I’ve wanted to visit Lansdowne, a quiet hill town in the Garhwal hills of Uttrakhand, ever since I heard of the place. Alas, it would seem that my desire to see it was always jinxed despite planning and plotting many times. But it finally happened in July. I was finally on my way to Lansdowne weekend getaway madness. It turned out to be a weekend getaway road trip with four friends. My dear friend Neha drove, Sonia clicked pictures, Melissa slept and I just stuck my head out of the window to enjoy the view.
Delhi to Lansdowne
On our trusted chariot, charged on girl power and a full tank of petrol, we started early in the morning from Delhi. (We surprised ourselves at managing to be just fifteen minutes late from the originally estimated time of departure.) The route that we travelled took us from Delhi to Lansdowne via Meerut, Bijnore, Najibabad, and Kotdwar. To ensure that we didn’t waste time on food halts, we packed our breakfast and essential road trip-related junk food: Uncle Chips is a great companion. And it was a good thing we did. There were no dhabas or restaurants most of the way. The one shop we spotted didn’t open till eight in the morning and we were there around 6.45 or so. But the guard did confirm that we were on the right path.
The road to Lansdowne in the monsoon is beautiful, green, and tree lined, and surprisingly devoid of pot holes and traffic. We were further helped by the weather gods, who favoured us with pleasant breeze and mild sprinkling of rain. Suhana safar aur yeh mausam hasin best describes the feeling of all five of us— the car has to be included in the list.
Break at Madhya Ganga
Singing our favourite songs we took our first photo session break at Madhya Ganga canal, 11 km before Bijnor.
Having stretched our legs, we pushed ahead, crossed Bijnor and then hit the dusty town of Najibabad. Crisscrossing the milieu of cycle rickshaws, tongas, students on their way to school and a few dogs and cows, we navigated our way to Kotdwar. A few kilometres before Kotdwar, one gets the first view of the hills. Surrounded by clouds they look inviting to any traveller panting from the heat of the plains. We had the hills in the distance, the rain washed road in front, and bovine livestock judging our excitement with bemused expressions. Quite a welcome!
Travel Tip: Kotdwar is the last place to stock up on petrol if you happen to be low on it. Lansdowne is 50 kilometres uphill from here with no petrol pumps.
The climb up to the hills from Kotdwar is sudden. You turn a corner and before you stand the majestic Garwhal hills in their monsoon best; fresh and lush green covered. While the monsoons probably may not be the best time to visit the hills, we found it to be well worth the risk. I would suggest that you travel to the hills before the full fury of the rains are unleashed.
Our drive up was memorable. We had the river giving us company on one side and the flora rich hills hugging us on the other.
Driving through the clouds
And then the clouds moved in. It was, simply put, a heavenly experience. Driving through the clouds, we were reminded of all the ghost stories that started with, it was a lonely, foggy road. While the road looked ghostly, the tress looked soft and cottony. My companions disagreed wholeheartedly. They thought the tress also looked haunted. But all agreed that they looked beautiful. We rolled down our windows to lets the clouds move in with us. Our music coincidently matched the weather.
And then, after many twists and turns through the lovely clouds, there it was: a big board said, ‘Welcome to Lansdowne’. We had made it.
Lansdowne, a cantonment town
Lansdowne is essentially a cantonment town. It is the headquarters of the Garhwal Regiment. As the army controls the land, it makes the rules. That is perhaps the main reason why it has not become a commercial hub like Shimla or Mussoourie.
Staying at Fairydale Resort
The town is a no plastic area and the rule is strictly followed. We entered the town on paying a toll of fifty rupees. We were staying at the Fairydale Resort, and everyone seems to know about it. The resort is synonymous with Lansdowne. When we were looking for places to stay, everyone we asked recommended this one place, including Google. It would seem there are no other places to stay. That, however, is not the case. Once in Lansdowne we found that the Garhwal Tourism has a guest house on Tip-in-Top point and about three to four kilometres before Lansdowne, are a few other hotels and resorts.
Travel Recommendation: However, Fairydale is highly recommended as it is within the town and walking distance from all the tourist hot spots of the town.
Having settled into our rooms, we sat down for some tea to warm us up and got acquainted with Pluto, the resort’s resident Labrador who loves to chew stones, run away to explore, barks when tied and follows the bread-cum-milk man with total dedication.
Garhwal Regiment Museum
After a scrumptious lunch, we decided to explore the town. We shortlisted the tourist hot spots for day one exploration, and onward marched the girl brigade to the Garhwal Regiment’s museum. Entry to the museum is hundred rupees per head and it is open from four in the evening. It is a well maintained, small museum telling the story of the town, the regiment’s history and wars it has been part off. It also has on display various uniforms and a range of guns and ammunition used by the soldiers. The most interesting exhibit to me was the medals display. It showcased the various types of medals that soldiers received both during the British rule and after independence along with the name and rank of the solider that got it.
Saint John’s Church and the Thandi Sadak
After the museum we marched through the winding roads to make our way to Saint John’s Church. We just had to take a detour when we came upon a sign which said, thandi sadak (cold road). The sign was a sign that the sadak had to be explored.
The sadak took us to the end of the hill for some beautiful views of the valley. We would also have been able to see the Nanda Devi range, but for the clouds.
Back on the not thandi winding hill road, I decided to ask a military police sentry the path to the church. He pointed that we were about three kilometres from the church and then haughtily (or so I thought) stated that it would close by the time we covered the distance. Goaded by his (what I thought was a) smirk, Melissa and I decided we will show this military trained chap we were no less and make it. Hill roads, especially uphill is not an easy task, especially for people from the plains; and more so for people who are on vacation—you are not there to run the marathon. Nonetheless, we set up a fast pace for Neha and Sonia who were following us. Alas, it was of no use. We made it well in time, but the church was not open to the public due to ongoing renovation work. I was quite tempted to go back and tell the sentry that we had made it well in time but that was not to be. We had to go in the opposite direction for our next destination—the Saint Mary’s Church.
The Saint Mary’s Church
“Bhaiya, is this the road to St. Mary’s,” we walked on after confirming. This time our pace was leisurely, we wanted to enjoy the sights and sounds; plus I think my companions would have pushed me off the hills if I made them walk fast again.
Saint Mary’s is small church which is no longer in use. The Garhwal Regiment took over the upkeep of the church a few years back. The church is open to the public and one can pray if they want. On payment of a nominal fee a short documentary of the regiment can also be viewed.
The Tiffin Point
A little further up from the church is what is locally called the Tiffin Point, but which we on arrival discovered was originally named Tip-in-Top point. (Try saying it fast like a tongue twister and you will be saying Tiffin Point very soon. Mystery solved). The view point has very recent origins and minor work was still on when we went. It gives a good view of the hills, the snow-clad higher ranges, and with the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds on the far hills, it was picture perfect.
Having finished our day’s touristy agenda it was time to head back. We followed the direction given to us by the locals to reach the resort. They obviously told us the short cuts. End result, my companions and I found ourselves gingerly walking down some very steep hilly roads, while the local kids ran past at high speed.
Day one ended with all of us sitting down enjoying hot coffee watching the sun setting over the hills, while Pluto got his ears scratched by Neha. Bliss.
Day two excitement of Lansdowne weekend getaway to follow soon.
Meet our Guest Blogger, Dr. Stuti Banerjee
Travels part time
Photographer in her free time
Did a Phd by crying most of the time