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by Barbara Crossette

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8133-3326-1

New York Times correspondent Crossette’s tour of colonial hill towns is sharp, rooted in historical context, and smartly delineated. Ootacamund, Darjeeling, Simla, Murree, Dehra Dun—all are hill stations, draped like a high-altitude swag from Pakistan to Indonesia, relics of a colonial past that hungered for relief from summer heat and lowland disease, that yearned for a touch of home, for its architecture and institutions: club and church and library, brewery and boarding school and adultery. Curious as to how the hill stations were faring, Crossette visited 19 of them. Here she traces their histories, draws from a rich literature, interviews long-time residents, tenders her own observations as a journalist who has witnessed hill-town transformations—and the rebellions and environmental confrontations accompanying them—over the last few decades. There is promiscuous Mussoorie, “created for pleasure, not work,” and down-on-its-luck Darjeeling; she calls upon egalitarian Kodaikanal, a product of American missionaries in the Palni Hills of India, where snobbery and rank were irrelevant, and she hies to capacious Maymyo in Myanmar (which Crossette persists in calling Burma); then to the east, to the Malaysian hill towns, with Cameron Highlands soldiering on with its tidy atmospherics, a freeze-frame of times long gone. She also visits Dutch Indonesian stations—Bogor, Bukittinggi, Brastagi, each brooding and melancholic, pervaded by a “potentially violent unease” that Crossette finds marking current Indonesian society—and the French town in Dalat, its villas now being faithfully restored. Lastly, it is to doomed Baguio in the Philippines, a Poconos-styled American construct, now destined to become a golf resort. Crossette’s writing is quietly evocative, her research sprawling, her opinions right on the surface. She is mesmerized by hill towns and she makes their magic palpable. (10 illustrations)