Ideally they say it’s not safe to take the highways in north India during winters. The fog is thick and stays almost throughout the day. But then when you have to go, you have to go. So in November-December we had to go…and the reasons for this trip to Lansdowne in Uttaranchal were manifold. Firstly we were getting restless to hit the highway and secondly, our God daughter was in town so we decided to take her on a vacation.
The time was 3.30 am and we reluctantly got out of our warm beds into the car. Naki our God child, along with her blanket and pillow, transferred her bed to the rear seat. Though still dark, Delhi was okay – the fog was thin and there was not much problems driving. It was only when we crossed Meerut Cantonment area that things got really bad. Visibility was almost a couple of feet (I could barely see the bonnet of my car) and my windshield kept fogging from inside. I tried all and finally discovered that with the AC on and directed towards the windshield things got better. But outside it was still dark and the fog was getting thicker by very passing minute. Driving at around 30 kmph we proceeded…eyes straining to see what’s before us when suddenly Deepa screamed, “lookout!” It was a buffalo-cart loaded with protruding sugarcane. Something hit the car really hard somewhere near the windshield, but I was sure was not the cart. Feeling the windshield with my hand for cracks, I carried on. Naki slept through the entire episode. After several minutes (that seemed hours) at the crack of dawn things started to get a little better. Surprisingly even in the cold and fog, there were quite a number people going on morning walks and exercising besides the highway.
Soon the sun was faintly visible much to the relief of both Deepa and me. Although headlights in full blast, I thought of picking up speed to make up for the lost time in the fog. As we proceeded suddenly there was a broken patch of road and I screeched to a halt. Naki thinking we were hit, got up dazed…my stupidity. Now with three pairs of watchful eyes on the road, we carried on till we decided to stop at a roadside dhaba for our early morning cup of tea.
We got down and I inspected the car of any damage and to my surprise found a long sugarcane stuck in the carrier on the roof of the car. we were carrying sandwiches which we had with the tea, which rejuvenated my senses for the road ahead. On many occasions the fog stays lingering throughout the day, but today was different. The sun was up and a bright day soon welcomed us and brightened our minds.
In Kotdwara we stopped at Ambience Garden Resort for breakfast only to find that we were too early, so we had tea, biscuits and sandwiches. We clicked a couple of photographs of the menu and signage within the resort with horrendous spellings (some really funny).
As we neared Lansdowne, the vegetation gradually transformed into tall pine trees. At the sight of snow-capped mountains, we got down at one turn to click a couple of photographs. The place was nothing less than the quintessential ‘pin-drop-silence’ and one could hear one’s breath. The silence of place was broken by the occasional vehicles that plied on the road. The air was so clean that the fumes of the passing vehicles hit one very hard. We were ascending with every turn and Deepa and Naki at one point decided to track a small mountain and catch me above.
Soon we reached an entry gate. After paying the toll, we asked for directions to our resort which was actually just across the road and we didn’t notice. Since the resort had said that there was no need to book rooms in advance because it was off-season, we decided to go further up in search of any better options. After asking pedestrians, we reached Tiffin-Top where we inquired about rooms in the GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) Tourist Rest House (TRH). But unable to find accommodation we decided to go back to Blue Pine resorts, where we had earlier thought of staying.
We had taken a cottage and since the resort was relatively new, the rooms were clean. The rooms were in different levels and ours was at the top level. The climbing of stairs made us hungry and after dumping everything in our room we went to the restaurant. The food was okay for our hungry souls, although nothing much to discuss about.
Since there was nothing much to do, we decided to take an afternoon nap and rejuvenate ourselves for the evening to explore Lansdowne. Excited as I was, I could not sleep and I took it to task not to let both Deepa and Naki sleep either, though unsuccessfully. So amidst the ensuing snoring, I tuned in the television. By evening, we were gearing up to explore Lansdowne…that was till we discovered that there was a snooker and a table-tennis table. So we went for a game or two. Being total novices, by the time we finished a round it was dusk. In the lawn near the recreation room, the DJ had already started playing Bollywood songs and the other guests too had gathered around the bonfire. We ordered for some snacks and took a table near the fire…it felt good.
The next morning we got up early and decided to explore the sunrise point marked near a winding lane behind our room and inside the resort premises. After minutes of tracking we reached the place huffing and puffing only to find that the spot had nothing much to offer our exploring souls. We decided to carry on and track the hill which had a shed on top. From below it seemed easy, but when we started it became more and more difficult – at least for me. I occasionally stopped for breath. But our spirits were high and we had to carry on. After about half an hour of tracking amidst grass, trees and stones we reached the shed atop. It was a gratifying moment and we christened the hill we had just scaled as ‘Victory Peak K312.’ My lungs asked for more air so we decided to rest for a while Deepa and Naki clicked photographs of the beautiful surroundings and the snow-peaked mountains shinning in the morning sun rays. Though climbing down was much easier, the tracking had made us hungry. After we reached our room we ordered for breakfast to be served in the porch in front of the room which was now flooded with warm sunshine. While the restaurant prepared our breakfast of puri sabzi, toasts, omelets, boiled eggs, tea and juices, we got ready to explore Lansdowne.
After such a heavy breakfast we had to rest for a while. Only by afternoon we were at Bhulla Lake our first stop. This man-made lake surrounded by well manicured trees, hedges and flowering plants made it a perfect place for tourists wanting for some fun in this small hill-station. There were quite a number of tourists enjoying a game of soccer, sipping tea, coffee and aerated drinks along with chips and other snacks or taking boat rides in the lake. There were a horde of swans all around the lake, which was a small one compared to Sattaal or Nainitaal. The boat ride nevertheless was fun. A small eatery near the lake served tea, juices and chips which of course we had to munch on. Naki, being an animal love found the best way to kill time playing with dozen of caged rabbits. There was a small gift shop adjacent to the eatery and Deepa picked some local hand-crafted items and candles for friends.
Two stringers of a local television channel approached us to give our feedback on tourism in Lansdowne. My couple of seconds to fame was however cut shot by one cameraman who found that my Hindi diction was not up to their standards and it was Deepa who complied them with answers to a couple of question as to what the administration could do to make Lansdowne a better tourist destination.
From here we went to Tip-in-Top (also called Tiffin-Top or Tip and Top) and Snow View Point. Both spots offer a startling view of the snow-clad peaks of Chaukhamba and Trishul. Tip-in-Top is on the ridge close to St. Mary’s Church, while the way to Snow View Point is from above the State Bank of India branch. We had heard that the view of the sunset from these two points are amazing, though we decided to try out another interesting place, the Lovers Point, which we had seen on the way. Perfect place with not another soul except the three of us. We climbed a huge rock and the view from there was amazing. There were tiny settlements far below and the last rays of the sun shone on their tin roofs. The golden rays of the sun coming through the huge pine trees created such a magical moment…we were all stunned by the beauty and I tried to soak in as much as I could of the surroundings to last a lifetime.
The next morning we left early since Naki had to catch a flight back to Mumbai from Delhi. On the way we made a detour towards Meerut Bypass to have a late lunch at Big Bite. How much we tried to reach Delhi on time, the traffic in Meerut and Delhi border took a lot of time and Naki missed her flight. Thankfully she was accommodated in the next flight home. We reached home and immediately got down to download the photographs and to relive the pleasant moments we had in Lansdowne — a second visit to the place is on the cards, no doubt about that!