The clouds moved in by late afternoon. I looked out of the window, wondering how to spend the rest of the day: go out for a walk or laze around. Undecided, I strolled out of the room. A draft of crisp, cool wind greeted me. I trudged to the lawn, sidestepping the wildflowers. The other guests at the hotel were soaking in the atmosphere, sipping tea, reading books or chatting. The resident dog was curled up cozily under a chair. Everything was picture-perfect but soon enough the alarm clock played spoilsport. Time to get ready for office. Outside, Delhi was sizzling at 44 degrees Celsius.
We crossed Meerut, Najibababad and Bijnore and plenty of mango orchards during the seven-hour drive. Sadly, there weren’t any decent eateries on the route. The only decent one was ‘Monty Millions’, the MTV-equivalent of the typical ‘Sher-e-Punjab’ dhabas. We reached Lansdowne around lunchtime, ravenous and tired. The temperature was around 26 degrees. And, this 18-degree drop and the fresh mountain air was enough to reinvigorate us. Lansdowne is situated at an altitude of 6,000 m above sea level and is surrounded by oak and blue pine forests.
Before I go gaga over this 6.09 sq-km cantonment town in Uttarakhand, here’s a slice of history: The town was named after Sir Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne, 6th Earl of Kerry and Viceroy of India from 1888 to 1894. Today, the Garhwal Rifles has its command office here. And, thanks to the regiment, Lansdowne is clean, green and orderly. There aren’t many hotels around because of the stringent construction rules and therefore it is best to book in advance.
We opted for a 1914 property, a colonial bungalow-turned-hotel called Fairydale, a pretty estate with an old world charm. The rooms were clean, spacious and comfortable. The food was fairly good. The best part of the hotel was its service: warm and homely.
There’s nothing much to do in Lansdowne, in the conventional sense that is. There are no malls, great eateries or things you generally associate with a thriving tourist destination. There is no pressure to do that dreadful touristy thing called ‘sightseeing’. Instead, there are numerous forest trails, two old churches and dilapidated British bungalows. The best way to enjoy Lansdowne is to walk and simply walk. Carry some food, water, a book and a raincoat and you are ready for a day out. And, we did just that. The winding roads are lined with Raj-era bungalows, now hidden behind a wall of bougainvillea.
On day one, we took one of the numerous forest paths, chatting all the way to Tiffin Top from where you can see the sprawling valley and the Greater Himalayas. On our way back we saw the St John’s Church, which was converted into an Army museum. The church, we are told, will be handed over to the local parish and religious services are due to start very soon. The second church, St Mary’s, is much bigger and is used for religious services. The Army museum at the heart of this fauji town is a delight even if you are not interested in military history. The well-maintained museum showcases the rich history of the regiment, its efforts during the World War I in France and the numerous awards including the two Victoria Crosses it won.
Coming back from a trip is always the most difficult part. And, this time it was no different. But the weather took us by surprise. Clouds enveloped the town, threatening to rain any moment; the wind was blowing wildly, making all kinds of sound. Just when everything looked so beautiful and enchanting, a very ‘responsible’ friend called from Delhi: “Hi! You guys coming back today? It’s touching 45 degrees here”.