I have a trying month in Delhi with the onset of the monsoon and all that it comes with is humidity, thunderstorms, and suffocating heat. I needed a place in the wild to get away from all the ubiquitous cacophony of Delhi. One of my friends told me about Nainital, a hilltop town at Uttarakhand in north India, surrounded by nature in a beautiful site around a volcanic lake. I did not think for more than a second.
Nainital is a small lakeside resort at 1938 m, very popular with tourists from Delhi, Bombay or Calcutta.
5 o'clock in the morning. I wake up impatient and tense at the same time thinking about the day ahead. Here I am on the road accompanied by two acolytes in this mysterious adventure that awaits me. I have always loved traveling light and I do not mind getting dirty once on the road. So I take only a small backpack.
It will take us about 7 hours to reach Nainital with of course stops on the road to nibble some cookies and stretch our legs. At this early hour, traffic is still calm in the capital and I leave the city quickly. After arriving on the highway my heart start accelerating.
The cool breeze, the sound of the engine, the peaceful view of the Indian countryside and the highway that extends as far as the eye can see, confirm my choice to leave. After a hundred kilometers, I decided to stop in one of the roadside dhabas. I have the opportunity to admire a beautiful sunrise on the sunflower field along the road.
But the heavy traffic and the sounds of horns make me leave the dream and I decide to leave them as soon as possible. On our way to Haldwani I realize that there is nobody on the road and I only cross a few isolated farms on the way. It is a true moment of happiness after the noise and the bustle of the cities.
We finally reach Haldwani, who seems to have just been hit by the rain and is adorned with sparkling reflections. We do not stop long and reach the hilly road of the ghats under particularly mild weather. It's time to stop for lunch. We find another typical dhaba with a great view of the city of Hawani.
The owner, friendly and welcoming, asks us where we are going. When we tell him we go to Nainital, he looks at us amused and wonders what drives us to go there when it's been raining for weeks. I answer that it's the best time for me to travel. He laughs and then, without saying a word more and brings us a delicious meal and goes away smiling.
As the day progresses, the roads become more and more winding and the air becomes cooler. We stop in places to take some pictures. Each turn is an opportunity to admire an ever more impressive view. But the cloudy sky soon prevents us from taking pictures. It really looks like it rained heavily in this area of Nainital. The kilometers are longer and longer to travel on these winding roads and we have to find a hotel in Nainital before night falls.
On the road we stop at the Corbett Falls! To recover from the trip we stopped at a small cafe restaurant which serves absolutely exquisite mocktails for only a few rupees. We could admire the view before us, the beauty of nature at its height. Cannabis, which grows wild and everywhere at this altitude, also attracts some Westerners.
As our beverage finished, we hit the road again. After 20 minutes of turning in the mountains, here we are in Nainital. When entering the city we get stopped by a police check. The police ask us of what brings us here and when we tell them that we come as tourists they look at us with a puzzled air and answer us that this is not the best time to travel.
We leave without really knowing what is waiting for us. After two or three kilometers we are lucky to have a first glimpse of the Nainital valley and its huge lake. I was expecting to see some tourists or passers-by in the streets but the city is a ghost town.
It was almost by chance that our cottage search brought us to Bhimtal. The area also seems less touristy and wilder. We opted for a weekend stay at a luxurious hotel located in the hills of the city in a forest of majestic cedars and with the panoramic view of a wide valley. It has all the necessary services with room service, SPA, gym.
It also has a shuttle system to go from the hotel to the city center and vice versa because it is very difficult to reach the center of Nainital by car. The rooms are luxurious and very nicely decorated. The owner of the place announces us that it is the low season and that all these rooms are free and gives us a discount on the price of the room.
It is perfectly located, with a beautiful view of the lake. I take advantage of the last rays of the sun to go to the lake and take some pictures. Once arrived at the scene, I taste a good cellar and notice two wooden boats floating on the lake. I decide to rent one and it seems that the driver is happy to have his first customer of the day!
He brings me to the Tibetan market. Finally, I meet people on the streets! I see school students negotiate prices already cheaper than jackets in town. But already night is falling and it's time to return to my hotel and it starts raining again. We have a good traditional meal in the hotel. The Butter Chicken which is just delicious.
We had an ice cream to finish the meal and decided to go to bed because we were very tired after these many hours of driving. After preparing my things for the next day and calling my family to reassure them, I bundle up under the thick blankets.
After a good night's sleep, we go in search of a good cafe and we come across one which offers a great view of the lake. The restaurant offers many dishes for a pittance. After breakfast we left for a small pedal boat ride on the lake. Slipping on the water with a light breeze on my face was a pleasure!
I feel directly the very serene, even spiritual atmosphere of this place with this very dark lake and the clouds that seem to land on the water. During the trek to a Tibetan monastery, we were greeted by a smiling community who invited us to share their meal. Unexpected event, warm encounters, are the moments that always make me want to travel.
We returned to Sattal to find another path to a birding site. Surrounded by various insects, we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a concert of cicadas that I could easily see on the bark of trees! It is not always easy to see animals in their natural environment. So we decided to go the zoo. We saw among others bears, Tibetan wolves, pheasants, deer, leopards, red pandas, and a tiger.
After this short walk, we decided to go to the main market of Nainital which is full of many souvenirs to bring home. To go see this market we went through a path that runs along a huge field where many young people play cricket. We reach the mall, the British relic that runs along the lake and connects Tallital to Mallital. This mall separates a more popular district in the South from the resorts and other luxury hotels in the North.
Throughout its east side are hotels, restaurants and vendors of all kinds, while the West Bank is a nice pedestrian promenade. Taxi drivers and boat rental companies complete the picture of a village turned towards tourism at the beginning of the season. At the end of the lake, before reaching the large resorts on the heights, is the commercial heart of the city.
It is the bara bazar where butchers and vegetable sellers compete for the least square with the dhabas, the sellers of various trinkets and the general store. There are like true caves of Ali Baba. This lively and dense neighborhood gives way, when approaching the shore of the lake, to the Tibetan market, much smaller and where locals mainly sell clothes.
In the same neighborhood, there is also a beautiful mosque, a gurdwara and a temple dedicated to Naina Devi. The many churches dating from the colonial era are a little further up the heights where there is also a Tibetan gompa. Being tired and as the end of the day is approaching, we decided to return to the hotel. After a coffee we are back at the resort for a lovely evening with friends! We have a meal before falling into a deep sleep.
We left early enough to get fresh air. Before returning to Delhi, we took the cable car to the Snow View Point site. Located at an altitude of about 2270m, it is one of the most attractive tourist sites of Nainital. This site is about 3 km from the city. The summit offers breathtaking views of the beautiful city and the snow-capped mountains in winter.
We began our ascent in the wooded Nainital heights, crossing villages which were in fact neighborhoods a little distant from the main center but very heterogeneous, colorful, and whose inhabitants watched us pass with a sympathetic curiosity.
Unfortunately at this time of the year, Nainital is very foggy and from up there we could see a pervasive fog. On the other hand, during the short cable car ride, we were able to fly over the many colorful houses in the heights of Nainital. It helped us to hike to the top of Naina peak, formerly China peak at 2611 m. In the middle of the pines and trees, we were able to enjoy a beautiful walk and even had the chance to watch a family of wild langurs.
Our meeting with a very friendly mountain guide of the region, allowed us to know a little more about the region, and to reach the summit via the paths of goats, on the ridge and the opportunity to enjoy breathtaking views! We found a clearing in the middle of the forest and settled there for a picnic. We had a wonderful view on one side of the snowy mountains and on the other hand was the langurs who ate at the top of the trees!
We stayed at the top for a long time, enjoying the great outdoors. Then we went back down to Nainital, after a cellar stop. The return was much longer allowing us to make a loop via the slope of another mountain. We took advantage of the late afternoon to eat in a little Tibetan restaurant and stroll along the mall before heading back to Delhi.