In June 2013, Uttarakhand became the centre of devastating floods and landslides that caused the death of over 5,700 tourists as well as locals. This was the worst natural disaster that India had experienced since the Tsunami in 2004. The destruction left over a lakh of tourists and pilgrims stranded in multiple sites across pilgrimage spots in the state. The destruction not only harmed the tourism industry in the affected areas, but also those located far away, including the lake city, Nainital.
Back on the tourist trail
“There are very few tourists this year,” admits Mohammad Abid, a Nainital-based taxi driver. “By this time, last year, we were all booked despite the fact that it was a low season,” he adds, politely requesting possible customers to hire his vehicle.
Being a hill station, Nainital and its nearby areas are accessible only via narrow roads with several sharp bends; private taxis or vehicles are the most preferred mode of transport for tourists. While some from Delhi and nearby areas bring their own vehicles, an experienced driver familiar with negotiating around the hilly roads is advisable.
But vehicles can ply up to a point only; hilltops or viewpoints like the Land’s End and Dorothy Seat are accessible either on foot or by horse. The walk up to Dorothy Seat takes at least 45 minutes, and perhaps longer, if you aren’t a hillside dweller, like yours truly. But the walk is worth the effort, especially because it offers magnificent views of the Naini Lake, the Mall Road and most of the areas that forms the lake city Nainital.
Gopal Dutt Suyal, general Manager, Shervani Hospitalities, runs the Shervani Hiltop, a four-star hotel located right under the Naina Peak, which was our base. He observes that the media reports affected tourism: “Most highlighted that Uttarakhand was badly affected by the floods, but they didn’t mention that the damage was limited to a few regions, and not the entire state. Sad as it is, it seems to have scared the prospective tourists.”
The hotel added 20 new rooms, and Suyal is hopeful that the coming months will bring in more tourists. Though the view from the hotel room isn’t as breathtaking as one would’ve expected, for those keen on a quiet, luxe break, it’s a good bet.
The tourism industry in Nainital makes most of its business during the main season in summer, from April to June. But over the years, even the off-season from July to March sees hotels announcing fabulous offers, thanks to long holidays like Diwali (October, also called “Gujarati season”), Christmas, New Year, and from couples and honeymooners who throng the lake city between January and February. But this year, the holidays haven’t lifted the spirits, shares Mohammad Jalil, who provides horses for transport in the Bara Patthar area of Nainital. “So far, business has been low. Even the Gujarati season wasn’t great,” he adds. Both Abid and Jalil mention a 40 per cent drop in their overall customers, but they expect things to get better. “There’s still half the season left, and we are hoping for things to get better by the main season,” claims Abid.
Sights and sounds
The mood is similar at the Mall Road that runs parallel to the Naini Lake or the Bada Bazar, situated at a higher altitude, as it overlooks the Naini Lake. While Mall Road is Nainital’s favourite shopping destination, Bada Bazar is home to several shops that offer traditional art and craft, candles (a popular item of Nainital) and sweet shops that sell its traditional Bal Mithai. Although Nainital doesn’t have much to offer beyond its lakes, beautiful mountain treks, green forests, and shopping destinations, it is rich in history with hidden treasures like Jim Corbett’s house next to Aurobindo Ashram in Ayar. Our trip to Nainital, despite being less than 36 hours, opened up several facets of the lake city, be it the thin roads and the friendly, courteous people.
How to get there
Through Delhi: You can fly to Delhi, and then take a train to Kathgodam. You can hire a cab from Kathgodam to Nainital for approx R500. It’s a one-hour mountainous ride, offering a glimpse of the scenic valleys of Uttarakhand.
Through Dehradun: An alternative way is to fly to Dehradun, and then take a train to Kathgodam, followed by a cab ride to Nainital.
Where to stay?
Budget Travellers: Our advice is to stay outside Mallital within a radius of 8 km. You can easily get rooms within Rs 1,000 per night. Hire a private cab to reach the main market of Nainital. It’s best to explore the lake city on foot.
Luxury travellers: You can stay at Shervani Hilltop, located under the Naina Peak. The tariff is usually offered as a package of 2 days / 3 nights stay starting At: Rs 12,000 for deluxe rooms during off-season that go up to Rs 27,000 for presidential suites.
Did you know?
>> According to local folklore, Nainital is so called because when Shiva was carrying Sati’s body, her eyes were supposed to have fallen there, giving the lake the shape of an eye.
>> Bara Patthar gets its name due to the huge, stony hills found in the area. Bara is the anglicised version of Bada (big) in Hindi.