Me and two of my friends cum colleagues wanted to go for a small family week end trip with the objective of pure chilling out. I was always in favour of self driving rather than taking the pain of planning ahead and booking railway tickets. Initially we were looking for places near to Shimla like Chail or Shogi. But the driving time was coming a bit too much and we were trying to avoid a hectic journey. While searching on the net I came across the Ghumakkar family and was instantly impressed by the quality of the travelogues posted here. Also I found the place called Lansdowne. I never realized this is the closest hill station to Delhi/NCR. I did some quick reading and decided to give it a try. My friends agreed and just to make an initial check we called up Fairydale resort and found out that only three 4 beds rooms were available. Personal and office work took priority and firming up the actual travel dates got delayed. Finally we decided on 19th June and called up Fairydale again but we were told that all the rooms were sold out. A quick discussion took place and frantic calls were place to Oak Grove Inn and Anand Retreat. We got prompt reply from Col Rawat of Oak Grove Inn but Anand Reterat was a bit reluctant. So we put our faith on Col. Rawat and booked for three families.
Our journey started from Gurgaon on 19th at six in the morning in two cars. We went through Ghaziabad, missed the turn to Meerut, did a U turn and finally we were out on NH 58 towards Meerut one and half hour after leaving Gurgaon. But hold on. We got stuck in a long traffic jam in Muradnagar because of a toppled truck and lost almost 40 minutes. We put too much faith on Google maps and took the Meerut by Pass to avoid Meerut traffic. Both the cars were having mobiles with GPS on and we were confident enough to cross Meerut without any trouble. God must had a good laugh on us.
As pre decided we took the right on Sardhana Road and pushed ahead towards trouble. Just before we touched the railway line the road was closed for flyover construction and there we were confused on where to go. People were helpful and a policeman on bike told me to follow him as I was the lead driver. We went into by lanes and village roads and after sometime we were at the railway gate. The police man left us with a goodbye (without asking for tips…which I am sure he would) and some more directions. As we crossed the roads the blue “current position” dot on my mobile was on again on a yellow road and I could see the Mall Road in my map. Once on Mall road it was easy to follow the Mawana road and getting out of Meerut (sigh of relief).
Our next search point was “Monty Millions” Dhaba as by now every body was hungry and it was almost 11 in the morning. The road between Meerut and “Monty Millions” was in very good condition and we covered the 45 Km within about 40 minutes. “Monty Millions” was placed in the corner of a T junction with good parking facility, a small garden and more or less clean toilets. We had our brunch in there and continued on the same road.
After covering almost 12 Km I was a bit surprised to see that the signs for Khatauli and Moradabad. By now I lost my faith on Google map and GPS as it showed we were traveling on no particular road. So I stopped and asked in a tea shop and was told to turn back and take the other route going from Monty. So promptly we turned and drove back to Monty and this time took the other road and after a kilometer I was satisfied to see Bijnor on the milestone. This is a wonderful road via a toll bridge over Ganges to Bijnor. As usual there was no particular signpost at Bijnor and we had to quite a few times and make a small U turn to go towards Najibabad. Again this is an excellent road passing through Mango gardens. In between we crossed the railway line again and pot holed patch by the side of a canal before reaching Najibabad. The story repeated in Najibabad and after quite few enquiry stops we were again on highway to Kotdwara. The clock was giving a time 2 pm. The road from Najibabad to Kotdwara passes through forest section and driving through was very relaxing. Once at Kotdwara I filled up my tank at the first petrol pump that I could found and then we started for the Hill. The road goes through Duggada and this was my second and Manabesh’s first drive on hill roads. So we drove leisurely.
For Oak Grove we took a left turn after crossing Duggada. The big “Garhwal Rifles” signboard did not allow us to make a mistake this time. The hill road was beautiful pine forests and we stopped for a short photo session and a smoke at one point. About an hour or so after leaving Kotdwara we reached another sign board by Garhwal Rifles and took a right turn. Oak Grove was about 20 minutes from this point and we reached roughly at 4 pm (10hrs after leaving Gurgaon).
Col.Rawat expressed bit of surprise by our timing. We settled down in our rooms and later in the front porch of the Rawat house with tea, pakoda and cheese sandwich to view the sunset. There was cool breeze coming from the valley down and it was relaxing enough after the long drive.
Next morning we got up late, had our breakfast and left the hotel at 11 am for Lansdowne. First we went to St. John’s Church set amidst beautiful pine trees.
From there we went to Tip-n-Top crossing the St. Mary’s Church on the way, but it was too late for any snow peak viewing.
After roaming around the GMVN rest house at Tip-n-Top for sometime and feeding our kids (the elder one is 4 yrs and the younger one is 1-1/2) we started down for the Market. The roads are neatly kept to say the least. In the market we chose the restaurant called “Zayka” just by the side of the famous Mayur Hotel as all of us are hardcore non veggies. The food was tasty after the good lunch the drivers (me and Manabesh) were more inclined to jump on the bed rather than going to the Bhulla Tal (Mrs. Rawat told us earlier that water level has gone down extremely because of lack of rain). The Army Museum as well as the leather goods shop (as suggested by Col. Rawat to our wives in the morning as a must go place for shopping) in Alkananda shopping complex (Army Canteen) were closed to our convenience and we persuaded our wives to go back to the hotel. After a good rest in the afternoon we enjoyed another sunset with tea and cool breeze.
Next day morning we bid goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Rawat and to save us from the misery of going on the wrong roads Col. Rawat drew a meticulous road map on a piece of paper. Again I was the lead driver and we started at 10 o’clock. This time we took all the right turns and reached back Gurgaon (seven hours total driving including one and half hour between Ghaziabad and Gurgaon).
I will finish the story with few words about the Oak Grove Inn. The hotel is running for past one year and after an initial slow take off it remains full on most of week ends now. The normal rooms are small but very clean. I would recommend the family room as it is huge in size but there is only one available. Next time I go there I will ask for the top floor rooms which have a wide balcony (ideal for playing cards or chatting in a group) in front. There is not much choice of food in terms of items but both veg. and non-veg are entirely homemade and tastes superb. There is no room service and all food is served only in the dining hall. I must mention Mrs. Rawat’s wide collection of plants. There are plants kept at every nook and corner of the entire building. Col. Rawat’s own house just below the hotel is also nicely decorated and very charming. Since the hotel is built just on the road so there is a bit of problem if you have small kids as there is no open play area for them. The front porch of the Rawat’s house can cater for this to some extent. But overall the stay was very satisfying. If you decide to stay there then you must keep in mind that it is not a full fledged commercially run hotel. Rather it is somewhere between a B&B and a hotel. Being said that all kinds of demands for Maggi without masala, oats in milk, khichdi without spices but with butter and potato and so on for our kids were met with ever smiling faces in the two days of our stay there.