Nainital is one of the most beautiful and most popular hill stations in India. It is in the North Indian state of Uttarakhand. Nainital is part of the Kumaon foothills of outer Himalayas.
Nainital lies at an altitude of 2,084 metres (6,837 ft). It is a city built around a pear shaped lake. There are mountains on all sides. The highest mountain Naina (2,615m) is on the north. If you can make it to the top of these mountains, you will get magnificent views of the vast plain stretching to the south.
Nainital has beautiful weather. The summers are mild. The highest recorded temperature is 27 degree Celsius and the lowest is 7 degree Celsius. During summer the hill station attracts a massive influx of tourists. It snows between December and February. Winter temperatures in Nainital can be as low as -3 degree Celsius.
The Naini Lake which gave the city its name is believed to be one of the 64 Shakti Peethas. Sati or Shakti married Shiva against the wishes of her father Daksha. Daksha was an arrogant king who had little respect for Shiva. So when he decided to perform a Yagna (a kind of Puja) he invited everyone except Shiva and Sati. Sati, however, decided to attend. Shiva tried to dissuade her but she went, nonetheless. Daksha chose to ignore her presence and he or other members of the family gave her no respect. Worse, Daksha humiliated Shiva. Unable to bear the humiliation meted out to her husband, Sati immolated herself.
When Shiva heard that his wife had killed herself, he became furious and beheaded Daksha. The distraught Shiva then carried his wife’s charred body and performed Tandava (the celestial dance of destruction). Shiva’s Tandava wreaked havoc all over the universe. The gods or his devotees couldn’t appease him. To restore peace and order, Lord Vishnu cut Sati’s body into several pieces using his Sudarshan Chakra (the celestial wheel). The places where parts of Sati’s body fell became major places of worship. Such places are called Shakti Peethas. In these places both Sati and Shiva are worshipped. There are about 64 Shakti Peethas all over India. After the death of Sati, Shiva lost all interest in worldly affairs and became an ascetic. Sati later took birth as Parvathi and married Shiva.
The Naini Lake is one of the 64 Shakti Peethas. It is believed that one of the emerald green eyes of Sati fell here and formed the beautiful lake. In Sanskrit, the word Nain means eye. So, Nain-tal is the lake of the eye. The Naina Devi Temple is on the north shore of the lake and Goddess Shakti is worshipped there.
Nainital was developed by the British. Its biggest attraction was its incredible beauty and the pleasant climate. Nainital remains pleasantly cool in summer when the plains of North India become unbearably hot. During British era, the town was the summer residence of government officials. Today, it is a major tourist place in North India.
Nainital is the largest town in the Kumaon region. There are several hotels in the hills around the lake. There is a busy bazaar.
What to do
Nainital offers plenty of things to keep you occupied. It is a great place to sit back and relax. If you feel like exploring the hills and valleys, you can do on a horse back. Or you can paddle on the lake. Summer (mid-April to mid-July) is the best time to visit Nainital. October is also a good time. Avoid the winter season (December to February). In peak season, Nainital is packed to the gills and hotel prices skyrocket.
Tallital (the foot of the Lake) is at the southeastern end of Naini Lake. There is a bus stand here. The main road heads northward and reaches Bhowali. The Mall is a 1.5 km promenade that leads to Mallital (the head of the Lake). Hotels, restaurants and guesthouses are all located on this stretch between Mallital and Tallital. Most shops are in Bara Bazaar.
Things to see in Nainital
The Lake is the centerpiece of Nainital. The city is built around this lake. Boating is one of the most popular activities with tourists. The gondola-like boats are brightly painted. You can either hire a pedal boat or have you rowed around the lake by the boatmen.
The Naina Devi Temple is on the northern shore of the Lake. It is built at the place where the eye of Shakti is believed to have fallen. There is a Gurudwara and a Mosque near the temple. It doesn’t take more than an hour to walk around the lake.
Snow View is about 3kms from Nainital town. It is at an altitude of 2270 meters. On clear days, this place provides panoramic views of the Himalayan peaks. Tourists can access this point via the Rope Way or Cable Car.
Snow View Point is one of the most visited places in Nainital. Cable Car starts at Mallital. The huge pair of Binoculars at Snow View allows tourists to see the town and the valleys closely. Snow View has restaurants, snacks corners, tea stalls and photographers. Snow View can also be accessed on foot or by taxi.
There is an amusement park called Mountain Magic near Snow View.
Raj Bhavan is the official residence of the Governor of Uttarakhand. It is about 4 kilometers to the south of Tallital. This castle like building is styled on Buckingham Palace. Visitors can tour the sprawling grounds of this building and when the governor is out, they will be able to access his residence as well. There is an 18-hole golf course in the grounds.
The Zoo has some Himalayan animals, leopards, Siberian tigers etc. They are kept in large enclosures. It is a short drive from the Mall. You can also reach the zoo on foot. It is a 20-minute walk.