Lansdowne may not be the quintessential hill station with unending views of hills covered with alpine forests, and it may not give you the dizzying feeling of being on a cliff top, but nothing compares the timeless charm of its rundown town center with cinema hall, the clean meandering roads, the creeper ridden Church of St. Mary’s, and the hyperactive dog sprancing down hillside. You may not immediately take a shine to the place, and try and compare its setting to that of Chail or Dhanaulti ,but the thing about this tiny cantonment town is it grow son you insidiously making you want to come back for yet another stay. Named after the then Viceroy of India, Lord Lansdowne who came here in 1884, Lansdowne at 1700metres above sea level in Uttarakhand, has since been home to the Garhwal Rifles that can be rightly credited with preserving its pristine surroundings and keeping it neat as a pin. Unlike more commercial hill stations suchas Nainital and Manali, this place is sans littering of any kind, and on an evening’s stroll throws up scenes from itslocal life, like a retired colonel walking his German Shepherd, a platoon of army jawans returning from ajog, or an old couple sitting down to a game of cards on their porch. If not the most breathtaking scenery, Lansdowne makes up by giving you space to discover the little joys of life that make it worth living – joys that cannot be compensated by pretty souvenir shops and fancy places to eat and stay. The highpoint of a visit to the hill station is its lack of tourists allowing you to soak up the serenity all by yourself. Not to mention, being a cantonment area, Lansdowne is out of bounds for international tourists .About 240 kilometers from the Capital, it’s a fine drive on NH 58 all the way from Delhi to Meerut, and then on NH119 to Lansdowne. If you started early, it shouldn’t take you any more than six hours to get into the grand gates of Garhwal Rifles Cantonment. Of course it’s easier to navigate around and see farther places if you have your own vehicle, but for those taking a train, Kotdwar is the nearest railway station from where it’s a 40km/hr drive uphill. Though, there are plenty of shared taxis to Lansdowne from the railway station. Regardless of season, pack woolens along as there is always a nip in the air, and doesn’t take long for the clouds to well up and burst into showers, bringing down the temperature further. Within the cantonment area, accommodation options are limited to two GMVN(Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) guesthouses, the private Fairy dale resort owned by a Dr Shah, and a couple of non-descript hotels in the town center. You can even opt to stay in a GMVN log hut at ‘Tip N Top’, the highest point in Lansdowne that opens up a panoramic view of the surrounding hills, outside of being a great vantage point to view the sunrise and sunset. The hotels here do not have a set food menu as it is made to order on guest’s request, and availability of ingredients. You can even order a chicken dish, but you need to tell the bellboy well in advance so that he can buythe meat from the market while running other errands, and have it cooked fresh for you. In their warm, un assuming way, the local Garhwali folks give hospitality a very different connotation by trying to accommodate you as best as possible with their limited means.
Even if you are staying at a GMVN guesthouse, it is worth the while walking down to the adjacent Fairydaleresort for breakfast. The little cafe affording ample views of the ravine and Sal jungles is a glorious open-air setting to have the first meal of the day. After you are suitably fortified with your choice of egg and toast orpoha, you may take the trek up to Tip N Top. On arrival post an invigorating walk, you will be greeted by an abandoned jeep with weeds growing in it thick and fast. No one knows why it stands there; nevertheless every occasional tourist jumps into its driver’s seat to get a cheeky picture taken.
The ‘tip n top’ point is a beautiful open terrace that affords sweeping views of the distant Himalayan peaks covered in mist. Needless to say, photographic opportunities abound here. Downhill, you’ll pass the Church of St. Mary’s, atypical hill town church overrun by creepers and flowering thickets. Though in disuse since India’s Independence, the church still retains its old glory by boasting quaint stone interiors, and a wealth of literature corroborated by black-and-white pictures ofall the town weddings it witnessed. You can spend hours in this little place reading up about the splendid colonial days of Lansdowne. Photography is, however, not allowed inside. Bhulla Taal is another interesting point of sightsee inthis hill station. Kept in shipshape by the Garhwal Rifles, Bhulla Taal is a wooded area with an emerald lake in its center where you can enjoy pedal boat rides while feeding swans. It’s a good spot to spend a few idle hours browsing the greenhouse, peeping into the gigantic rabbit cage, or simply enjoying the scenery with a cup of coffee from the park canteen.