Enchanting Nainital, the Lake District of Uttarakhand

Feb 5, 2011

Since long, I had been waiting for an opportunity to visit the beautiful and enchanting hill station of Naintal in the Kumaon mountain range of the Himalayas about which I had heard a lot from my friends and those who had been to this part of India. Recently, this dream of mine was fulfilled when a group of twelve tourists including myself undertook this memorable journey to North India with Nainital as our chief destination.

After sightseeing for a day, we left Delhi early morning as we had to cover around 304 kilometers by Tempo traveler through Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to reach Nainital. The drive through the districts of Uttar Pradesh and later Uttarakahand was quite interesting. We crossed the mighty Ganga river, saw the vast Gangetic plain with green cover as the land being plain and fertile different agricultural crops such as wheat, varieties of vegetables, potatoes and in a few districts sugarcane cultivation presented a pleasing sight. 

After crossing Kathgodam, the gateway of Kumaon and the terminus of North Eastern Railway, we travelled through the foothills of the Himalayas towards Nainital in sharp winding roads for a distance of around 34 kilometers. As the Tempo Traveler with 12 of us passed through the hilly regions we could feel the December chill that had already set in forcing us to cover ourselves with warm clothes. By the time we reached the hotel at Bhawali, 15 kilometers short of Nainital, it was 7 pm and was quite dark and cold.

Before going around Nainital for sight-seeing, I tried to gather some information about the places that we will be visiting the next day. Dotted with lakes such as Naini, Bhimtal, Naukuchiatal, Khurpatal and Sattal, Nainital has been known as the “Lake District” of India. The most prominent and attractive of these lakes is Nainital surrounded by high hills. The town of Nainital is located on the periphery of the lake within a perimeter of around two miles. Girdled by lofty hills and studded with attractive villas and cottages, it is one of the most frequented tourist spots among the hill stations.

Presently, Nainital is the headquarters of Nainital district of Uttarakhand state in the Kumaon foothills of the outer Himalayas that is situated at an altitude of 1,938 meters (6,358 feet) above sea level.

Nainital has been mentioned in some ancient myths of India. In the Manas Khand of the Skand Purana, Nainital Lake is called Tri-Rishi-Sarovar, hinting at the story of three sages who it is believed that upon finding no water in Nainital dug a large hole at the location of the present day lake and filled it with water from the holy lake Manasarover in Tibet. It is also believed that the Naini Lake is one of the 64 Shakti Peeths or religious sites where parts of the charred body of Sati (Parvati) fell on earth while being carried by Lord Shiva. The spot where Sati's eyes (or Nain) fell came to be called the ‘Nain-tal’ or ‘Lake of the Eye’. The goddess Shakti is worshipped at the Naina Devi Temple on the north shore of the present day lake.

Nainital came under the control of the British when they occupied the Kumaon and Garhwal hills following the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-16). G.W. Traill, a British officer was the first European to visit Nainital. However, he did not popularize his visit in respect for the religious sanctity of the place. It was only in 1841 that the hill station town of Naini Tal was founded with the construction of the first European house (Pilgrim Lodge) by P. Barron, a sugar trader from Shahajahanpur. In his memoir, he wrote: "It is by far the best site I have witnessed in the course of a 1,500miles trek in the Himalayas.”

By 1847, Nainital had become a popular hill resort. On 3rd October 1850 the Nainital Municipal Board was formally constituted.  In 1862, Nainital became the summer capital of North Western Provinces. After it was made the summer capital, a remarkable expansion of the town occurred with the growth of magnificent bungalows all around and construction of facilities such as marketing areas, rest houses, recreation centers ,clubs, etc. together with the secretariat and other administrative units. Soon, the town became a health resort favoured both by British soldiers and by colonial officials and their families trying to escape the heat of the plains.  It also became an important centre of education for the British who wanted to educate their children in the better atmosphere and away from the discomforts of the plains.

For well over a century, Nainital has been known for its many schools. Four schools from the British period continue to exist today. These are: Sherwood College, established in 1869; All Saints' College, established 1869; St. Mary's Convent High School established 1878; and St. Joseph’s College, established 1888. In addition, a number of new schools have been established since independence, the famous being Birla Vidya Mandir, established 1947.

With the passing years, Nainital began to grow in terms of infra-structure and population.  It has been a favoured tourist destination in former un-divided Uttar Pradesh and presently in Uttarakhand.

Next day morning we went on the sightseeing trip and before heading towards Nainital Lake and town, we first proceeded to the peripheral lakes-Bhimtal, Naukuchiatal and Khurpatal. On the way we also halted near a small temple with a huge Hanuman statue. Reaching the centre of Naintal, the lake, we spent nearly five hours viewing the lake, observing the dark coloured shoal of fish that was surfacing and flock of ducks that was competing for small bits of food thrown by the tourists. Honey-moon couples peddling the small boats in the vast lake and tourists in groups of four being taken for a ride in the cool and scenic lake surrounded by hills and dotted with varieties of residential, commercial and public buildings. We too had a boat ride in groups of four paying to the Boat Club Rs.160/- out of which Rs.80/-went to the boatman whereas Rs.80/- were retained by the Boat Club. Winter being the lean season for the tourists, the boatmen have to persuade the tourists to take a boat-ride so that they can earn some money. The boatmen who took us round said that during the tourist season in April and May, tourists have to stand in queue in order to get the boat ride.

Following the boat-ride we took a cycle rickshaw to Millital towards the northern end of the lake to board the ropeway that takes the viewers to the ‘Snow-View Point’ which is at a height of 2615 Meters. There are two trolleys (cable cars) to carry passengers, each trolley with a capacity of ten passengers and one attendant. It takes around 151.7 seconds to cover one way journey by the trolley and the charges for both ways per person is Rs.150/-.

After alighting from the trolley the tourists can spend around one hour at the base and the ‘Snow View Point’ also known as ‘Naina Peak’ or ‘Cheena Peak’. From this peak one can see not only a broad swath of the snow clad high Himalaya, but also obtain a panoramic view of Nainital town itself. For a closer look of the Himalayas,  tourists can use binocular paying Rs.5/- per minute. After spending an hour on the top of the Naina Peak we came back to the ropeway terminus and took a return cable car. As we went up and came down, the view of the Nainital Lake surrounded by hills and buildings was just superb. As it was getting darker the cold wave began to sweep across the township of Nainital and we had to hurry back to the Hotel.

The next day, we started early morning as we had to travel longer distance covering the other two prominent hill stations of Raniket and Almora. The first leg of the journey to Raniket was quite pleasant through the hills and valleys. At regular intervals we came across small settlements with provisions for the people living in remote areas. On the slops of the hills we could see terrace farming with steps-like man-made fields where the people cultivate food grains, various types of pulses and vegetables. It was a curious sight to see people living in remote places as we could notice the hills and valleys intermittently dotted with small cluster of houses and even individual dwellings.

After around two hour’s journey, we halted at a place known as Binsar where the temple dedicated to Mahadev is situated. I could hear chanting of ‘mantras’ by a group of young boys. Later, I learnt that young boys are being trained at this place to become temple priests through Gurukul system of education and training.

After having breakfast in the serene environment surrounded by deodar, pine and oak trees we crossed the township of Raniket which literally means ‘Queen’s Meadow’. In 1869, the British had established the Kumaon Regiment here and used Raniket as a retreat from the heat of the Indian summer. At one time the British had even thought of constituting Raniket as the summer capital of the Government of British India instead of Shimla.

From Raniket we proceeded towards Almora, considered to be the cultural capital of Kumaon. Historically, Almora was the capital of the Chand dynasty which ruled Kumaon for more than one thousand years. It is important to note that while almost all the hill stations were discovered and developed by the British, it was Raja Kalyan Chand who founded Almora in 1568 and made it his capital.

Almora is an excellent place from where one can enjoy the spectacular snowcap of the central Himalayas. On a clear day almost every peak in that range of the Himalayas can be viewed. Almora allows one to enjoy the mighty Himalayas together with ridge after ridge of hills as if painted in different hues of blue and green. The terraced fields, the cluster of village houses and the hill ranges and valleys provide a panoramic view that just enchants the visitors during any part of the year.

From Almora we visited a curious and unique temple known as the Chitai Temple, dedicated to Golu Devta, an incarnation of Gaur Bhairav. On entering the temple we could see thousands of bells of different sizes strung across the temple premises. It is said that Golu Devta is reputed to make every wish of his devotees come true, provided the worshipper ask for it with a clear conscience.  In return, as propitiation, the deity asks for a bell.  Moreover, anyone can even seek Golu Devta's divine intervention by writing to him as was evident by the fact that we could see a number of sheets of paper with appeals addressed to Golu Devta attached to the bells.

After visiting Almora we began the return journey late in the afternoon via direct road from Almora to Nainital. This stretch of the journey was quite difficult especially for the driver of our vehicle as the road besides winding sharply through the hills and valleys was damaged due to landslide as a result of heavy rains earlier. In many stretches the road had caved in leaving just enough space for a single vehicle to pass through in one direction. In spite of this inconvenience the experience of travelling back to Nainital with wonderful sightseeing throughout the route was quite worth the trouble that we had taken to get back safely to our hotel.

Early next morning we started back to Delhi, a full day’s journey from Nainital. On the way back we halted at Jim Corbet National Park hoping to get into it. However, the first safari had already left early in the morning and the next Safari was in the afternoon for which we could not wait as we had to get back to Delhi by evening and had to board the Mangala Express at Nizamuddin railway station early next morning.


Dr Eugene D'Souza - Archives:

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  • By Dr Eugene D'Souza, Moodubelle
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    Comment on this article

    • A.S.Mathew, U.S.A.

      Sat, Feb 12 2011

      These are indeed very eye-catching
      pictures. They look like
      three dimension pictures of a
      wonderland. The travelogue is
      highly interesting. Though I
      had been to Almora en route to
      another location, but now I feel
      like I missed a great opportunity
      to visit Nainital.

    • Sampath, Mlore / Blore

      Tue, Feb 08 2011

      Nainital is the most beautiful tourism place One should visit there its realyu awesome

    • Antony Herbert Crasta, Mangalore,Sydney/Australia

      Sat, Feb 05 2011

      Beautiful photography and pictures of Nainital and surrounding areas - the winding roads, the town, the lake and the mountains good write-up and narration, and I felt as if I personally visited Nainital and saw and experienced the place. Thanks Dr. Eugene.

    • rajesh, mangalore

      Sat, Feb 05 2011


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