Nainital: The Woods Were Lovely, Dark and Deep

By Sunil Kumar

There’s a charm, a “je ne sais quoi” about mountains and valleys that evokes a feeling of instant tranquility by even thinking about them. Before I start sounding like Frasier; a very remote possibility; as an Indian, the Himalayas are a mighty gift from God. Salvation and religion are nothing more than a human construct; so let me get down to brass-tacks or reality.

Early morning Shatabdi from the national capital got me to Kathgodam with its noisy taxi stand. An hour later; Naini Tal; the most visible face of India’s “Lake District” appeared in full splendour. As I walked up the crowded Burra Bazar on a one-way street; the noisy cacophony of Indian traffic hit home. Scenic beauty is a joy forever; to paraphrase a famous English poet; but I could only anticipate what was to come later.

English: This photograph was taken in 1875 and...

Visit English: This photograph was taken in 1875 and the photographer died over a 100 years ago. “General view of the north end of Naini Tal.” 1875. Macnabb Collection (Col James Henry Erskine Reid): Album of views of ‘Naini Tal.’ Oriental and India Office Collection, British Library. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mysticism is a natural byproduct of the mountain air and writer’s block can surely be erased after a few days here. Although cheap by international standards, Nainital was still quite exorbitant in local terms. Although the Uttarakhand government has done a reasonable job in protecting the beauty of the town and the Kathgodam railway station; I always yearn for more.

Established as a hill-station in the 19th century; the most memorable aspect of Nainital was the Governor’s House(Raj Bhavan) and the Snow-View point. Sultana; an erstwhile bandit is another Robinhoodesque character in the pantheon of Indian tales. With his weapons prominently displayed in the Raj-era neo-Gothic house and quiet contemplation on a mountain top; the best thing was I enjoyed my vacation; albeit briefly.

Getting away from it all seems to be a fundamental trait and an aspiration for a bunch of people who share my proclivities; but the world reasserts itself instantly. In an age of snap judgments and social media swatting; Nainital offered a brief pause. For a state with Sanskrit as an official language and the moniker of DevBhumi(“Land of the Gods”)(not unusual in Indian terms); it truly felt like a partial sparsa(touch) of heaven. Adieu, Nainital. Till we meet again.


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