You don’t have to go to Europe to visit picturesque mountain towns. Charming Nainital, with its breathtaking views of the Himalayas, is the perfect escape from active city life. The secret to having a good time in Nainital is to avoid the tourist traps and visit the spots tucked away in the hills. Think majestic waterfalls, lush greenery and a bed of clouds dotted with mountain ranges.
At a slow pace
Nainital is situated in the foothills of the Himalayas, with the pear-shaped Naini lake at its centre. Founded by P Barron, an English sugar trader, who fell in love with the natural beauty of the area, Nainital, during the Raj, was a bustling summer retreat for British soldiers who needed a respite from hot Lucknow summers. The legacy of the British is still visible, in the town’s architecture, food and culture. Nainital and its surrounding towns have all the ingredients for a perfect mountain escape. I visited Nainital to slow down time, switch off from my daily life and live a few days amongst the clouds, fresh air, and vast expanse of green.
Locals suggest staying far away from Mall Road, as it gets overcrowded with tourists. We stayed at Abbotsford Nainital, a 140-year-old mansion converted into a boutique hotel. Abbotsford is the quintessential cosy mountain house, with wooden ceilings, pinewood flooring and art deco artefacts. We tucked into a delicious breakfast of croissants, scrambled eggs on toast and hot chocolate at its idyllic outdoor restaurant — Café Chica .
For our other meals, we asked locals for recommendations. We ate lunch at Sakley’s Restaurant and Pastry Shop, Nainital’s oldest bakery founded by Swiss Chef Salcheli. Sakley’s home-style desserts are delectable and the restaurant is reminiscent of a London café. For dinner, we chose North Indian food at Machan and were advised not to miss the momos at Nainital’s Tibetan Street Market and chow mein at Sonam Chowmein Corner.
Nainital also offers many activities for the restless. There are the multiple walking trails to Cheena Peak or Tiffin Top to spot exotic birds. Further out, about three kilometres from downtown Nainital, is Snow View Point, which has an incredible view of Himalayan peaks. We were looking for something more offbeat, so we drove to the lesser-known towns of Bhimtal and Naukuchiatal.
Naukuchiataal, or the ‘lake of nine corners’, is Nainital’s sister city. We ate lunch at the serene Lake Resort and walked leisurely around the lake. The resort is also the venue of Escape Festival, a music event.
Bhimtal is great for trekking and paragliding and is a 30-minute heavenly drive from Nainital. It’s literally like driving in the clouds. We stopped at Bhimtal’s hipster paradise — I Heart Café, with its classy wooden decor and British aesthetics.
Kunjkarak is a two-hour drive from Nainital and is a bird watcher’s paradise. It is also famed for its 380-kilometre broad view of the Himalayas. If you’re lucky you can even spot rare birds, deer and leopards. Stay on for the magnificent sunset over the Himalayas.
How to get there: Nainital is a six to seven-hour drive from New Delhi.
Best time to visit: May to July and October is peak season. During this time, Nainital gets crowded and hotel prices spike. A better option would be to go between July and October.