Driving to Lansdowne

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I really love road trips. They’re all about travelling with fun people, listening to good music, not having to follow a schedule (I’ve missed a train and come perilously close to missing a couple of flights) and eating on the highway. Just recently, I took a trip to Lansdowne with a few of my friends. Lansdowne is a small cantonment town in the Garhwal region of the state of Uttarakhand. It is about 250 km from Delhi and is fast becoming a popular weekend hill station retreat.

We left Delhi rather late in the morning, at around 10, since all of us had overslept. So obviously by the time we were in the car, we were all already hungry. The highway and its dhabas were still too faraway so we attempted to locate a drive-through McDonalds using Google Maps. Personally, I found the idea of eating breakfast in McDonalds while attempting to escape city life rather odd but it was the popular choice and I acquiesced. Anyway, we never found it and ended up having to eat a rather depressing meal in a mall in Ghaziabad.

I should have realised already that escaping the city wasn’t really going to be that easy but it took a couple of painful hours of driving in traffic from city to city (Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut), with NO highway in between, for me to get that. This is what happens when you oversleep and leave late by the way. My mood did not improve when I got the car stuck in a patch of broken tarmac on the road. At this point I was banished to the passenger seat by one of our more efficient drivers who manoeuvred expertly through the endless traffic of Ghaziabad, through the twisty crowded lanes of Meerut, and finally got us on to the highway. This is where we, starving and irritable, encountered Monty Millions. Monty Millions is a restaurant on the Meerapur Bypass right after Meerut. It didn’t look like a dhaba but hunger and a certain fascination for its name (its Monty Millions!!) took us inside. I’m not entirely certain if this was because we were starving, but we unanimously agreed that the butter chicken and dal makhani that they served could rival the offerings of some of Delhi’s better restaurants. We even decided to review it on Zomato which, in my opinion, is the ultimate commendation (or the ultimate condemnation) I can give to a restaurant.

Predictably, the good food helped banish all our irritability and our moods finally began to improve. After Monty Millions, the road and driving conditions improved and I was finally trusted with the wheel again. Given how much we rely on modern technology and navigation systems these days, it was difficult to stay on the correct route without proper signboards or access to 3G. So we might have gotten lost for a short while and taken a slightly longer winding route to our destination. It was on this winding-two-way state highway (lined on both sides by tall trees) that the duck incident occurred. I was driving along happily at about 80 kmph when I saw a duck/heron/goose/egret in the distance. I thought it would spread its wings and get off the road by the time I reached it. I was right. The duck (or heron/goose/egret) spread its wings and rose drunkenly into the sky. At this time, my friend Bahni (who was in the passenger street and attempting to navigate because we were lost) started shouting “Duck! Duck! Duck!” Two of three passengers in the back shouted out as well (the third was fast asleep). Before I could figure out what the hell was happening, there was an extremely loud thud. The duck/heron/goose/egret had flown straight into the windscreen. However, by the time we slowed down, it had vanished. The third passenger in the back finally woke up because of all the shouting and was extremely concerned about the duck. He found the idea of leaving a possibly dead and delicious bird by the roadside rather appalling. This mercenary view upset me quite a bit because I was feeling guilty and so, a roast duck dinner held no appeal for me.

Eventually, those winding roads led us to Kotdwara, in the foothills of the Garhwal range and we began the ascent toward Lansdowne. I’m ashamed to admit that by this time I had forgotten about the poor murdered duck and was exclaiming gleefully over the mountain vistas. The crisp mountain air and the gurgling streams had turned fatigued grouchy travellers into enthusiastic adventurers (who had forgotten all about the poor duck).

All in all, despite the bad road, traffic and suicidal ducks, we had a pretty spectacular drive. We were spontaneous, excellent at improvising (even if I do say so myself), found zomato worthy food and listened to some pretty great music. Now that is a good road trip!

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