Lansdowne: Once Upon a Quiet Evening
This winter was not the same as the previous one; I realised this as the drops of sweat settled on my forehead while I drove through the bright sun. Numerous traffic congestions on NH 119, regulated by the force of some random chaos, added to the frustration of this traveller seeking quiet solace in a long drive and a quiet evening. The promise of a melted amorous evening kept me pushing through the viscous disorder, furnished grey with the thick balmy air.
Lansdowne, a distant hill town nestled in the Lower Himalayas, is a well heard of, but little travelled to township. Home to an army cantonment, Lansdowne has mixed links with history: dating from as late as the Raj era when it nested a unit of the British army, to as early as the dateless past, the myth claimed it to be the birth place of Lord Ram’s cousin, Bharat. The links to the past were never severed: Garwhal Rifles’ cantonment carried forward the baton from the immediate history, and numerable ancient temples funnelled the myths of the prehistoric times.
Lansdowne is located in Uttarakhand, in the north-east of Delhi, and at a distance of approximately 275 kilometres from it. Uttarakhand offers numerous choices to travellers. However, the spirit is often damped by the badly congested road network. Himachal, on the other hand, offers equally picturesque getaways but with better metalled roads and controlled fast moving traffic. Despite dropping motivation to drive on the horrific road network, our choice to discover Lansdowne was partially inspired by the lack of information on the subject. Rarely do we get a chance to take to the bolted mountain towns, and we had no intention of letting it go.
The road to Lansdowne passes through Meerut, Bijnor and Kotdwar, from where the climb starts. At 600 meters altitude, Lansdowne has reasonably pleasant climate. The mountain road is well-built except for a few craters that were carved by the recent landslides. Seven hours after embarking on this journey, we entered the quiet town, with a remarkable entrance designed to accommodate various army halls and messes. The quaint town lay further ahead with its entrance defined by a small market.
There are few options for staying and we chose the Garwahal Mandal Vikas Nigam’s (GMVN) reasonably priced guesthouse. Soon after checking in, we started discovering the olde world market and searched for local wine; none, to our disappointment, was made there. Rather, we searched for food. The market is small and as subtle as any other small town market, with shops selling things of daily need, peanuts and tea, and small trinkets. The interest soon faded away and we headed back to our hotel room for a quiet dinner. Located in a corner, hardly any noise penetrated inside our room, and we were grateful for that. But this peace was soon to collapse.
Early next morning, I dreamt of my relatives, dozens gathered near my bed, shouting at me to get my ways right. Surprisingly, I wanted to act as per their wishes but could not understand a single instruction, which were being mouthed in an alien tongue. The pandemonium grew till I could take it no longer and woke up with a start. The dream was a reality, for at least ten people were gathered outside my room. I rushed out to find aunties and uncles and their little kids rushing around in the porch, outside, and in the accompanying garden. The alien tongue was Bengali and I gathered from the hotel attendant that some fifteen tourists had arrived that morning in a charter bus. As I stood outside sipping my tea, the kids, driven by intense curiosity of expecting to discover a new world in a stranger’s room, rushed into mine, while their parents laughed and shouted with pleasure at my feeble attempt to curb the attack. The families waited outside my room in anticipation of an early check-out from me and other tourists.
Soon, we gathered our stuff and headed to the town market for the morning tea. The market was much livelier and colourful than last night. Washed in the bright morning sun, the locals spread their wares and smoked in the crisp mountain air. After tea, we decided to take a walk to the Bullar lake, a man-made lake situated some 200 metres walk up from the market. On our way, we discovered an open air tennis court atop a small hill. Though not into tennis, I would have thoroughly enjoyed a game in the light, fragrant air. Well, not many shared my thoughts, for the tennis court was in a state of neglect. A step higher was a football court, in a slightly better kept condition.
Bullar lake, a water-filled small crater, was speckled with beautiful ducks, black and white, that sunny morning. Clean and well maintained, the lake offers boating and a pleasant spot to enjoy the winter sun, or to play a game of football in the small playground nearby.
After a tranquil time, we had our fill. This was the quiet, solitary getaway that we were looking for. Sated, we decided to get into our car and head back to the metal-concrete chaos. We will perhaps come back and spend a placid week here, for this is what this pretty hilltop town has to offer.