At the beginning of last
century there was a whisper of a tale floating around that there was
a sapphire-clear lake haunted by demons and fairies, high up in the
Kumaon mountains. The Kumaonese, who knew of the lake would not
divulge its location. For them, the sacred and they did not want
anyone to violate it.
It was after Kumaon was
ceded to the British by the Gurkhas in 1816 that the outside world
became aware of this spread of crystal water, the Naini Lake. It was
only in 1839 that a Mr. Barron visited the place, and described his
first view as that of an undulating lawn, with clumps of oak and
cypress trees which grew around the lakeside up towards the
magnificent peaks which encircled the lake. The lake, he said, was
crystal clear. There were herds of deer and coveys of pheasants so
numerous, that they had to be driven off the camping grounds. The
first bungalow here was built in 1842, and from then on Nainital
increased in size and prosperity.
The hillsides encircling
the lake were soon dotted with houses, schools, clubs, churches and
bazaars. It soon became another bustling, pretty little hill
station. The added advantage was the lake you could boat, fish
and swim in it. So much for those who had thought to protect it from
the world! The famous author, hunter and conservationist, Jim
Corbett, spent his childhood in Nainital. In 1880, there was an
awful landslip. Gravel and mud crashed into the lake below, whose
waters rose in a massive wave that swept towards the weir. A large
part of Nainital was flooded. Some said that the Goddess Naini who
presided over the lake was angry. The damaged town was, however,
slowly reconstructed and life went on as normal.
Nainital is divided into
two parts, Malli, Taj which is the upper lake and Talli Tal, which is
the lower end. Some pleasant boat rides can be had on the lake; a
twosome can paddle their own boat or can be rowed gently by a
boatman. The goddess Naini Devi is supposed to live in a cave at the
lakeside. A quaint temple dedicated to her is built there. Legend
has it that Brahma filled this lake with water from the Mansarovar
lake so those who bathe in the lake are granted purification for
their sins without having to go to Mansarovar.
When a good breeze blows,
it is a pretty sight watching all the yachts with their colourful
sails of red, yellow, blue and green, drifting around the
willow-fringed lake. The boat-club has facilities even for casual
members. At one time it was known as the Royal Nainital Yacht Club.
Sailing regattas were a common feature of the city. Members of the
club were seen wearing their nautical caps and shivering their
timbers every evening from six to eight. Even now water sports are
held quite often in the city. The wood-panelled club-house bar has
an ambience of its own, with its old photographs and display of
There is till some
fishing in the lake. Anglers are a common sight. Fishing permits
can be had from the Executive Officer, Municipal Board, Nainital.
In Nainital the clip-clop
of the hooves of ponies can be heard along any road that you choose
to walk on. Pony rides are very popular with children and some
grown-ups. On the upper slopes there are narrow roads shaded with
oak, cypress and deodar. There is hardly any traffic. On some roads
no traffic is allowed at all, they are still paved with narrow bricks
and well-wooded. A stiff climb takes you to Tiffin Top, so named
because it is a popular picnic spot. Other walks go up to Cheena
Peak and to Larya Kanta and the famous Snow View with a splendid
panorama of the snowcapped Himalayas. An aeriel ropeway takes you up
to Snow View if you do not fancy the climb of 2270 metres. There is
a telescope here through which you can see the mountainscape.
Nainital has a well set
out golf course, with rolling fairways and tall conifers reaching up
to the sky. A kucha road that runs alongside the golf course takes
you towards what was the Viceregal Lodge. It is a beautiful walk and
very rewarding if you are a birdwatcher.
The Viceregal Lodge built
in 1896 with its mock battlements and towers, which is now the
Governors residence is like a bit of medieval England implanted
on the Kumaon hills. It has beautiful rolling lawns and colourful
flower beds. It is also well maintained inside.
On a dark starry night a
visit to the observatory is a must. The public is allowed to view the
heavens through big telescopes. Try to go a bit early because the
queues can be quite long.
Above the Malli Tal
Bazaar, in a grove, of deodars nestles an old church. Built in 1846,
it is known as St. John in The Wilderness. Those days the forests
around it were the home of leopards, tigers and ghurals. Now it
stands forlorn with its exquisite stained glass windows glinting in
During the rainy season
Nainitalis wreathed in mist. The moisture gives rise to a million
wild flowers glowing with gem-like colours under the shade of the
trees. At twilight the lights surrounding the lake glimmer through
the mist, transforming it once again into the haunted abode of
fairies and demons. Autumn is perhaps the best time to go to
Nainital, the air is sharp and bracing, the skies clear blue and the
holiday crowds very thin. Apple trees in the areas surrounding
Nainital are heavy with fruits.
Trips can be planned to
Bhimtal, which is 23 kilometres away. There is boating and fishing
on this lake and the surrounding countryside is very pretty.
Naukuchiatal, which is 27 kilometres away, is a lake with nine
corners. This is a good place for birdwatchers and fishermen.
Fishing permits for both these lakes can be had from the Fisheries
Sat Tal is a series of
tarns, seven, to be exact, this is 21 kilometres away and nice for a
picnic. All these places are good for a days walk, enjoying the
gentle, tranquil Kumanoni landscape.
The nearest airport is at
Pant Nagar, 64 kilometres away from Nainital. Vayudoot operates a
daily flight. A coach takes you to Nainital.
Kathgodam is the nearest
rail head which is 35 kilometres from Nainital. The Nainital Express
leaves from New Delhi. Kathgodam has a regular bus service to
The Bhimtal State
Transport buses leave from Delhi for Nainital. An air-conditioned
coach levees from outside Schindia House, Connaught Place, New Delhi
at 10 in the morning. It takes about six to seven hours to reach