I think I’ve said this before, but if you’ve seen one hill station in India, you’ve as near as dammit seen them all. They’ve usually been discovered and set up by the British (apart from the Yankee exception of Kodaikanal), who got intensely hot under the collar under the Indian sun and rushed off into the hills looking for places to refrigerate. Why they didn’t simply stop wearing woollen greatcoats in summer is beyond me, but that’s probably a PhD’s worth of subject matter right there. In any case, you know what they say about mad dogs and Englishmen.
Most hill stations will have lakes of varying sizes, several ‘View Points’, some old Brit cottages, a church or three, a central bus station and a dizzying number of shops selling eucalyptus oil... among other commonalities. This being the case, you have to ask yourself (as I often do) why you would take the trouble to go to yet another hill station. I mean, haven’t you seen it all before? The answer, quite simply, is because it’s there, like Everest. Besides, I like hill stations rather a lot – they tend to be quite cheerful and you always find a little corner that nobody else goes to. So, with that explanation serving as a reason of sorts, I decided to notch up another one on my arm.
Lansdowne, where I was going, is tucked away in Uttaranchal, a state that is especially fecund when it comes to beautiful hills. I had never heard of the place, to be honest, and only read about it in passing while glancing through an unrelated travel piece. Something clicked, and not much time had elapsed when I picked up my ride in Delhi and headed for the hills, as it were. Getting out of Delhi as quickly as I could (always a welcome event, with due apologies to denizens of the capital), I zipped my way to Kotdwar, the last town on relatively flat terrain before you start the climb to Lansdowne. Now, in my limited experience, you can form a pretty good impression about a hill town from the drive leading to it. Potholes, lots of traffic and shops lining the roads? Expect a slightly or totally grotty place full of tourists, with the number of hotels most likely outnumbering the actual number of visitors. The approach to Lansdowne was, however, extremely encouraging – I scarcely saw another vehicle either approach or overtake, the road was a delight to drive on and all that lined it on either side were trees and great views. ‘Here we go’, I thought.Sure enough, by the time I turned into the little town, I was feeling very chipper. It was a beautiful day, I seemed to be the only outsider in town and from what I could see, Lansdowne was the cleanest little hill town I had ever been to. This wasn’t a surprising fact, considering that the army has the run of the place. The legendary Garhwal Rifles has its headquarters here and, as in most cantonments, the boys in uniform keep the place spic and span. The town is named after Sir Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne, 6th Earl of Kerry and Viceroy of India from 1888 to 1894. Petty-Fitzmaurice?? I’ve heard of stupid double-barrelled names, but this one takes the cake. Anyway, luckily they just called the place Lansdowne, so visitors don’t have to spend their entire sojourn in the town just reciting the fellow’s name and CV.