Destinations Covered : Naini Lake, Nal Damayanti Tal, Sat Tal, Bhimtal, Khurpa Tal, Naukuchiya Tal
Kumaon is home to several lakes which have both natural and cultural significance. Nainital presents a vision of a wondrous water body at an altitude of 1938 msl situated on the southern extremity of the Himalayan Zone. The center piece of this valley is the Naini Lake, a natural crater lake fed by underwater springs and streams that flow into it from the surrounding mountains. The surplus water exits from the eastern side of the lake forming the principal source of the Bhaliya Naula (or stream). It is said that when Lord Shiva’s father-in-law Daksha invited everyone else for a sacrificial ceremony but did not invite Shiva, his daughter Sati still attended it. On finding that no sacrificial offering had been made in her husband’s name, she leapt into the sacrificial fire and her charred remains were carried by her enraged husband. It is at this time that her left eye dropped (at a place called Smuggler’s Rock near the lake) and this became the area of Goddess Narayani or Naini who lends the town its name.
Close by is the Nal Damyanti Tal. The fishes of this lake are believed to be a blessing in the area and there are two colourful fishes in particular which are said to be the souls of King Nal, the ruler of Ayodhya, and his wife Queen Damyanti. The story of Nal-Damayanti is narrated in the epic Mahabharat, which says they were a royal couple in love. It is believed that their love story is set in the banks of this lake and hence the name.
The lake is considered auspicious by the locals. The Nal Damyanti tal is a part of the seven lakes of the Sattal The names of these seven Lakes are Purna Tal, Nal Damyanti Tal, Ram Tal, Laxman Tal, Sita Tal (named after Legends of the epic Ramayana), Sukha Tal (Formerly named ‘Khudariya Tal’ but renamed Sukha Tal meaning ‘Dry Lake’ since it has almost dried up), Garud Tal (named after the mythical bird-like creature that rides the Chariot of Lord Vishnu).
Another lake is the Bhimtal which is not only known for its lake named after Pandava prince Bhima but also places like Hidimba parvat (named after Bhima’s wife) and churches on the Bhimtal-Bhowali and Bhimtal-Sattal road. A 12-kilometer drive on the Bhimtal-Bhowali road gets one to the St. Gemma Galganic Catholic Church, built in 1972. Maria Gemma Umberta Galgani was an Italian mystic who was given sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. She was beatified in 1933 and canonized in 1940. Popular in Italy and Latin America, she is the patron saint of students and pharmacists, her father being one!
Seven kilometers from Bhimtal on the Sattaal road is the Old Methodist Church. The beautiful church with a green roof and white Gothic arches, surrounded by tall deodars, is part of the Christian Ashram established by Methodist evangelist E. Stanley Jones in 1930.
The tryst with the lakes of Kumaon continues at Khurpatal, a lake surrounded by lush green farmlands and frequently visited by those interested in angling. Angling, paragliding, fishing, rowing, paddling or yachting also takes place at Naukuchiatal or the lake of nine corners. It is believed that Naukuchiatal was created after Lord Brahma performed hard meditation. Hence, it also has a temple nearby dedicated to Lord Brahma.