Every town and place in India seems to have its own mythology and legends associated with it. Nainital is no exception. Sitting 1,983mt above sea level Nainital is one of India’s most popular Hill Stations and tourist destinations. The name is derived from the beautiful Lake Naini that is located in the centre of the town. Lake Naini is considered sacred to Hindus who believe this is one of 64 Shakti Peeths, where parts of the burned body of Parvarti were dropped by Lord Shiva. Lake Naini is one of her eyes. With its elliptical perfect eye shape and bright jade green water you can in instantly see why. The banks of the lake are dotted with temples dedicated to Devi and the mantras and Kirtan sung in her name ring out over the lake each morning and evening.
(Sunset on Lake Naini)
Nainital was my first destination after leaving the Sri Babaji Ashram. The 4 hour local bus journey from Haldwani, through the Kumaon Hills, was one of the most beautiful drives I had been on. I realised how much of this amazing country I had missed by travelling overnight. As we approached the great lake from the South, it struck me as being familiar, perhaps reminiscent of the UK’s own Lakes, Peaks or Breacon Beacons. Even the houses and restaurants that circled Naini were built by the English in a European style to make them feel more at home.
I had planned to stay four days. After 5 weeks on an ashram lentil diet and hard graft I was looking forward to chilling out and stuffing myself with food. I had read that Nainital was a popular tourist destination for both Indians and Westerners alike and I was looking forward to seeing all that it had to offer.
How wrong could I have been!
I checked into the worst and most expensive room of my entire trip. Arriving in peak season meant accommodation was scarce and the only room available (probably because no one wanted it) was a cramped, damp, filthy hovel with an even worse toilet. The ambient noise came from the busy restaurant that the door opened onto and from the constant Bollywood music being played in the house above. I convinced myself that 4 days wouldn’t kill me as I would be out exploring most of the time.
The things to do in Nainital can be summed up as follows. Walk round the lake, sail over the lake, sit by the lake, take the cable car and view the lake from above, read about the lake, visit temples around the lake, eat by the lake, walk round the lake (did I say that one), take photos of the lake etc
(Me on the lake)
Let’s just say after the first day I was well and truly over the lake.
Nainital felt like the Blackpool or Brighton of the Himalayas. When the sun goes down thousands of tourists pack the streets buying candy floss, popcorn and cheap plastic toys for their kids. You cannot move due to the crowds. What I thought would be a nice post ashram retreat became a daily battle to find anywhere that could offer something even resembling peace and quiet.
(Lake Naini, from above)
I don’t want to knock it too much. I met some lovely Indian families; one in particular from Mumbai rescued me from what could have been a nasty altercation in a restaurant. I ate some amazing food, the lake is beautiful as is the temples shanti. If I visited again I would just go a little out of season to avoid the crowds.
In all honesty, I have never been so pleased to see a coach arrive. An overnight trip back to Delhi, a coach with no windscreen and flat tyres…happy days.
(My get away car)