The resort town of Nainital in Uttarakhand, sits in the Kumaon foothills of the mighty Himalayas. Once the summer capital of the British, the city is now flocked by tourists round the year
Words: Supriya Aggarwal
As soon as our car entered the lake city of Nainital, a plethora of memories came flooding in, from the countless family holidays during summer vacations to the annual school trip with friends. Every moment spent in the hill town came alive. The view of old houses, colonial architecture and cool breeze enchanted me once more. Located at an altitude of approximately 2084 m above the sea level, Nainital is a popular hill station in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. The Himalayan range of the Kumaon region came under the British rule after the Anglo-Nepalese war and was converted into a hill station in 1842. It best typifies a British colonial hill station.
A quaint town built around a uniquely shaped lake known as Naini Lake, Nainital is also called the City of Lakes. It abounds in natural beauty, with its snow-capped hills and tranquil lakes lending it a unique charm. From boating to feeding animals at the zoo and from picnicking on the hills to exploring Jim Corbett’s home, Nainital has all that you could hope for in a hill station. As I walked past some of the cafes on the iconic Mall Road, the aroma of freshly baked breads and cakes made me realise I was starving. Without any delay I gorged on some sumptuous dry cakes with a steaming cup of coffee while enjoying the views of the Naini Lake. My journey started on a sweet and perfect note.
Due to its pleasant weather, Nainital is one of the most-favoured hill stations round the year and hence sees a large influx of tourists from all over the country. It cannot be denied that Nainital still holds on to its old-world charm quite efficiently. Old churches such as the St. Francis Church and the Methodist Church on the Mall Road or the St. John Wilderness Church served as the summer residence of British governors and is still inhabited by the Governor of Uttarakhand every year for a month. While access is restricted to many parts, a walk around the ground tells why it is called the Buckingham Palace of India. Modelled in the Victorian Gothic style after the original palace of England, Raj Bhavan is located in a splendid landscape with a picturesque golf course. The entire premises is spread over an area of 22 acres.
AT JIM CORBETT’S RESIDENCE
Despite multiple visits to the city earlier, it was during this visit that I discovered the Gurney House. Belonging to the hunter-turned conservationist Jim Corbett himself, the house was built in 1881 and is located near the Naini Lake. It is now a private property and a house tour is possible only with prior appointment. From antlers and deer heads on walls to book-lined cupboards, trophies and even Corbett’s old fishing rod, everything is on display at the house. You can revisit the place a number of times and every time something new shows up.
To get a bird-eye view of Nainital, I decided to go all the way up to the Naini Peak. Also known as Cheena or China Peak, it is the highest peak in Nainital at an average elevation of 2615 m above the sea level. The viewpoint gives a panoramic view of the entire valley and a stunning sight of the pear-shaped Naini Lake. A visit to Nainital is incomplete without a boat ride on the Naini Lake at sunset. As the day fades away, the skies throw different hues of yellow, orange and purple with the magnificent mountains standing tall at the back, like they have done for time immemorial.
As you move a little away from Nainital, many other lakes come into sight, including Naukuchiatal, Bhimtal, Sattal, Sariyatal, and Khurpatal. One of the largest and deepest lakes is Naukuchiatal or the nine-cornered lake. According to folklore, any person who can spot all nine corners of the lake standing on ground is guaranteed nirvana! I couldn’t spot all the nine but I enjoyed to my heart’s content while exploring this quaint hill station.