We drive down to what’s popularly come to be known as India’s lake district. This is the Nainital district at the Kumaon foothills in Uttarakhand. Apart from the Nainital, there is Naukuchiatal, Bhimtal and Sattal. Unless you are missing Delhi’s crowded streets and decibel levels, you can give Nainital a miss and soak in the more tranquil waters of the lesser frequented lakes of the region.
While there are no dearth of resorts and hotels in this area, our choice for the trip was the Lake Resort at Naukuchiatal. It means, a lake with nine corners. The lake is fed by a underwater spring that keeps the water level high. It’s said that you cannot see all mine corners of the lake from any single point. Local myth says that if you view all the nine corners of the lake at one shot you will attain salvation.
The drive from Delhi to Naukuchiatal takes about seven hours. From Delhi, take the Nizamuddin bridge going towards Ghaziabad and stick to the NH24. Passing Ghaziabad can be slow due to the auto-rickshaws and motorcycles crowding the road. There is also a fair amount of truck traffic to add to the chaos. Leave Delhi early in the morning if you want to avoid this.
The road till Moradabad is fairly quick with good roads. You have to then turn to Rampur and NH87 going towards Kathgodam. Expect a few kilometers of bad stretch and traffic around Bilaspur. Once past Kathgodam, the climb up to the hills begin. On the hills, be careful around the bends. Honk while approaching a corner. And remember that the vehicle climbing up has the right of the way. Naukuchiatal is about 4km after Bhimtal, which will be on your right as you drive up. The road is narrow so drive carefully.
Now that you are Naukuchiatal, what do you do? Even if you want to do something, there’s not much to do. The best thing is to go for a walk. The Lake Resort is situated on the banks of the lake with it’s own private access to the lake. There’s a narrow path that runs around the lake that makes a great walk. Or a great place to have a picnic. But be careful about getting into the lake. It’s amongst the deepest in the Kumaon region and there are no lifeguards if you get into trouble.
If you are an angler, you might fancy carrying your fishing rod along. The lake is home to the Mahaseer, the great game fish of India. You will need a permit, but most hotels can arrange that for you. What they can’t arrange is a rod, so you need the carry your gear along with you. Just one request. Please ‘catch and release’.
Or you could go boating. Try out the pedal boats, and give yourself a little workout. But it’s fun. Pedal your way to the middle of the lake, stop, and breathe in the tranquility.
Need something more exciting? Run down a hill and fly like a bird with nothing but the wind holding you aloft. Take a tandem ride in a paraglider for Rs.1500 and get a bird’s eye view of the place. The take-off point is Pandegaon, about 4km from the Lake Resort. Look for a sign pointing towards the Himalayan Adventure Academy, and follow that to reach Pandegaon.
While holidays mean sleeping in late, I have found that making the effort to wake up early and go for a walk is always rewarding. Like the deer that dashed across the road in front of me and disappeared into the undergrowth before i could pull out my camera. Or the many birds and their cacophony of disparate musical notes that fill the ionized morning air.
If you want a change of kitchen, go out and have lunch or dinner at Nighlaat Village Resort. It’s on Bhowali road, about 15km from Bhimtal. You have to book in advance, preferably the evening before. There’s a choice of cuisine beginning with Indian and Chinese to Mediterranean and Continental. After you declare your preference, the hosts will decide the menu for your meal. Ar Rs.700 per head it’s great value for money too.
And if you want to stay over, they also have a few suites. And yes, they too will welcome your dog. But be warned, that they too have half a dozen dogs of their own, who will vociferously greet your pooch at deafening decibel levels.
Just 4km from Naukuchiatal is Bhimtal. It’s the largest lake in the district with an island in the middle. As in other lakes, you can go boating here. Or make a visit to the restaurant at the island in the lake.
Bhimtal gets its name from Mahabharata’s Bhima, who along with his brothers visited this place during their exile. The Bhimeshwara Mahadev Temple, an old Shiva temple in the bank of Bhimtal lake, is believed to have been built when Bhima visited the place. The present temple was built in 17th century, by Baz Bahadur the Raja of Kumaon. Bhimtal is also supposed to have been a part of the Silk Route for travelers traveling to China or Tibet.
The other excursion you could make is a drive to Sattal. Sat tal or seven lakes, is as the name says, is a group of seven interconnected lakes. For the info geek, the lakes are Panna Tal, Nal-Damyanti Tal, Purna Tal, Sita Tal, Ram Tal, Laxman Tal and Sukha Tal. It’s a nice easy drive from Naukuchiatal. And if you are feeling peckish, there are stalls serving good old rajma-chawal and kadhi-chawal. I don’t know if it’s the mountain air, or the cook’s magic, but they were delicious.
Sattal is also the destination for people looking for an adventure holiday. There are a lot camps around here if you want the thrill of sleeping in a tent and go rappelling or do a river crossing. Unfortunately, the pristine beauty of Sattal is under severe environmental threat due to extensive deforestation, dumping of non-biodegradable waste, uncontrolled urbanisation of the catchment areas. Go while it still lasts.