When you walk down a meandering pathway that is carefully wrapped around the Uttarakhand hills, singing soulful melodies, you know you have experienced bliss. I experienced my share when I travelled to a place close to heaven that the world knows as Lansdowne.
Wreathed in Pine forests where the dried pine needles form a slippery but lush brown carpet, Lansdowne is where you would want to be on a lazy weekend. Known as “Kaludanda” or Black Hill in the local Garhwali dialect, Lansdowne was established as a cantonment town under the British rule. It is currently located in the Pauri Garhwal district and was baptized with its anglicised name after the then Viceroy of India, Lord Lansdowne in 1887.
The place is a quiet little hill station with a fair number of spots for the regular tourists. However, on one of my walks towards these tourist venues, what raised my curiosity was a sharp burst of yellow amidst the surrounding foliage of Pine and bamboo. I focused my camera lens in the hope of capturing the rest. I failed and was heartbroken when I realised that I may have just missed meeting a unique species of the avian family.
As I trudged up, a gracious chameleon feeling sorry for my misfortune decided to gift me with one of her best photo shoots of the season. She craned her slender neck and raised her spindly body up to great heights for some of the most seductive poses. Drenched in the mistiness of my surroundings I reveled in this attention and went crazy clicking with my camera.
Lansdowne goads you into being lazy for a change. With the limited options for accommodation, owing to the restrictions laid down by the army, you need to grab the best you get. Hang your bags in a corner and lose yourself in the wilderness chasing the odd beetle or counting the pine needles beneath your feet. As you throw yourself down on the plush bed of pine laid out for you and stare out into the mist laden hills in the distance, it is but obvious that your mind will draw a blank; as mine very obviously did. I forgot about my jobless state as I looked up waiting for the first evening star to twinkle back at me.
The Pines in Lansdowne seem to talk to you of years gone by and hinting of the days ahead. Listen to their stories as you walk amidst their rustling leaves and let them whisper their tales into your heart. The swathe of green that borders every road you walk along will wrap you up in a deep embrace of freshness. Inhale the feeling and let it remain in your memories long after you empty your camera of the meaningless selfies you may have clicked.
Motilal, the caretaker in my hotel and his little pug Snoopy are old timers in Lansdowne. Motilal grew up amidst the pines and probably knows each one by the marks on their bark. He rues of the increasing heat that has robbed Lansdowne of the once cool climes. Thanks to the army administration however, the place is saved from the rampant deforestation. However, how much can one Lansdowne do to save the whole world? In fact, though the green cover has helped in keeping it cooler than most places, it has hardly been able to extend its benefits to places like the nearby Kotdwar. Motilal remembers how he used to huddle into his father’s shawl while travelling to the market even in summer. Now he runs around only in a half sweater. Lansdowne is no longer what it used to be.
However, to me, scorched as I was under the dry urban sun, with no past to reminiscence on or any future to look forward to, Lansdowne was like a soothing balm to my singed nerves. The shade of the Pines caressed my nerves smoothening out the creases and healing the sores. The setting sun behind the mountains, the whistle of the cricket in the surrounding darkness that gradually embraced the place and the loneliness that accompanied it was a unique takeaway from the place. For me, this symphony that was created in solitude was the most beautiful part of my stay in Lansdowne.
While travelling I wait and watch for that one beautiful moment which makes the place special and different from others. That evening as Motilal regaled me with his childhood memories, I lazed around in the hammock near the wood fire that he lit for me. When the sudden glint of the firefly made me sit up and watch dazedly as the little creature synchronized its own movements with that of the leaping flames. The beautiful orchestration of this concert skillfully conducted by nature gave me the reason I was looking for to rejoice in having enjoyed another moment well-spent in life.