Nainital - The Lake District in Kumaon
It was already the start of December and we still did not have a plan for the New Year finalized. Last year we were in Cochin to witness their traditional celebrations but this time it seemed that we would either be at a party in the city or couched in a blanket. The probability of later did give us chills and hence the thinking hat was put on. Somehow I happened to have some free time during the second week and I browsed through options we could still choose to visit, affordably. Most tourist destinations were already booked and the ones that had availability wanted to charge heavily. The process of elimination continued and finally, I announced to my wife that we had two options to sneak out to - Shimla or Nainital. After a couple of minutes of discussions, we chose Nainital or we could say it chose us. A possibility of getting out of the city on new Year was enough to enlighten our day. The plan was to enjoy a four-day trip to Nainital starting 30th of December 2016 and returning on 2nd Jan in the new year. Hectic preparations begun and the first thing was to book the travel. Thanks to Dynamic Fare system introduced by Railway Ministry, We got confirmed reservations for Shatabdi Express. Next was accommodation which proved a bit tricky but we managed to seal an acceptable deal. Finally, the transport, for which we found a contact online and booked a vehicle for the four days.
The trip started when we woke up at 3 am and prepared for our cab at 4 am. The Kathgodam Shatabdi was scheduled to leave at 6 AM from New Delhi Railway Station which is about 40 kilometers from our place. Luckily, I checked the train status before starting, which was unusual for me, as this was the starting station for a Shatabdi which nulled any chances of a delay. Well, this time was different and the status showed that train had been rescheduled to depart an hour later at 7. Apparently, the train came in last day with a 5-hour delay. In time I rescheduled our cab for 5 and since we were already ready by 4, we spent the hour looking forward to a good break and relaxing trip over a cup of hot tea.
Our cab arrived in time and we locked the house and left home to be back only in the New Year. As the car zipped through roads and the highway, we realized the thickness of fog and the apparent reason for train delays. It took us about an hour to reach the station and we reached Platform Number 11 of New Delhi Railway station by 6:15, right when the public address system confirmed the 7 AM departure. After a wait of about half an hour in chilly windy Delhi morning, the train rolled in right at 6:45 AM. We had been assigned seats in coach CE which meant that train was running super-full and an extra coach had been added to accommodate the rush - probably a lot of people wanted to be out to celebrate the New Year. As we settled in the seats, the rush was apparent and with everyone assigned seats arbitrarily, the Indian way of negotiations to accommodate people traveling together to be seated close by were at their peak. Soon, the bustle settled and the train whistled out of the platform gradually catching pace.
The familiar voice over the PA system welcomed the passengers onboard the train and provided some numbers regarding the journey. Simultaneously we were served packaged drinking water. In about another half hour the staff served a welcome drink - packed lemon water, sweet and flavored. This was followed with breakfast trays with two options each for vegetarian and non-vegetarian preferences. For vegetarians, they had a choice among Cutlets and South Indian(Vada-Idli) along with a slice of bread and butter. The trays also carried the tea set and hot water was served for those inclined. If someone needed, the staff carried coffee pouches as an option. The service ended by about 9 but the journey ensued. Most passengers used this time to catch on their sleep. Obviously, everyone had sacrificed a good part of their sleep to catch this early morning train and no one wanted to be sleepy right when they landed for their vacation. Negotiating the dense fog, the train continued its run towards the destination. leaving behind stations, crossings, settlements, and cities.
We reached the Kathgodam Station at about 12:45 as the train rolled into the station about an hour and a half behind schedule. As the morning fog had prepared us for worse delays, we were relieved to realize that we still had our half day to salvage in this hill state of Uttrakhand. We already had booked a taxi and had drivers contact details with us. He had called to confirm our arrival time when we were at Haldwani, a station prior to Kathgodam. As we deboarded the train, we could feel the freshness of the air and a view of colonial charm at the station itself. The building is a heritage property inherited from the British and provides a feel of countryside station catering to limited population yet having its own importance. The station building and platforms are relatively big for the traffic they cater and provide all functionalities one may expect. We were rearing to start the tour and called our driver who was already waiting for us in the arrival hall. We boarded the car and off we went.
|Curves Uphill - Kathgodam to Nainital|
As we moved we started a bit of dialogue with the driver, Sanjay Chauhan, and realized he was a chatty person. Apparently, he had interests in tourism, story writing, lyrics writing (still struggling) and what not. But he was a courteous person ready to meet our requests and we were happy to have him for start of our trip. Our plan was to cover a few tourist spots before reaching Nainital. The driver recommended that we take the "Lake Tour" which would fit with our timings and we decided to go ahead with the recommendation. As we started the climb onto the hills of Kumaon, the name this region is known by, the Gaula River greeted us and continued on our trip by the road for some distance. We stopped for a while on-route at - Aashirwaad Restaurant, a roadside eatery for some light snacks. The fried pakoras and desi chai were a great beginning for the trip. The first tourist stop for us was Naukuchiatal - about an hour and a half away from Kathgodam. The lake derives its name from the fact that it has nine corners and locals believe that those who see the nine corners attain nirvana. We did not believe in the concept and hence did not even put an effort to count the corners. We did, however, take a round of the lake just in case that sufficed for Nirvana. Fed by underwater spring, this is the deepest lake in the district. It was a picturesque lake with beautiful views and losing into the dense oak forests. Relatively devoid of tourists, this was a good place for those looking for peace. We spent about half an hour there walking by the lake and enjoying the start of the trip at this beautiful spot.
|Bhimtal - Largest Lake in District|
Next, we zipped through Sattal for exhaustiveness of the tour and spent only a few moments clicking pictures and then left for Nainital. The lake is named as Hindi translation of "Seven Lakes" as it is a group of many lakes nested together in a whole. The area was ones rich of tea plantation but the practice eroded over time. The lake is a destination for many migratory birds. This is also a famous site for camping for tourist. This was the last of the "Lake Tour" and we proceeded to Nainital from there.
We were at the hotel reception at about 6 PM in the evening and checked into our suite - a luxury lake view suite with two bedrooms, a drawing room, and dining room along with a semi-private balcony, located right near the famed mall road, though a short hike away. The location provided beautiful views of the lake, while also offering the privacy and tranquility one would want for a vacation. The master bedroom itself had a glass wall which gave a panoramic view of the lake and the city, right from the bed. After freshening up, we decided to take a stroll at the Mall Road to get a feel of the place. We spent an hour on the road walking by the lake across millions of shops. Later we had dinner at Embassy Restaurant at the Mall Road itself. The place had a shabby board but the exteriors defied interiors. The interiors were done in wood and nice small roof hanging lights gave a pleasant look. The food was good and the owner himself kept a close watch on guest comfort and provided valuable suggestions. We loved the dinner and retired back to our room.
|Mountains - Far and Wide|
It was a new year eve and after some rest, we headed to the Mall Road which was bustling with activities, nicely decorated with lightings and decors. There were speakers placed throughout the road and music was being played to get the party mood in. Tourists were dancing to the tunes of Bollywood numbers and the environment was fun. We returned to the room, not before the clock striking 12 and we wishing every stranger A Happy New Year. That evening, we had dinner at a restaurant called Nanak which had a great exterior touch along with good interiors, a bit tacky yet good. The food was good and service decent.
|Lighting - Preparing for the New Year|
After returning from the cable car, we took a boat ride in Naini Lake. This freshwater lake is the nucleus of this hill city and all tourist interests are located around it. About 28 meters deep at the bottom-most point and 2 miles in perimeter, the lake is surrounded by lush green hills, seven in number. The lake has been topologically divided into two parts, upper called as Mallital and lower as Tallital. One cannot stay unimpressed by the alluring beauty of this lake, which magnifies multifold during the night. The rower Bhupinder was a chilled out guy, telling us about how from the next day it would be an end of the season and they would have to fight for having even a single ride in a day. He took us through both parts of the lake and obliged us with pictures. The ride took a little more than half an hour and it was about lunch time when we deboarded the boat. We were thinking about how to proceed for the meal when someone warned us about possible rains. We swiftly decided to have something packed for lunch and proceeded to the hotel. On the way itself, the rain stroke us but this was different. This was something like stones striking us. Hails were on their way and we rushed to our room. After about a couple of hours of couching over coffee and enjoying the view out of the balcony, we decided to give the second part of the day a chance at shopping.
|Commotion at Naini Lake Boat Club|
Next was our last day of the tour and we started early to experience how the mornings are at the Mall Road. The road was thinly populated and most shops were still opening up when we reached there at 9:30 AM. We proceeded to the Tibetan Market area and visited the Naina Devi Temple. The temple is located on top of the Naina hill at the northern shore of the Naini lake. The presiding deity of the temple is Maa Naina Devi represented by two Netras or eyes. Nainital is one of the 64 Shaktipeeths also known as religious sites of Hinduism. The location of temple provides awesome views of the lake. After spending few moments in the divine surroundings, we paid a visit to the adjoining Gurdwara. Later we had our breakfast at a small outlet - China Town, serving roadside food. It is nothing but benches in a shed and for those paranoid about hygiene, this is not the place to go. After the breakfast, we spent relaxing moments by the lake and then returned to our room to pack out bags. The cab was there to pick us at 12 noon and we checked out of the hotel. As we boarded the car and began our return journey, the heart was heavy and we could see the beauty of hills running away from us as we descended the curvy slopes of the road. We were there at Kathgodam Railway Station by 2 PM and boarded the Shatabdi Express back to New Delhi. The train rolled into the New Delhi Station right on time and we were back home by 10:30.
A trip with wonderful memories, electrifying time and scenic natural beauty had come to an end but it would take some time for us to accept the culmination of this vacation.