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Nainital - Haunted by Fairies and Demons

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 sailing trophies.

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 Governor’s 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 the sun.

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 Inspector, Bhimtal.

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 day’s walk, enjoying the gentle, tranquil Kumanoni landscape.



By Air

The nearest airport is at Pant Nagar, 64 kilometres away from Nainital. Vayudoot operates a daily flight. A coach takes you to Nainital.

By Rail

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 Nainital.

By Road

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 there.