Lansdowne is a small cantonment town in the Garhwal Himalayas. It is approximately 280 kms from Delhi. Nearest railway station is Kotdwar. Lansdowne is 40 kms from Kotdwara on Pauri road. I have been to Lansdowne three times. Or, should I say, I have had flavor of Lansdowne in autumn, winter and summer; and would visit during next week for a flavour of Lansdowne monsoon.
For the benefit of all Ghumakkars, my Lansdowne experience is here in one story. Any suggestions, feedback, critic are welcome.
Lansdowne – love at first sight
(Account of my first visit to Lansdowne during October 2009)
On 25th Oct morning my wife simply dropped the name of a place called Lansdowne that one of her colleagues has mentioned as a place worth visiting. I don’t know why but it stuck to me like super glue and the first thing on reaching office was to google Lansdowne. Within 10 minutes I had decided that our weekend destination would be Lansdowne and not Rishikesh as they are at the same distance from Delhi. Having decided upon the destination, the problem was to find suitable accommodation at Lansdowne. I found there are not many options. The only good options are – Oak Grove Inn, Fairy Dale, Blue Pine and some Jungle Resort called Ananda (good?).
After realizing that neither Oak Grove nor Fairy Dale nor Ananda had any suites left, I booked a family suite at Blue Pine Resort. The contact person at Delhi Mr Dharmendra surprised me by confirming my booking even before the payment! “Sirji, main booking conform kar raha hoon aap par bharosa kar ke bas aap booking cancel mat karna”. And in next 5 minutes, Blue Pine Resort Voucher was there in my gmail inbox . Thanks Dharmendra for your help and Bharosa which I hope I did not break.
On the D-Day we started at 10.30 AM from our home and thanks to some perpetual construction work of Delhi and savings done by MCD and other authorities by not putting navigation / sign boards, we could get out of the city not before 12.15 PM. The joy was short-lived as another major traffic jam was waiting for us at Modinagar. This traffic jam took us more than an hour to cross Modinagar.
Post Modinagar, our journey was not very eventful for some time…because I realized the mistake later only. After Modinagar when we reached Meerut, thinking that I might save some time bypassing the city, I made a mistake that cost me 25 km extra run and maybe 40 minutes more. My mistake was actually accentuated by Google map as it showed the route via Khatauli, which is actually a longer route than via Mawana. I thought it was futile to repent the mistake and enjoy the journey irrespective of the route. All roads lead to Rome. Via Mawana or via Khatauli, you can reach Lansdowne any way. From Khatauli we have to take right and after railway crossing move on Meerapur road, which is a 20 km drive from Khatauli. On both sides there were lush green fields and road was really good. Moreover, there was virtually no traffic on the entire stretch upto Meerapur. From Meerapur we have to take left and after moving about 200 mtrs take right at the crossing where Monty Millions restaurant is situated.
Since we had already lost much time as already mentioned and we were carrying our food, we continued our journey on Bijnor road. This point onwards our journey was really pleasant as the road is really good and traffic volume is low. Our beloved Santro touched 120 kmph many times on this stretch. However, there was a bottleneck at Najibabad due to construction work of a fly-over. That was a really bad patch of road to negotiate, especially with a car. From Najibabad upto Kotdwar the journey was largely uneventful, except occasional view of monkeys and other wild animal.
Around 5 PM we reached Kotdwar. Lansdowne is only 40 km from Kotdwar. We were wondering – where is the hill station? There was no sign of any hill landscape and we were only 40km from Lansdowne. But then, we had not even crossed Kotdwar and suddenly the landscape changed. We felt as if under a magical charm. The plains have transformed into hills!! This was the first of many ‘wow’ moments during our Lansdowne visit. You feel like standing at a threshold where you see plains on your back and the hills next to you! Awful… we embarked upon the roller-coaster from Kotdwar to Lansdowne.
As you start ascending from Kotdwar the landscape changes dramatically. The Garhwall Himalyas begin to give glimpses of their majesty. Road is exceptionally good, owing to the presence of the Garhwal Regiment. While we were about 10 kms from Lansdowne, the Garhwall Himalayan Hills started unfolding their magic and mysticism. All of a sudden we found ourselves engulfed by clouds and visibility was hardly 5 meters! Looking down the valley filled with clouds I felt at the door of eternity.
There was nothing beyond this point except white and grey thick volume of clouds. I could have never imagined that such a place existed so close to Delhi. By the time we reached Blue Pine Resort, 3 km before Lansdowne, the clouds had receded into some unknown oblivion and the visual spectacle of the hills and valleys was restored.
At the resort Mr Jitendra the manager welcomed us. We were quickly taken to our family suite on second floor which was a spacious and comfortable room. After negotiating minor glitches of housekeeping, soon we were enjoying tea in the balcony. A good thing about Blue Pine Resort is that all its rooms are valley facing. I inhaled fresh air which filled my lungs alongwith the aroma of butter chicken! Yes, our room was above the kitchen exhaust. While having tea, we again found ourselves in the midst of clouds and the valley again transformed into the door of eternity. Soon the clouds again receded. The clouds were playing hide and seek with the hills and the valley. Nature was demonstrating its jubilation. Welcome to Lansdowne. This peculiar phenomenon gives this otherwise non-assuming place its distinct character.
As the night unfolded there was an absolute and divine serenity and silence in the vicinity. You can have effortless meditation at this place. The silence was broken abruptly by a Punjabi Pop and we were astonished to see the DeeJay (DJ) with its complete paraphernalia on the terrace of the resort. This was unbelievable. Have we come this far from Delhi to listen to this creep and bear this DJ? I called the manager in utter irritation and anger. But his answer rendered me speechless. “Sir, we never knew in our life what a DJ is. It was on the insistence of tourists from big cities (read Delhi) that we had to arrange for it. We ourselves do not like it. But tell me what we can do when the group bookings are made only after extortion of assurance of DJ?” I can only sympathize with these people who are so unfortunate that they do not know what to do with this blissful silence other than breaking it. This DJ drama starts at 7 PM and runs upto 10 PM. There goes your quite evening. There and then I took the vow – never ever to stay at the Blue Pine Resort. This was my simple escape because I cannot expect these people to change. May be it is the only way they can enjoy. Anyway, two shots of Fuel and the food somehow calmed the temper. Food was really good and the buffet is very reasonably priced too. This place however has no bar so better you carry your booze. We were so tired that never realized when felt asleep.
Next morning we woke up with a magnificent sunrise which filled the valley with its warmth and i lluminated the hills with its golden rays. I reminisced beautiful lyrics of a Sufi song – ‘aj din chadeya tere rang verga’. I realized how fast paced our life has become that we have no time to take a pause and absorb the beauty and serenity of nature. The terraces of houses nestled in the valley were reflecting sunrays which created illumination of gold. Wonderful.
The first item on our itinerary was visit to Tarakeshwar, a 600 years old Shiva Temple approximately 40 kms from Lansdowne. After quick tea at 8.15 am we began our journey to Tarakeshwar and decided to have breakfast on the way. The first left turn on Lansdowne-Kotdwar Road is the road to Tarakeshwar. The road is very good for its surface, again thanks to the Garhwal Regiment, but very tricky and testing for any amateur driver from plains. A bright sunny morning, fresh air and the company of my little angel, my son Chaitanya, made it a wonderful drive. We stopped near a knoll which provided good vantage point to see the thin line of the river flowing at the bed of the valley. After some pics and absorbing serenity of the place we resumed journey to Tarakeshwar. Suddenly there appeared a wild fox on the road. It was baffled to see us curious onlookers and after following us for a while vanished into the forests. Soonafter we crossed a small kasba ‘Sikandi’. There is only one small eatery and at that time the smell of hot samosas compelled us to stop. I quickly got samosas packed for all of us. We were so hungry that we devoured all samosas within no time. Those were really tasty samosas – less spicy, very lite and fresh, just like good home-made ones.
Moving on from Sikandi, we reached a signboard for Tarkeshwar 5 Km left. At this point you have to depart from the main road and turn to left on a very fragile earthen road. At many places there is virtually no road. The track is so narrow that two vehicles can not cross simultaneously. The Murphy’s Law makes the life further miserable on this track. I came across another vehicle from opposite site at the most difficult of curves I have ever negotiated. One needs to very cautious, patient and vigilant on this stretch to Tarakeshwar. At a point of time I was cursing myself for giving such harassment to my beloved Santro. But this beauty from Hyundai stable proved its mettle again and negotiated this stretch with élan. I reminisced our Himachal trip in December 2008 when our Santro took us comfortably from Delhi to Chail, Fagu, Narkanda, Shimla and back to Delhi.
At Tarakeshwar, you have to park vehicle about 100 mtrs from the temple where you start descending amidst dense forest of Deodars. Soon we were standing at the gate of Tarakeshwar temple. The impregnable canopies of Deodars do not permit any sun rays to touch the ground, even though it was a bright sunny day.
A unique divine serenity surrounded this place. Such an elegant expression of divinity rendered me numb and speechless. Beyond doubt this is an abode of the Shiva. Visiting Tarakeshwar is a life time opportunity for rendezvous with the divinity expressed as nature. This was a spiritual experience of highest order and it would a travesty to try to explain it in words.
While ascending to the parking there is a small ‘Maheshwari Ashram’ where we had tea. The caretaker of the Ashram Mr Kamal Dev was quintessential of Garhwali simplicity and hospitality. You can have your lunch organized at this place if you intimate the Ashram in advance. Also, it is only at this Ashram you can find a toilet. There is no other toilet in the temple complex and unlike the rest of India you are not allowed to relieve in the open.
Mesmerized with Tarakeshwar, in terms of both the roller-coaster ride as well as the wonderful spiritual experience, we started journey back to Lansdowne. A Garhwali woman asked for lift upto ‘Sikandi’. She opened a new window to understand the life of the people of this place. She talked with us about her village, fields, crops, livestock, relatives, issue of migration, her spiritual guru, et al. This was an entirely different perspective on life for us urban people. No wonder this region produces the bravest soldiers and hardworking people. What we need to learn the most is that they do not crib on trivial infirmities of life. These simple yet strong and composed people of Garhwal are the best exponents of the prayer that we often make but seldom do -
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
It is the connect and acknowledgement of the interdependence with the nature that enables these people negotiate life in hills with humility and grace. Compared to them I feel myself so down at the pedestal.
We dropped the mother Garhwal at ‘Sikandi’ and she gave my son a Garhwali kheera – the biggest cucumber I have ever seen. After mutual thanksgiving we parted our ways and headed for the same ‘Khantwal Restaurant and Tourist Hotel’ where we had picked samosas in the morning. After a simple yet very tasty lunch – Dal (mixed lentils and kidney beans), sabzi, rice, chapati and Thums-up we headed for Lansdowne and by 2.30 pm we were back at the Blue Pine Resort.
Since we had to leave for Delhi next morning we decided to check the town before day end and defer visiting other nearby places for next visit. Lansdowne is 3 km from Blue Pine Resort. At around 3.30 we started for town. Suddenly I realized that the indicator of my car’s fuel tank was limping leftward. I should have topped up the fuel tank at Kotdwar which is the nearest petrol tank from Lansdowne at a distance of 40 km. I wished I could get just 2-3 liters petrol to raise my comfort level. We decided to try luck in the town.
As we reached the entry point of Lansdowne the boards, hoardings and a huge commemorative Garhwal Regiment wall welcomed us. Moving little further I saw a parking sign board indicating to the left. I was amazed as the road connecting to the parking ground – more appropriately a pit – was in very bad shape. Somehow I managed to park the car but as I came out towards the regiment gate I realized what a blunder I have committed. The sentry at the Regiment gate told us that it is the abandoned parking whereas town in far ahead and you can drive down up to the last point of Lansdowne!!! Hi, hope you had never seen such a big idiot! Thanks sentry! It was with great difficulty and able navigation of my wife and son that I could come out of that parking pit… with car of-course. Be careful, if anybody listening.
Next we reached ‘Bhulla Lake’, which a good place for ‘point-to-point tourists’ – a term coined by my wife for tourists anxiously hoping from one place to another without bothering to absorb or connect with any place fully! So at Bhulla Lake, an ordinary artificial water body dug by trainee soldiers and maintained by the cantonment board, you can do boating, buy herbal plants, climb the tree house, have a snack and coke / coffee at the café while your kids / brats enjoy swings / slides / jumps. That is all… Bhulla Lake for you.
To be honest we were more anxious to leave this place as our mission was to somehow manage a couple of gallons of petrol. We asked three different persons – an army jawan, café manager and a curious onlooker – Can we get some petrol here anywhere in Lansdowne? Threesome gave the same reply – go to sadar bazar and ask for Guptaji’s Chakki (Flour mill). This was really quintessential of our transparency. A secret known to everyone that where you can get petrol in black market. Necessity necessitates necessary necessity!!! If there were any petrol pump in Lansdowne, there would have been no market for black market. It is simple lifenomics. As we started from Bhulla Lake towards Sadar Bazar we saw a family – a middle aged couple with their daughter – waving hand for lift. With pleasure we obliged and welcomed them in our car with the question of the day – where to find petrol? Swift came the same reply- the Chakki at Sadar Bazar. The gentlemen told that they were going to Kotdwar to attend a wedding. Soon we reached Sadar Bazar and we found a cab ready for Kotdwar. But wait, another example of Garhwali generosity was in store for us. The gentleman let go the cab and said first let us get petrol for you and then they will proceed to Kotdwar. He led me to the Chakki and I could make out our savior was a well known person. For Guptaji obliged us with five liters of petrol at almost market price. We thanked them and filled the belly of Santro. It was 6.45 pm and we decided to call it a day and retire to Blue Pine.
Last day of the first visit to Lansdowne
Having accomplished mission petrol, we called it a day and reached hotel by 7 PM. We had to leave for Delhi next morning. We decided for 9 AM start-off.
Next morning I woke up at 6.30 AM. I had to fulfill the promise made to Chaitanya – take him for trekking. Leaving other members to recuperate from yesterday’s journey, I and Chaitanya hit the trek to Lansdowne which passes through the hills above Blue Pine Resort. The morning mist and fog welcomed us. We felt transported to a different world. Chaitanya aptly described as if surfing on clouds.
Slowly but steadily we kept moving enjoying wonderful scenic beauty. This trek is not so easy to negotiate for a six years old boy. But my little brave-heart moved on with little but firm steps. Chaitanya’s company is always a learning opportunity for me. Seeing the world from his perspective is an eye opener many times. I had some lessons in the art of observation as he pointed out some beautiful wild flowers which might be peculiar to this region. Chaitanya has a sharp memory. He recalled that we had never seen such flowers in the plains and not even in the Himachal at the places we have visited so far. I reminisced how we had lost the way during a trekking in Himachal last year and it was only due to clues left by Chaitanya we could find the way back. Keep it up buddy.
On the way up-hill we came across some local people who must be daily commuters. It is the vantage point that makes the world look different. We were trekking for fun and joy; these people were trekking to negotiate day-to-day life!
On reaching the top we stopped short of Lansdowne town as we had to start-off to Delhi. There amidst the dense forest, looking down serpentine roads and breathing fresh air we felt rejuvenated instantly. In that serenity and silence I and Chaitanya paused to offer a prayer to Mother Nature. That blissful moment can not be relived through words.
We reached hotel around 9 AM. We had enough time for a quick round of the town before starting-off to Delhi. We passed through the town and headed for ‘Tip-n-top’ which provides a good vantage point for Garhwall Hills. On a clear day you may have a glimpse of Garhwall Himalayas as well. There is a cafe and tourist bungalow run by GMVN. We, however, had no time to check that.
We bid adieu to Lansdowne with a promise to come back and started for Delhi at around 10 AM. Road to Kotdwar was familiar now. We stopped at a place and descended for our first ever rendezvous with a hill river. This beautiful shallow river was flowing at the bed of the valley, sustaining life in small houses on both its banks. After spending some time with the river and collecting an array of pebbles we resumed our journey.
This being Dussehra day, traffic volume was low and the journey uneventful. Midway we stopped at Monty Millions, which is a good place for both food and to freshen up. After a sumptuous lunch, we took Mawana road and passing through Meerut and Modinagar we were home by 6.30 PM.
We had both hands full – overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of Garhwall Hills and richer in experience. Indeed, Lansdowne will now be one of our favourite holiday destinations.
(Account of my second visit to Lansdowne in December 2011 and third visit in June 2012)
This was our third visit to Lansdowne. But this journey (9-10 June 2012) was special in many ways.
It was our first venture of overnight driving. I love to drive but strictly follow the ‘sun-rise to sun-set’ rule while driving on highways and in the hills. However, there is always a first time.
We started from Sarita Vihar, and took the following route – Sarita Vihar-Noida-NH24 Bypass Hapur Road-Modinagar-Meerut-Mawana Road-Bijnor-Najibabad-Kotdwar-Dugadda-Jaiharikhal-Oak Groove Inn. Upto Najibabd it was a routine highway drive except for that it really gets spooky at times while driving in the night. However, after Najibabd the road is nicely paved with fluorescent markers which make you feel that you are driving through a river of bright earthen lamps (Mitti Ke Diye) or you are on a run way. All my driving fatigue vanished. It was a beautiful experience which was possible only due to night drive.
We reached Kotdwar around 3.30 am. It was too early for petrol pumps to open but we woke the guards at 4-5 petrol pumps of Kotdwar albeit without success. Disappointed but we started uphill drive. This was the most beautiful part of this journey. At 4 am, the hills were looking wrapped in serenity basking in the bluish grey light of gibbous moon. As we drove further, shades of blue changed gradually and then quickly and finally merged into bright shades of dawn. Added to this, the songs of birds would make this a divine morning raga. This was an experience no words can describe. We reached Oak Groove Inn at 5 am and called Pradeep who received us with a smile (despite that we woke him from sweet early morning sleep), showed our room and obliged us with hot ginger tea, quintessential of Oak Groove Inn hospitality.
It was 5.30 am by the time we settled. Chaitanya and I went to the ‘Hang Out’ to listen to and watch birds. At this quite hour we could spot many beautiful birds which are difficult to spot at any other hour. We went for a leisure walk across the village and had soft and sweet buns with yummy omelette in a village café at 6.30 am. Though we drove the whole night, my mind was fresh and rejuvenated. We returned to our room and took a nap of 3 hours. I woke up at around 10 am and it was time for breakfast, extended one for me and Chaitanya after our early morning buns and eggs.
After breakfast we met our hosts, Mrs and Colonel Rawat who welcomed us with the same warmth and joy with which your parents welcome you. It did not seem like visiting them after six months. It was like we resumed our conversation from where we had stopped last time. One more attraction at this place is that a visit to Pahari village could be organised if you request to the hosts in advance.
On our previous visit, we had visited Holi Talli (village at foothill) and had first-hand experience of village life, hospitality and delicious local food. It is an innovative way of the hosts to engage local people in tourism initiative whereby the locals may earn extra income as well. A piece of advice – do visit a Pahari village, if ever you get an opportunity, you would return richer in experience and humble in attitude towards life.
By 1 pm we were ready to leave to Tarakeshwara, a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, 40 kms from Lansdowne. Road to Tarakeshwara is very scenic and even during this peak of summer the amount of greenery on the hills was amazing. A lot of credit for this should go to the Garhawal Rifiles which have a centre here and their presence has contained rapacious exploitation of nature for tourism purpose. The charm of Lansdowne, in fact, is its being laidback. It is a calm, serene and clean place. A heaven for nature lovers.
We reached Tarakeshwara around 2.30 pm. This is a place which is probably the best place for any Sadhana, a place where meditation is effortless. Apart from the spiritual experience at Tarakeshwara, there are two more unique features. One, there are pine and oak trees abound everywhere in Lansdowne but this is the only place in this area which is endowed with Devdars.
Secondly, it is only here I have seen Devdars’ stems splitting like a Trishul as we can see in the picture. How one does interpret this is individual choice but for the believers like me this is an indication of presence of Lord Shiva at Tarakeshwara.
At 3.30 we started from Tarakeshwara to Lansdowne. Mid-way we had lunch at Sisaldi at Khantwal Bhojnalaya. It was simple Dal, Chawal and Subzi in Pahari style but very tasty and light. We also picked some bakery products which are supplied by bakery at Dugadda and found these products (biscotti and rusks) very fresh and delicious. They were very reasonably priced too.
Around 5 pm we reached Gandhi Chowk, the central market of Lansdowne. It is a small bazar with many eateries and also a Cineplex. We had local soft ice-cream and it was yummy. Having spent some time at Chowk we proceeded to Jaiharikhal and reached Oak Groove Inn before sunset.
We went to ‘Hang Out’ and watched sunset. It was a beautiful sight and with hot and tasty pakoras with Chai it was a wonderful evening. After sunset, we set there and had a long chat with our hosts over snacks and drinks. We met a senior couple who had hired a cottage for one month. It was their third month long stay at Lansdowne. It was wonderful meeting with them and their exuberance and positive attitude to life is inspiring.
Dinner was simple home style tasty food. Non-vegetarian food is also cooked on prior notice. We called it a day at 10.30 after dinner and having biscotti, bought at Sisaldi, for desert.
Next morning we woke up late and hurried up packing as we had to leave after breakfast. We bid farewell to our hosts and left to Delhi at 10 am. On the way we met the senior couple whom we had met last evening and had tea with them at their beautiful cottage, which is an extended property of Oak Groove Inn. We discussed an array of topics over tea but more importantly for us it was their resolute passion for hills, travel and life, which we would want to imbibe.
On the way we saw a river stream and went down. It was motorable upto last 100 meters of river bank. We, especially Divya and Chaitanya, enjoyed the natural jacuzzi in local river and spent almost an hour. Water was cool, clear and fresh. Schools of fish shining in bright sun light added to the charm. A long standing wish of Chaitanya was fulfilled. After lots of masti at river we proceeded around 1 pm and after negotiating traffic jam at a temple on a hair pin band, which was caused by irresponsible parking of touris vehicles, we reached Kotdwar. At Kotdwar we tanked up petrol and had refreshing ice-tea and proceeded to Delhi.
We had lunch at Kwality Restaurant at Bijnor and we would definitely recommend this place for its Butter Nan and Shahi Paneer as well as excellent service. This place is towards the end of Bijnor on left hand on Delhi road. After negotiating legendary traffice jam at Modinagar which consumed 45 minutes this time we reached home by 9 pm. One more wonderful visit to the hills which leaves you physically tired but emotionally rejuvenated. We have been to Lansdowne in winter and summer and now we will go to Lansdowne in Monsoon. Amen.