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The hidden gem of Nainital tucked in the Himalayan foothills
The renowned hill station of Nainital is one of the most popular mountain retreats in northern India, famous for its namesake lake surrounded by elegant snow-capped mountains. First settled during British rule in the mid-nineteenth century, Nainital grew steadily into the twentieth century and is today a well-visited tourist destination as well as town which many thousands of Indian’s call home. With an array of attractions around the lake and town, plus acting as the base for exploring the neighbouring nature and smaller villages, Nainital is perfect for a weekend getaway or for a longer retreat in the mountains.
Two ends of town, separated by a lake
Nainital Lake is the obvious focal point of the town and the most common place to ascertain one’s bearings. The urban concentration of the area is split into two districts at the northern and southern points of the lake, namely Mallital and Tallital. Those arriving in the town from the closest train station in Kathgodam or from the nearby larger city of Haldwani, will first witness Tallital at the southern point of the lake. Kathgodam provides train links to Delhi and to the rest of India, whilst those wishing to fly into Nainital can utilise domestic flights to Pantnagar, just a two hours’ drive away from the mountain town. Thus, most visitors will come through Tallital and there are a variety of Nainital hotels conveniently situated in this district, including many budget options. Many accommodation options then stretch along Mall Road which runs alongside the east of the lake to connect to Millital in the north.
Colonial architecture meets Hindu traditions
The urban cluster at the northern tip of the lake is home to a number of the top attractions in the area, including the impressive Naina Devi Temple. The temple is said to date from the sixteenth century and is one of the only remnants from pre-colonial settlement in Nainital. Although much of the original structure was destroyed in the notorious landslide of 1880, the temple was reconstructed and today is a holy site for visiting Hindus, plus a well-visited spot for other tourists enjoying its quaint architecture and stunning backdrop. There are a variety of additional temples on offer in the city, plus also a few excellent examples of colonial era churches and other architecture, for instance the St. John Wilderness Church. In addition, many of the hotels in Nainital are housed in colonial buildings, offering a glimpse of the style enjoyed back at the turn of the twentieth century. Thanks to the small size of the town, staying in a Nainital hotel at either end of the lake doesn’t impact a great deal on navigating the area, much is within walking distance and there are plenty of public buses and rickshaw taxis.
Bustling bazaars and local cuisine
Aside from architectural and religious highlights, the central areas of Nainital also offer an assortment of other attractions and cultural delights. Shopping and dining are two significant cultural elements of any Indian town and it is no exception up in the mountains. Tourist orientated shops are of course dotted around the city, but heading to the Bara Bazaar in the Mallital district is worth a visit to better understand everyday life in Nainital. Mostly a local’s market, it consists of a maze of stalls ranging from souvenir crafts, everyday items, and dozens of local eateries. As to be expected with a heavy tourist destination, there are a multitude of restaurants on offer, including several upmarket establishments. However, some of the real culinary highlights can be found in the smaller, local spots and street food stalls, serving traditional North Indian dishes including specialities from the state of Uttarakhand. The majority of hotels at Nainital offer in-house dining, whilst there is also a diverse choice of eateries in every area of the town.
A base to explore natural wonders from
For all of its cultural charm, to not mention the natural side of Nainital and its surroundings would be tragic. Whether sticking to the city limits or exploring further afield, natural wonders form a major part of any trip. Many visitors enjoy renting a pedalo or boats to relax on Nainital Lake and marvel at the seven mountain peaks which provide breath-taking scenery. Trekking is another popular activity and there are several trails which can be accessed quickly from the city centre and any hotel in Nainital. Such trails often lead to viewpoints such as Naina Peak or Tiffin’s Top where fantastic views of the whole region can be enjoyed. The Cave Garden at the Mallital end of town, houses a complex of caves which is a desirable activity with families, as is the Nainital Zoo. In addition, there are myriad of tour operators offering day trips into the wilderness to witness local wildlife or partake in adventure activities such as zorbing and paragliding.