We all know Nainital – the famous hill station of Uttarakhand surrounding the deep green lake called Nainital. Do you know Nainital is just one of the many lakes in Kumaon Valley? The area where the hills just begin in Kumaon when you approach from the plains of Haldwani or Kathgodam is full of big and small lakes like the famous Bhimtal. It is a blissful experience to walk around these lakes.
For the few days that we spent around these lakes, we walked around them every morning. In the evenings, we watched the tourists enjoy boating and other activities in the lake like playing with the ducks or engaging in water sports.
Come, let me tell you the stories that each of these lakes told me:
The Bhimtal is obviously named after Bhim – the second Pandava from Mahabharata. It is believed that Pandavas came here during their Vanvaas or exile.
Bhimeshwar Mahadev Temple
A temple situated on the lake is called Bhimeshawar Mahadev Temple – meaning the temple belonging to the Lord of Bhim. This small Shiva temple is ancient though its bright colors will make you think otherwise. Look at the big banyan tree in its compound and you would know the age of this temple. A hill nearby is called Hidimba Hills – named after the tribal wife of Bhim with who he had his son Ghatotkach.
I saw some interesting stone sculptures scattered in and around the Bhimeshwar Mahadev Temple. A photograph of the old temple shows the structure in stone, something similar to temples at Jageshwar.
A board here says that the present temple was built in 17th CE by Baaj Bahadur of Chand dynasty.
Walking around Bhimtal Lake
My strongest memory of the place is our early morning walk or a parikrama around Bhimtal. We were staying at the KVMN guest house that gives a lovely view of the lake. However, walking around it was an ethereal experience that too at dawn when it was just us and the birds even before the temple loudspeaker woke up.
It is much older than Nainital – the more popular of the lakes of Kumaon
As soon as we got down, we saw a pontoon bridge-like formation on the lake. However, it was not a bridge as there were empty squares with mesh-like wires hanging on it. I guessed this must be to cultivate fish. Just then I saw the board announcing – Experimental Cage Culture Unit by Directorate of Freshwater Fisheries Research. Cage Culture is the new term I learned that day.
Bhimtal is the biggest lake among the lakes of Kumaon
We walked along the lake on the well laid out road along the lake. The road was quite high compared to the lake almost giving a mini cliff-like feeling while walking. At regular intervals, there are viewpoints where you can climb to a small platform and see the lake in its full glory. On the left, the hill rose sharply and reflected as such in the water. The thin layer of water seems to be the mirror. Water is so clear and reflection so sharp that you would wonder which one is real and which one a mere reflection of that reality.
It was on silk route in good old days
Blue, Yellow and Red colored birds accompanied us on our walks. They gave us the much-needed reason to stop and try to catch them with our camera.
In the middle of the lake is an island that now houses a small aquarium. You can take a boat ride to the island, say hello to the fishes and ride back.
Besides the Bhimeshwar Mahadev temple, we saw a water channel connecting the lake to potentially another lake or another water body. Are these water bodies interconnected? I am yet to find the answer.
On the other side of the lake from our guest house – there is a boat stand. I loved the site of colorful boats and kayaks resting before the day begins. In the evenings, you can see tourists enjoying a boat ride or zorbing or enjoying the street food.
Kainchuli Devi Temple
Towards the end of our walk, we discovered a small temple dedicated to Kainchuli Devi – who is supposed to be the mother of Naga king Katakotak. It finds a mention in Manas Khand of Skanda Puran. It is believed that taking bath in the lake near this temple relieves you of many ailments. Considered sacred, no fishing is allowed near this temple. The original temple remains submerged in the lake and you can see only the flags on top of it. The one you see closer to the road is a relatively new temple.
Naukuchiatal – Lakes of Kumaon
The Naukuchiatal is a small nine cornered lake situated about 4 km from Bhimtal. We visited this lake one evening and walked around it as the sun was going down.
This is a very quiet lake with relatively small commercial activity at two ends of the lake. I wanted to walk around the lake and count its 9 corners but that was not possible as at one place the road going around the lake was closed. Still, whatever part was available we walked around. The best thing about this walk is that because of the irregular shape of the lake, every few steps the scene changes. Now you see the hill, now you see water peeping from behind the hill, now you see the sun and now you see the colorful boats. At some places, the triangular hills created a lovely geometric pattern with their reflections in the water.
Lotus Pond at Naukuchiatal
There is a small lotus pond next to Naukuchiatal. It was full of Lotus plants. I missed visiting it in the morning, when it must be full of flowers – most of them looked like pink or white lotus but then who knows. Colorful kingfishers added to the mystique of this pond. A poster near the lake clearly said – No plucking of flowers.
Since it was evening time, we saw visitors boating and zorbing in the Naukuchiatal. However, what I enjoyed the most was after sundown the operators were carefully deflating their zorbing balloon. Some visitors were taking horse rides while others were enjoying hit Maggie plates.
As per legends, Naukuchiatal is associated with Lord Brahma and even has a temple dedicated to him.
Roads around Naukuchiatal are relatively free of traffic so you can walk easily in the shadow of thick trees all around the lake.
Hanuman Statue at Bhakti Dham – Naukuchiatal
Close to Naukuchiatal is a giant statue of Hanuman – you just cannot miss it for its massive size. When you stop to look a closer look at it, you would see that it is a part of the temple complex called Shri Bhakti Dham that houses many temples dedicated to Durga, Neem Karoli Baba and many other deities.
Sattal – Lakes in Kumaon
Sattal is a group of 7 lakes as the name rightly indicates. These lakes are:
- Hanuman Lake
- Ram Lake
- Sita Lake
- Lakshman Lake
- Bharat Lake
- Garuda Lake
- Nal Damyanti Lake
As is evident from the names of these lakes, it is believed that Ram, Lakshman & Sita came here during their exile and lived close to these lakes.
What is interesting about these 7 lakes called Sattal is that they are all freshwater lakes and they are all interconnected to each other. No wonder, their name is always taken together as if they are seven bowls fed by the same source. Surrounded by tall trees like those of Oak and Pine, these lakes present the pristine nature.
Nal Damyanti Lake
Located about 2 km or so from Bhimtal is this small but sacred lake called – Nal Damyanti Lake. It is said that the Nal of Nal-Damyanti story was lost here near this lake.
You have to go down the hill to reach this lake. There is a proper ramp for you to walk to the lake. To me, it looks like a small tank with concrete steps all around it. Fishing, bathing and doing any other thing that can harm the lake like throwing garbage is strictly prohibited.
I walked around the small lake and tried to imagine it as part of the epic story – I was lost. I wish the thousands of fishes in the lake could tell me the story as they heard it from their ancestors.
Other Lakes of Sattal
We walked around the Hanuman Lake and Ram Lake – the two most accessible lakes by road. There is a walking path that goes around the lakes where you can take leisurely walks.
Our first rendezvous was with lemon juice sellers, followed by a series of restaurants offering lunch as well as boating in the lake. We decided to first go around the lakes and then come back for lunch.
A lot of tourists lined up for a small zip line across the lake. It was fun to watch them scream and enjoy as the operators dipped them in the waters of the lake from a height.
Now, you get normal North Indian food at the restaurants here. You must try the Thandi Kheer or the cold rice pudding that they serve here. It is just out of the world and perfect for hill holidays.
Garuda Tal view
The Garuda Tal can be seen from the road – as an aquamarine bowl sitting in the valley surrounded by tall trees. For the other 3 lakes, you have to take the boat ride as they are hidden from the road route. Walking around all these lakes was simply therapeutic.
Walking around all these lakes was simply therapeutic. It was like returning to nature – that must have been our natural place to be in, back in time. They call this area Dev Bhoomi. When you are there, you do feel that Rishis must have meditated here for eons. For where else would you find a better place to meditate – located between the fertile plains on one side and the pristine Himalayas on another. This has to be the place closest to heaven.
Travel Tips for Bhimtal and other Lakes of Kumaon
- There are ample hotels available at these places. The best-located properties are that of Kumaon Vikas Mandal Nigam (KMVN) though can’t say the same about their maintenance or service. I wish Kumaon tourism and Uttarakhand tourism takes steps to maintain them better.
- There are all kinds of Private hotels near these lakes suitable for all kinds of budgets.
- Restaurants are limited but they all offer simple fresh food.
- Being a popular tourist spot, all kinds of tourist activities and facilities are available here.
- Closest Railway Station is 35 km away at Kathgodam that is well connected with Delhi.
- Roads are good for a road trip from Delhi to Kumaon.
Recommend you read following travel blog on places to visit in Uttarakhand.