Delhi has its fair share of weekend getaways within a driving distance of 300 kms. Head out in any direction and you could explore a handful of destinations, each distinct from the other. And that’s what makes it very tempting to take a road trip out of the city.
One such destination that is worth a trip for some solitude and peace is Lansdowne – a scenic hill town in Pauri, Uttarakhand. Relatively unexplored, this cantonment town is about 242 kms from Delhi and a breezy six hour drive. Leave at the crack of dawn and you would be at Kotdwar, a small town in the foothills of Pauri Garhwal via Bijnor and Najibabad in five hours. From Kotdwar, it’s a beautiful 39 km drive through winding hill roads that take you to Lansdowne.
Home to the prestigious Garhwal Rifles, one of the most decorated regiments of the Indian army, Lansdowne is a pretty little surprise. It is situated at an elevation of 1700 meters and spread across a mere six square kilometers. A spotlessly clean town with a sprinkling of British colonial architecture nestled amidst blue pines and oak trees, it is pleasantly cool this time of the year (April/ May) with temperatures hovering between 12°C at night and 25°C during the day.
The quaint hill town can be explored leisurely in a day and offers an interesting mix of attractions. Darwan Singh Regimental Museum near the Parade Ground is a historical Defence Museum, named after Darwan Singh Negi, the first Victoria Cross holder from Garhwal Rifles. The museum is worth a visit for its collection of memorabilia and weapons showcasing the history and achievements of the regiment.
A little further is the archaic yet elegant stone structure of St. John Church. Built by the British in 1936, it is the only functional Church in town. St. Mary’s is the other Catholic Church built in 1895, but is no longer functional. The charming structure however, is still an attraction and stands out amidst the verdant hills and picture perfect surroundings. The road further leads to Tip n Top – the highest point in Lansdowne, where one can trek up 50 metres to a vantage point on the ridge for some panoramic views.
About a kilometre away from town is the man-made lake, Bhulla Taal. Constructed and managed by the army, it has boat rides, an open-air restaurant in the periphery and a play area for children. ‘Bhulla’ means ‘little brother’ in Garhwali and the lake is dedicated to the young soldiers of the Indian army. This is the only place in Lansdowne with touristy vibes where you are likely to find the boisterous holiday crowd.
Strictly a plastic-free zone, everything in Lansdowne is transacted in paper or cloth bags. There is a bazaar area for basic needs which is not as fancy as the mall roads in hill stations, but charming nevertheless. It is not unusual to get caught in a drizzle or a shower here, as the weather is rather unpredictable. Eating options are without frills and a plate of Maggi at Wasim’s with a generous dollop of butter for 40 bucks could make for the best meal in the hills.
Soldiers walk about briskly along the winding roads and that adds to the charm of Lansdowne. Their youthful exuberance and ever-courteous attitude towards civilians fills the heart with pride and respect for the uniform. In the bazaar area, the young soldiers keep pouring in, stocking up for their evening rendezvous with soft drinks, cigarettes (now we know where Capstan sells) and savory snacks (Najibabad based Chaturvedi Namkeens is a revelation and beats the biggies with their delectable crispy stuff).
That apart, the town doesn’t boast of any fancy cafes or a great shopping experience, as the market is mostly army-centric. If you are lucky, you could find some affordable leather stuff like shoes, wallets, belts & bags at Javed Boot House. But you really have to sift through the ordinary.
While Lansdowne can be explored in a day, one must spare a day to visit the Tarkeshwar Mahadev Temple which is about 39 kms away.
The hill drive is pretty and the last mile trek opens up to the temple complex, nestled in a thick forest of unbelievably tall Deodar trees. The atmospherics are stunning and it is one of the most serene and tranquil experiences you could find in the entire Garhwal region.
Where to stay:
Hotels and resorts in Lansdowne are located in the periphery of the cantonment area, as no commercial construction is allowed within. The relatively new Lans Castle at Dehriyakhal is a good option to consider.
The facade may be deceptive at first glance, but this boutique hotel is on an expansion mode and packs a lot of punch. Opt for rooms with a private terrace for unobstructed views of the Garhwal valley – they are large, well appointed, clean and very comfortable. There is a roof top sit-out area with bonfire, a play area for kids, a mini gym and free wi-fi.
Food is excellent with a choice of multi cuisine but it is the Indian selection that warms the heart. A combination of Pahadi-style yellow dal, Adraki Murg (chicken in a thick ginger curry paste) and flaky butter naans can take you to heaven and back. The staff here is extremely courteous and an epitome of Garhwali hospitality.
If you can calmly navigate through some traffic bottlenecks along the way, Lansdowne can be a refreshing alternative from the usual Nainital & Mussoorie weekend madness. It is devoid of the usual hustle of typical hill stations, and provides much-needed relief from the humdrum of everyday city life. The languid pace and unhurried conversations can be an interesting detour from the usual; to perk up sagging spirits and re-fuel lost energy for the week ahead. Until of course, the next road trip beckons.