My visit to Mussoorie

In October 2014 I went to India. I wanted to look for the house my Cockburn ancestors had lived in, in Mussoorie, and visit Camels Back Road Cemetery. However, my journey also had a more subtle goal: I wanted to discover what India was like – I wanted to get an idea of what it was about India that the family had loved so much.

In India the Sanskrit word yatra is used to describe a sacred or special pilgrimage – and I came to think of the trip as a personal yatra.

In Mussoorie I stayed in Landour and loved walking the high wooded roads, gazing at the snow-covered Himalayas on clear days and watching the mists roll in and out on hazy days. The ‘winter line’, an atmospheric phenomenon found only in two or three parts of the world, created stunning sunsets that went on and on.

Sunset from Ivy Bank guesthouse in Landour.

Sunset from Ivy Bank guesthouse in Landour, showing the winter line.


Most days I walked down to Mussoorie ‘central’ through the old, narrow Landour bazaar where the shops are still populated mostly by shoe makers, tinkers, tailors, sweet sellers, fruit shops and tiny grocery shops.

Garland seller in Landour bazaar threads marigolds for Diwali.

Garland seller in Landour bazaar threading marigolds for the Diwali festival.


Mussoorie ‘central’ was a completely different place, with an endless and often ugly jam of hotels, shops and traffic created for the Indian tourist market.  However, I’d known before I went there that it would be commercialised, and didn’t find it too bad. In every corner of India there is a special experience to be had – something unexpected or interesting. The trick was to take it in small chunks and not become overwhelmed or exhausted.

Statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Library Chowk.

Statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Library Chowk, against a backdrop of hotel signs.


Stepping back off the road into a doorway would give me a safe spot from where I could look at the street more closely, and I could often identify remnants of colonial buildings and landmarks.

PIcture Palace - now a video parlour.

Picture Palace – now a video parlour.


Beyond Library Chowk, the Mall Road became less busy. Camels Back Road was a lovely walk, and a highlight was the day I took a taxi to Everest House and saw a stunning panorama of the Himalayas.

Himalayas from Everest House.

Himalayas from Everest House.


The ‘Mussoorie’ tab in the top menu has links to photos and information I gathered during my trip.


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Filed under BritishIndia, CockburnHistory, FamilyHistory

Starting out

My mother, who is now 80, has a particular fondness for India that she inherited from her grandmother, Minnie (Mignonette Cockburn), who lived in Bengal and Mussoorie for much of the first 21 years of her life.

Minnie standing behind Rani, who is holding Virginia on the swing.

Minnie, Rani and Virginia: Dunedin, NZ, 1932 (approx).

During her secondary school years in Dunedin, New Zealand, my mother spent a lot of time with Minnie, who lived near her boarding school. Minnie, an entertaining story teller, shared both fascinating and incredible stories about her life in India – and these proved unforgettable for Mum.

She also left her a photo album that contains about 30 photos of Mussoorie and surrounding areas, taken in about 1897.

My own grandmother,  Rani (Minnie’s daughter), also ‘inherited’ this love of India from Minnie – and when I was a small child she in turn repeated the now-thoroughly-embellished India stories to me.

Mignonette Cockburn > Rani Hyde (nee Bennell) > Virginia Nelson (nee Hyde) > Anne Nelson (that’s me).

How this project started

A while ago I started the sojourn into family history research that so many embark on and from which so few quickly return.

As I disappeared into Google, online databases, genealogy message boards, the National Library and Archives NZ, my mother (Virginia) expressed her interest in finding out more about where her grandmother had lived in India and “what they did there”.

On this website I’ll share with you what I’ve found out – in case you’re also researching a branch of the Cockburn family; or have an interest in one of the places, occupations or events in India that I’ve come across.

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Filed under CockburnHistory, FamilyHistory