When the train started running, a young child of our fellow passenger sitting in the direction opposite to that of moving train said, "Mommy, mommy, train peechhe ja rahi hai.” (Mom, the train is moving backwards.) I could not stop smiling. Such is the innocence of the childhood. Thus started our journey. In the morning, little before reaching to Kotdwar, I stood by the gate of coach of the train. The chilly air and the small bushes alongside railway lines were best suited for that place. This was the perfect start of that morning.

Lansdowne is a quiet, small town situated in the dense cover of chir and deodar trees in Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. Some 250 km from Delhi, Lansdowne houses the Garhwal Rifles Regimental Centre. Lansdowne traces back its history to the colonial period. It was founded in 1887 and named after then Viceroy of India, Lord Lansdowne and was used as the recruiting centre of the Garhwal Rifles of British Indian Army. Before that it was known as Kaludanda, after Kalu, meaning black and Danda, meaning hill. One can reach Lansdowne via Kotdwar which is well connected by roads and railways. From kotdwar private cabs can be booked or a shared taxi can be taken.

The road to Lansdowne from Kotdwar is a treat to view. Initial stretch runs parallel to the river Khoh which is thought to have given the name Kotdwar, gateway to the Khoh, to the town. On the far side of the river, one can see wild elephants, if one is lucky enough, as told to us by a local person travelling with us. The weather was very welcoming and with increasing heights, it became more pleasant. We reached Lansdowne at around 8 in the morning when Lansdowne was slowly waking up. (Also see Lansdowne in Pics.)

Local residents were very warm hearted, one must say. As a true vagabond, we did not have any prior arrangement of accommodation and so had to settle with a hotel near the main market. It is advised that one should book a hotel in advance if one has to stay at a place away from the town center as during weekends the hotels get occupied fast.

The first place we visited was Darwan Singh Sangrahalaya, named after Darwan Singh Negi who received Victoria Cross, the prestigious award given to soldiers of British forces, for his bravery in First World War. The museum was situated near Parade Ground and War Memorial, built in the memory of soldiers who lost their lives in First World War. The Parade ground made me think that where did I see a plain ground so large in the mountains before this one. The museum shows the colorful history of Garhwali people, through their traditional dresses, various percussion instruments and nearby places of historical and mythological importance to visit. The museum also records the history of Garhwal Rifles in pictures of its decorated officers and soldiers, shows seized belongings of the enemy army and describes its role in various wars that The Empire and the independent India fought. We also saw the collection of weapons representing a long span of history and also the military uniforms that changed with time.

Then we went to Bhulla Tal, a manmade lake situated little away from the Gandhi Chowk, the centre of town. We sat there watching the ducks roaming in water, whose stillness was disturbed by winds and boats. Near the lake was a place where rabbits and guinea pigs were kept. They looked cute while eating grass and moving here and there in their ward. Then we stumbled upon something interesting. A bottle was kept there with injections and the description on the bottle read that it was used as the stress buster for these little animals. Maybe they also need the stress relieving drugs in such fast paced life of their own. Beyond the Bhulla Tal, there was a place which was serene, lonely and beautiful, surrounded by tall chir pine trees. We sat there for some time looking at distant hills, the road below and the valley further below. Those trees with blue sky in the background made a perfect picture.

We came back again to the lake and had lunch there. Then we started walking for Tip-in-Top. On our way found St. Mary’s Church, which was constructed in the late 1890s. This protestant church is now maintained by Garhwal Rifles. Here you can find booklets on the history of Garhwal Rifles up for sale. There were historical accounts of this church described by few posters. On a round poll in the middle of the church, these lines were written, “Suffer little children to come unto me”, which sounded very similar to me to what Krishna said to Arjuna in Gita. We marched ahead and reached Tip-in-Top. It was a little platform erected for site-seeing. We could see hills, valleys, small villages on the hilly slopes and roads like ropes. Close to Tip-in-Top are tree huts, a tourist rest house by Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Limited, ideal for a stay with the perfect natural view.

Then we went to Santoshi Mata Mandir, a small temple located on a hill top. Maintained by the Army, nice bhajans were being played there. One has to give credit to Garhwal Rifles for taking care of churches and temples and ensuring that this little town does not lose its beauty. The sunset view from Mandir was awesome. With the sun playing hide and seek with clouds, it was the perfect time to click few pictures.

After that, we came back to Gandhi Chowk and went to a small theatre there to watch a movie. The hall was small and very few people were there, hardly ten. After the movie, it was time for Dussehra celebrations. We mingled readily in the crowd. Considering that it was a small town, there was a huge crowd and it seemed that whole town came to watch the celebrations. When the organizers had some difficulty with burning the effigy of Ravana, because of dew, someone behind me in the crowd said, "We cannot burn Ravana. What will the tourists think of us?" We could not stop laughing. The firework was like fireflies moving with stars in the background. You cannot see these many stars in cities because of lights. what to say about the local bands playing some traditional song? I still love these bands as much as I loved them as a child.

Next day we went to St. John’s Church, a catholic one under the aegis of Diocese of Bijnor. It was elegantly built with its history dating back to 1937. It was a peaceful place. We sat there for a while. The small town of Lansdowne was built in characteristic British architecture. The officers’ bungalows, the church facades, benches in churches were beautifully designed and simple in their appearance. There was one place where we could not go because we had to catch the train. It was Bhim Pakora. We inquired about this place from locals who said that according to legends, while living in exile, Pandavas came to this place. Bhim picked one rock and kept it over another. Today this rock can be moved with one's finger’s touch but it does not topple.

We wandered in the jungles and then decided to go off the road, down in the valley. The greenery of the valley was very pleasing and sitting there, one would be tempted to get lost somewhere. The place was so quiet that you could hear birds chirruping and sound of leaves when winds move touching them. And all that with cold winds going past you reminding you to enjoy these moments to the fullest.
sunset from santoshi mata mandir, Lansdowne
The sunset in Lansdowne.

"But the trees seemed to know me. They whispered among themselves and beckoned me nearer. And looking around, I noticed the other small trees and wild plants and grasses had sprung up under the protection of the trees we had placed there." 
-Ruskin Bond in Rusty.

Indeed, oak, pine, chir pine and horse chestnut trees were the true residents of Kasauli. Greeting the new comers, swinging along with the wind, these trees were everywhere. They stood there looking at the passers-by like they owned the place. Ruskin Bond, who was born in Kasauli, described this feeling so beautifully. If it were not up to these trees to stand there, one’s eyes will certainly slip on the mountain slopes all the way down to the valley. 

Kasauli is a sleepy little town, secluded and very peaceful, located in Solan district of Himachal Pradesh. The best way to reach there is via Kalka. Reach Kalka by Indian Railways and then take a bus or cab from there to Kasauli. At Kalka Railway Station, we saw the Kalka-Shimla Railway trains and for a moment we thought to abandon our plans of Kasauli, instead, go to Shimla. Breathtaking views from Kalka-Shimla train would have been memorable, but then we weighed in favour of Kasauli. A trip from Kalka's Gandhi Chowk, where we boarded the bus, to Kasauli had all the typical traits of a Himalayan safari. Traveling on narrow, curvy roads with deep gorges on one side we could get a beautiful view of a village from the bus at the top of a hill. Also, we saw how life can be so difficult for small school-going children who had to go to schools at Parwanoo, a town between Kalka and Kasauli, and who could not find a seat in the crowded bus.

We reached Kasauli at around 9 am and then had a chai at the bus stand. A chai is always pleasant in such a weather. The weather was very soothing and extra comforting given that we came from Delhi where mercury was continuously in the forties. Then we started the search for a hotel to stay when we found one more new thing which was particularly pleasant to ears. It was the loudspeakers installed along the roadside at Mall Road. There were Hanuman's and Krishna's bhajans being played at a decent volume. Then we found our accommodation. The view from the balcony was good.  Clouds came towards us and disappeared. We stayed there a little before we started wandering in the roads unknown to us.

The Kasauli town was situated in a thick forest cover. There were no signs of any rush. Kasauli also houses an army cantonment which covers most of the upper town. Painted in olive green, the houses and other buildings in the shape of a hut had architectural resemblance with other small hill stations. The architecture was predominantly British. It was easy to spot people donning military fatigues here and there. Walking further we reached town's end and, yes, it is a small town. Then we started hillside walk with beautiful scenes. There were some interesting boards put up instructing not to litter. Then we reached sunset point. I accede that 1 pm is not the ideal time to reach to a sunset park, but we were exploring the mountains and next thing we saw was this sunset point. From this place, one can see cities situated in plains like Chandigarh, Ropar and Jalandhar etc. In fact, there is a concrete structure where one can see the directions of all these cities mentioned. Due to fog and clouds, we could not see places far away, but Chandigarh and Sukhna Lake could be seen as they were nearer.

Then we walked further and took a shortcut on a steep slope to reach a road down the hill. After sometime we reached gates of Air Force Station, Kasauli which encircles the Manki Point. Although there is a temptation to call it Monkey Point, I will stick with Manki Point as this was the name mentioned in all signboards and in the gate pass issued to us at the entrance. Before we could reach there, heavy downpour started. We took shelter in a canteen and had some parathas. When rain stopped we reached Manki Point, an ancient temple situated on a hill top. As soon as we reached rainfall started again. Legends were that while taking Sanjeevani Buti from the Himalayas to Lanka for unconscious Lakshman, this hilltop was hit by Hanuman's toe. This also gives the hilltop its present shape. Later local persons erected a temple at that place. The lawns of the temple have a helipad. From this place you can have a breathtaking 270view of the surrounding hills. We were not able to see too far because of the rain but whatever was visible was mesmerizing.

The evening walk in Lower Pine Mall was nice again. This time loudspeakers played Bollywood’s golden oldies. We sat there on a bench to enjoy the beauty of the moment. Due to shortage of time we could not visit many places like historical churches, but whatever we visited had a long-lasting effect. This whole town was so close to nature that it would be no exaggeration to say that nature itself took care of this town. Hidden was the message that we should also take care of the nature. One signboard put this beautifully:

Only when the last tree has withered
The last fish caught
The last river poisoned
Will we finally realize we cannot eat money.

Photo Credits : Dharmendra Kumar
trees at sunset-point, kasauli
picture perfect
hill side walk at kasauli
a long walk
flowers at kasauli
alone and beautiful

उन्हीं बदनाम गलियों मे आना जाना है फिर से
वहाँ ज़िक्र-ए-यार होता है तो उठती है लहर कोई। 

अंजुमन मे ज़ाहिर होने के डर से चुप हैं वो
वो जिन्हें डरा ना सका था ज़माने का डर कोई। 

बस इतनी सी उम्मीद से साथ पाने की कोशिश थी
कि उन्हें भी पसंद आ जाता नाचीज़ का हुनर कोई। 

उनके ख़याल मे गुज़री है तमाम शब अब तक
कभी खुद के लिए बचा के रख लेते सहर कोई। 

दवा-औ-दुआ-औ-दारू नाकाम थे सब के सब
ये फ़ासला जाने कर गया मुझ पर असर कोई। 

गुमशुदगी की हद तक खो गये हैं वो अब तो
शायद मिल गये उनको भी नये हमसफ़र कोई। 

चंद यादों के सहारे जी रहा हूँ अब तो यायावर
एक अरसे से दीदार ना हुआ मयस्सर कोई।