Ever dreamt of being in a place where scenic hills are replete with nuances of green, the mellow melody of birds chirruping gently caresses your ears and the cacophony of city life is brought to a standstill? A place, where in contrast to the city’s atrocious summer heat, the breezy winds with a fresh tang cleanse your soul to the core, making you feel like new.
Then Lansdowne should be inked on to the top of your list of quick weekend getaways. A road trip with the family to this quiet hill station has given me a chunk of happy memories that shall compose an integral part of my spiral album of good times.
A cantonment town in the Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand, at a distance of about 248 kms from Delhi, Lansdowne is a gem that shines brighter than the emerald. And I mean it in the real sense. Silhouetted with oak and pine forests and Army men working out to glory in their uniforms, the place is emblazoned with hues of green. It is extremely well maintained and clean, kudos to the Lansdowne Cantonment Board who manage the development in the town so well. The cool air here is mingled with calmness, homeliness and warmth. A potpourri of these spawns a scintillating scent. Inhale, and you will be compelled to compose verses praising its beauty and immortalizing your love for this relatively unexplored hill station.
At a decent altitude of 1700 mts from sea level, Lansdowne is named after the Viceroy of India(1888-1894), Lord Lansdowne in 1887. The building and churches of Lansdowne paint an ideal portrait of ‘old-world charm’ owing to the Colonial style architecture and date back to the pre-Independence period. Just a glimpse of one of the exquisite bungalows built during the British Raj there, and your camera is out of the bag! Popular tourist spots are The Garhwal Rifles Regimental War Memorial located at the Parade Ground, St John’s Church, St Mary’s Church, Bhulla Tal, Kaleshwar Mahadev Temple, Tip in Top or Tiffin Top– and honestly these are just to name a few out of a good lot of places to visit. A view of the holy kirks brings in a sense of tranquility, where one can silently and metaphorically drown in the aura of divine archaic heritage. Although St Mary’s Church fell into disuse after 1947, the building has been refurbished by the Garhwal Rifles Regimental Centre and is only open during the weekend. Our visit to each of these increased the charm of our trip.
Apart from sightseeing one can enjoy the mini vacation by indulging in the pleasures of trekking, bird-watching (exotic ones reside here!), jungle walks for the adrenaline rush inside, boating and paddling. Trek up to the well-known tourist point, Tip in Top, a beautiful open terrace that gives you a breathtaking view of the Himalayas. You can take your vehicle up there too. A fellow traveler who had been there before us complained that the clouds hindered the sight with their milky hue, but eventually once we got there, the sky fortunately turned as clear as the azure waters and the enchanting scenery got etched in my heart forever. Perhaps that’s what I call Lansdowne Love….
Enjoy boating in Bhulla Tal, a manmade lake, where snow-white swans swim to perfection, rippling pristine patterns on the aqua. Unfortunately, the lake was closed the day we went there, and we were content watching from a distance, the swans with their little ones making their way cheerily to the opposite side of the lake. An eat-out and children’s park are also situated near the lake.
P.S-Do visit the well developed Lansdowne shopping complex and the famous market area. Don’t forget to gorge on a fairly huge cream roll from one of the bakeries there. We did some great leather shopping too at super reasonable prices.
We booked our stay at a place called the Oak Grove Inn, Jaiharikal.
Located about 6kms from Lansdowne, Jaiharikal is a petite hamlet situated amidst serene oak groves and blue pines. The best part about vacationing at a place like this is that it is less crowded as compared to other hill stations of Northern India and sans hubbub here, rejuvenation of the mind is in its entirety.
We had a heartwarming stay at the Oak Grove Inn, a 60 year old property, transformed into a lovely inn with ten rooms, that provides all warmth and merry of a comfortable home stay at rates lesser than what certain resorts and hotels in Lansdowne charge. You can choose from Double Bed rooms and the Family Room. Managed and run by the lovely couple Col Bikram Rawat and Mrs Rawat along with amiable staff members, our stay at the inn was a memorable one.
The moment we parked our vehicle and entered the place, the structural design of the inn reminded me of picturesque abodes with sloping roofs from fictitious childhood fables; maize colored walls adorned with light pink roses and potted blossoms of hydrangeas in the same hue, with tinges of mauve to it and vibrant hanging kettles and cacti.
Termed as ‘God’s Own Window’ by Col. Rawat and his wife Neelam, a hangout, basically a verandah, offers spectacular view of the Himalayas. The verandah is just outside their family home which is adjacent to the inn and has been home to their family for three generations. Bask in the bliss of looking at the sun-kissed summit in the morning, the sky turning saffron at sunset or star gazing the luminous studded canopy at night. From here, minor fires in forests of lower hills look like bright topaz orbs swaying in concurrence! Birds with feathers dyed from nature’s palette perch on branches of oak, pine, pear, walnut and orchids that surround the inn. Over tea and cookies, enriching chit-chat sessions with the charming couple gave us oodles of knowledge regarding the region. With their jocular company, the word ‘mundane’ was omitted from our lives for those few days. They’d join us at the dinner table too, which reminds me of the excellent food served here. Homemade fixed vegetarian menu is served in at the Oak Grove Inn. Non-veg dishes are available on order for an extra charge.
Based on their suggestions regarding road routes and places to visit, our trip was a lot smoother. We went trekking down to village Holi through oak and pine forests. After a long adventurous walk, the natives there gave us a warm welcome and we had a sumptuous breakfast at a reasonable price, mandua ki roti being the specialty there. On our way back up, the intense trek was rewarding for my brother discovered a thin flow of crystal clear, sweet spring waters. Once the water satiated our thirst, we filled our handy bottle full of this refreshing almighty’s treat and I was secretly regretting that why we only carried a single bottle for the outing?
Just below the hangout, curvy steps lead to a hideout. Sit back and relax here sipping your favourite drink or read a book (speaking of books, there’s a mini library inside the hosts’ house where the shelves are filled with quite many interesting titles to borrow). The panorama in front widens out to an expanse of green with the soil and thicket glittering on the hills and a frame of dense foliage embellished with the amber glow of a not-so-nasty sun there!
A 6 hour drive from Delhi takes you to Jaiharikal.
Road Route from Delhi: Delhi – Meerut – Bijnor – Kiratpur – Najibabad – Kotdwara – Dogadda.
(While getting out of Modi Nagar, one has to look out for potholes and bumpy roads, that spans for a rough stretch of about 4-5 kms, but thereafter the roads are reasonably good with pleasant green fields expanding and trees lined up on both sides.)
2 kms away from Doggada you’ll find a T-junction, where you’ll have to take a LEFT turn on the Pauri road; the right turn goes to Lansdowne, which is at a distance of 23 kms from this point. 15 kms from this turn one has to take a RIGHT turn for Lansdowne and The Oak Grove Inn, Jaiharikal is just 5.2kms away.
Take –a-Break tip: You can stop over at the Monty Millions restaurant, which is just 2 kms out of Meerapur. It has clean rest-rooms and you can have breakfast/lunch depending on the time when you reach there.
Rail Route: Nearest station is Kotdwar. The travel is for about 8 hours(7 hrs train travel+ 1 hr on road). Take a train to Kotdwar railway station, from where The Oak Grove Inn is just at a distance of 40 kms. ( roughly an hour’s travel).
Another tip: If required, fill up some fuel at Kotdwar, for the journey upwards. It’s cheaper in Uttarakhand than UP.
This article was first published in the print edition of the magazine : Travel Secrets July-August ’15 issue