“Mumbai ka fashion, aur Nainital ka mausam, kabhi bhi badal jaata hai.”
(Mumbai’s fashion trends, and Nainital’s weather can change any time.)
I lost count of how many people in Uttarakhand reminded us about the unpredictability of Nainital’s weather and Mumbai’s sartorial preferences. I will hold my judgment on Mumbai’s fashion sensibilities, or lack of them. But man, Nainital skies had some serious mood swings. It would be raining one moment, so I’d wear practically everything I packed, and gather the courage to step out of our hotel. In an hour’s time, it’d be bright and full of sunshine, and I’d be melting under 5 layers. But at least, one could deal with those temperature changes. Not so in Mumbai, where the fashion changes every day (as people who DO NOT live here believe), but the weather remains unchanged in its sadness (as people who DO live here KNOW).
Memories of beautiful clouds, cold mornings, and mountains are fast fading, assaulted by a scorching sun, and squealing traffic. The only thing keeping me going is lemon water, and will power. I have been looking at my Uttarakhand pictures almost obsessively. As if that beautiful weather will somehow find me here in the overheated metropolis. Ah, sweet, innocent heart, full of unreal desires.
My mountains deprived mind is turning into the most powerful time machine, taking me back to those moments, and living them over and over again in my head. There is much to relive and recall, but let’s just linger over our second day in Nainital.
In summers, Nainital is a travesty. It’s full of badly attired and horribly mannered tourists, crawling all over Mall Road, and every point of attraction in and around Nainital. Hotels are booked, and restaurants are overworked. Which is why, you need to go there when the tourist season is not on. Because Nainital can be bewitchingly beautiful.
Scenic Routes And Chatty Driver
The northern, upper part of the lake is called Mallital, while the southern part is called Tallital. The lunar-shaped Nainital Lake anchors the entire town, and is the primary tourist attraction there. Boats float over the deep waters like a garnish of seeds over a large bowl of soup. An old temple stands on its banks, firm and revered, watching the changes in the town since the 15th Century. On the Mall Road, there is an aerial express ropeway, with its trolleys rushing to Snow View, another tourist favourite that offers spectacular views of life down below. A narrow, upwards road crawls alongside a hill, straight to the Nainital Zoo. And the Mall Road itself is home to shops, cafes and restaurants, along with showrooms selling some really weird but fun shaped candles that used to be chic a couple of decades ago.
Our driver and guide, Raju, arrived at the Royal Hotel in the morning, and we quickly shifted to another hotel, Alka, right on the Mall Road, with a fetching view of the lake. There was just enough time to dump our luggage into the spacious room, and we rushed out for a day long drive across the lakes in the district.
On our way, we stopped at a fog laden view point strangely devoid of other visitors. I climbed a small stone wall lining the hill on which we stood. I could see a lake in the distance, glinting and standing still through the emerald jungles around. There was no sound but the song of the mountains sung by the breeze, whirring through the long and old trees. An old gnarled tree grew up with multiple trunks and formed the perfect backdrop for some Instagram pictures.
Lakes And More Lakes
I don’t quite remember the order, but we managed to visit Sattal, Naukuchiatal, Bhimtal and Khurpatal. I think it was at Bhimtal that our mad dash for finding the food began. We patiently explained to the cook that we needed our food without any oil, and surprisingly, he delivered. Raju wasn’t impressed with our dietary choices but was dignified enough to not show his disapproval. We were still hearing the stories, and were soon familiar with pretty much all real estate related lobbies and politics in the area. Not once through the drive did the conversation stop. The man can talk on just about anything except books, not being particularly fond of reading. I was a bit heartbroken that he hadn’t heard of Shivani, but had to forgive him because how could you stay angry with a man who had the most endearing smile, and the most fascinating stories?
The lakes will never be secluded. There are simply too many of us on this planet. But you could find a small, isolated spot and look at the silver ripples, and an occasional fish and a much amused duck swimming past. There will be enough vendors selling everything from roasted corn-on-the-cob and mulberries to vibrantly colored gloves with removable thumbs. And there will be enough people buying, haggling, walking away and turning back, too tied up in the vacation spirit to turn down a hard bargain. For a people watcher, the lakes of Nainital are a gluttonous treat. You have pretty much every specimen and cliché of humanity parading themselves for your judging eyes. A selfie-obsessed couple, an in-disciplined child sucking dry its parents’ will to live, a bunch of middle aged couples giggling and posing like teenagers, an elderly woman walking awkwardly wearing ill-fitting jeans bought just for the trip.
Oh, and a few spots will have water sports. There would be a bunch of young men chasing your car for “Adventure and boating”. There is a zipline somewhere on one of the lakes, and many people were striking that off their bucket list. There is such happy energy all around.
But there are only so many lakes you can see in a day before it begins to feel like you are stuck in an endless déjà vu. So we suggested that Raju drives us back to the hotel for some rest, and he did. We spent the evening indulging in course two of people watching at the Mall Road, and even looked at some candles. We bought a pair of gloves with removable thumbs, and failed miserably at bargaining. We explained to yet another cook at yet another restaurant that we could only eat oil-free food, and ended up eating boiled food. And we lived a little more than usual, bathed in the cold mountain air.
That day, it rained, got sunny, got cold again, and in the evening, the clouds came out and grumbled a bit before retreating to make way for an extremely cold night. It was like seeing an entire year’s worth of seasons within a few hours. But then, like life and Mumbai’s fashion, remember there is no trusting Nainital’s weather.