`February 23, 1844.’ `We came up here yesterday, fourteen miles (21 km), by one of those strange, winding, precipitous roads, common to all mountainous countries. The air is keen and penetrating. The spot is one of those beautiful scenes with which the Himalayahs abound. Its peculiarity is an enclosure of rocks, two thousand feet above the spot itself, and covered with hanging woods, protecting, as it were, with their giant forms the peaceful lake, or “Thal,” below. Around this lake the gentry are beginning to erect their houses, as at Shimla and Mussourie. The whole is like the “Happy Valley” of Rasselas. We halt here, on our way to Almorah, longer than we should otherwise do…’
– The Life of the Right Rev. Daniel Wilson, D.D., Late Lord Bishop of Calcutta and Metropolitan of India, by Josiah Bateman.
Situated at a lofty height of 6,358 ft above sea level, Nainital literally sits high on her throne with a diadem of five beautiful lakes, earning her the nickname of the Lake District. It is rare to come across records that capture the rapture Nainital must have inspired. So when Josiah Bateman, captures the immensity of the peaks, Naina, Deopatha and Ayapatha, cradling between them the pear-shaped sparkling diamond lake, the raw beauty, then unscathed by the metropolis, was and remains, sublime.
Today dotted with wooden cottages, sprawling colonial villas, hot springs, spas and health resorts, the lights from the skies and tiny habitations along with the festive music that throbs the valleys, Nainital ripples across the lakes and sweeps through the valleys with its refreshing sigh of bliss.
Once upon a time, Chatka or the City of sixty lakes was a revered holy city with a special place in the Manas Khand chapter of the Skanda Purana as Tririshi Sarovar. The three rishis, or sages, that took a tiresome pilgrimage to this holy sanctum arrived only to find no water at all. So they dug a hole and meditated on the Tibet’s holy Mansarovar Lake. So great was the power of the meditation that the hole filled with water and it said a dip here is equal to the spiritual cleansing properties of the original.
Another legend has it that the legendary King Daksha had a yajna but did not invite Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. Parvati could not handle the direct insult and gate crashed the yajna and jumped into the ceremonial fire. Her half charred body was retrieved by Lord Shiva, and as Sati she was cut into fifty one pieces to save the earth from Shiva’s destructive wrath. As Lord Shiva carried her remains to Kailash Parvath, various parts fell along the way and they came to be known as Shakti Peeths. Her eyes are said to have fallen into a lake that shimmered with the same emerald hue as the goddess’s eyes. The lake came to be known as Naini Tal (naini – eyes, tal – lake) and developed into the masterpiece of natural beauty that is today Nainital.
Like all hill stations of India, Nainital came into its own only after being founded by the English merchant P.Barron in 1841. It wasn’t long before it followed the example of Shimla and Mussoorie and found patrons among the English elite and troops and became a summer sojourn and health resort. It was reminded of the dynamism of the very natural forces it boasts of, when a calamitous landslide shocked its inhabitants in 1880. But stringent building laws and smart civic planning has made sure that history never has to see a repeat of its one disaster. It remained calm and peaceful and a haven right through struggle for Indian independence till today: still a sanctum, still a harbor, still an abode of harmony.
Places to Visit
Nainital offers a plethora of options for sightseeing. You could begin on the northern shore of the Naini Lake by visiting the Naina Devi Temple justly represented by two netras or eyes. Flanking her on either side at the heart of the temple are Mata Kali and Lord Ganesha. St. John in the Wilderness is a beautiful church that is over a hundred and fifty years old. Built in 1844, it commemorates the first travelers to Nainital and also stood witness to landslide of 1880 and pays its homage with a plaque to its victims. For an astounding view of the Himalayas and particularly the legendary peaks, Nanda Devi, Trisul and Nanda Kot, take a cable ride to Snow View. Loacated at 7,448 ft on top of the Sher-ka-danda Ridge, it offers a breathtaking view of the snow covered mountains, the thick evergreen forests and glistening glaciers and streams that have embellished the epics of India. If you’re up for a trek or two you could go up Naina Peak. Locally also called as China or Cheena Peak, it is the highest peak in the town standing tall at 8,579 ft. and is about a four mile hike from Mallital, the northern end of the town. The sweeping beauty of the Himalayas and a bird’s eye-view of the town itself make the hike worth all the trouble. Another great trek would be to Dorothy’s Seat or Tiffin Top. It is a terraced hill top on Ayarpatta Hill and is a 2 mile hike from the town center. In memory if English artist Dorothy Kellet, a stonework picnic perch was built by her loving husband and admirers. From this perch you could catch the stunning view of the country side that captured the English artist’s imagination. a visit to nainital would be incomplete without visiting the neighboring lakes. Bhimtal is located in a quiet valley and is named after Bhim of the Pandavas, known for his extraordinary strength. Its sapphire blue waters are home to a thriving aquatic life which is preserved religiously by the Nainital Lake Development Authority. The unique feature of this lake is the little island right at the center. Once a restaurant, it is now replaced by an aquarium that houses rare species of fish from as far as South Africa, China and Mexico. Khurpa Tal or Trowel Lake is a beautiful, clear lake located 5,364 ft popular amongst anglers and surrounded by terraced farms from which it gets its name. Sattal is, as its name suggests, a cluster of seven small interconnected lakes amidst an old oak forest. Untouched by the speed of modernization, it retains its natural mystic appeal. It is located in the Lower Himalayan Range at an altitude of 4,495 ft. On first approach you would come across first Nal-Damyanti Lake and then in quick succession the Panna-Garude lake and finally the array of the Ram, Sita and Laxman lakes. Naukuchia Tal is about 26km from Nainital and 4km from Bhimtal at an altitude of 4,003 ft. It is literally translated as the Nine-cornered Lake. According to legend if one is able to view all nine corners at once, one vanishes in a cloud of smoke. This is an unlikely possibility seeing as this enchanting lake is almost 1 km long and among the deepest lakes of Nainital area.
More to do
Apart from the natural beauty that abounds in Nainital, you could also flavor the sights and sounds of Nainital town while you’re there. ARIES, the Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational-Sciences, is a 50 year old State Observatory located in Manora Peak a few kilometers away from the south of Nainital town. It primarily provides research facilities in astronomy, atmospheric sciences and astro-physics but allows visitors to glance around the premises. Nainital features prominently in a lot of national and international literature and the arts and holds true to its part-identity as a literary muse with its multitude of libraries scattered all over the town. Durga Lal Shah Municipal Public Library, the ARIES Observatory Library and Kumaon University Library are the best known and best stocked and therefore the most frequently visited.
Nainital experiences a very temperate climate with snowfall between December and February. The pleasant summer months experience an influx of tourists but Nainital is a great place to visit till autumn.
Where to stay
There are a multitude of options for all budgets that provide all sorts of services to make your stay in Nainital more pleasurable. From hotels to health resorts, Spas to Inns – Nainital never leaves her visitors out in the cold.