I have explored Uttaranchal very little, and a long weekend during a stint in Delhi seemed like a good time to do so. I was still inclined towards Mcleodganj in Himachal for this break, but it turned out to be Dalai LLama’s b’day that week, a very busy time at the small hill town.
So Lansdowne was suggested as an option, and I thought why not. I have several times heard of this place from a friend, mainly as a favorite hangout of Ruskin Bond, but also a beautiful hillspot. There was also a feature in the Indian Airlines In-flight magazine not so long ago, and I had really liked the green, clouded pictures on the glossy pages.
We hired a cab to go to this place which is about 6 hours drive from Delhi. The route passes through infamous Meerut – a reason why quite a few people advised us to not travel during the night, but we had already made arrangements accordingly. So, full of apprehensions, we crossed Meerut at one in the night, and escaped the dangerous town without incident, only to get lost later. To go to Lansdowne, one has to take NH119, but we found ourselves on NH58. The only way we could find of course-correction was to go through a tortuous single road, which went through dark farmlands, with no one in sight – except for an occasional dog. I was expecting to be stopped any moment and looted, but after about 10-15 minutes of this road (which seemed much longer), we saw the welcome highway.
The highway itself did not have an NH-like traffic. We stopped somewhere before Kotdwar for a cup of tea, which seemed very refreshing in the weather. On the way to Kotdwar, we again got lost in a couple of diversions as a bridge construction had obstructed the main route.
The road from Dugadda onwards is scenic. Most of it is marked as Elephant zone, as herds of elephants live in the area which is a buffer zone for Jim corbett.
Anyway, after an hour of winding roads, we reached Lansdowne. What a beautiful hamlet, with lines of pine trees and conifers, enchantingly green in the monsoons! There is no better place to start your day.
We had some struggle getting a place to stay, as the one we had booked – Oak Grove Inn, looked disappointing. The rooms, which were rather small looked inwards in stead of the valley, and had no line of terrace to sit and read. We remembered the name of one other place – Blue Pine resort, and went there only to find it completely booked out. Anyways, on a bit of cajoling by our driver, the staff agreed to check cancellations more proactively, and found a room to our liking (It had great views – like the picture posted above)
It was then time to enjoy the beautiful valley, in which clouds had already descended. This seemed to be the theme of the whole weekend – clouds in the valley, which would soon rise up and start traveling to the hamlet, and find their way into our rooms. The entire view would be covered in haze, and then it would rain, to clear the view to a cloud-covered valley.
We spent most of our weekend enjoying the rain and reading. There were many abortive attempts to make our weekend more active – a few walks that we had to abandon in the first 20 minutes because of rains, a drive to Tarkeshwar, where we almost got stuck between two landslides and had to return back. That Himalyas are almost all of sedimentary rocks, landslides is a very live threat during monsoons.
There was just once when the weather remained clear for long enough so that we could enjoy a walk upto the town and come back. The path is beautiful, though we mostly walked through fog. So this must have been the place where Mr. Bond wrote his horror stories – anything can be imagined lurking in those white sheets.
The walk was a nice 4 km each way, and passes through the cantonment area – Lansdowne is the training ground for Garhwal Rifles. We had planned to go upto Tip n Top, the highest point to get a valley view, but it soon began to get dark, with a few showers, and we thought it better to turn back. The Lansdowne town center is a small area with a few shops, even a couple of restaurants. We came across a small bakery at the end of the town center, which had delicious cream rolls. Must try.
The day we were leaving, we did drive to Tip-n-Top, which would have had a nice view even of the Himalyan ranges if the sky could clear up. Just next to Tip-n-top is a GMVN guest house and we thought it may not be a bad place to stay for a next time, given the views. On the way to Tip-n-top is also the famous St. Mary’s church – a landmark of the area.
We returned back to Delhi amidst continuous rain, which made the journey a little unsafe, and we were thankful for an Innova. I am sure we might have had to stop for a day to cross the gush of water on at least one of the points if we were in a small car.
So our entire weekend was spent mainly reading and chatting in the backdrop of a beautiful valley. It is a little frustrating if you cannot get out much in such a beautiful place, and for that reason alone, it may be advisable to not go to Lansdowne during monsoons, especially in a year where rain is set to break records, if only to make up for a drought the previous year (as if two wrongs of opposites will make a right and pacify). But still, to do nothing in the hills is still significantly better than to do nothing in the horrendous cities.