Nainital- India’s Lake District.

 (sanjay austa austa)

Boatsman on Naini Lake, Nainital

 Excerpted from a travelogue published in Deccan Herald– Nov 2012. 

Many years ago when I visited Nainital for the first time , it was a relief to see the lake so polluted . If you belong to a hill- station like me, you tend to look at another hill-town with a sense of competition. My hometown, Shimla, I happily concluded, is after all the best hill-station in India.

But on a recent visit to Nainital, I was astonished to see the Naini Lake far from the dump it was many years ago. It was all spruced up and crystal clean. There was no longer any debris floating on its surface and the horrid smell had gone. I had to reluctantly admit that Nainital is  possibly  India’s  most beautiful hill-town.

 The presence of the water-body   tilts the balance significantly in favour of Nainital.  A water-body – a clean one at that- adds enormously to the overall beauty of any hill topography.  Most Indian hill-stations have chronic water shortages. The largest water-body we ever saw in Shimla was our school swimming pool (which remained dry for long spells).  Nainital on the other hand is called the Lake District of India with four major Lakes in its fold.  The  Bhimtal Lake, the Naukuchiyatal Lake and the Sattal Lakes are all in the Kumaon hills of which Nainital is a part.

To see such a large, fresh and clean water body – and if I may add shapely,  (Naini Lake is described as being doe-eyed, pear shaped etc.)  in a mountain valley escapes a gasp of wonder not only from the city-dwellers but also from any  regular hill residents like me.

It must have been with this this gasp  of exhilaration  that the English businessman P. Barron  chanced upon the lake on a hunting expedition in 1839.  He was so fascinated by the beauty of the lake that within a few years he built a colony along its shores.

You have to give it to the British to `discover’ – serendipitously in the case of Nainital  -some of the most beautiful real estates in the country and then start a settlement around them. Nainital like Shimla became the Britisher’s home away from home. A cool hideout to retreat back to when the Indian summer bore heavily down on them in the plains.  It became the summer capital of the North West Provinces and the governor spent much of the summer months administering the province from the cooler climes here. Boarding schools were established so the children of the British could study in salubrious climate here. The legacy of the British lives on in Nainital in these schools and old buildings.

How the lake came to be has a mundane geological explanation but it’s the mythological stories around it that lend it all the charm.  According to one legend Lord Shiva on this grief stricken journey around the cosmos with the corpse of his wife Sati, dropped Sati’s left eye at Nainital lending not only the name to this hill-station but also making it one of the 64 Shakti Peeths in India.  The Naina Devi Temple built on the north shore of the lake is dedicated to Goddess Shakti.

According to another legend the lake was known as `Tri-Rishi-Sarovar’- the lake of three Rishi’s . The three Rishi’s namely – Atri, Pulastya and Pulaha came upon Nainital on their ascetic wanderings. They were very thirsty and not finding any water they dug up a lake filling it with the waters of the Mansarovar Lake.  For this reason the lake is also known as the `Lesser Mansarovar’ and it’s considered auspicious to take a dip in the cold waters here.

However the tourists are only interested in the boat ride.  The lake with a circumference of around 3 kilometers is ideal for boating and many locals make a living rowing tourists around the perimeters of the lake. My boatman is an old  local resident who takes me on a round around the lake on a  160 rupees ticket. While I sit snug with the water-jacked he climbs on without one.  ‘’ I can swim’’, he says. “The jackets are only for the tourists’’, . The lake is almost 28 meters deep at the deepest end but the waters as in any lake is placid. My boatman has to row hard to get any momentum.  He gets only 60 rupees for his efforts .  The rest goes to the boat owner he tells me.

Places to See in Nainital.

Every hill station has a vantage point where one can trek to get grand vistas of the town and the hills beyond. In Nainital the best views can be had from Naini Peak or the China Peak. At 2615meters this is the highest peak in town.

Other popular treks from Nainital are to Tiffin Top also known as Dorothy’s Seat at 2,292 meters. Snow View at 2,270 meters is a vantage point connected via a cable car.

If you are a history buff one can visit the Governor’s House or the Raj Bhavan as its known today. Built in 1899 by the architect F.W. Stevens , it’s a perfect example of Victorian Gothic architecture.

For the devout Hindu’s the Naini Devi Temple is a popular site. The old temple was destroyed in the landslide of 1880 but a new one was made on the same site and it remains a draw in Nainital.

The oldest Church in Nainital is the St John in the Wilderness Church, established here in  1844.

How To Get Here:

By Road: Nainital is connected by both air and train but the best way to travel here is by road. The views you get driving up the mountainsides are phenomenal.

Driving to Nainital from New Delhi can take upwards of  7 hours .

Kathogodam  the nearest railway station is 35 kilometers away.

 (sanjay austa austa)

Boating is a big draw in Nainital

4 Responses to “Nainital- India’s Lake District.”

  1. Arun Sawhney says:

    No way bro. No place classier than Shimla atleast in India.

  2. Kiran Chaturvedi says:

    Hey I used to love Simla, and can still have ajolly good time there. But then watching both Nainital and Simla change over the years, have to say, Naini is far prettier. simla may have classier schools, colleges, hotels, clubs, residents and homes, but it is also an ugly urban sore, whereas Nainital has more of the innate, natural charm intact, plus the benefit of being small in scale

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