“Preparing” for our trip to Lansdowne last May was anything but easy, simply because of the scarcity of information. It had to be the first time that the internet didn’t overload me with unwanted, or wanted, for that matter, details. So, for a family that likes its vacations as organized as possible, we didn’t have much to start off with.
We roughly knew the route to be followed; Delhi-Meerut bypass-Mawana-Bijnor-Najibabad-Kotdwar-Lansdowne, and the approximate duration of seven to eight hours, and fortunately, we booked a room in a resort before leaving. A smart decision, as it turned out, since there are hardly any facilities or accommodation for tourists in this small town established by the British in Uttar Pradesh, which serves as headquarters for the Garhwal Rifles.
Ideally, one should begin the journey in the morning to ensure a comfortable late-afternoon arrival. We, however, happened to start in the early evening. The route is easy enough till the Meerut bypass, where there are quite a few eateries for the hungry traveller. Uttar Pradesh is quite infamous for its lack of road signs, owing to which we lost our way several times, especially during the drive uphill from Kotdwar in the inky darkness. The road was rather bumpy and precarious, probably worse because of the May rains and storms, and the absence of even the faintest glow of light made it rather dangerous. It almost seemed as though the Government was doing its best to keep tourists away. The journey notwithstanding, the destination was delightful enough, or as delightful as it can be in the middle of the night. The “city” , more appropriately, the marketplace, looked like a scene out of a fairytale, perfectly still and silent, overhung by a flaming orange half-moon.
During the day, however, the “city” is teeming with people; while higher up, the tranquility is retained, chiefly because of the scanty population and visitors. By way of sightseeing, places in and around Lansdowne include the customary viewpoint Tiffin Top (or Tip-in-Top!), St. Mary’s Church, the Army Cantonment and museums, the Karnva Ashram and the Bhulla Tal, a lake and dam dedicated to “veer garhwalis”. However, Lansdowne is better visited for its serenity and proximity to nature, and is ideal for enjoying long walks amongst the blue pines and drinking in the beauty.
St. Mary’s Protestant Church is quite well-known, and definitely worth a visit. There have been no prayers here since 1947, and the church has witnessed only two weddings in the course of its history. It fell into a state of disrepair after the British left India. The army has now taken up its maintenance, and it displays some information about its history, in addition to 20-minute film screenings about the Garhwal Rifles. Slightly lower down is the less famous Catholic Church, St. John’s, which we found far more delightful. This grey-stone structure has the aura of serenity and comfort, and hosts regular masses for the Christian population of the town.
Another place absolutely worth visiting is the museum in the Army Cantonment. Open to visitors from 5pm to 6pm, it is extremely well-maintained, housing displays ranging from coins, awards and medals, uniforms and portraits of heroes/ eminent officers, to weapons and artillery, right from World War II and information on the history, flora, fauna etc., of Lansdowne.
When all is said and done, though the trip was short, it was one of the most memorable ones of my life. An ideal getaway from the hustle-bustle of the city, this is one place to which I’ll definitely return.
[Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hmmmmm/767517811/]