Nainital, developed around the picturesque Naini Lake, is nestled amidst high peaks — Naina (2,615 m) to its north, Deopatha (2,438 m) to the west, and Ayarpata (2,278 m) to the south. The beautiful lake is over 3 kms in circumference and 28 m at its deepest. Some geologists hold that the lake is the crater of an extinct volcano.
Nainital is the most important destination. Nainital was discovered by the British when a trader named Barron stumbled upon the lake while on a hunting expedition in 1839.
The beautiful bowl-shaped valley, with the emerald-green waters of the lake appealed to the homesick British who made it a holiday destination in 1841. Gradually, the town saw a mushrooming of British bungalows, rest houses and clubs, together with administrative units. It also became an important center of education: Diocesan Boys; School (later renamed Sherwood College) and St. Joseph;s College (popularly known as SEM) are important institutions even today.
Naini Lake finds mention in the Skanda Purana as the Tri-Rishi Sarovar. According to lore, a dip in the Naini Like, the lesser Manasarovar , earns merit equal to a dip in the great lake. Naina Devi Temple marks the spot where, according to local belief, Sati’s eyes or nain, are said to have fallen, making it a shaktipeeth.
Popular for boating, the Naini lake is dotted with rowboats, paddle boats and yachts in fair-weather days. Nainital Boat Club, on the northern edge, hires out boats and yachts even to non-members. Established in 1890, it is one of the oldest clubs in India. Tourists can avail of the club’s temporary membership and gain access to its lake-facing bar, restaurant, billiards room and library.
The 1.5 km-long Mall Road, now named GB Pant Marg, runs along its eastern periphery of the lake. Lined with hotels, restaurants, shops and roadside stalls, this is the commercial hub of the town. There are markets both at Tallimal and Mallital, the two ends of the Mall Road, where one can shop for handwoven Kumaon woollens, handcrafted wooden items, freshly made jams and squashes, and Nainital’s lovely scented candles.
The Flats, locally called maidan, was built after the landslide of 1880, and is Nainital sport arena of sorts. It also has band stand, a skating rink and several bazaars, including the Tibetan Market, adjoining it.
Nainital Mountaineering Club, opposite Hotel City Heart, hotels rock-climbing courses and arranges guides for nature walks. The club also rents out tents and sleeping bags at a nominal charge.
Located in Mallital, the recently-opened Eco Cave Park, a KMVN enterprise, is a huge attraction for kids.
A chairlift ropeway, called the Aerial Express, takes one to Snow View, at a height of 2,270 m. From here, one can see the Nanda Devi peak (7,817 m) which, as an old brass plate here states, was the highest mountain in British empire. The ropeway is operational from 7am to 7pm. Alternatively, a 2-km trek to Snow View from the Mall, past the Tibetan Gandhan Kunkyop Ling Gompa is very pleasant.
From Jama Masjid at the north-west corner of the lake, one can take a 30-min walk up to Gurney House, which was Jim Corbett residence in Nainital. This charming, two-storey wooden dwelling is now a private residence, but the caretaker may let you look inside. It has a private museum that showcases the life of Jim Corbett and his sister, Maggi.
(It is important to time your visit well. The peak season, i.e. the summer months of May and June, when Nainital is packed with tourists and hotel prices doubled, is best avoided.)
Nainital Colonial Heritage
The colonial heritage of Nainital is seen in its churches, St John, St Francis and the Methodist Church, that give the place a unique charm.
The majestic Governor House or Raj Bhawan, built in a Victorian-Gothic style, is an architectural marvel. Once the summer residence of the Governor of the United Provinces, it is now the official residence of the Governor of Uttarakhand.
Sherwood College (1869) and St Joseph College (1888) are among the best schools here. Sherwood is best known for its most famous alumnus, Amitabh Bacchan.
Nainital also has several heritage hotels like Balrampur House, which was converted into a hotel in 1935, Palace Belvedere and KMVN Snow View, which recreate the colonial era for the tourists.Note : The 18-hole Raj 8hawan Golf Course, founded in 1926, is now open to public. Entry is with prior permit as it lies in the military area.
Note : The 18-hole Raj 8hawan Golf Course, founded in 1926, is now open to public. Entry is with prior permit as it lies in the military area.