Places to Visit in NainitalMost hill-stations in India owe their discovery and prominence as scenic destinations to the British who made it a habit to retreat to faraway places to enjoy the quiet and solitude away from their busy lives overseeing a country that was so vast and so diverse, yet mostly undiscovered.
Nainital, in Uttarakhand, is one of the premier hill-stations set in the picturesque Kumaon foothills of the mighty Himalayan range. Nestled in a valley alongside a lake shaped like a pear, with imposing mountains all around, Nainital is a wondrous mix of natural and colonial heritage, offering beautiful sights and insights to the visitor. The peaks of the undulating mountain range bounding Nainital are Naina, the highest of them, Deopatha and Ayarpatha; together they offer magnificent views of the vast plains and the ridges of the peaks merging one into the other forming an important axis to the great mountain range.
Nainital is an amalgamation of the ancient and the modern in the backdrop of mother nature. The dense hillsides around Nainital are home to some of the rare species of trees – deodhar, bamboo, oak, pine and rhododendron.
Lying at over 6000 ft above sea level, Nainital enjoys what is called ‘subtropical highland climate’ with temperate summers and white winters; the cold season temperatures fall to -3°C.
Tourist Places to Visit in Nainital
What began as a summer retreat for the British colonials and Indian rajas soon became a much-sought after year-round tourist destination, catering to both ends of the tourism prism, from luxury resorts and hotels with A to Z of facilities and services to budget and economy accommodation providing value for money. Tourism is the backbone of economy for this little town.
It only needs a little imagination to plan trips in and around Nainital; it depends of course on the traveller and his take on ‘the ideal holiday’. From nature trails, jungle treks, boating and mountain climbing to just walking along the length of the Mall taking in an appreciative sweep of the colonial landmarks or looking for artefacts from the Tibetan Market to take back home, there are wide choices for everyone.
- Naina Devi Temple – this is the perfect spot to start; the more historical and mythological oriented tourist would like to start off with a visit to Naina Devi Temple, the presiding deity of Shakti or Parvati represented by two eyes (naina). The drive to the temple at the north end of Naini Lake is one that will uplift spirits and literally give wings for you to soar! The present temple was rebuilt after the original one was destroyed in a major landslide in 1880, altering the face of the mountainside and the town forever. One cannot but spend a moment paying homage to the 150 people who lost their lives in the landslide.
- Naini Lake or Naini-Tal – a leisurely stroll around the pear shaped water body mirroring in its pristine waters the silhouettes of the surrounding peaks, is a perfect activity to rejuvenate mind and body. The two ends of the lake, the north end Mallital and the southern end, Tallital is connected by the Lake Bridge that has several shops selling knick-knacks. The only Post Office in the world to be located on a bridge can be found here.
- Naina Peak – also known as Cheena Peak, the highest in Nainital, with an altitude of over 9000 ft above sea level is in line with the north end of the lake, Mallital. The breathtakingly panoramic view of the town enveloped by the majestic Himalayas transports visitors to another time. The peak is situated at a distance of about 6 kms from the town centre and is very popular with mountaineers and hikers who find the trek invigorating and inspiring. For the less inclined, the ponies, for hire from Mallital, are a good option to take a ride up.
- Tiffin Top or Dorothy’s Seat – the terraced hilltop at 7500 ft above sea level is on Ayarpatha peak, a 4 km distance from the centre of the town. The name ‘Dorothy’s Seat’ was given to the stonework perch on top of the hill serves as a memorial to Dorothy Kellet, wife of Col J.P.Kellett of the British Army who died aboard a ship sailing to England in 1936 and was buried at sea.
- Governor’s House – The former Government House, was designed and built by F.W. Stevens, the famed architect in 1899 in the Victorian Gothic style to serve as official residence for the North West Province Governor, later as summer retreat for the United Provinces Lieutenant Governor. Today, the Raj Bhawan is the official guest house for Uttarakhand to house visiting guests of the Governor. The large two-storeyed mansion holds over 100 rooms, golf course, a manicured garden and swimming pool; visitors can walk through and admire the building and its surroundings through prior permission.
- St. John Church – this church established in 1844 by the Bishop of Calcutta, Daniel Wilson is situated in Mallital, a short distance away from the Naina Devi Temple. The Bishop gave this name to the church as he faced great hardship while laying its foundation, sleeping in a decrepit house in the dense forest open to the elements of nature. The altar of the church bears a brass plaque on which the names of the victims of the 1880 landslip are inscribed.
- Pant High Altitude Zoo – Home to some of the world’s elusive and endangered species like the Snow Leopard, Siberian Tiger and Goat Antelope, this zoo named after Pandit G.B.Pant, is one of the only two high altitude zoos in India; the other being Darjeeling. The natural climate and weather conditions are very conducive to the unique animals, found in this part of the world.
- Eco Cave Gardens – A natural cave garden with six caves and a musical fountain, this is a ‘must-see’ for all visitors to Nainital, situated about 2 kms away from Mallital.
- Gurney House – the former home of Jim Corbett, the famous naturalist and expert, situated on Ayarpata hill now belongs to a Zamindari family of Bihar; Corbett and his sister Maggie lived here till they moved to Kenya, when it was sold.
- Snow View – At nominal charges for a ride by cable car and an hour’s stay on the peak, a visit to this spot offers spectacular views of the Himalayan range in total; on a clear day, one can gaze on the snow covered peaks of Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot and Trisul.
- Guano Hills – offers rare bird sightings and is a virtual treat for nature lovers and trekkers who can go for long walks through bamboo, deodar and oak forests.
- Hanumangarhi – a temple dedicated to the worship of Hanuman is situated about 4 kms from the Tallital sector of Nainital.
- Ghorakhal – meaning ‘pond of water for horses’, probably got its name from the many ponies used for trekking and going along the winding mountain paths; located in Nainital district, it is also famous for Lord Golu’s temple, a local deity worshipped by the hill folks of Kumaon region.
There are also a few packages put together for those who do not wish to cover all the tourist spots extensively; packages tours at reasonably priced rates for many places are on offer by tourist and travel agencies and car operators. Some of these are:
- Mukteshwar – this is one-day package trip, leaving Nainital to cover Bhowali, Gagar, Ghorakhal, Mukteshwar and Ramgarh and returning at the end of day.
- The Himalaya Darshan – this is a total mountain package – trip covers Bara Pathar, Kilbury, Land’s End Bend, Lake View Point, Nakuldhar Cave Gardens and Tanki Bend.
- Corbett National Park – this is one of the most popular visits; some tourists plan their itineraries to include two or more leisurely days here to spot the famed tigers of Kumaon, leaving other spots to be visited as convenience permits.
Important Things to Keep in Mind
While planning a hill station tour, dress and carry clothing depending on the time of year; while cottons keep you cool and airy in the warm summers, winters will require heavy thermal protection to keep insulated and warm from sudden snow drifts and flurries.
If you are not utilizing a travel planner or agency, gather as much information about local conditions and visitors’ time for seeing places like the Governor’s Residence, zoo and the temple.
Travel kits must always contain a map of the area, good walking shoes, basic medicine kit, binoculars and sun glasses. Of course, photography is a must to bring back visual memories of the visit, anything from a sleek digital one to the more high-end SLRs are always spotted in every tourist’s hand.