This holiday is ideal for those of you who like being in the Himalayan foothills not too far a drive from Delhi, in the midst of nature, long walks, bird watching and lesser known but stunning built heritage. Some of the hotels and resorts that we partner with may not have televisions in the room but have recently upgraded their wifi to cater to guests looking to work remotely and stay for longer durations. Not ideal for people who like to party or people with mobility issues as some of the places are not handicap accessible. Get your laptop, books, board games, star gaze and be thankful that you are in nature breathing fresh air.
Busiest part of Nainital – the Mall Road
Although a popular ‘hill station’ in Uttarakhand, the region around Nainital does see less people as compared to the lake town itself. Even in Nainital, if you stay away from the Mall road it is significantly quieter. This is the Nainital that we know very well, having studied and lived here for 9 years in a boarding school. We will help you explore Nainital and the region that many don’t get to see because simply put – they get stuck on the Mall road, the most touristy part in town.
tinerary (can be customized further to your requirements):
Self-drive or take the early morning (06:00) train from Delhi to Kathgodam (train tickets in the Shatabdi must be booked in advance). Arrive Kathdogam by 11:00 and get shuttled by a taxi to Nainital at an elevation of almost 7,000 feet. Check in to your hotel. You can now also take the flight from Delhi to Pantnagar airport. From Pantnagar airport, Nainital is an hour drive. Stay options include a heritage homestay which was once where Jim Corbett lived for some time or stay in a resort with fantastic views of Nainital Lake. Post lunch, go on a nature trail to get an aerial view of Nainital.
Gurney House where Jim Corbett lived
Raj Bhawan or Governor’s Mansion in Nainital
After breakfast, visit Gurney House (provided the current residents are not in town). Gurney House is where Jim Corbett lived during the last few years before he move to Kenya around the time India got it’s independence. This part of Nainital still retains it’s former Colonial past as there are several bungalows, some still in two acre size plots complete with a tennis court. Next, visit the Governor’s Mansion or Raj Bhawan, a 90 bedroom Scottish gothic style mansion built in 1900. The mansion is still used by the Governor when he / she is in town and is attached to a beautiful nine hole golf course.
Another outdoor activity recommended in the area is the hike up to Tiffin Top. Also known as Dorothy’s Seat, Tiffin Top offers panoramic views of the city of Nainital. If you’re a birdwatcher you should leave early morning as it’s quiet and you may spot birds and perhaps even mammals such as the barking deer, yellow throated pine marten or the goral deer. Once you reach the Top there is a small canteen that serves tea, soft drinks and other refreshments. The hike to Tiffin Top is walking distance from your homestay or hotel in Ayarpatta hills of Nainital and is a 3km one way walk taking approximately three hours depending on your fitness level and duration of stops you make enroute.
View of Governor’s Mansion from Tiffin Top
St. John’s in the Wilderness Church
No trip to Nainital is complete unless you visit the town and walk on the Mall road (you can avoid it too if you don’t like crowded places). If you do end up going to the Mall road, an interesting face to note is that during the days of the British Raj, the upper Mall Road was only meant for the whites whereas the lower Mall Road (made a few feet just below the upper Mall road) was constructed especially for Indians. Visit or do some of our favorite things to do in Nainital such as go on a boat ride or grab a bite at the famous Sakley’s Cafe. The Mall Road has once again become pedestrian friendly in recent years and traffic is well managed to some extent. Other than Sakley’s there are several other noteworthy things to see in town such as churches (St. John’s in the Wilderness), book shops, cafes and restaurants.
If time permits you can do a day trip to other lakes in the vicinity, namely Sattal, Bhimtal and Naukuchiatal. All these lakes are close to each other and offer various outdoor activities such as boating, kayaking, zip lining, birdwatching and hiking. We can arrange a guide to take you to these places so you make the most of your time there. You can also visit the organic tea gardens in Ghorakhal. The tea gardens are not massive like they are in the south or in Assam but still worth a visit if you have time to spare.
Ghorakhal Tea Gardens near Nainital
When in Pangot
After breakfast, we drive you to Pangot (other options include driving to and staying overnight in Padampuri or Ranikhet) the second leg of your trip. Pangot is a small village in the Naina Devi Bird Conservation Reserve and an one hour drive from Nainital. About 30 minutes short of reaching Pangot you will get stunning views of the kidney shaped Naini lake and on a super clear day, you may also see snow clad Himalayan mountain peaks. Your stay will be in a wilderness lodge surrounded by cedar, rhododendron (red flowers that bloom in the spring) and pine trees. Our partner lodges try to keep as close and true to nature as they possibly can.
Post lunch and the following two days, go birdwatching or on hikes. The Naina Devi Bird Conservation reserve is home to hundreds of species of birds as it falls in the annual bird migration route. Birds from the upper Himalayan ranges fly down to the Reserve and the foothills to get away from the biting cold while other species use it as a nesting ground before they migrate back up in the late spring. Besides the Koklas and Cheer Pheasants (which draw many a bird nerd to Pangot), the Reserve is home to several species of thrushes, vultures, barbets, minivets, owls, shrikes, fly catchers, finches and more.
Himalayan Goral in Pangot
Sunset in Pangot
Mammals include the ravenous Yellow Throated Pine Martin, the nimble Himalyan Goral, the easily scared Barking Deer, the shy Himalayan Black Bear and Leopard, etc.. As a kid we remember seeing the Himalyan Blue Sheep or Bharal but we have heard they have migrated to higher altitudes due to loss of habitat and disturbance. Back to the lodge for tea and coffee and watch the valley transform as the sun sets. Dinner and bonfire (weather dependent). The following day, check out after a late breakfast. If you are taking the train back to Delhi then you should leave by 11AM as it’s a 2-2.5 hour drive to the train station from Pangot. The train to Delhi leaves mostly in the afternoon but please check the latest train schedule.
In our opinion the best time to visit Nainital and Pangot is in the winter and spring i.e. from October to April. May and June is when it’s really crowded and July to September is monsoon season. In the winter the nights are cold and crisp but the days are warm with sunny blue skies. In the winter it is less crowded and perfect to be out and about whether on the Mall road or to any other popular tourist attractions such as Sattal, Bhimtal, the tea gardens in Ghorakhal besides others.
Hiking in Naina Devi Bird Conservation Reserve
• There is no guarantee that you will see any wildlife. The river and / or sanctuary is their habitat and sightings depend on water level in the river, human interference, climatic conditions, weather and other factors, migratory pattern of birds, most of which are beyond your and our control.
• What to carry during the safari: photo identification, camera, binoculars, warm jacket (in the winter), backpack, sun glasses, cap, vizer, sun block, some cash, and drinking water.
• Smoking and drinking alcohol is strictly not permitted in National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
• Please do not throw trash on the floor even if you don’t see a trash can. Please ask me or your walk leader and we can help to dispose it off properly.
• To prevent disturbing wildlife, we do not recommend the use of call playback to attract birds for photography purposes, feeding or baiting of wildlife.