Sunday, April 10, 2011

Landing up in lansdowne

Lansdowne is a small hill-station, situated at a distance of around 250 kms from Delhi. Named after an erstwhile British Viceroy of India, it is the home town of the Garhwal Rifles regiment of the Indian military, and is a well maintained, quiet and beautiful cantonment town. It also happens to be the closest 'hill-station' from Delhi.

A friend's visit and enough weekend enthusiasm got us moving early on an April Saturday morning. Despite limited morning traffic, reaching Meerut (some 70 kms from Delhi) took us over 2 hours.

Meerut is a dusty, yet vibrant and colorful town. A perfect spot to click those 'A day in the life of India' pictures. We quickly crossed the town and headed towards Mawana. Famous for its sugar, 'cane fields and mango orchards lined the route. Verdant green, and at this time of the year, blooming with mango flowers.The route from Mawana heads towards Najibabad and Bijnor, and is surprisingly well laid and maintained. 

A few kilometers outside of Mirapur, the road splits into two - with the one for Bijnor heading to the right. Busy with small talk and soaking in the beauty of those beautiful orchards, we missed the turn and headed straight to Muzzafarnagar. Nearing the town's vicinity, we realized our folly and with some Google Maps help, speedily headed back to track.

Drive up from Koratdwar was nice and breezy. Nice winding mountain roads, beautiful pine trees and meadows all around, and with hardly any traffic.

Oak Grove Inn, where we had booked our stay, lies on the Pauri-Lansdowne route, and required a slight detour to reach. This was the day of the World Cup Final match, with India and Sri Lanka battling it out, and we had reached just in time for the start.

The Inn, run by a retired Army Colonel (Col. Rawat) and his wife, is a beautiful, cozy, homely and neat bed-and-breakfast stay, situated a few kilometers outside the boundaries of Lansdowne, overlooking a beautiful valley. The Col. and his wife were great hosts, and went beyond their way to organize our stay. Gave me explicit directions on every part of the drive from Delhi to Lansdowne, and called me up twice enroute to enquire on my direction. While at the place too, they went out of their way to ensure things were up to the market. The closest one can get to feeling homely, away from home.

After settling in, we took a break during Sri Lanka's slog overs to go around town. 

The town is well maintained, with the army's discipline well exhibited. Small parks, winding clean roads, military presence all abound. Few attractions exist: a well laid-out museum on the Garwhal Rifles, a couple of view-points, and a lake (that could very well be a ditch).

What's distinctive is the quietness. Unlike most hill stations in India, there is little commercial activity. Few people walking around in gay abandon, and hardly any families with kaw-kawing children, that are wont at every other hill-station. It's almost un-Indian in this general lack of population / activity, and the cleanliness. The winding tree-lined roads make a great walking destination too.   

The evening, of course, was devoted to watching the match. And what a fine contest it turned out to be!

Overall, Lansdowne is a great place for a quiet weekend getaway from Delhi. Just don't land up there expecting to shop and party. However, it's just THE place to stretch your legs and detox away from Delhi's dust.

For those who seek to follow the trail: The drive takes 6+ hours, depending on the traffic, and your familiarity  with the route. After Meerut, follow NH-119 to Mawana, Bijnor, Najibabad and Kotdwar. The real traffic choke-point is Modinagar/Meerut, the rest of the drive, particularly after Mawana, is a drivers delight. Enroute, shortly after Mirapur, remember to take the right turn at a restaurant called 'Monty Millions' to head to Bijnor. Oak Grove is a great place to stay. Alternatively, the GVMN guest house at Tiffin Top is a picturesque location.
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