Going to Nainital
We left Lucknow at noon on a blazing hot summer day. Temperatures were at a record high and, as we would soon discover, the land was painfully dry because there hadn’t been any rain in nearly a year. The journey from Lucknow to Nainital is slotted to take 7-8 hours. Of course, this being India, it took something closer to 11. I and my three travel companions entertained ourselves by chatting and looking at the scenery. We passed occasionally through busy towns which in India would be considered small, but by American standards would be massive towns – maybe even cities.
Since we were away from the main metropolises, these areas were more rural and we could see it in the traditional dressing sense. Almost all the women we saw were wearing saris. We passed through busy market towns where people mulled around vendor stalls and hitched rides on mule-drawn wagons. Our trek north continued and by dusk we were beginning to wind further and further up into the mountains as Nainital drew slowly closer.
It was after 9:30 when we spotted the fires. At first we mistook the line of orange light curving up the mountain to be street lights and a sign of civilization. But as we came around the mountainside and drove parallel to it we saw it was fire, some of it burning right next to the road. The earth was parched. Northern India was burning.
Bad directions led us down incorrect paths which narrowed so much we were unable to continue and forced to back out. After several wrong turns like this, we managed to get on the right road and finally drove into Nainital starved and exhausted after a long day.
Our hotel, a building left behind by British colonialism, sat airy and wide on a massive lawn, welcoming us out of the night. Dinner awaited, and adventures for the next day filled our talk.
What To Do There
Nainital is a town built around a lake shaped like a kidney bean. The weather was noticeably cooler up there and a welcome relief from Lucknow’s 40 degree heat. It’s not a huge tourist draw for travelers from overseas, but locals love it, especially in the summer. Traveling to Nainital is a great honeymoon option for couples opting to get married in the summer months, and fun for families wanting to escape India’s oppressive heat which reigns over every inch of the plains below.
We hired a taxi driver and set out for a day of sightseeing. He led us to the following places:
I’m not really quite clear on what’s so ‘eco’ about this bunch of caves, but apparently it’s one of Nainital’s biggest draws. You’ll find a cluster of caves close together here, each bearing a different animal name. There’s bat cave, tiger cave, and so on. Some of the caves require a certain level of fitness and walking through them can be a bit of a squeeze. But if you don’t mind small spaces and have an adventurous spirit, be sure to give them a go! There’s a weird bonus to the Eco-Cave Gardens that I absolutely have to mention: they have a mechanical bull. It’s such an odd thing to find in some random hill station in India, which meant I had to try it! Do you dare ride the bull in Nainital?
Like I said earlier, Nainital is situated around a lake which, aptly is named after the town itself (although some do call it Naini Lake). There are quite a few activities you can do on the lake, such as taking out a paddle boat or even just walking around it, but you can also head up in the mountains to get a birds-eye view! The view is beautiful and from above you can see that the lake is shaped like an eye and in Indian mythology it is believed to be the Eye of the Goddess. Thankfully, the Goddess’s eye is kept pretty clean so hanging out near the lake is a very pleasant experience.
Tiffin Top experiences roaring popularity because of the particular vista that it offers. On a clear day you are able to get a breathtaking view of the not-so-distant Himalayas. Unfortunately, the gods chose not to gift us with such a day. Due to the forest fires, the air was really hazy and there was no Himalayan mountain range to be found. However, if you go during a time of year when the air is clear, let me know! I’d love to see some pictures. Even if you don’t get to see the Himalayas, you still get a nice view of Nainital which I really appreciated!
After our day of exploring all these places, we headed back down to the town and walked around taking in the sights, smells, and sounds (which in India there are a lot of). One of the big highlights of the day was walking through Nainital’s marketplace, then heading into a local Sikh Temple. As we stood in the courtyard preparing to remove our shoes and wash our hands before entering, there was a rain of white fluff floating and cavorting around us. It gathered in our hair and fell in soft mounds on the floor.
“It’s cotton.” The young Sikh standing at the door said, pointing to a tree above us.
It’s magical. I thought to myself.