Manoj was coming from Chandigarh to join me on my trip to Lansdowne, Uttarakhand. He reached Delhi early morning at 4.45 am on Saturday. I picked him from Delhi’s ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminus) and we were on our way to Lansdowne..

First pit stop was at Mohan Nagar, Gaziabad where we had a quick bite and tea. With the ‘Outlook Traveller’ and google maps as our guides, we drove ahead. the drive from Gaziabad to Bijnor was not eventful but was not peaceful either. We had breakfast near Muzaffarnagar and then the ‘fun’ began.

Oh, by the way I’m Anupam – coincidentally the admin for :)

19-21 Sept 09

Driving through UP is honestly like driving through a cattle field. Bikes, cycles, tractors, trucks, hand trolleys, bullock carts, cars, humans – you name it and the thing is there. The typical vehicle which has got global fame as well (no kidding) is the ‘Jugaad’ which we saw in good numbers between Khatauli and Modinagar.

I read somewhere that ’small vehicles have a right of way’. Well this ‘rule’ does not hold good in UP. Here the big fellows own the roads (and even the pavements I’ll say). We had a close shave with a roadways bus. The guy had pulled over on the left when I saw him 100 meteres ahead. Suddenly when we were barely 20 meters from him, he decided to casually drive along – with no indication or warning, he was in front of us slowly chugging along.

At 120 kmph, it was quite a task to stop my Swift, but I did it somehow. Good that I had read that it’s bad to slam the brakes as it might skid the vehicle (specially in a non ABS car) – I cautiously but rapidly pumped the brake pedal to bring my rocket to a halt. After catching our breath for a few seconds, we drove ahead. I remember swearing my heart out at the bus driver; but alas – to him we were just like little flies irritating a big elephant in the ear and he chose to show complete indifference to our presence !! @#$@#@#$ driver is all I can say..

The roads were excellent except the one between Khatauli and Bijnor (this stretch was all dug up and dusty. Average speed was 30 kmph !). The best was from Najibabad to Lansdowne – honestly it did not seem I was in India – excellent roads in good condition with proper markings et all. We cruised for many kilometers at over 110 kmph without a need to brake. Once on the hills (post Kotdwar) it was a different ball game altogether. I was constantly shifting between 3rd and 4th but surprisingly even with the AC on, the Swift did not show any power loss on steep climbs. The turbocharger and torque of the 1.3 litre multijet DDIS engine showed their muscle. And were we impressed? You bet !

We reached Lansdowne at around 11.30 am. Unlike other hill stations, Lansdowne was a completely different experience. Beautiful but not crowded. Maintained well but not pricey. Lansdowne is home to the Garhwal Rifles regiment and the place is virtually maintained by the Indian Army. The place has good road network with almost zero chances of getting lost owing to numersous road signs. We had not booked any hotel beforehand so we began hunting for one. We tried our luck at Fairydale but it had almost no rooms. The ones available were only for that day – for Sunday they were already booked. To add to the misery they were lacking on some basics. We decided to venture further and drove ahead.

Drive from the main road on to the muddy track towards Jungle Resort – Retreat Anand had us bite our nails all the way through. It was downhill with the track just wide enough to fit in 1 car. It was all rocks on 1 side and a deep deep valley on the other. Using the engine to aid in braking we finally reached the resort. It took us around 20 minutes to cover just 3 kilometers – honestly I had been overcautious. Luckily we were able to get a suite (namesake !) for ourselves for 2 days. I was fearing the worst though looking at the number of cars parked there. We had our lunch and deciced to drive up again to the market to get some essentials. We also sneaked in a visit to Tip n Top and the Santoshi Maa temple.

Exhausted after being awake for over 24 hours, we slept like logs in the evening, only to be woken up by the resort staff to take our dinner order. We had our dinner by the pool side and spent few hours just chatting away. Being a secluded place, there was no where to go from the resort after dark, so we spent some time watching movies and finally dozed off.

Next day we began early at around 6.30 am and trekked our way up to the Lansdowne Army Cantonment. On our way up we passed through a cementry which we mistook for a temple initially ! Nonetheless it was an experience in itself. It was a pleasant surprise to see how well organized and maintained the Cantonment was despite the terrain. There were soldiers doing their daily chores, some of them busy in exercises etc. We decided to trek back to our resort and began our journey downhill. A few army men stopped us to ask who we were and where were we from.

Convinced that we were tourists and not terrorists they candidly warned us that a tiger has been spotted in the jungle and might attack us on our way back. Manoj and I were speechless for a minute but decided to take the risk anyhow. I realised that I had bought a hunting dagger on my trip to McLeod Ganj which I was carrying in my bag. I got it out trying to convince my self that I’ll be able to tackle the tiger with it if need be. We did not come across any tigers but did spot a fox on our way. At the resort the folks told us that the army men were known to play such pranks with civilians!!

We had our breakfast around 9.30 am and decided to trek on the other side. With not much knowledge of the terrain we came back once we spotted a water body. We realised it was not much worth staying at the resort and checked out before noon. On our way out from the resort we asked a localite (Ajay) to click a few pics of ourselves, soon to realise he was a part time guide as well. Promptly we hired him to show us around for rest of the day and he happliy obliged. His 10 year old brother (Anurag) was only too happy to accompany us. We first drove to the ruins of the British setup. The path towards the ruins did not look motorable at all but he convinced us otherwise. Honestly I was biting my tongue everytime the car tried going South when I wanted it to go North. Soon after I got used to the terrain and was enjoying it. It was surprising to see ‘once upnon a time’ fireplaces, bedrooms etc of the British – aging over 100 years old.

We parked our car at the under construction resort and began our trek towards the tiger caves. After around 30 minutes and numerous scratches on our legs, Ajay showed us the cave. He said if we were lucky we might as well spot a tiger but chances were seldom. We were so absorbed in the knowledge being shared that we did not realise spending close to an hour there, but unfortunately Mr. Tiger was nowhere to be seen. Ajay made us aware with the local flora and fauna and the different medical applications of same. He was hardly 20 years of age but the knowledge he had was amazing.

The way trees had small cups tied to them to collect glue was also amazing. Ajay told us that this was all controlled by the government. Also there were real white marble rocks in plenty on the terrain – in the open market they would be worth quite some money. Devoid of rain, we saw water falls but with not much water in them. Neverthelss they were beautiful.

We dropped Anurag at his home and drove towards another spot with Ajay known as ‘Bhim Pakora’ – it was huge stone on top of another which surprisingly can be moved by just 4 fingers ! It’s been there for ages but does not loose balance. Mythology has it that ‘Bhim’ – one of the Pandavas was having a snack and this stone is actually a leftover of the same lying here ever since. Hence the name ‘Bhim Pakora’. Our next stop was Kaleshwar Temple and then Bhulla Lake. This is an artifical lake made and maintained by the Army. A beautiful lake in the valley good for a picnic of sorts. We dropped Ajay at the market and had our lunch at Hotel Mayur. Do see the video of the drive up from the muddy track to the main road (the last one below on the right). The camera has been able to capture just a bit of the experience.

Our drive back to Delhi was great with the downhill part being the best. I made the engine do much of the braking with least use of the brake peadal. We stopped a couple of times to ensure we did not miss any of the spectacular views of the valley and the clouds. Fog played hide and seek till Kotdwar but it was a different experience altogether.

We visited Siddhbali temple near Kotdwar and spent around 30 minutes there. Surrounded by the mountains and on the river bed the temple was one of its kind. We drove from Kotdwar for over 3 hours and finally stopped at the same restaurant where we had our breakfast on Saturday to have our dinner now. We made use of this stop to do some ‘data management’ and made copies of the pics and videos from each other’s cameras. It was 10.30 pm and we decided to drive non stop to Delhi.

There was a 40 kilometers long deserted stretch before Merrut which made us thank our stars once we crossed it. Not a single light and not a single human being was visible all the way. The only occasional flickers we saw were of the foxes out on a prowl.

Once we reached Merrut town, it was a different world altogether again. At 12.30 am it was surprising to see so many people out on the streets and all the shops bustling with people. Soon we realised it was the festival of Id in the morning (21 Sep 09 day) for which the preparations were on at full swing even past midnight.

We reached our home at around 2.15 am. Though we were dead tired but could not sleep till 4 am as were busy discussing the trip yet again ! At 6000 meters above sea level, Lansdowne was surprisingly warm in the day. However it’s a must visit for anyone who loves driving and hates crowds.

Driving Directions & Tips

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Driving Tips :
Get a tankful before Kotdwar. Uphill – Just ensure ample use of horn on blind turns. Car Care – Ensure enough air in tyres, coolant, windshield wash fluid. Avoid hill driving at night. So leave Delhi anytime after 4 am and on drive back leave Lansdowne not before sunrise (6am).

Essentials :

Mosquito repellent lotion (odomos etc). Light jackets, caps (gets chilly towards late evenings, night). Pencil torch (just in case).

5 ltr platic can (for fuel just in case). Towing rope (again, just in case !).
Carry shorts, towels as you might want to splash around in the pool or the natural water falls.

Good hiking boots/sports shoes if you intend to hike around as this place is best explored on foot.

Good camera and lots of pencil cells

Drink bottled water

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