If you took a walk towards the western edge of Mussoorie, you’d find yourself in an area peopled by history: Sir George Everest, Surveyor-General; William Fraser, the Resident of Delhi, the owner of Leopard Lodge and Major Swetenham, the Commandant of the Invalids establishment at Landour.
How the Major came to own Cloud End is the heady stuff of fairy-tales. Out hunting with his companions in the area, he was enchanted by the song of a local girl. Trailing her home, he discovered she was the daughter of one of the local village chiefs. Swept off his feet, he begged her father to allow him to marry her, not much later, she was, indeed Mrs. Swetenham – the matriarch of great family.
Or was it that English women were hard to come by. A correspondent wrote: “In proof of the scarcity of English women, and the mortality among soldiers, you may see a soldier’s wife with wedding rings reaching up to the joint of her finger!”
The lovelorn couple settled on her father’s estate and built a house, which was called Cloud End, named after a peak opposite his home in Edmontia in Wales. She bore him six sons, all of whom became Colonels in the British Indian army. One of them, Col. R.A. Swetenham, was a signatory to the Charter of the Dehra Dun Club 1901. One of the granddaughters Louise Swetenham inherited the old lady’s voice and was soon known as Mussoorie’s ‘Nightingale’. Another granddaughter married a nephew of the Victoria Cross holder Raynor. In the course of time Cloud End estate devolved to the two of the grand daughters of the original Swetenham. In 1965 Col. E.W. Bell husband of one of them sold the estate just before leaving for England.
To digress, just for a moment, apart from the Swetenham’s, another legend was born here: the elusive bird – the Mountain Quail, Ophrysia superciliosa was last seen in the area.
Is it extinct or elusive? Ornithologists differ.
It was last sighted in the area in November 1865 in a hollow between Bhadraj and Benog peak at an elevation of about 6000 feet.
Then it reappeared 1867 at Jharipani, elevation of 5,500 feet. Three persons, one a shikari and the others naturalists saw these birds and wrote about them. Kenneth Mackinnon, who shot several of them, at the time, recalled that he had only heard of them being around during winter.
When disturbed they would scurry between the tussocks of tall grass rather than fly or hide, living in coveys of five or six, it was hard to flush them unless you almost trampled upon them.
Who knows, some day they may come back one winter when the climatic conditions are the same as they were in 1867 or 1868. Until that day arrives, I’m afraid that all we have to be content with are ten specimens in museums in the U.K. and America!