Remember the movie ‘The Sound of Music’? One of my most vivid childhood memories of the film was about the picturesque lake where Maria (Julie Andrews) takes her young charges boating, with snow-covered mountains in the background.
Years later, the memory assumed reality when I went to Nainital, in the Kumaon hills of Uttar Pradesh. The serene calm of the glassy sheet of water on which ducks glided gracefully, was every bit as enchanting as the lake in memory.Ask anyone to name a hill station, and the chances are that seven out of 10 people will say ‘Nainital’, wood carving items and candles. Naini ‘tal’ (lake) which gives the city its name, is actually ringed by several lakes or ‘tal’s, one more beautiful than the other, and providing a vacation full of surprises. No wonder families with children make a beeline for the city, which is easily accessible.
The nearest rail station is Kathgodam which is crossed by trains moving between Delhi and Howrah. Buses and taxis are also easily available from Kathgodam. The nearest metro is Delhi, at a seven hour car dive.
The trick is to locate staying places that are offbeat enough without lacking in the basic amenities and the views, especially when there are children in the group. But there are enough numbers of lodges and guest houses to suit all pockets.
There is something so relaxing – and exciting at the same time – about wandering in the streets with a pack of peanuts in your hands and the smell of pines filling your nostrils.
The sight of the snow-capped Himalayan peaks that can be seen from Snow View Peak never fails to thrill, be it a four-year-old or a 40-year-old. Reaching the peak itself is an interesting journey – you can try the ropeway, ride ponies or just walk.
If you have a mind to look at the Himalayas from yet another vantage point, there is always the China Peak, from where Nainital appears like a bowl. A steep climb of about three hours for a 20-year-old urbanite, the China Peak, which overlooks the Indo-China border, gives a splendid view of the northern Himalayas.
But, there are no eating places at China Peak as I learnt the hard way. After your spirits are sated, your stomachs might rumble, so be sure to carry enough munchies.
On clear nights, trying to make out the stars in an overcrowded and glittering sky, with the shadows of mountain giants in the backdrop, is an out of the world experience, especially if it is timed with some hot beverages and munchies. It’s amazing how easy it is to understand the idea of space there. Serious star gazers can plan a trip to the National observatory in the evenings.
A day at the lake and zoo
It’s not just the ducks that like to be in water all the time. Rowing or paddling on the vast calm of Naini lake in the mornings is a universally delightful experience. A relaxing afternoon at the zoo, can round off the day in a cheery manner. The zoo houses deer of different kinds, bears, birds, and even tigers.
The lakes around Nainital
Nainital is a city of lakes. Four km from Nainital is the Naukuchia ‘tal’, which gets its name from the nine edges it has. Surrounded by a verdant green forest and abloom with lotuses, it is a perfect location for hungry eyes. Or, take your pick from Bhim tal, or the cluster of seven small lakes at Saat tal, 22 km from Nainital.
As in all hill stations developed during the British rule, Nainital, too, has a Mall that is a time-tested spot for socialization at all times of the day, for this is where the well known shops and restaurants are. It is the place to buy momentoes for friends, or let your children go skating in a rink.
- Make your bookings well in advance if you are visiting Nainital in the peak season of summer.
- Pack a few wollens for the evenings when the sun goes down.
- Keep medicines for cold, cough, fever and common allergies.
- The whole family should march with sturdy shoes.
- Keep a stock of disposable diapers for any infants in the group.
- Carry disposable tissues, glasses and sterilised milk bottles for infants.
- Take baby backpacks to travel the way the hill people do, to ease those aching muscles.
Other places you can reach from Nainital: Almora, Ranikhet, Kausani and Ramnagar (which is famous for its apple orchids).