Whenever you are in mountains, the probability of hearing ghost stories increases exponentially. This holds true across cultures and geographies. Lansdowne, my hometown, is no different. But the ghosts of Lansdowne take no credit for keeping this wonderfully quiet hill station unspoiled. Lansdowne is a small cantonment town 40 km after Kotdwara, the last railroad station on NH 119, Pauri Road in Terhri Garwhal, Uttarakhand, just 250 km from Delhi. During the last 40 km of the journey on the motor car, you’ll climb at the height of 1,500 meters, and be surrounded by thick oak and blue pine trees. Once you reach the height of 1,756 meters (5,686 ft), this steep but scenic, all-weather motorway will drop you at Lansdowne. Originally called ‘Kalundanda’ and later changed to Lansdowne after Lord Lansdowne, the Viceroy of India in the late 1800s, this place is perfect to visit all year round, and if you come by in the months of January and February, you might just get snowfall too.
Here, you must visit the War Memorial, appreciate the view of the Sivalik Hills at the Himalayas from Lansdowne’s highest point Tip n Top, and enjoy the serenity at Old St. Mary’s Church. Or visit some historic temples like Tarkeshwar Mahadev, Durga Devi, Sidh Peeth and Jwalpa Devi. There’s also the Kanva Ashram where Shakuntala, the wife of King Dushantya, apparently gave birth to King Bharat, from whom the nation derives its name ‘Bharat’.
In the evening, when you’re return to the cantonment, you can settle in around a make-shift campfire, and
nestle a hot cup of tea or the famed Hercules rum, the preferred poison in countryside. And soon, the caretakers will start telling you interesting ‘ghost stories’. They will tell you about the friendly ghosts of Lansdowne, who have “never hurt anyone”. For instance, the ‘Headless Angrez’ rides on his horse and is known to slap any sentry on duty in the cantonment who dozes off to sleep. While the ‘Ghost With A Red Hat’ is known to follow people walking alone, matching and echoing their footsteps.
There’s also the ‘Lady With Long Arms’. She sits near a small stream that runs next to Kaleshwar temple, some 100 meters down the hill from my house, or she stands near the church facing the valley. Sobbing, she’ll ask passersby to help locate her grandson who has fallen down. When asked to show where, she would stretch her arms all the way down the stream, and smile.
Then there is the ‘Ghost at Bungalow No 18’, who enters through the dining room window as a cloud of mist and leaves through the kitchen window — without ever troubling anyone. And the ‘Ghost at Colonel Robert’s home’ in the Garhwali Mess compound, who reads through the night with a lit lamp. Believe or don’t believe in ghosts. Do find some time to visit this natural beauty before it gets wasted by commercial tourism.