Even with today’s high-tech fabrics, isotonic sports drinks, and ready supply of ice, India is hot. This year regularly saw record-breaking temperatures close schools and bring towns to a sweaty standstill. Is it any surprise then that India’s cool hill stations have long since been a favourite weekend getaway? Lake Nanital is Delhi’s closest hill station. Surrounded by the towns of Nanital, Talital and Manital, the hill station eclectically merges its local village roots with the colonist charms. Nestled amongst the Kumaron Hills, Lake Nanital remains popular with locals, but the once-steady stream of foreigner visitors has dwindled. When Delhi’s crowded streets get too much, hop on a train, and chill out, both mentally and physically. After all, when in Rome…
Lake Nanital is surrounded by a pretty promenade, which is popular with tourists and hawkers. With your back turned to the market, it’s easy to pretend the place hasn’t changed since its turn of the century heyday- women still drift by in silk saris and hand knitted sweaters, lazy boats drift on the water, and the opposite river bank is mercifully undeveloped. Of course, the market can’t be ignored and is a wonderful place to pick up souvenirs. In particular, look for the Kashmiri embroidery and handmade knitwear, most of which are reasonably priced and exquisitely made. The hand knitted wooly slippers sold on the roadside make lovely presents for friends back in freezing England! Leaving the market, the ramshackle town is picture perfect with brightly coloured buildings that seem to defy gravity, chai stalls, shops selling the gnarly roots and leaves that comprise the local medicines, glittering jewelry shops and more. If you plan to stay local, the temples, colonial church and high altitude zoo are a popular tourists attraction. This is a city aimed at the leisure-seeker: shops won’t open until mid-morning and city comes to life at dusk, as the markets lights up and the large square at the far side of the lake is taken over by sportsmen of every game. Enjoy a spiced chai or a colonially inspired G&T as you cheer your chosen team.
Once your wallet is exhausted, its time to bring the rest of you up to speed. A sedate paddle around the lake is a perennial favourite. Ancient swan boats and brightly painted rowboats are available for hire. Further away from the lake are a series of caves named after various animals. The place is quite the tourist hotspot, with long-queues and tourist buses. The gondola ride to the top of Snow View is always popular, both for its views and for its novelty. Rock-climbing courses are available for the adventurous. If you prefer a more tranquil approach to nature, stay at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram about 5km out of town. Meals are provided and short trails snake the hills surrounding the ashram. This is the perfect place to refresh after life on the road: daily mediation, healthy food and fresh, cool air. For those interested in longer walks or horse riding, tour operators and hotels will happily provide a guide to one of the many surrounding mountains, lakes or streams. Nania Peak is the area’s highest mountain and is a pleasant walk dotted with wild flowers and ferns. While the summit is not impressive, the views as you ascend are breathtakingly beautiful. On clear days, the Himalayas are visible in the distance. Both the ashram and peak can be reached by walking or by taxi.
The famous Corbett National Park is located close to Nanital. With regular tiger and elephant sightings, this park is immensely popular and the entrance fee correspondingly extortionate. Travelers concerned about ethical/responsible travel will need to take into account the criticism Corbett has faced in recent years. Many environmentalist fear Corbett’s unabashedly capitalist approach has put an unnecessary strain on the environment and the parks inhabitant. Daily queues of jeeps chasing after tigers have had a direct and negative impact on the tiger’s breeding habits. Others argue that the income and taxes generated from the entrance fee has ensured Corbett’s future. The decision is yours. Minimize your impact on the environment by following the ‘leave only footprints, take only photographs’ adage and asking your driver to restrain from ‘tiger chasing.’
In winter, Nanital’s peaks are snow-capped and temperatures drop below freezing. Even in summer, it rarely reaches above 22°C and can be uncomfortably cold in the evenings. Bring plenty of warm clothes or take advantage of the market. If you are planning to enjoy Nanital’s natural surroundings, walking shoes and layered clothing are highly recommended. But with the rest of the country sweltering in the high 40’s°, suddenly those cozy slippers, cup of tea and a nice selection of biscuits all sound rather tempting.
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