Scented pine forests, babbling brooks, gently sloping hills, birds from paradise flycatchers to red-billed blue magpies, haunting greenery - Doon Valley's picturesque details are plenty. The place is picked up for some tender loving care by people who once passed through the valley, lived there for a while or are settled there for ever. And who best but Ruskin Bond, the grand old man of Doon, to edit these experiences into "Once Upon A Time in the Doon... Writings From The Green Valley".
Nostalgia, history, adventures, geography, discoveries, travel, ghosts - all form a part of the reminiscences. Arijit Banerji advices: "With the growing tourist trade, industrialization, new educational institutions, new hotels, and the exodus away from the crowded dusty plains to our Dehra in the Dun, the town grows. It is our job to see it improves as well."
The area's main attractions include the Wildlife Institute at Chandrabani, the Asan Barrage, the Thano forest, the Kalu Sidh Temple and forest blocks such as Barkot, Jhajra and Majaun.
Bikram Grewal fears: "Now there's a new threat. The city has been declared the capital of the newly formed state of Uttaranchal (now, Uttarakhand), a decision that has accelerated the crass urbanization. The city is expanding and creeping into the pristine forests."
Historian Ramachandra Guha injects a contemporary note with "The Net and nostalgia". "Nehru's love affair with Dehra Dun" by Raj Kanwar and "Milk rusk to Maharaja Mac" by Palash Krishna Mehrotra juxtapose the Doon of yore to the hip destination it is today.
Nayantara Sahgal gets "Up close and personal". "Empty space was fast disappearing and hedges had become history as houses sprang up... There were sentry boxes, night watchmen, burglaries - one in my own house - and spectacular car crashes as traffic grew too big for roads and ignored rules. In town glass-fronted shops sold imported brands from shoes to virgin olive oil, eyelashes, lotions and potions at globalised prices."
"I hoped that with health, beauty and the fountain of youth ours for the taking in the Himalayan herbs growing wild on our hills, Uttarakhand would patent and profit by this abundant miraculous yield before some foreign brand did," she rues.
Guha tackles football while Sahgal dwells upon her writing career and journo Karan Thapar breaks into "Random thoughts" that refer in no particular order to Amitabh Bachchan, Abdul Kalam, Amitav Ghosh, Arun Shourie, Naseeruddin Shah, Vikram Seth and Morarji Desai.
Fiction is a bare brush but Sumanata Banerjee does go "Traveling with a phantom" as Rakesh Bahadur keeps up the eerie tempo with a "Touch of the vanished hand". Eco-activist Florence Pandhi's arrival in the valley as a bride is all charm and chaos. Actor Victor Banerjee boards the "Last train to Dehra Bun" and Bond narrates the "Saga of a soldier" while Bill Aitken mulls over "Mussoorie house names".
The writers' qualms are palpable and the solutions a misty spray. In the end Sahgal consoles herself: "There are still reassuring reminders that some things need not change: roasted coffee beans from Paltan bazaar, freshly baked brown bread, puri-tarkari and the comfort of beautifully stocked bookshops where every request is met and fulfilled with a most unbusinesslike affection. My hillside is still there, too, still thickly wooded, I hope for all time."
A hope echoed in every heart, be it a contributor to this anthology or a reader.