Nainital, named as the place where the ‘eyes’ (Naina) of ‘Sati’ fell here and is revered as one of the 64 ‘Shakti Peeths’, is the most famous destination in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand and the district being replete with a number of natural lakes thus, earning the epitaph of ‘the lake district’. Situated at a mean average altitude of 1938 meters above the mean sea level, the township akin toSrinagar in Kashmir is a place with a lake with hills surrounding it. The place was known as ‘Chhakata’ in Sanskrit during the earlier times, which when translated reads as ‘Shat-sheti-khat’, meaning thereby as region of 66 lakes. The place also finds mention in the ‘Skand Puran’, where it has been referred to as the ‘Tri Rishi Sarovar’ based on th legend that three sages namely Atri,Pulasatya & Pulaha while on a pilgrimage got thirsty, they dug up a hole and siphoned off water from the holy ‘Manasarovar Lake’ using their mystical powers. The lake is about 1.3 kms. long and about 0.5 kms. in breadth, while the northern end of the lake is called the ‘Mallital’ and the southern tip as ‘Tallital’.
The temple decked up in Kainchi
Because of the incident in Almora, we started quite late from there and it was almost afternoon, when we commenced with our journey for Saattal from there. After descending down till the Bridge, traversing a distance of 10 Kms., we crossed over the river Kosi for the one last time during the course of the Kumaon journey and headed towards Saat-tal, the final destination for the day. After crossing over the bridge and having gone past by some nondescript villages like Suyalsari (another 5 Kms.), Suyal Bari (further 6 kms.), Kakrkari ghat (further 10 Kms. ahead), we reached Khairna Pul/Bridge over the Kosi river from where the road bifurcates for Ranikhet & Bhowali. We proceeded further on the Bhowali road and again passed through some small villages like Garam Pani (2 Kms. ahead) and reached Rati Ghat after traversing about 3 kms. further. Since I had not filled Petrol at Almora, we topped the tank at this junction and then proceeded further. Having traveled another 5 kms. or so, as we were passing by Kainchi, we saw a lot of hustle-bustle in the region, with a sizeable police presence. Having crossed the village area, I stopped the vehicle and walked back to find about the reason for such preparations and was informed that the annual fair was underway. Kainchi is called so because of two scissor like sharp hair-pin bends that link the Bhowali road and this place is also famous because of pilgrimage by followers of Baba Neem Karauli. Traveling further for a distance of 8 Kms. we reached Bhowali and thereafter took a left turn heading for Sattal via Mehra Gaon, about 4 Kms. from Bhowali, from whence the road bifurcates towards Saattal, which is about 7 Kms. away from this junction. We reached Saattal at about 3.00 P.M. as the road between Almora was excellent, broad and well carpeted. We checked into the Log hut maintained by the KMVN as part of their Tourist Rest House here.
The 'Ram-Sita-Laxman lake' connected with 'Hanuman lake' by a causeway in Saatal
Saat-tal, is placed in a valley at an altitude of 1219 meters (ASL), called so because of presence of Seven (‘Saat’ in Hindi) Lakes (‘tal’ in Hindi) in the region. The biggest lake is a conglomeration of four lakes, which are the Ram, Sita, Lakshman & Hanuman Tals (Lakes). Just above them, across the road, is the dry Bharat Tal, which fills up only during the rainy season. On a higher elevation is placed the Garur tal (lake), which is not approachable by any motor able road and requires one to trek through the forest to reach it. Even higher is the Nal-Damyanti tal, which is quite small and paved all around, giving it an artificial look. Being placed in a valley, which has till date retained its forest cover, Sattal is a delight for the Bird watchers, as early in the morning an astounding number of birds of various hues, colors and shapes make an grand appearance by the lake side. We spent a quite evening, first rowing in the lake waters and thereafter, having some noodles & superbly prepared coffee by the local tea stall owner Gopal Singh Surya.
The aerial view of 'Garur' Lake
The 'Nal Damyanti' Lake
After partaking our Breakfast next morning, we headed for excursion around Sattal and in this quest first headed for Bhimtal. Situated at an altitude of 1371 meters (ASL), Bhimtal is the biggest lake in the district and appropriately named after the huge Bhima of Mahabharata. To reach Bhimtal from Sattal, one has to drive back to Mehra Gaon (7 kms.) and from thence to Khutani, at a further distance of 3 kms., from where one has to travel another 3 kms. to reach Bhimtal, which is on the road side itself. The lake is about 1.7 kms. in length and 0.45 kms. in breadth, flanked by a towering hill on its western side, whereas the hills on the other three sides are much smaller in comparison. The lake also houses a small islet in the middle wherein a medieval period temple is also housed, which can be accessed by a row boat that is available aplenty.
'Bhimtal' - the biggest lake in the region
'Naukuchiatal' - the nine cornered lake
One has to pass by Bhimtal to reach Naukuchiyatal, after having passed by the Bhimtal lake area & local market, the road takes an acute left turn through a very steep & narrow road, running through a congested market area with a gradient of almost 45 degrees. Thereafter, the road eases out into an undulating valley region, till one reaches a curve on the road, which again goes down through a very steep gradient and having negotiated by the lotus covered western side of the lake, one comes upon the famed Naukuchiya tal. The lake is named so as it is nine (‘nau’ in Hindi) cornered (‘kuchiya’ in Hindi) lake (‘tal’ in Hindi), is placed at an altitude of 1218 meters (ASL). The lake is about 945 meters long along the north-south axis and approximately 690 meters wide along the east-west axis. The water is of a bluish-green hue and with small hills surrounding it all around, presents a very picturesque presentation. Many small & big row boats were seen ferrying tourists around the lake.
'Khruptal' or 'trowel shaped' lake
We then retraced our route back upto Bhowali and thereafter, passing by the Bhowali Sanatorium junction, headed for Nanital, all of 28 kms. from Naukuchiya tal. As it was about 10.45 A.M. by the time we reached Nanital, there was a major jam on the road and only after running around for another half an hour or so, to locate a suitable parking for our Car, we could finally park the same in the designated parking lot, next to the lake. We then proceeded towards the lake for some rowing and found that some Yachts too were also making rounds around in the lake. Nanital town is surrounded by seven peaks known as theCheena Peak (2610 meters – 5 kms away and offers a commanding view of Himalayas during the winters as well as birds eye view of the township below),Kilbury (2528 meters – a forested area), Laria Kanta (2481 meters – about 5.5. kms. from the township), Deopatta & Camel’s back (2481 meters & 2333 meters respectively – 5.5 kms. from Nanital), Dorothy’s seat or Tiffin Top(2290 meters – about 4.5 kms. from the township below, this hill houses a memorial of a British lady who died in an Air crash and also offers a outstanding glimpse of the distant Himalayan peaks on a clear day) and Snow View (2270 meters – 2.5. kms. from the township and is the most accessible hill top as one can either enjoy a horse ride or use the cable car). Since there are a host of travelogues covering this destination in particular, I would not like to dwell further on it. The high point of our visit to Nanital was the proper Bengali lunch, including Shukto et al that we enjoyed at a restaurant on the main Mall Roadknown as ‘Mouchak’ .
View of the KMVN 'Log hut' from Saat tal
After having had our lunch, we headed for Khruptal, which is a small lake and named so because of its trowel like shape, ‘khrupi’ in Hindi. Since there was nothing extraordinary about the spot and being way down in the valley, we had a look at it from the road above and shot a few photographs. While returning back to Saattal for the night, I was really forced to ponder about the very existence of these lakes in the near future, particularly Nanital, Bhimtal & Khruptal because of uncontrolled building construction activities that is taking place at these places.