As I said earlier, Woodstock is (much like St. Olaf) a little bubble community just outside of town. Technically, I guess it is in Landour (a small hillside community with no real downtown) rather than Mussoorie (which has a population of around 25,000, I think). Woodstock is not closed-gated but rather has some locals living on campus and many passing through on two of the town's major roads that cut through the campus. The area has been known for being a very safe place until recently. However, I'm more nervous about monkey attacks than unwanted interactions with people!
I've never felt more disoriented than I do here. There are no maps of anything and rarely is there a street or path sign. There are footpaths everywhere on the hillsides but only people who have lived here for years have any idea
which is the right one to take. I'm still trying to figure out the paths on campus. I'm getting bolder, thankfully, and am starting to explore more.
I have made the 20min walk downtown many times already (it is about the only walk that is predominantly flat!). There is one main road that goes through town. It is very narrow (in the states we would deem it "one-way")but has lots of traffic - cars, mopeds, animals, vendors, pedestrians, and buses (that are covered with puke stains from nauseous travellers). The shops are very small and specialized - mostly fabric, electronic, gift, very small grocery, and hardware stores. I love browsing through the fabric shops - so many colorful textiles for making Indian saris and salwar-kameez. I haven't yet had either of those made, but now have two tailor-made shirts and a pair of handmade leather sandals. For the sandals, I walked into a tiny tiny shop with two Indian men sitting on the floor, pointed at the design I wanted, and then proceeded to have my foot traced (like in kindergarten) in an old notebook. It was pretty exciting.
The demographics of the area are interesting. About 50 years ago the Dalai Lama declared Mussoorie to be home of the Tibetan Goverment in Exile (which has now moved north to Dharamsala), so there is a large Tibetan population (who inhabit "Happy Valley" - such a great name!). There is also a large Muslim population, on top of Christian, Sikh, and Hindu. At school, I can constantly hear singing and prayers being broadcast over a loudspeaker in town.
I was warned that Mussoorie is very touristy. I'm not sure how much I agree. While there are a good number of foreigners, most of them are atypical or have taken up residency here. Most non-Asians are connected somehow with Woodstock or have come to learn Hindi at the language school in Landour. There aren't very many "creature-comfort" places around, but there are a good amount of restaurants that visitors can eat at in Mussoorie without suffering the effects.
It is very easy to identify the Woodstock students when they are in town (they are allowed to walk downtown most Saturdays). In general they are very stylish and, of course, wear their ipods at all times. Probably 90% of the student body is Asian, with Indians and Koreans making up most of that. Most of them come from very wealthy homes. I have at least one student who is some kind of Indian prince (he's not the best artist though:) and many students who come from families that own multiple businesses (and homes) worldwide. It is a little intimidating! At first I was frustrated with their wealth and privilege. Now I am starting to see that one of the best things for them is to come to a school like this where they don't have all of the amenities that they would at home, where they are forced to live in community, and where some of them get much more positive adult contact and attention than they do from their career-driven parents.