Taking a walk along quaint pine trails in the neighbouring woods or walking on the lanes away from standard tourist spots, you will see why one P Barron, who stumbled upon the valley of Naini Lake in 1839, was smitten enough by its beauty to stop trading in sugar and build the first European house here. Nainital now stands for honeymooner’s haven, Gujarati thalis, cable car and boat rides as well as schools of high repute, and the ever-present snow-capped Kumaon Hills in the distance.

Things to See & Do

Naini Lake
The Naini Lake is the cheerful yet serene centre of this hill town. Boating and yachting on the lake are popular. A rowboat ride costs ₹210 (till sunset). Or you can hire a small yacht (₹500 for 2 pax, per round, till 4.00pm) from the Nainital Boat House Club at the maidan (see facing page). You will get a boatman with these, but there are also pedal boats to explore the lake on your own. Be sure to ask for lifejackets

The lake, and the popular Naina Devi Temple on its north end, have a famous legend behind them. Shiva, distraught with grief at the demise of his consort Sati, danced the tandava with her corpse. Creation teetered on the brink of annihilation, till Vishnu intervened to destroy her body and scattered it all over the country, which stopped Shiva. Sati’s left eye fell here, creating one of the 64 Shaktipeeths, and the Naini Lake sprang forth.

Tribhuvan Tiwari
Sailing on the Naini Lake, a popular activity with tourists
Sailing on the Naini Lake, a popular activity with tourists

Several shops line the edge of the promenade, where you can shop for a huge variety of things, including shawls, readymade clothes, local handicrafts, knick-knacks, honey, fruit juices and pickles.

Boat House Club
The Boat House Club (Tel: 05942-235218) on the lake, dates back to the mid-19th century and is a must-visit.

Nainital Zoo
The well-maintained Nainital High Altitude Animals Zoo has some rare high-altitude species like the Siberian tiger, snow leopard, steppe eagle and the Himalayan black bear. You can also enjoy great lake views from here.

Entry ₹50 Timings 10.00am–4.30pm Closed Mondays Tel 0594-237927

Eco Cave Gardens
The park is well laid out without excessive manicuring, and has a musical fountain which operates only in May and June. There are six caves here that will probably not challenge a spelunker, but are still great to scramble through. Don’t attempt them if claustrophobic or with young kids.

Entry Adults ₹25; Children ₹10 Timings 9.30am–5.30pm

Snow View
An old favourite, Snow View (7,448ft), atop Sher-ka-Danda Hill, is reached by an aerial ropeway. Besides the usual scattering of eateries, there’s also a bumper car ride for kids and mountain views.

China Peak
China Peak (8,579ft) does have great views, but of the snow-clad Himalaya and of Nainital. You can either trek here or hire a pony at Mallital or at Snow View.

Sanjoy Ghosh
The official residence of the Uttarakhand Governor, Raj Bhavan
The official residence of the Uttarakhand Governor, Raj Bhavan

Governor’s House
The Raj Bhavan (1897–99), with its gardens spread over 220 acres and overflowing with deodars, was the summer residence of the governor of the United Provinces. It is now the official residence of the Uttarakhand Governor, and is among the few Raj Bhavans in India to be open to the public. The façade of the two-storeyed building (with 113 rooms) replicates the shape of the British crown. Visitors are allowed only in the grounds, which are great to walk in, and not inside the building. There is also an 18-hole golf course, open to the public.

Entry ₹50 Timings 11.00am–4.00pm Closed Sundays and public holidays Tel 05942-235001

Tiffin Top or Dorothy’s Seat
The Tiffin Top Peak (7,520ft) on Ayarpatta Hill, reached via a winding road, commands a fantastic view of the Himalayas. It has a stone picnic perch, built by the husband and admirers of English artist Dorothy Kelley (hence the other name for Tiffin Top), after she died in an airplane crash.

Gurney House
Also on Ayarpatta Hill, this is the former house of Jim Corbett, hunter, conservationist, writer and naturalist.

Location Next to The Naini Retreat on the Ayarpatta slopes.

Aurobindo Ashram
Perched on the Ayarpatta slopes (anglicised from the local anyar patthar, literally, dark rocks), the centre hosts retreats, study groups and children’s camps at nominal fees.

You must adhere to the norms of the ashram, which include strict meal timings (vegetarian only), no alcohol and no smoking. Also on offer are discourses on varied spiritual and theological subjects, as well as activities such as yoga, meditation and trekking.

Observatory
The highlight of the observatory situated on Manora Peak (6,401ft), at the Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences is its 7.00– 9.00pm slot, when the moon, stars and other celestial bodies can be viewed through one of the four telescopes.

Walks
A good trail is along the McDonald’s Circular Road. If you stay quiet, your chances of spotting the shy barking deer are reasonably good. The gorgeously plumaged khaleej pheasant and the chukar partridge can also be seen here sometimes.

The walk from Tiffin Top to Land’s End (6,949ft) will get you great views of the Khurpatal (so called because it is shaped like a khurpa, or cow’s hoof). Ghurals (wild goats) abound on these steep, barren slopes.

Where to Stay & Eat
Abbotsford Nainital
(Gurgaon Tel: 0124-4908605; Tariff: ₹4,000–10,000) is a skilfully restored 130-year-old cottage. Alka The Lakeside Hotel (Tel: 05942- 236626-28, 235220; Tariff: ₹5,000– 14,500) is right on The Mall. KMVN has three guest houses of which the best is KMVN Snow View (Tel: 238570, Cell: 09411108017; Tariff: ₹2,400–4,400, with two meals). Chevron Fairhavens (Tel: 236057, Cell: 08938801701; Tariff: ₹8,000–9,000, with two meals) near the GPO offers 30 rooms. Dynasty Resort (Tel: 240258, 240115/ 20; Tariff: ₹4,000– 8,800) has a lovely location by Khurpatal. Most of the hotels have restaurants.

Getting There
Air
Nearest airport: Pantnagar (71km/ 2hrs; Tel: 05944-233685) is connected to Delhi by Air India four days a week. Taxi costs ₹1,500–2,500

Rail Nearest railhead: Kathgodam (35km/ 1hr), connected to Delhi daily by Ranikhet Express and Uttar Sampark Kranti. A shared taxi costs ₹150–200 per head and a full taxi from ₹600–800

Road From Delhi, take NH24 via Hapur Bypass; turn left onto NH87 towards Rudrapur Bus Several buses ply on this route at 6.00am, 9.00pm and 10.00pm from ISBT Anand Vihar (Tel: 011- 22141611). Fares range from ₹500–700. For bookings, log on to redbus.in

Fast Facts
When to go
March–November; avoid monsoon; winters can be extremely cold

Tourist offices
Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam,
Central Reservation Centre, C/o Parvat Tours, Tallital, Nainital, Tel: 231436, 236936,

KMVN, 103, Indraprakash Building, 21, Barakhamba Road, New Delhi, Tel: 011-23712246, 3319835, kmvn.gov.in

STD code 05942