With the winters slowly beginning to fade away from major parts of the country, it is time for spring to set in. Sadly the Delhi NCR—like most of the metro cities—has only two seasons, summer and winter. And the ever non-committal monsoon is always around to bring chaos on the roads and relief from the heat for as long as it pours. But then there are hill stations that experience all four seasons—spring, monsoon, summer and winter. For people living in and around the national capital, Nainital is just a perfect weekend getaway to experience spring and autumn. The hill station in Uttarakhand was built by the British and is located in the Kumaon foothills of the outer Himalaya.
The sight of blooming flowers is something that will allure the regular nine-to-five, six-days-a-week working professionals, to catch a break and get some fresh air. Just an eight-hour drive from Delhi and one does not have to wait for the holidays to watch the hills come alive. Once you drive past the traffic along the highways and reach Kathgodam, you will feel the air getting better, roads getting more narrow and greenery everywhere. And once you get to Nainital, the first thing you will notice is the huge lake right in the centre of the city—the crescent-shaped Naini Lake, which is nearly filled to capacity due to good amount of the rainfall received last monsoon. The sun is still cheerful here with the migratory birds taking in the warmth of the sun, the chilly winds gracing the city and the nippy touch of winter only comes out when the sun goes down. And with the mountains bursting to life, spring is the best season to beat the usual boredom.
My spot for the weekend getaway is Welcomheritage Ashdale, nestled amid the oaks and with a view of the whole city. Ashdale, a heritage property owned by the gracious Reena Kumari, is a perfect spot for an interlude from a mundane life. Kumari hails from the royal family of Sahaspur Bilari, a small village in Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh. Ashdale was built by Captain George Rowels of the British East Indian Company as his summer home in 1860, using stone and wood, English Ivy climbing its statuesque walls, and wooden spring floors. I am told that it is one of earliest cottages in Mallital, the northern end of Nainital.
In 1871, the Rowels wanted to sell their dream summer retreat, along with an outhouse and a tennis court, as they intended to go back home. It was around the same time that Raja Bahadur of Sahaspur Bilari wanted to purchase a property or two in the area. The Raja took a liking to the Rowels property, bought the retreat resort and thus Ashdale has been with the royal family till date. A hundred years later, the then rani of Sahaspur Bilari, Indra Mohini, gifted Ashdale to her daughter Kumari, when she married the raja of Labhowa.
And Kumari has been lucky to see quite a many sunrises and sunsets—across all seasons—at Ashdale, enabling her to make a lot of memories along the years with her family and friends. It’s these happy memories that pushed Kumari to renovate the resort so that people, seeking solace from the harsh city sun, could make memories.
Ashdale, an oasis of green flanked by the densely forested hills surrounding it, is just a short walk away from the lake. The 18th-century bungalow has 24 rooms—divided into four categories to match the tastes and preferences of tourists, and an old outdoor stone fireplace along with a tennis court. Kumari personally looked over the restoration of this heritage home for over six years.
Post the renovation, Ashdale is a property that stands tall amid its contemporaries. Each room is meticulously designed with modern facilities and a balcony that offers a great view of the mighty mountains around it. The photo gallery thrives with images of the history of the property and the family. The furniture here depicts the lifestyle of the Sahaspur Bilari royals.
In the 1860s, when the Rowels still owned the place, Ashdale was known for its garden parties and the great hospitality by the owners. Captain Rowels loved hosting parties for his guests at his summerhouse. With Ashdale becoming a boutique hotel, Captain Rowels’ charming summer retreat is now accessible to everyone who comes to enjoy the hills, and at the same time they can bask in the heritage of the royal past. The hotel allows its guests to soak in the beauty of the Kumaon hills and realise that life in the older days was about leisurely high-tea parties in beautiful homes in verdant estates.
If you decide to visit Nainital just for the weekend, there is still ample opportunity to explore the city and its surroundings. Jim Corbett’s home at Kaladungi, the foothills of Nainital, is one of the main attractions. Ashdale’s location in the city is such that it gives you easy access to the city’s tourist attractions. A few minutes’ walk from the property will see you arrive along the sidelines of lake, the heart of the city. There are other lakes at Sariyatal, Bhimtal and Khurpatal surrounding the city. The lakes allow tourists to walk along their promenades on the banks, to cherish the view and the silence. With Nainital being a part of the Himalaya range, the hilltops such as Naina Peak, Tiffin Top and Snow View Point offer stunning vistas.
Nainital, is actually divided in two parts—Tallital and Mallital—with the lake acting as the divider. Tallital is the southern side of the lake, while Mallital consists of the northern upper reaches of the place. Did you know the place was destroyed due to a landslide in 1880, and was later rebuilt by the British?
All along the Naini Lake, from Mallital to Tallital, there is natural beauty. The green valley, tall rustling trees, birds and bright wild flowers make for beautiful vacation memories. A huge plus is that the winding roads are not chock-a-block with vehicular traffic, leaving walkers undisturbed to traipse around the therapeutic countryside.
When in Nainital, a dash of both Mallital and Tallital will leave you with countless hill memories.
The Pantnagar airport has plenty of flights coming in from Delhi. The distance between Pantnagar and Nainital is about 70kms. The hill station is also well connected to the national capital via road; it will take you anywhere between seven to eight hours to get there.
WHERE TO STAY
WelcomHeritage Ashdale (from INR 6,000, excluding taxes; welcomheritagehotels.in) is located in the Mallital side of Nainital. The 24-room property is a stylish boutique hotel. Naini Retreat (from INR 10,500 per person, including breakfast and dinner; nainiretreat.com) is another good option.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
- Definitely go to the Mall Road. Here you can shop, take long walks, and devour momos and thukpa at the local food joints.
- Take a stroll along the lakes and enjoy a cup of coffee or two at Sariyatal, Bhimtal and Khurpatal.
- Visit Jim Corbett’s home at Kaladungi in the Nainital district.