Surrounded by a forested valley hugging steep slopes, the serene Naini Lake in the north Indian hill station of Nainital has inspired poets and writers who have immortalised it through their words. These lines by Hindukush Ojha, for instance do some justice to the beauty of the deep, green volcanic lake:
“What hides behind
This fluidic sheen:
The watery expanse of the Naini lake.”
The crescent-shaped lake in Kumaon’s largest town is said to have been 'discovered' by a British businessman, P. Barron, while he was out on a hunting expedition in 1839. Bewitched by its beauty, he decided to ditch his sugar business and build a European colony on its shore, along the lines of the Cumbrian Lake district. And thus came to be yet another addition to the long list of hill stations in India catering to homesick Brits who wanted to escape the tropical heat of Indian summers. Today it continues to be one of the most-visited hill towns in India.
As most things in India, the lake has a mythological legend attached to its name. After the death of his wife Sati, a grief-stricken Shiva started his destructive dance, the tandava. As things began to get out of hand, Vishnu decided to intervene by destroying Sati’s body using his sudarshan chakra. The many pieces of her body fell, scattered, around the country. The emerald green lake is said to be her eye that fell here, creating one of the 64 shaktipeeths in India. Naina Devi Temple is said to be located on the exact spot where the eye fell.
Moving on to the contemporary age, this spot now has hordes of tourists from all over India (particularly the north) coming here to paddle around in the brightly-coloured gondola-shaped boats, and yachts, which can be hired from the Nainital Boat House Club.
Apart from the stunning lake, there's lots to do here. You can visit the Jama Masjid mosque and the gurdwara if you are religiously inclined.
We love to pack a nice picnic basket of breads, jams and snacks from one the many bakeries here, and spend our time walking around the lake, drinking in its beauty crowned by the snow-capped Kumaon hills.
When the mist comes down, the surface of the lake gets even more immaculately still. And on a walk around it it seems like we have the place completely to ourselves, without the invading hordes.