The alarm broke our sleep and zombie-like we started to get ready for our trip to Lansdowne… reason being packing for the trip late into the night the previous day after returning from work (and a tad more taxing for me as I had got up at 4am to make Chicken and Tomato Sandwiches).
The rented car that we had hired for the trip announced its presence with a honk. It was 6.20am and off we went, in a Brezza… so we could reach for our stuff in the luggage area while still seated in the car.
I dozed off after a while, and was woken up for breakfast. It was around 8.30 or so. Cheetal Grand did not look grand anymore. It’s been a long time since we passed by this extremely popular and sprawling highway-side restaurant-cum-hotel, and I was taken aback to see that it is now sort of divided into two, sitting on either side of the highway, perhaps to cater to hungry customers on either side of the road. For breakfast, we went to the ‘smaller’ one. Thankfully, the ladies’ loo was spick and span. And the attendant thoughtfully wiped clean each loo closet after use (something which I’ve seen only at Max hospitals and 5-star hotels). ‘From 6am to 2pm,’ she replied, when I asked her her duty hours. And she couldn’t step out during duty hours. After a quick breakfast of Grilled Chicken Sandwiches (vadas, dosas, sandwiches, pakoras and tea were on other tables) washed down with black tea, we resumed our journey.
From there we headed to Najibabad, and then to Kotdwar… 3km of that road ensured that we were ready for the snacks (read chips) that we were carrying with us. ‘This is the only way,’ the manager at Kasang Regency insisted when we called up to ask if there was any other route. (This awful road was the only way as a flyover or another better road was under construction.) En route, we stopped to buy jamuns fresh from the trees. Young boys stood under a tree, holding what looked like a double bedsheet, while the scrawniest of them hung from the branches, shaking the fruit off the tree. Scary, I thought. If he fell, a few bones would certainly be broken. Stuffed in green and blue polythene bags, these were priced at Rs.30 and Rs.50. There were mangoes too, supposedly from the mango orchards that dotted either side of the road.
A busy little town, Kotdwar is the place from where we got the first glimpse of the distant mountains, in shades of grey and blue. For those going to Lansdowne by train, this is where one changes the mode of transport – from train to a taxi, Kotdwar being the last railway station for Lansdowne. We zoomed by trees, shrubs, bushes of different sizes and shapes, and of shades of green… a bridge, too, from where the mountain range stood tall, and warm with brown and green. As the car turned and twisted up the winding road, the trees were sometimes beneath us, sometimes alongside us. Strewn amidst the green, what looked beige-brown and grey from a distance, and was bouldery and ‘gravelley’, turned out to be the dry riverbed that ran past the uphill road. In fact, we came across this sort of a ‘dry state’ in various parts of our trip, the only difference being the length and breadth. The stillness of the mountains was occasionally broken by cars whooshing by. Hairpin bends with road signs along the way, little hutments (some were topped with dish antennas), tube wells, post offices and banks sharing the same wooden, roughly constructed room indicated some degree of urbanization in this hilly area. Or perhaps more than that: we saw a few solar panels here (and in shops in Najibabad selling these). Zipping up the road (our driver seemed to be in a tearing hurry to reach Lansdowne by lunchtime, despite having had a hearty breakfast), signages of hotels and resorts assured us that our destination was round the corner. And, suddenly, it seemed, we were there: Kasang Regency. We tumbled out of the car. It was about 2pm. Incidentally, we had gone off-track, somewhere before or after Najibababd, and this cost us one full hour! We checked-in. A large spacious room (Super Deluxe Room), with a superb view of the mountains welcomed us. Electric kettle, teabags, milk and sugar sachets were on a kitchen-top-like counter, with a sink next to it. The mini fridge remained in comatose throughout our stay.
For lunch (our package included 2N 3D with breakfast and dinner), we decided to go to Lansdowne proper; Kasang was just ahead of this hill station. We passed by a few mountain-facing hotels, a few under construction — a few years down the road, this place will lose its charm!
Nearing the town, which is an army base, we were stopped at a check-post minus the ‘post’, manned by, what looked like, civilians to us. We had to pay an entry fee of Rs.104, which was valid for that day. That done, we soon reached the mall, passing boards that told us we were now in army territory, and also warned (only tourists, perhaps?) that polythene bags and plastic packets were strictly banned in Lansdowne, and offenders would be fined. (However, here and there, we did see empty Mountain Dew bottles and chips’ packets lying just off the winding road.)
Restaurants jostle with each other for space in the Lansdowne mall area, with dedicated parking on one side. Oakwood Flavours, Mayur, and Tipsy… We headed to Tipsy, as it was recommended by our hotel for non-veg food. Four to five tables make up this tiny neat and tidy place, no-frills place. Our order of Chicken Lababdaar, rice and roti was served quickly. Not very yummy, and rather bland, we felt. But then, the solitary waiter had asked us if we want spicy food or not. We had opted for the ‘not’. Lunch over we walked about a while. It didn’t look like a hustling bustling place: shops selling chips, mithais, one shop with green veggies. And a movie poster of ‘Tubelight’, starring Salman Khan. We saw schoolchildren chatting on the way back home, one girl with Cream Rolls. Would we like one too, we exchanged glances? Of course, we would! Kotwani Bakers, we were told, was the place to head to. We did, finding it after asking one or two locals. However, from about 10 feet away, it didn’t look particularly inviting to our 100 per cent urban sensibilities, leaving us somewhat disappointed.
We returned to the hotel and switched to snooze mode. Evening time and we had pakoras, French fries, and tea. The pakoras were top-notch. Dinner was buffet style, and okayish, with rice, parantha, lachha parantha, a chicken dish, dal, paneer, vegetable dish and a sweet dish. A couple of winged insects and a cricket crept inside the room from the veranda: although we had shut and locked the doors, there were still some gaps, and the ‘creepies’, attracted by the light, slunk in. We hurriedly threw them out and turned off the lights. End of Day 1.
Day 2 was a bright, sunny day, and saw us tucking into a combination of Poha, Masala Omelette, Cornflakes with hot milk (cold milk available on request), toasts, Stuffed Parantha (dripping with oil/ghee) and pickles/dahi, and tea and coffee.
The view from the veranda was charming: mountains in the distance, and a group of wild rabbits hopping about in the garden below, nibbling at the leaves and grass, and kids hollering about in the kids’ area. Kasang has a basketball court, a badminton court, swings and an indoor TT area. Just beyond Kasang is another resort, with picture-postcard cottages, and a huge solar panel atop the roof of a double-storey cottage.
Allowing our tummies to settle down after breakfast, we piled into the car, after about 2 hours, to pay our respects to the deity at the Tarkeshwar Temple, some 36-37km from Kasang Regency. We stopped at a small shrine dedicated to Sai Baba of Shirdi, for His blessings. As we swung from one hairpin bend to the other, sometimes going up and sometimes down, the view was spectacular. The standing-in-height-order mountains, the trees that stood silently by the roadside, the bright blue sky which suddenly gave way to grey clouds, the chill in the air and the complete silence and stillness all contributed to an atmosphere that kept us busy with our own thoughts. The last 5km to the temple unnerved us: the road was so narrow that two cars passed with great difficulty. But this did not deter some over-adventurous drivers to rashly overtake us. Just when the churning in my tummy was about to hit a record high (I don’t suffer from motion sickness), we came across a heavily crammed and congested ‘parking’ lot, with cars and jeeps of number plates of different states hogging the space. Stalls selling chips, cold drinks and puja thalis cried for attention. And got it too.
The temple is approached by a narrow walkway amidst trees, which follows a downward path, through a somewhat foresty place. The heady fragrance of moss, moist and cold woody trunks and wet earth filled our nostrils as we walked down. Numerous giant deodar (cedar) trees provided a superb setting for this little abode of the gods. Although there were several pilgrims (mostly grunting or panting depending on the direction they were going), it was very quiet and people spoke in hushed tones as if afraid to interrupt the silence of the trees. The temple premises housed the deities of Tarkeshwar (Shiva) and a goddess (‘Jai Mata Ki’ was painted outside the temple). Rows of bells flanked either side of the entrance to the temple and its exit. A stern warning to pilgrims to not ring the bells tempted a few as well as yours truly to go ahead and do so! Mannat threads were strung across the trunk of a huge imposing tree, and the nearby fence. A havan kund too. A clean and neat place, there’s a dharamshala, and a water tank to bathe in, with a separate enclosure for ladies (or was it just to change their clothes?). The washroom near what looked like an extension of the dharamshala boasted a washing machine! We lounged about a bit in the surrounding grassy area, with uprooted tree trunks lying haphazardly, and cows grazing. Patches of blackened earth suggested that food has been cooked here. Although one policeman asked me if I was carrying any food in my backpack, no other questions were asked; mobiles were allowed inside the temple premises. Shoes, of course, had to be opened before entering the temple area. The walk up to the car park left me huffing and puffing, as one had to trudge upwards to reach the parking lot. A delightfully serene place, the Tarkeshwar Temple provided a huge relief from the unnerving swinging road trip to and from it. It’s so peaceful here that you can actually meditate here if you wish to. An amazing place, this was definitely the highlight of my Lansdowne trip. I remember wondering whether the swinging-churning-twisting journey was worth the temple. The Tarkeshwar Temple was worth every effort, every hairpin bend, and every bout of nausea that I felt – and even more. It was way beyond my expectations. I have never come across such a simple temple in such a splendid location, in nature’s lap. It will remain with me for as long as I live.
The return journey, surrounded by what I call ‘bottle brush’ trees’ (of both green-and-orange, and only green too, giving it a patriotic look; I have no idea what these trees are actually called), and a variety of other species of trees, and up and down the narrow 5km stretch, and complete noiselessness, if there’s such a word, seemed comparatively shorter to the time it had taken us to reach the temple… which, of course, was actually not so. Perhaps chomping on the chips, which we bought at the stalls there, gave that impression. We returned to the hotel, and lunched there. Chicken Fried Rice and Chilli Chicken, which was bit too orange. Still, it wasn’t bad; the fried rice was surprisingly yummy. Lunch over, we hit our bed.
At about 4.30pm we left for the sunset point here, Tip in Top, which also hosts a GMVN hotel. (There is another GMVN hotel, located somewhere here.) This is the highest point at Lansdowne, we were told. The view was both breathtaking and annoying. The former because of the vast expanse of space, the mountains either beneath us or at such a greater distance that they looked hazy, with cottages standing against the mountainsides, looking like tiny white matchboxes. And annoying because of the crowd who were busy taking selfies, instead of enjoying the landscape. I mean, how can one not soak in the beauty of nature in front of us, especially tourists like us who have come from the plains? Selfies can be taken later too. Surely there won’t be much change from the selfie that they took earlier in the day! Next, we went to St Mary’s Church, where a documentary film was being shown on the Garhwal regiment. You have to pay a nominal amount of Rs.10 or 20 to see it. We were feeling hungry by then, and so we headed once again to the mall, paid Rs.104 again, to find a eatery where we could have snacks and tea. Finding most places either full or closed as they prepared dinner, we decided to go to Fairy Dale, the hotel where we had tried but didn’t get a booking. It has only eight rooms. Initially we were refused as they don’t cater to outsiders, and it was latish too, but the owner relented when we informed him that he himself had suggested Kasang to us (same proprietor). Pakoras, French fries and tea in the open energized us, as we took in the surrounding. Again, surrounded by trees, there was hardly any sound here save for the chirping of a few birds. A grunt caught my attention and I saw a man and his pug emerge from somewhere below and disappear somewhere. A newly married couple strolled in after a while, just as we polished off the last pakora.
It was 7-ish, and we returned to the hotel. Catching the mobile signal was an art here, we discovered. One spot would ensure that you could talk to people back home, while a few steps away and there would be no signal on your phone! Thankfully, the Wi-fi at Kasang was strong, so we were able to WhatsApp with civilization. Buffet Dinner of Veg Pulao, Butter Chicken, veggies, among others, and we hit the sack. And yes, the hotel was overflowing with tourists by the time we returned from our evening sojourn. The cacophony in the dining room naturally rose by quite a few decibels, added by kids and parents loudly complaining about the lack of ice cream in the buffet. End of Day 2.
Day 3, and we woke up to a cloudy day, with clouds initially and then completely blocking the mountains that had been visible the previous day. Hubby dear, who had taken superb pics with his mobile of the sunrise the previous day, came back unhappy. The clouds had obviously clouded much more than the mountain.
Fearing rain, we left half an hour before the time we had decided. In any case, check-out time at Kasang is 10.30am, and we left at about 11am. As we progressed towards the plains, the number of cars zipping to Lansdowne surprised us. It was Sunday, 25th June, and the next day was Id, a holiday perhaps for many people. Thanks to our driver who was clearly homesick, we reached Kotdwar and then Najibabad in what seemed like record time. On the way, we saw the shrines that we had passed by on our way to Lansdowne, big and small; a place called Chhota Hardwar; and numerous teeny tiny settlements. The mighty Brezza again danced to the beat of the awful 3km road. And, it was so hot. Quite a few men were taking a dip in the canal that ran past the road, tempting hubby dear to join them. A few ‘aam aadmis’ sat near the mango orchards, selling their ware. Boys with jamuns in bags hounded any car that slowed down on this road. And, we gain drove by a school with a unique name: Mount Litera Zee School!!
This time we had a late lunch at the other slightly bigger Cheetal Grand. A hoarding proclaiming McD, Haldiram and some other place got us salivating, and we drove in the reverse direction to have our lunch at McD. It turned out to be a whole load of rubbish, as in spite of driving about 12-13km or more, we still didn’t find or even catch sight of the golden gates. So, listening to our tummies this time, we changed direction and returned to Cheetal Grand. It was so crowded that we had to stand at one of the tables parked in the dining area (or you could call it a food court), and lunched on Veg Thali, Butter Dosa and Chicken Cutlet, and got a table when our meal was almost over.
With the end of our lunch, our 2-day trip too came to an end. The rest of the journey back home through Ghaziabad, was a nightmare of snarling traffic jams and heat, and dust. When we reached home, it was 7.45pm. Whew! What a way to come down to earth. Still, considering that my daughter and I had insisted we go to Lansdowne at the nth-hour, and only because it was approximately 5 hours away, and with not any other info on this hill station (yes, yes, we had asked frineds and family, who had either no idea or said they had gone there many years back; and no, we didn’t Google), we had a wonderful time in this neat and tidy hill station. It would have been perfect had my son joined us too; but he works in Bangalore, and was unable to come along with us.
Contributed By: Enu G A cheeky quipster behind a spectacled facade!