Date: 15 August 2016
We had visited Lansdowne some years back and fallen in love with this place. We had kept some of the sites here for our next visit and during the recent Independence Day long weekend we redeemed our promise. Not to say we wanted a break from Himachal and from road trips, the overnight train Mussoorie Express seemed in order. It departed at 8.50 in the evening from Old Delhi Railway Station and was to drop us at Kotdwar, the nearest station to Lansdowne, at 6 in the morning.
Our adventure started at about 4 in the morning when we were dropped at Najeebabad, a station before Kotdwar. The rail bridge between Najeebabad and Kotdwar was broken and the train wasn’t going any further. We came out and waited on the roadside for some transport. It is quite unlikely that there would be a line up of options to a lone hill station in the middle of the night. But after about half an hour there was this jalopy of a bus which was full to the brim. Nonetheless we pushed and shoved ourselves and somehow found some space on the steps. In about 45 minutes that felt like eternity we were dropped at Kotdwar. It was dawn by then. Buoyed by the morning sun in the hills we had this oh-wow moment. We realised even after meticulous planning – train tickets, hotel booking in advance… what have you, such adventures are planned by destiny.
We took a shared jeep from Kotdwar to Lansdowne and little after 7 am we were in our hotel – GMVN guest house at Lansdowne. It was a hut like last time with a small lawn in the front. But the complete surroundings were all like one large garden complete with flowers, greenery and fog.
After breakfast, followed by a short nap, we went out for a stroll. It was good to see that Lansdowne was quite like how we had left it six years back. Perhaps being a cantonment area has helped. It has led to strong regulations in terms of rampant constructions and littering etc.
Our accommodation was about 2.5 kms from Bulla Taal – a place that we had skipped during our earlier visit to Lansdowne. This is a man made lake, complete with boating facilities, a hanging bridge and gaggle of geese for effect. To top it, to make this experience surreal, nature did her two bits worth and filled the place with fog. We do not have words to describe the beauty of this place that evening. We can only draw parallels with Disney Pixar’s recent animation Jungle Book.
It started drizzling and we wound up our boating and took shelter in the cafeteria in this complex. Tea and pakoras were just the things and it was great that both these items were extremely well made.
There was a souvenir shop – NIDHI run by GRWA. They had an interesting collection of crafts, pickle and handloom at very reasonable prices.
The night was cold and we had to use heavy quilts that were already provided in the room.
The next day was assigned for Tarakeshwar, an ancient Shiva temple some 30 kms away from Lansdowne. We had consciously kept this place for a standalone holiday and hence this was the high point of our present trip. We hired a jeep to ferry us up and down. Another resident of our accommodation, Nandini Bose from Kolkata and her son Jojo showed interest in sharing this trip with us. All of us were ready and we started by 8 am (no mean feat when you are holidaying in the hills). The road was super picturesque with sharp twists and turns. A random waterfall here or a stream there and we couldn’t help but stop for pictures.
It took us a little more than an hour and we reached Tarkeshwar. The shrine is a significant walk from the parking. The pathway is lined with bells on both sides. Once we reached we saw that it was relatively small temple surrounded by tall Devdar trees. It looked like a painting from an artist’s canvas. The worship process was simple and the whole arrangement was fuss free.
In front of the temple there is this tree that branches out at the top forming a trident or Trishul. This served as the wishing tree for the devout. We wish to reiterate that the walk uphill is tough and may be difficult for a person with infirmities. Close to the parking lot we witnessed a procession – a small group playing the drum – dhol and local horns were approaching the temple. It made a very pretty sight.
On the way back Nandini wanted to stop for souvenirs at Alaknanda Shopping Complex. There were a few army shops and crafts stores here. We bought a fatigue backpack and waterbottle bag from here.
We wanted a little variety for the evening and we checked the to-dos in Lansdowne on Tripadvisor. Among the results “Lansdown trip“-Travel Cafe was rated quite highly. We planned to do this. Our co-travelers for Tarakeshwar, Nandini and Jojo also showed interest. So we booked a cab again for this Travel cafe. The cafe is located on the highway and the route to the cafe was very beautiful.
From outside it looked totally unassuming but once inside, we realised why its rated so highly on Tripadvisor.com A few bean bags and some moodas to sit – a small souvenir store with a lot of funky, kitschy and unusual gift items – a clay oven – a gramophone record player and vintage prints of Elvis and Beatles – its something that we would never expect in Lansdowne. We were pleasantly surprised at this great find this time. The kitchen was small and they took their own sweet time to prepare the food.
We ordered lemon tea, nachos salad and chicken pasta for us. By the time the tea was getting ready, the owner took us to the rear of the cafe from where we could see the thick jungle and a beautiful sunset. It was quite a photo op. It was very thoughtful of them to serve our tea there only. We clicked some pics, soaked in the view of sunset, inhaled as much fresh oxygen as our lungs permitted and went back to the cafe. Our food had arrived and just like the cafe and the tea, the food was surprisingly good. We would highly recommend their nachos salad. By the time we were done eating, it started getting dark and we left for our hotel in the jeep.
Late evening, we went to the market again and bought sweets for home since it was our last night at Lansdowne. Chocolate Burfi and Baal Mithai are a must buy if you are in Uttarakhand. Be it our last trip to Lansdowne or our trip to Kausani, we never forget to buy these sweets. You don’t get such sweets in Delhi Gurgaon. Absolute delicious.
It rained a lot in the night and it got cold afterwards. We slept amidst the noise of the rain, the sound of which felt like a track from a yoga/meditation CD and had a soothing effect on our soul. We miss this feeling in the concrete jungle that we live most of our lives in.
Next morning was 15th August and our hotel guys called us for flag hoisting inside the guest house. We were asked to hoist the flag which was followed by the national anthem. They distributed sweets for Independence day to all the guests.
When we went to the Lansdowne market to buy knick knacks for our return trip, we were surprised to see the huge crowd that had gathered at Gandhi Chowk to see Independence Day celebrations. School kids in beautiful uniforms paraded with their bands. We don’t remember witnessing a 15th August celebration with such fervor before.
We packed our bags for Delhi and called a cab to drop us to the railway station at Najeebabad. This time again, we shared the ride with Nandini and Jojo. We have travelled a lot but this was our first time sharing a journey with someone. This not only saved us money but also made us friends with two strangers. Quite like simple old times when people used to make friends on their train or bus journeys. Throughout our trip we kept exchanging notes on food, travel and life generally.
From Najeebabad we took Garhwal Express that started at 4 pm and reached at 11 pm at old Delhi railway station. Delhi was as usual, hot, humid and noisy. But this was home and we were happy to be back. Pre booked autos are an awesome option from old Delhi railway station and we availed that to go home.
We will always look back at this journey with great fondness and wait silently for mountains to call us back some time soon.