It’s been a while I have not stepped out of Delhi and so I longed to go on a short trip to reinvigorate myself. Also, with the heat of Delhi becoming unbearable, there could not have been a more apt time than this to pay a visit to one of the many beautiful hill stations close to Delhi. But the question was where? Determined to plan a weekend trip, both I and my husband got busy scanning the lovely hill stations around the capital city on Google and interestingly they all seemed very beautiful to us. Unable to decide a place we were in a fix again.
The search continued for a few days, before finally zeroing down on Lansdowne. We booked our tickets early, almost a month prior to the day of our travel. Our plan was to take the train on a Friday night, reach in the morning on Saturday and return on Monday by the evening train. At Lansdowne, we booked a hut at the govt. owned lodging, Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN in short).
For those of you who are not familiar with Lansdowne, it is a small, picturesque hill town located in the state of Uttarakhand, in the Pauri Garhwal district. The Garhwal Rifles of the Indian Army also has its Command office there. Lansdowne has got a pristine touch with old buildings belonging to the British era dotting all over the place and now accommodated by army officials. It is an ideal place to visit all throughout the year, though we chose to visit it during summer. If you have a weekend in hand, like we had, I would suggest you to trek across Lansdowne to explore its real beauty. But for people who would not prefer walking, you can hire a taxi from Gandhi Chowk (central point and the main market place at Lansdowne) and visit all the places around the town.
Our 3 day trip to Lansdowne started on 24th July, when we took the Mussorie Express to Kotdwar and reached on Saturday morning at around 7. From Kotdwar, it was a two hour taxi ride to Lansdowne and after checking into the lodging and freshening up, we went to Gandhi Chowk to grab a quick breakfast. We were recommended to hire a taxi to go sight-seeing but we instead decided to trek.
We first headed to Tip N Top (actually Tiffin Top but in local language it came to be called by this name) which is a popular tourist viewpoint. We took a shortcut (only for pedestrians since cars are not allowed on this road) that entails a steep, winding road and leads the way to the Upper Mall Road. Our first stop on the way to the viewpoint was in the Upper Mall Road where the famous St Mary’s Church is located. Built in 1896 by Lieutenant AHB Hume, the Church houses a small museum created by the Army and brings alive the pre-independence era through pictures and mementos. There is also a small reading room at one corner of the church.
After spending some time there, we resumed uphill to the viewpoint. The Tip N Top is a serene, tranquil place to enjoy the lush green hills from a height of 1700 mts. With the Shivaliks in the backdrop, the Garhwal hills lined with blue pine and oak trees present a beautiful sight.
(The view from Tip N Top)
People usually do not go beyond this point as there is nothing much to see, except for the beautiful scenery around. Just near Tip N Top there lies another viewpoint – Sunset Point which is one of the many ideal places at Lansdowne to see the sun going down. There is also a Santoshi Mata Mandir up the road just near this point. A flight of stairs takes you to this small but beautiful temple built by the Army in the later 19th century. By the time we reached, the Mandir was closed as it was past 12 in the afternoon and so we offered our prayers from outside. The temple premise was empty and there was no one around, not even the priest.
We took the same route we had taken to reach Tip N Top and came back to the church again. The view in front of the church was majestic and we sat there enjoying the view and gobbling the parathas we had packed during our breakfast.
From there we went to the Bhulla Lake (Bhulla Tal among locals), an artificial Lake created and maintained by the Army. It is a beautiful place to stroll around and spend some time amidst nature. There are boating facilities which you can avail by paying Rs 40 per head. A small bridge over the lake is the focal point for tourists visiting this place. The complex also has a nursery for herbal plants and a rabbit rearing enclosure. Just outside the lake is the Kaludanda (original name of Lansdowne) Complex that houses a cafe, a children’s park and a souvenir shop. We sat there for a while sipping hot coffee and sandwiches. The weather looked clear until this point but as we sat watching the people around, a curtain of mist suddenly came in and blocked our view of the lake and the area surrounding it. It was a beautiful sight then. After settling down for sometime, the mist started to clear and visibility became normal again.
Evening was setting in when we visited the Darwan Singh Sangrahalaya, which is again 1 kms away from Gandhi Chowk. The museum that belongs to Garhwal Rifles is named after Darwan Singh Negi, who was among the earliest Indians to have been awarded the Victoria Cross. Traditional Garhwali artefacts were on display at the Museum, besides housing war time antiques and collections belonging to the Garhwal Army. The War Memorial and the Parade Ground adjacent to the museum are however not open for public viewing and entry is prohibited for civilians. I tried reading the placard outside the Memorial Gate but the army man standing guard there drove me away. I wondered the purpose of putting up a Board there when no one can go closer and read it!
We had our dinner in the hotel that night and retired early as we were very tired, having walked nearly the entire day. Early next morning, we got ready to visit the Tarakeshwar Mahadev Mandir for which we had already booked a cab. The place where the temple is located is 38 kms from Lansdowne but it is worth visiting. The scenic drive leading to the temple is mindblowing! The breath-taking views all along the way would for sure transport you to a different world. I could not resist from stopping our vehicle more than once on our way and taking a few pictures. The driver was a nice, cordial guy who told us many ‘ghostly’ experiences he has had on this road.
After an hour’s drive, we reached the place. We had to walk another 1.5 kms to the temple, through a steep path amidst dense deodar and cedar trees. Situated in the middle of the beautiful woods, it is one of the most beautiful temples I have come across. The path leading to the temple is lined with thousands of dangling bells that indeed was a wonderful sight. There is a small pond right at the entry and devotees before entering the temple premises take a holy dip here. The Temple committee also runs a Dharamshala (rest house) for those who seek accommodation there.
We drove back to Lansdowne after spending almost an hour in the temple. We tried Chinese food for lunch at a restaurant in Gandhi Chowk but it was not very great. There are other places of interests in Lansdowne like Bheem Pakoda, St. John’s Church but we were told that there is nothing unusual to see there. Instead we went out for a long walk again and this time we walked 2 kms away from Lansdowne. After walking some distance, I started finding the place spooky as it was isolated and so we decided to return. By the time we reached Hotel, it started raining and we sat down in the veranda enjoying the cool breeze and the atmosphere.
The next morning we started packing our stuff as we had to start from Lansdowne and reach Kotdwar to catch the 3 o clock train. I suddenly remembered that I have not collected any pine cones during the trip (I planned to bring some and decorate them in my living room) and so I rushed out and brought a couple of them.
We booked the same cab that we had taken for Tarakeshwar Mandir. Since we only had an hour in hand, we could not visit the Siddhbali temple in Kotdwar which the driver was insisting us to. I thought this probably indicated that we could visit this beautiful place again, as Kotdwar still remains unexplored. The beautiful memories and the lovely pictures captured of Lansdowne remained etched in my mind for many weeks after that. Even while writing this piece, I could still feel the serene beauty of Lansdowne. It is a place you would want to visit again and again.
How to reach Lansdowne?
The nearest station to Lansdowne is Kotdwar. There are 2 trains that run between Delhi and Kotdwar – Mussorie Express and Garhwal Express. The distance from Delhi to Kotdwar is 231 kms, so the time taken is 6-7 hours. After getting down at Kotdwar, you can either take a shared taxi or book a whole taxi from the station (a shared taxi would charge you Rs. 70 per head but will try to accommodate 11-12 passengers, whereas booking the whole taxi would cost Rs. 700-800 which is again negotiable but will be a comfortable journey). There are many who prefer going by their own car or book a cab to Lansdowne, instead of doing a break journey. The time taken is almost 2-2.5 hours. If you wish to take a flight, the nearest airport is in Dehradun (Jolly Grant Airport) which is 147 kms away from Lansdowne.
Where to stay?
There are 2 govt. lodgings in Lansdowne; the one nearer to the town (Gandhi Chowk) is probably 1.5 – 2 kms from it. The other one is located about 4 kms away from the town (near Tip N Top). Besides these, there are many other resorts located in and around Lansdowne. Though a tad expensive, these resorts are a pleasant place to stay for a night or two, given the panoramic view they provide of the surroundings around. The popular resorts in Lansdowne include the Blue Pine Resort, Kasang Regency and Jungle Resort. 1 night at one of these resorts will cost you around Rs. 5,000 – 6,000 (including taxes) or even more, while GMVN will offer you a deluxe hut at Rs. 2000. Another property located near the town is the Fairydale Resort that offers luxury rooms, but at a much cheaper rate than the other resorts in Lansdowne.
There are a couple of them at Gandhi Chowk, though I found the food little costly. Bread toast and Aloo Parantha are popular food among tourists here. ‘Baal Mithai’ is one popular sweet you should surely try having.
Where to Shop?
If you are looking for a good collection of ethnic and traditional items (dress material, show pieces) of Uttarakhand, the Nidhi Souvenir shop at Kaludanda Complex (at the entrance of Bhulla Tal) will be the place.
– Samrita Baruah