changing to a more happening and vibrant city. Large scale development of residential housing and commercial establishments under the various schemes, traditional industries, information technology and infrastructure development in the form of road, railways, aviation, power and internet availability has been the hallmark of this shift. It is one of the cities which have been selected for the Smart City project of the Central and State governments.
The new Dehradun IT Park is set to take the city leapfrog into a top IT and ITES services hub.
Since healthcare has always been a forte of the city, a number of hospitals, including the private-initiative led super-specialty hospitals, have been built in the city. Some of the most common names are Max Balaji, Fortis, Kailash Hospital and Himalayan Institute of Medical Science are some of the notable ones.
The push to development has led to establishment of many swanky hotels, restaurants and resorts, with many malls and shopping destinations coming up in different parts of the city. Homestays are also becoming quite popular for the tourists and a number of people are investing the nearby areas of Dehradun to make homestays. This has led to many top brands of different product categories setting up their stores in the city. This has come as a boon for boosting tourism in the city.
Tourist Spots of Dehradun region
The city has good number of tourist attractions, both man-made and natural. Robber’s cave, Malsi Deer Park, Tapovan, Sahastradhara, Tapkeshwar Temple, Assan Barrage and Darbar Shri Guru Ram Rai some of the well-known tourist spots of the city with Paltan Bazaar being the harbinger of shopping in the city.
Other important places to visits are the shrines of four Siddhs, Maa Daat Kali Temple, Clock Tower, Buddha Temple, Jwalaji Temple, Guru Nanaksar Gurudwara, Tiger Falls, Bhadraj Temple and Rajaji National Park.
Daakpathar, which is a favorite site for recreation of the people, is actually a barrage and it is situated 45 km northwest of Dehradun.
Thano, a forest range area close to Dehradun, lying to its southeastern direction, is also fast developing into a residential and tourist spot. It is a place of abundant natural beauty.
Nearby Tourist Places
Besides Dehradun, cities close to it are equally famous tourist spots. In fact, Dehradun is said to be a gateway to these cities. Mussoorie, Dhanaulti, Auli, Kanatal, Chakrata and Haridwar are some of the important cities which can be reached from Dehradun.
Mussoorie is one of the famous hill stations in India, often called as the Queen of Hill Stations. It is just 34 kilometers from Dehradun.
Dhanaulti is also about 34 kilometers from Dehradun. It is known for its temples, Tehri Dam, Deogarh Fort and other landmarks, besides avenues for adventure sporting.
Kanatal is also not far from Dhanaulti and it is another famous tourist destination with many natural and man-made wonders.
Chakrata tourist attraction is known for many beautiful resorts, waterfalls, caves and adventure sports. It is also a famous cantonment of the British Army.
Delicacies of Dehradun
Dehradun is known for its agricultural produce, particularly Basmati Rice and lychees. The Basmati Rice of Dehradun is very famous worldwide. Staple food of the people has traditionally been rice and dal with salad and raita. Gahat ki Dal, Sani hui Muli and Nimbu, Kaafli, Aloo ke Gutke, Kulath Phanu, Tibetan Momos, Kandalee ka Saag, Singodi, Kumaoni Raita, Gulgula are some of the famous home-made delicacies.
Sweets are also liked by the people. People love relishing sweet dishes such as Jhangora ki Kheer, Arsa and Bal Mithai are relished as desserts.
However, a number of items are available as street food. Some of the popular street food items are bun tikki, momos, pakora, dosa, chowmein and puri chhole.
Wellness Economy of Dehradun
Besides its geographical location, natural bounties and overall pleasant climate, a key element which is giving Dehradun a distinctive identity is that of the fast emerging wellness economy. The change from being a restive to a happening city that is a top destination for wellness seekers, while being initiated and encouraged by the government, has been received well by the people. This has come as a blessing for the people who want to move away from the polluted cities and live in a relatively slow-paced environment that have more upcoming opportunities. Wellness industry is one of these opportunities as people of all age groups want to remain fit and healthy.
The wellness economy of Dehradun is being fueled by people who are experts in yoga and other allied practices. After Rishikesh, Goa, Pune, Mysore, Dharamsala and other cities which are known for having a number of centres for yoga and meditation, Dehradun is fast catching up to be in the elitist list. A number of centers dedicated to the practice of yoga and meditation, in their different styles, are coming up. Along with it, the traditional massage therapies of the Ayurveda are also mushrooming. Besides, the healthy cooking methods are also being taught through organisation of classes and workshops wherein the focus is on cooking in the right manner, with full knowledge of the nutritional value of each ingredient. Discourses, talks and seminars are organised from time to time in order to spread the awareness of being healthy using India’s own age-old practices.
These wellness centres, based on traditional belief systems and practices, not just aim to impart the knowledge but also offer healing from different ailments. Chakra healing, Reiki or the energy healing, Tantra healing and Sonic healing through mantras, kirtans and Tibetan bowls, all of these traditional methods of healing are also fast gaining acceptance by the people. The therapeutic value of these traditional healing systems, including yoga, pranayama and meditation are shaping up the new Dehradun.
The People of Dehradun – The Drivers of Change
An important factor which is responsible for the successful rise of the wellness industry, in different manifestations, is the people of Dehradun themselves. Being a city that has historically been home to the educated middle-class and upper-middle class government employees, it is not difficult to drive home the importance of wellness. Even the people who have migrated from the other cities of the country are fully aware of the wellness paradigm of life.
Their curiosity to learn makes them explore newer avenues of attaining and retaining health. The habit of leading disciplined lives makes it easier for them to practice these consistently and regularly, deriving the benefits from these wellness practices which often accrue with daily practice over a long period of time.
Low Crime Rates
The fact that the city has one of the lowest crime rates in India points to the fact that the people are largely peaceful. Overall, it is close to 62 in safety index which is pretty good. This makes the city one of the best to live with plenty of growth opportunities.
How to Reach Dehradun
Dehradun can be reached from any place in India as it is well connected with road, rail and air network with rest of the country.
Air Transportation: Dehradun has the Jolly Grant Airport which is a domestic airport located 25 km south-east of the city. The airport is connected to Mumbai, Varanasi, Delhi, Pantnagar, Ahmedabad, Allahabad, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Indore, Kolkata, Lucknow and Jaipur. Airlines which operate direct or via flights to/from Dehradun airport are Air Heritage, Air India, Alliance Air, IndiGo, Spicejet and Vistara. The nearest international airport to Dehradun is New Delhi’s IGI. So, foreign tourists flying from different parts of the world and willing to come to Dehradun arrive at New Delhi IGI airport, which is the nearest one.
Road Transportation: Two major National Highways connect Dehradun to the nearby major cities. NH 7 and NH 307 connect it to Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. From Delhi, Dehradun is about 250 km away. From Chandigarh, the distance is of 175 km. From Shimla, it is 225 km away.
Rail Transportation: Dehradun railway station was established by the British in 1899. It exists till this date and is the last station of the Northern Railways on this line. A number of trains connect Dehradun to different parts of the country. Kochuveli Dehradun Superfast Express covers distance of more than 3400 kms and passes through 9 states. Nanda Devi Express connects Kota Junction to this city. Similarly, Kathgodam Express connects to Kathgodam, Mussoorie Express to Delhi, Varanasi Dehradun Express to Varanasi, Dehradun Express to Bandra Station, Dehradun Jan Shatabdi Express to New Delhi junctions and Doon Express to Howrah.
There is quite a prominent shift in the image of Dehradun, from being a city of retirees to a modern city with all pervasive wellness practices. Driven by the opportunities which development has opened up and the general inclination of the people to learn about these, it is just a matter of time that Dehradun also becomes an internationally popular city for these practices and begins to draw foreigners to its fold. This will establish Dehradun as another wellness destination in India… If the stakeholders do not take any shortcuts…
Writer’s footnote: In the last few months of our residency in Dehradun, we have seen an upswing of inquiry about Yoga Classes in Dehradun and Meditation Classes in Dehradun, both on google and otherwise. I will update the post, in the times to come.