Lansdowne : A dreamy setup nested in Garhwal

They say impromptu plans are the best ones you can ever make. This small piece of adventure that I witnessed, is surely a testament to that.

It was 15 minutes-that’s all it took for me & Tarang to plan and execute this. Oh, wait.  There wasn’t really a plan & execute simply meant stepping out of the house & heading to Kashmere Gate. We were so unsure of the plan that we were willing to turn back home in case we miss the 9.30PM AC bus for Kotdwar operated by Uttarakhand Government. It coincidentally was the last bus & thankfully did not depart till 9.55PM giving us sufficient span to inspite of reaching the bus stand at 9.40PM. One can also take the train, two of which ply daily(one in the morning & the other overnight) between Old Delhi/Delhi Sarai Rohilla & Kotdwar.

Kotdwar is around 230kms from Delhi & the buses often cover this in 5hours (ticket cost – Rs.365). And hence, when we alighted at 3.15AM we were slightly apprehensive of our plan ahead. But to our surprise, the town centre of Kotdwar was bustling with activity even hours before dawn. Being such a strategically important town for moving up towards Pauri at all times, the people were right in a way to not confine themselves to their houses, lest they miss out on anything in an otherwise quiet town. We took a sharing jeep at 4.30AM which got us to 40kms to Lansdowne in a mere Rs.70. The journey up the hill, however was priceless.

From being greeted by the misty winding road & the tall, really tall pine trees, the dawn break was nothing short of an absolutely mesmerizing scene. With each passing bend, the mist grew thicker and you could smell the freshness of the surroundings. Lansdowne is a cantonment area and you are welcomed into this tiny hamlet with a huge parade ground and two grand entrance doors.  The cab dropped us at the centre of Lansdowne from where we took off on foot to discover the place out. We walked up the narrow lanes on the road to Fairydale resort. The resort is surrounded by lush green slopes and you don’t really have to live in this resort to explore this part. If you happen to reach before sunrise like we did, it is a sight to behold when you see the sun rising behind the green hills.

Having spent a good time there, we now started our hunt for a hotel room. After being refused atleast at 5 different places, we eventually ended up at Hotel Mayur which is right at the centre of town. The rooms were comparatively cheap for Rs.1000 for 12 hours considering it was prime season time.  After a good nap, we headed out for breakfast to a mini restaurant next door – Tipsy. Although we did not expect much from the place, the sandwiches out here were worth a mention.

We headed out to the so called “touristy” spots, without expecting much and we were quite right. The sunset point and the Bhuntar lake were nothing short of chaos and the peace that we did eventually find was sitting in the periphery of a certain St.Mary’s church which has a nice little backyard covered by the tall coniferous trees. The St. John’s church on the way down from the previous church is also worth a visit and has a nice little history to it.

Having walked a good 5-6 odd kms and explored most of Lansdowne, we finally retreated at our Hotel after a nice lunch again at Tipsy. Post a good nap, we headed back downhill, this time however we took our own taxi for a bargain price of Rs.700, stopping at the odd places just to admire the setting sun through those awe inspiring forests. Eventually, when we did touch Kotdwar at 6.15PM, the last bus for Delhi had already departed. With train being the only other mode of transport and that too at 10PM, we took a shorter route bus to Najibabad with the hope of hopping onto the oncoming buses from Haridwar & Dehradun. We eventually got lucky and did manage to get hold of a UP State Transport bus (ticket cost – Rs.180) after swarming around the bus stand outside Najibabad station for a good 45 minutes. The oncoming journey seemed ever so long.

But eventually after almost 6 hours of a back breaking ride, we were back in Delhi with plenty of memories, lots to rejoice and even more to share.

Solo Getaway – Shimla Route

Tickets- Check
A packed Backpack- Check
Destination- Who knows!

And that’s how I kick started another solo trip back to the hills. With not much to do over a 3 day weekend, but with the acceptance of traveling solo, I decided to venture on the conventional touristy path but to unconventional destinations. Having taken the 12005 New Delhi- Kalka Shatabdi, I was well settled with the picturesque green fields on Punjab and Haryana as the stations kept passing by.

The arrival at Kalka was long and tiring with the incessant delays on the line and by the time I reached Kalka, it was close to midnight. Kalka has all the flavours of a small town that forms the artery flushing traffic to the hills beyond- Busy highways, frequent buses, a small but not so small station and scores of tiny hotels lining the central chowk.  And I picked up my base in one Hotel Dharam Villa for Rs.600 a night ( after a brief negotiation)

The next day, I kickstarted my day in the morning with the intention of doing some unconventional-non touristy places. The idea was to cover Dagshai, Barog, Solan and then spent the night at Kasauli.  Dagshai is a tiny hamlet and doubles up as an army cantonment and to reach there one needs to alight at Kumarhatti on the Shimla highway and take a mini-bus or jeep to Dasgshai. The village is largely unexplored but boasts of a few picturesque residential schools and some breathtaking view of the coniferous forests in the vicinity. I took a long walk after hopping off the bus near the Football ground which holds the distinction for being the first to host the Durand cup matches back in the 1880’s. As I walked past  curved roads housing the army stations and the Principal’s residence, while chatting up with a few locals and playing football with a bunch of 12 to 13 year olds, there was a sense of gratitude towards this little town that has so much to offer for a traveler like me who yearns for his time outside the boundaries of Delhi NCR. With multiple suggestions from the locals, I paid a visit to the Dagshai Jail housed right at the start of the town. The jail premises were small, but a walk inside those unlit corridors does give you the spooks especially when you hear about the forms of torture that the prisoners here were met with. I was partially relieved to see the day light as I moved out of the jail and after sipping some fresh apple juice from a small cafe nearby, I made my way to Barog thanks to a native who offered to drop me in his mini truck.

I was dropped off at a junction from where I could trek down to the Barog railway station famous for being one of the very few stations in India set amidst a beautiful valley with pine forests on all sides. The place was literally seemed like a leaf plucked out from Ruskin Bond’s books when he describes the Himalayan countryside.  I whiled away time at the station for a good 2-3 hours strolling around the tiny platform, watching the scenery in awe, until the Shimla- Kalka express would arrive and break my chain of thought. The station master who has been serving at this station for the last 32 years was a jolly middle-aged father who made me sit down and listen to his version of how the station has changed over the years and how he has done everything in his ambit to keep this station spotlessly clean. We spoke about politics, Indian railways and all topics that would lie within our bandwidth. As I boarded the Shimla Express to Solan that evening, I wondered whether my visit had brought some joy to the partially isolated life of that station master. It did bring joy to me for sure.

Upon arriving at Solan, I took the local bus from the Old City stand to the Mohan Maekan brewery Yes, the ones who manufacture our All time favorite Old Monk. I was slightly disappointed upon my arrival there 20 minutes later since they denied me permission to entry the factory premises. But well, I had to be contented with this Tick in the Box visit. Since I did not have any concrete plan, I decided to take the evening bus out to Kasauli at 5 PM from Solan. The journey was excruciatingly long and finally 2 hours and 45 minutes later I touched base in Kasauli. To get a hotel room for that night was a fight against time thanks to the place being overcrowded on the long weekend. An hour and some 15 hotel visits later, a room finally found me. You heard it right. A passerby overheard my request for any sort of room and offered me a place in his relatives house. Thankfully, the place wasn’t very far and had a separate access. I had a quick dinner and crashed in bed while the Old Monk lay untouched by the side. Gosh, I had a long day. But what a memorable day it had been.

This was the first morning on the trip which I had all to myself and I was in no hurry to go anywhere. I woke up to a view, which could have grander had it been the monsoons since I faced the room stood at the edge of a narrow river valley. Nonetheless, the vast expanse of green on the other side of the mountain compensated for what I had missed out when I occupied the room the previous night. After quick breakfast at Cafe Rudra, I set out for what was a clichéd tourist spot at every hill station called as the Sunset point. I choose to walk and it took me a good half an hour considering that I stopped and admired the old architecture at every nook and corner. A stand out building was the Kasauli club. The place emanated what true colony architectural structures looked like and one could not help but imagine the grandeur lifestyle of the past inhabitants. I took a slight deviation on the way to the sunset point and settled down amidst the bushes on what seemed like   a untreaded path. The view from here was magnificent. You could sit there the whole day and stare down at the unending greenery. It truly, reminds you of a different world than what you live everyday. A good one hour later with a heavy heart I rose to head back. The route back to Delhi had multiple pit stops and changeover and I had to make sure there were ample means of transport. On the way back from Kasauli I made a last pit stop at the Central Church. Set amidst the shade of tall pine trees, this church looked stunning in the backdrop and had it not been for the Sunday tourists, one could have probably dwelled here for longer. But, I had to head back on the 2PM bus to Kalka.

The bus took an alternate route which turned out to rather scenic than before as it passed through the rear mountains of Kasauli before heading through Parwaano and into Kalka. Here, after a small layover I took a next bus to Chandigarh, where I finally ended up at the Sector 17 bus stand. I was in for a big surprise considering that there were no available buses until the next morning which was when I opted for a car pool option. Although apprehensive about the who the co-passengers would be like, I decided to opt for it. The ride turned out to be rather fun with the bunch of chirpy fellow passengers and a good 3 and a half hours later I touched down in Delhi.