Vacationing in Nainital: One of the Best Lake Destinations in India
One of the most popular lake towns of India, Nainital attracts tourists and travellers throughout the year. A well-organized and arranged town surrounded with hills with the infamous Nainital Lake as its focal point, Nainital can be visited and re-visited a countless number of times, without the risks of getting uninterested. The overwhelming yet subtle beauty of this small hill town in Uttarakhand, India will never let you feel saturated as one can’t get enough of this place! Period.
I have visited Nainital more than 7 times exploring different seasons. Its charm is something inexplicable and I made sure not to exclude it from my travel plans every time I visited Uttarakhand. Having tried to explore the different areas of the place, local villages and various places of interest in and around, I still feel the town offers something fresh in every visit.
History of Nainital
The hill town was founded by the British sugar trader of Saharanpaur, P. Barron, in the year 1842 during the British rule in India. Mr. Barron was on a hunting expedition when he came across the natural fresh water lake and finding it captivating, he decided to build a European colony in the hill town. The town quickly became a favourite health resort for British soldiers and their families. Nainital also became the governor’s summer residence.
In 1880, terrible landslides that occurred due to historic rainfall (1000mm) had partially destroyed the town and the lake. There were a lot of casualties as well. Some of the hill areas turned into flat beds and later, these flat beds, now known as the Flats were recreated to build things anew. In the later half of the 19th century, a number of European schools were built by the British where mostly their children studied such as Diocesan Boys’ School (now Sherwood College), Diocesan Girls’ High School (now All Saints’ College), Philander Smith’s College (now Birla Vidya Mandir), Saint Mary’s Convent High School, St. Joseph’s College and many more.
The major attraction of this hill town is the Naini Lake (The word “Naini” is the name of the Goddess Naini Devi and “Tal” means lake), surrounded by seven hills – Naina Peak (2,640m), Alma (2,432m), Sher Ka Danda (2,408m), Laria Kanta (2,485m), Dorothy Seat (2,320m), Handi Bundi (2,179m) and Deopatta (2,422m). The lake forms the heart of the town, situated at a height of 1,938m.
Currently, only one-third portion of the original lake is present after the disastrous landslides of 1880. The present lake is 1,370m long and 360m wide.
Boating on the lake is a must-do activity here and it’s one of the best things you would enjoy. The lake falls on the left side of the mall road which is apparently divided into two parts – Tallital and Mallital.
Different types of boats are available from the lake – you can choose a “shikara” style boat, sailing or boat or yacht, paddle boat or a plain rowing boat. Normally, the boat rides are of 45-60 minutes. However, you can stay back and extend your duration according to your deal with the boat.
I usually spend a lot of time boating on the lake during each of my visits. Taking boat rides at specific times of the day will give you different flavours of the lake view. My recommendation –
Any time during the day and afternoon is a good time to go. However, late mornings and the afternoons can be too sunny depending on the weather. The lake water could be very shiny and it might not be a good time for photography. If you opt for late afternoon rides, make sure to start it around 3 pm because it gets dark quite early here. It’s mainly because of the shadow of the hills that major part of the lake almost becomes dark by 4-4.30 pm.
There are numerous shoals of fish in the lake, including three gold fishes. The gold fishes generally stick to the end of the lake near the temple. The other fishes can be spotted throughout the lake near the shores and under the anchored boats. You can feed the fishes but angling or harming them is strictly prohibited. You can spend a couple of hours just looking at them.
Here are some more glimpses of the lake.
You can take a ropeway ride from Mallital. The 700 m cable car ride takes tourists to the Snow View Point which offers a panoramic view of the snow clad Himalayan ranges. It gives a good view of the lake, the hill town, hills and mountains.
Temple, Gurudwara, and Mosque in the Same Compound
At one end of the lake stands the temple of Goddess Naina Devi, an incarnate of Goddess Sati or Goddess Parvati. The hill town as well as the temple has a mythological significance for the Hindus as they believe that the left eye of Goddess Sati had fallen in this place which was then built into a temple. So, in Hindu belief, Nainital is one of the 64 Shakti Peeths or religious sites. In other views, the temple was built in 1824 by Moti Ram Shah. It was destroyed by earthquake in 1880 and re-built in 1883.
Beside the temple is the Gurudwara, the sacred worship place of the Sikhs. In the opposite direction of the compound stands a mosque. There is also a church, the Saint Francis Catholic Church towards the other end of the mall road. The peaceful existence of different faiths also makes this hill town special.
Sunrise and Sunset
Nainital looks like a fairyland after sunset. The different phases of the sunset are enjoyable as you see the various hues. The cluster of lights on the hills looks like a galaxy and their reflection on the lake cuts out a beautiful impression. You can stand or sit by the lakeside for hours, and watch the beautiful small town getting ready for the night.
Shopping and Eating
The entire stretch of the mall road from Mallital to Tallital has shops and restaurants. You can find myriad winterwear collection, local handicrafts made from wood, quilts, carpets, bags, watches, jewellery, etc. Tallital has a complete market with small shops catering to food, fruits and vegetables, repairing shops, furniture shops, apparel, etc.
For food, Mallital is a better option because there are quality restaurants (pure veg and non-veg) at affordable prices. Most hotels in Nainital also have their own restaurants.
Major Places of Interest
Trek to Naina Peak: One of the major tourist attractions is trekking to Naina Peak (2,640m), one of the seven hills that surround the Naintal Lake. It is located about 6 km from Nainital. The sunrise view is breathtaking from this point. If you wish to watch the sunrise here, stay here at night. There are various accommodations available, including log huts. The Himalayan ranges – Nandaghunti, Trishul, Nandadevi, Nandakot – and the views of the mango-shaped Nanital Lake from this point is worth cherishing.
Laria Kanta: One of the seven hills surrounding Nainital Lake, here is a view point (2,485m) located about 5.7 km from Nainital offering wonderful views of the snowy peaks of various Himalayan ranges.
Tiffin Top and Deopatta: They are all view points at 2,280m and 2,835m respectively. However, Deopatta (one of the seven hills), also known as the Camel’s Back because of the shape of its peak, is a difficult trek.
Kilbury: It’s a bird watcher’s paradise located about 13km from Nainital. Home to the Nainadevi Himalayan Bird Reserve, this place provides ample scope for watching various species of Himalayan birds in their natural habitat. Situated at a height of 2, 528 m and surrounded with pine, oak and rhododendron, you can spot forktails, collared grosbeaks, white throated laughing thrushes, brown wood owls among the 580 species of birds in the area. Kilbury also offers majestic Himalayan views.
Snow View Point: This popular tourist point (2,287m) has a number of telescopes are installed to offer a closer view of the Himalayan peaks to the tourists.
Eco Park Cave Garden: It’s a comparatively new tourist attraction situated in Sukhatal, Mallital area. Surrounded with lots of trees, the hanging gardens, and naturally inter-connected caves of different animals form the major interest. When visiting the caves, one has to crawl and climb through each of them. Educational trips for children are often organized from different schools. There is an entry fee.
Sariyatal: A man-made lake surrounded by thick green and hills is located 5 km from Nainital. There is also a park beside Sariyatal suitable for kids.
Khurpatal: It’s a partially horse-shoe shaped lake located 10 km from the town. Angling is allowed in the lake with the permission from the D.M of Nainital.
Land’s End: About 4 km from the town at a height of 2,352m, this is a vintage point. It seems as if the whole land ends here abruptly. From this point, Khurpatal seems like a small pool and the adjoining landscape appears like a painted picture.
Himalayan Botanic Garden: A worth visiting botanical garden located near Sariyatal. It houses various species of Himalayan foliage, medicinal plants, rare and endangered plant species, butterfly park, fernery, auditorium. It’s a centre for botanists and scientists managed by the Uttarakhand Forest Department. There is a small entry fee.
Hanumangarhi: A temple of Lord Hanuman (1,917m) at the hill top is located about 3.2 km from Nainital. The sunset view from Hanumangarhi is one of a kind as the drooping light over the hills casts a spell and the horizon turns flaming red to blood red.
Bhimtal-Sattal-Naukuchiatal Lake Tour: These three lakes are part of the local sightseeing of Nainital. Bhimtal (1,351m) is situated 22 km from Nainital. In the middle of beautiful scenic beauty, this emerald lake exudes an enticing charm. There is a small island in the middle of the lake that can be visited with a boat. About 4 km away is situated Naukuchiatal, a lake with nine corners. Sattal is an aggregation of seven inter-connected small lakes situated about 5 km from Bhimtal and 21 km from Nainital. Boat rides and other water sports are available.
Other Places of Interest
There are many other places that you may visit. Some of the worth visiting places are the State Astronomical Observatory at a height of 1,951m (4km), Gurney House (Jim Corbett’s residence at 2.5 km), Pt. G B Pant High Altitude Zoo (1 ½ km), Raj Bhawan or the Governor’s House (3.5 km), Aurobindo Ashram (5.1 km), Kainchi Dham (18km), Jeolikot (17 km), Bhowali (11 km), Ramgarh (35 km), Mukteshwar (47 km).
How to Reach
By Air: The nearest airport is Pantnagar, 60 km from Nainital.
By Rail: The nearest railway station is Kathgodam, 41 km from Nainital. You can hire a car or taxi from the station to reach the destination.
By Road: Nainital is well connected by roads to all important cities and towns of North India. There are several tour operators that run private air-conditioned and non AC buses from New Delhi to Nainital (290 km). You can book your bus tickets online too.
Where to Stay
There are numerous accommodations available in Nainital for all budgets. There are luxury hotels like Manu Maharani, Naini Retreat, Earls Court UNA Hotel, Shervani Hilltop in Mallital; for deluxe and budget stays, there are a lot of choices available throughout the mall road and the town. If you want to stay in a camp or in the outskirts of the town to avoid the crowd, you can contact Dolmaar Riverside Camp Resort (26 km from Nainital).
Best Time to Visit
Nainital can be visited throughout the year.