Image: Michael Scalet
Image: Michael Scalet (creative commons)

 

My India story is one of love at first sight – a groggy, smoggy, noisy, early morning first sight. Since I stepped off that plane at three in the morning onto the tarmac at New Delhi airport, I knew that this was where I wanted to be. Since then, I have travelled to either India or Pakistan once or twice a year, travelling the length and breadth of the subcontinent.

I found, however, that while I was having the most colourful and belly-wrenching adventures, I was engaging with India only on a surface level. I realised that as a backpacker – even one who liked to think of himself as socially engaged and aware – I was barely able to scratch the surface of the part of the world I loved the most.

After a couple of weeks of indecision, I dropped my Arabic language course in Melbourne and enrolled at Landour Language School, a tiny Hindi school in the foothills of the Himalayas. I figured that if India was where I wanted to be, I had an obligation to engage with it in a more meaningful way.

Learning Hindi – the most widely understood Indian language – seemed like the logical place to start. A week later, I had my flights booked, my university deferral organised and was already planning which different Himalayan delicacies I was going to try.

I had enrolled in Landour Language School in the hill station of Mussoorie, which sits on a ridge overlooking the plains about 90 minutes north of Dehradun and a nine hour bus ride from New Delhi. When I enrolled I knew nothing about the school. It was only after arriving in the middle of the night in the pouring rain did I realise what I had committed to.

What I had committed to was an intensive language course (Landour Language School offers Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Sanskrit), the duration of which was completely up to me. The classes at the school are all individual one-on-one classes with a variety of teachers. At the start of the week you are assigned a daily schedule as per your requirements.

My program comprised four to five, one-hour classes a day with four different teachers. One class was for grammar, one for reading and writing and two for conversation and vocabulary. It is possible to do more or less than these hours depending on your requirements. I studied for four months paying week-by-week and left the school with a certificate declaring me an intermediate Hindi speaker.

 

Image: Felix Pal

 

While the classes were intense, there was not much homework, and living in the beautiful Himalayas meant that I had plenty of beautiful walks and drives to clear my mind. Weekends were for exploring the surrounding mountains and the flexibility of the class structure meant that I could take a week off here and there. One week I went to Rajasthan for Holi, another week I travelled down into Punjab – it was really a perfect arrangement.

I stayed in a Tibetan run hotel with mountain views where I was able to negotiate a heavy discount due to the long duration of my stay. Many students stayed in homestays run by entrepreneurial local families, who have a long history of working with Hindi Students. Landour Language School also has a list of boarding houses to help you get started.

Landour Language School is one of the oldest Hindi schools in India. Set up during the British Raj, the school catered to British army officers and academics of the empire. As a result, the surrounding area of Landour cantontment (a suburb of Mussoorie) has a long history of European engagement. Many of the local families are Christian and the school is even located inside a church. Most people in the immediate area speak excellent English and the shops sell anything from imported wine to vegemite, so as to cater for the language students. I found this bubble quite uncomfortable because it was so obtusely catered towards the students. However, it was only a 20-minute walk down the mountain to the Mussoorie bazaar, where I was able to sink back into India in all its bewildering foreignness.

I made some amazing friends, whom I have kept in touch with, from the incredibly diverse student cohort (which fluctuates from between 10 and 90 depending on the season). Swedish international human rights lawyers, American nurses, British undergraduates and Italian hippies are all people I met at the school and count among my dear friends.

The one-on-one classes also meant that it was possible to become close to your teachers. I was able to go to dinner at my grammar teacher’s house several times! I am also very passionate about cooking and had the pleasure of doing informal cooking classes every night with a local lady with whom I developed a close friendship.

I would definitely recommend Landour Language school to anyone seeking to learn or improve their Hindi or Urdu. The flexibility of the course as well as its incredible location make it an amazing option. Each one-hour class was 400 rupees (around eight Australian dollars) when I studied, although the prices may have changed. Just keep in mind that the school is also closed during the winter snow period from December to February.

If you are interested in learning Hindi – one of the most dynamic and exciting languages in the world – in its home context, I don’t think you can go past Landour Language School.

If you are looking for more opportunities to learn Hindi in India, check out Cathy Day’s experience learning Hindi in Delhi, ANU Hindi study course in Delhi or Your guide to learning Hindi online

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Felix Pal

Felix is completing his PhD in International, Political and Strategic Studies at the Australian National University. Since his first trip in 2008, Felix has travelled extensively through the region. Having studied both Hindi and Urdu, he regularly finds himself back in Delhi for work, research and travel.

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