The author puts in a word for Nainital

What does one really look for in a weekend getaway destination, I asked myself on my way back from Nainital after a three day holiday. It is that one unique experience that exhilarates and refreshes you before you get back to the grind of daily life.

We had hired a taxi from Delhi. The thought of a long car journey had at first made me want to stay back. Along the way, in a car full of family one discovered how in busy city lives we tend to stop communicating with one another. We sang, played games, ate and stopped to take pictures. The journey was arduous, but the route via Jim Corbett, in familial camaraderie was worth the effort.

At Nainital, the sight of the taal against the backdrop of mist covered mountains made one forget the fatigue of the journey. Straightaway we hit the Mall road for lunch. Crowded alright, the nip in the air created a sense of space. With only rickshaws on the Mall Road, it now is a welcome walkers paradise.

With branded stores lined up on Mall Road, one would think it is like any other market, but it is not. Is the charm because of the mountains in the backdrop, the lake in front, or the flat ground where children were busy playing football or just the air of recreation? Your guess is as good as mine.

The lake was decorated with colourful boats of all shapes and sizes, but the crowning glory were the yachts of Nainital Boat Club. The space constraint of just two people to a yacht should not stop one from trying them. On the emerald green waters, it sails with the wind like a chariot in air; secluded yet public. Gliding on the yacht, up on the mountains, at the edge of the lake I noticed a signboard like ‘Hollywood’ in Los Angeles, except that it spelt out zoo. I promptly added it to my itinerary.

For shoppers, Nainital has its share of markets. The small alleys of the Tibetan markets remind one of the souks in Arab nations, the Bara bazaar on an incline is a tough but charming climb and then of course, there is the Mall Road. As the evening recedes and the night falls, it tends to get chilly so do carry warm clothes.

For those looking for adventure, trekking up China Peak is exercise for both the body and mind. Not frequented by crowds, it offers a spectacular view of the snow-capped Himalayas and of Nainital nestled in the bosom. The rain may play spoil sport in which case be careful of the leeches that mark the trail. Don’t forget to carry food, ‘Pahadi’ chocolate, water and a camera!

Places around Nainital, such a Kilbury, Tiffin Top, Snow View Point, Sat Taal and Khurpa Taal can be accessed through taxis. A visit to the quaint Raj Bhawan (Governor’s Palace) is in order to reminisce the colonial legacy. But an evening stroll on the Mall Road is unmatched!

The next day, scheduled to leave in the afternoon, I remembered the zoo was still on my list. At the end of the Mall Road, a shuttle service takes you up to the entry gate of the zoo (Rs.30). However, the wait was a minimum of half hour. Constrained for time, we decided to walk up to the zoo. A little over a kilometre’s walk, it took us about 20 minutes to reach while the shuttle vans zipped by. A high altitude zoo, it is spread over the mountain top on a gradient.

There were people of all age groups marvelling at a different zoo experience. The two Royal Bengal tigers close to the entry made my day. Maybe it was the fact that one had been to a zoo after ages, or that the magnificent animal in the backdrop of mist and mountain seemed all the more mysterious or simply that one had seen and enjoyed Life of Pi, it was spellbinding. The strength in the eyes of the tigers seemed to instil courage rather than fear in the onlookers. One can see leopards, fox, bears and many birds. The scenic beauty of Nainital and its surrounding seems to lack that element of diversity of wildlife, which the zoo, through its caged animals, seems to fulfil beautifully.

As I sat in the car, ready for the long journey back, I realised that it was the zoo, a passé tourist attraction, which had made the visit worthwhile. For rekindling family bonds or complete relaxation or for simply the tigers in the zoo, Nainital is definitely worth a visit!