When Man and Mountain Meet

The peaceful solitude Naukuchiatal offers

With its mesmerizing beauty, Naukuchiatal is an emerging tourist destination in Kumaon Himalayas

I do not know what charisma do hills possess that makes man feel closer to nature when he is in their midst. It is 1:30 in the afternoon, the clouds are dark towards the north but the sun infuses the occasional pleasant summer warmth.

Spread in front of me is an emerald lake with its irregular shape. The warmth of the sun and cool Himalayan breeze whooshing over the lake forces me to stop paddling my rather small duck shaped boat and relish the bounty in front of me. As a passive spectator drowned in the warbling from the thick woods only to be disturbed by the occasional giggles of couples in the prime of their romance, I merrily lend my ears to an old Kumaoni folk song while my boat jiggles in the mid of the Naukuchiatal lake in the Kumaon Himalayas!

The Naukuchiatal Lake is situated in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand. At a distance of nearly 24 km from Nainital and 5km from Bhimtal, Naukuchiatal is the deepest (135 ft) and by far the most serene lake of the region with its irregular nine corners.

It was early 1820s and the Kumaon hills were slowly yet progressively opening doors to the British adventurers in India. One such was a Jesuit Missionary Bishop Hybber who while wandering in Northern India reached the foothills of Himalayas. Hybber entered Naukuchiatal via Kalichaud by crossing the Gaula river.

For ages, this ancient route played a vital role in the history and politics of Kumaon. It was on this very route that many decisive battles were fought upon. The most prominent among these was the Battle of Barachori between the Kumaoni forces and the Afghans (Rohillas).

Naukuchiatal is home to a unique blend of nature and civilization. Thickly encompassed with Oak and Whispering Willows, the serene water of this meditating lake opens a paradise for those embracing the pacifist fronts of their alter egos. Its close proximity with other lakes in the region like Nainital, Bhimtal and Saatal is gratifying.

Photo: Dhrupad Pant
Photo: Dhrupad Pant

A full moon night in Naukuchiatal is an experience in itself. Bathed in celestial light with clouds occasionally kissing the lake and cool Himalayan breeze blowing all around, leaves a necromantic nostalgia. An early stroll round the lake or immersing into Yoga by the shores certainly is a romantic experience in itself which multiplies ones zest for life. This cannot be experienced in the more commercial destinations of Nainital and Bhimtal where life kicks its momentum at five in the morning with honking cars screeching up and down the shoreline of the lake.

In 1901-02, when the Boer War prisoner’s camp was set up in the catchment area of Bhimtal, Col. Sharp – the commanding officer- commissioned his residence in Naukuchiatal. The residential bungalow was constructed by the Boer War prisoners themselves. Later on the political stalwart Pt. Govind Ballabh Pant – the son of the hills as he was known – purchased this bungalow. Currently, this magnificent heritage bungalow is owned by the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam and is arguably the grandestand the most beautiful resort called Parichay.

Apart from the lake, the Naukuchiatal region is also endowed with lush-green sprawling tea gardens.

Some five km from Naukuchiatal is Bhimtal, a massive stretch of water on the Haldwani-Ranikhet road. In the middle of the lake here is a small island that now houses an aquarium with exotic fishes from near and far off places. Bhimtal is also home to the 16th Century Bhimeshwar temple commissioned by the Chand ruler Deep Chand.

Artefacts and statues found in the temples of this region, particularly the Bhimeshwar temple of Bhimtal, suggest us that in the later Gupta period (11th-12th Century) this region must have been a hot bed of some type of creative stone sculpture activity. The discovery of a 12th Century stone sculpture of ‘ornamented Vishnu’ by villagers in Naldamayanti Tal half a century ago and the rather periodical unearthing of various other images in the region is a testimony to this fact.

Bhim Tal Kumaon, India. July 30, 1878." Oil painting on paper, by Marianne North (1830–1890). Source: wikimedia.org
Bhim Tal Kumaon, India. July 30, 1878.” Oil painting on paper, by Marianne North (1830–1890). Source: wikimedia.org

Hidden from the glamour of the tourists and orphaned by the Tourism Ministry is the Lok Sanskriti Sanghralaya, a museum managed by one Dr. Yashodhar Mathpal, a painter of great fame and an archaeologist and a rock art scholar. The museum provides a kaleidoscopic glimpse into the age old culture and traditions of the Kumaon-Garhwal Hills.

Bhimtal is home to yet another museum of great interest but hidden from the spark and glamour of the world. Spread in the sprawling John Estate in Bhimtal, with its collection of more than 10,000 species is the Butterfly Museum of Bhimtal. It is arguably the biggest private collection of butterflies and moths in India.

For lesser mortals like us it is still a privilege to be in solitude with Naukuchiatal and its environs. Just to travel and feel that ancient age of time when sitting idle by the side of a river or lying down on the grass doing nothing,except casting just a virgin gaze at the sky or a stream running down, would not have been tagged as “wasting time” and probably when things were more humane and the nature more natural.

-By Mukesh Rawat