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A Guide to Nainital - Scenic Lakes, Heritage Buildings, and Mountain Views

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Spread around a freshwater lake, Nainital is a tranquil hill station in the state of Uttarakhand. Just an hour’s drive from the scorching Gangetic plains, the town has a temperate climate. Naini Lake is the main attraction for many visitors, but Nainital also offers views of the high Himalayas, heritage buildings dating back to the mid-19th century, and hiking trails.

The legend of the lake


Shaped like a teardrop or an eye, Naini Lake (nain means eye) is surrounded by forested hills on 3 sides. Boating is a must-do activity on the 1.43-km-long and 42-meter-wide lake, named after the eye of Goddess Parvati. According to legend, her eye fell into the lake when Lord Shiva, her husband, carried her body back to their home on Mount Kailash. Naini Devi Temple at the lake’s head is believed to mark the exact spot where Parvati’s eye fell. A number of hiking trails start from the temple, heading to the hills above.

Walking along Mall Road


Mall Road links Tallital (the foot of the lake) with Mallital (the head of the lake). This is where you’ll find the action in Nainital, from food stalls to shopping deals and accommodation options. You can sample Indian street food such as chaat (flour cakes served with a variety of sauces and spices) anddal-jalebi (lentil fritters in sugar syrup with curd). This is also the place to buy souvenirs - scented candles are a specialty in Nainital - to take back home. And if you get tired, you can enjoy lake views from waterside benches, placed every 100 meters or so.



Heritage buildings


The first house in Nainital was built in 1841 by P. Barron, a sugar trader from the plains below. Pilgrim Lodge, his home, was destroyed in a major landslide in 1880, but many 19th-century buildings constructed by the British still survive. You can admire the Gothic architectural features of Raj Bhavan (Governor’s House), built like a Scottish castle, and the church of St. John in the Wilderness, the oldest structure in Nainital.


  • Raj Bhavan, 3 km from Tallital, Nainital 263139, Uttarakhand; Website: Raj Bhavan


Lakes near Nainital


Naini is not the only lake in the Shivalik range of the Himalayas. There are many lakes nearby, all within a radius of 30 km. It’s no coincidence that British soldiers and citizens in the early 20th century, nostalgic about the English Lakes, started calling the region around Nainital “The Lake District.” Bhimtal, Sattal, and Naukuchiatal are among the major lakes in the area and each is a popular tourist destination in its own right. They are lower in altitude than Nainital and abundant in birdlife. All 3 lakes offer boating and kayaking.


  • Bhimtal, 22 km from Nainital, Nainital District, Uttarakhand; Website: Bhimtal

  • Naukuchiatal, 26 km from Nainital, Nainital District, Uttarakhand; Website: Naukuchiatal