Nainital : 7 things to do in a day during a pandemic!

Date of travel : 01st Dec 2020

Nainital is one of the most popular holiday destinations in North India. In the list of best honeymoon destinations in Himalayas, it sits right next to Shimla and Darjeeling. While staying in Ranikhet, one weekday (while my parents went to respective offices – smirk!) we decided to go on a day trip to Nainital.

The valley town being a tourist hotspot, there was an initial reluctance to visit it amidst COVID pandemic. But we adjusted our itinerary in a way that we avoided crowded areas and stuck to open spaces as much as possible where social distancing was easy.

The whole town in itself can be covered on foot and is made for people who love to walk in the sun while enjoying the cool breeze and taking pictures. Having said that, taxis/self drive cars, cycles & bikes and handicap assistance is readily available – so, don’t worry!

Step 01, The golden rule is to use the golden hour. We left early from Ranikhet so we could reach Nainital before the holiday makers get up and get about. We could therefore enjoy the quietness of the city and did not have to be too cautious right from the beginning. We took a private taxi from Ranikhet, but intercity buses and shared taxis are also available between these towns from main bus stands. It takes roughly 2 hours to reach Nainital from Ranikhet.

First view of the valley town of Nainital. Home to many prestigeous schools, fantastic views and starting point for many Kumaoni adventures. The city has a lot of faces and is run by the natives living in these matchboxes houses facing the sun, away from famous Naini lake.

7 things to do in Nainital in a day at the time of a pandemic.

There are multiple tour operators & guides who are more than eager to get hired and show all the viewing points in the city. It’s overwhelming to be approached by so many of them as soon as the taxi pulls onto Tallital. It’s a good bargain to hire them if interest lies in scenery watching and shopping. Otherwise, politely refusing their offers is the way to go. Always remember that they are offering their services to earn an honest living and need to be respected. The guides, often locals have a lot of stories to tell and can be surprising source of great recommendations for eating places. Alternatively, a ropeway ride to snow view point from one end of Mall road is a good choice.

Empty streets is such a rare site in Nainital, early morning certainly has its own charm!

During this particular trip, we wanted to avoid social interaction and did not hire a guide. We were staying and coming from Ranikhet, Himalayan peaks were not a major attraction for us. There was no point looking at cloud covered Himalayan peaks using a telescope which we could see clearly with naked eye from our backyard! (lucky us!) Read more here about, why you must stay in Ranikhet to have the best Himalayan experience!

As we did not have any interest in seeing the view points or get hustled with the crowd, we decided to ask our taxi to drop us at Tallital side of the Mall road and park in the taxi stand across the lake in Mallital. Our plan was to walk and follow this route, call him when were done.

There is so much to see in Nainital, it was difficult to decide where to start. I guess, when in doubt – always start from the top. 🙂

01. Visit G.B. Pant High Altitude zoo.

I have already written in detail how I feel about zoos. They get me excited and I go back to being a 5year old. All the wildlife here are very well kept, healthy and enclosures are well maintained. Most are rescued and have medically recovered from all over Kumaon. Like all high altitude zoos, this one too is made on a hill (very similar to Gangtok or Darjeeling zoo) and as you follow the yellow arrows, you eventually finish a loop going up and down the hill. It has a big veterinary hospital and a very well-constructed and maintained interpretation centre (not to be missed!) within its boundaries.

Overall, our visit to the zoo was much more fun than I had expected. Being one of the first visitors of the day, we had the whole zoo to ourselves for most of the time and ended up spending three hours here instead of our planned two.

We chose to walk slowly and spend time at each enclosure observing the animal/bird’s behavior. We have seen a lot of restless animals and birds in many zoos in India as well as abroad. Fortunately in this one, all were relaxed and basking in the winter sun.  Some big cats were active and the bear was too busy grooming himself to bother about the visitors.

No private vehicles are allowed on the road going uphill to the zoo gate. Road is a narrow single lane with bungalows built at its edge with people walking all over it. There is no way any general driver can maneuverer on that. It’s better to either walk up the hill from Mall road or take a shared taxi from the Mall road at the start of the slope. We had reached fairly early so while going towards the zoo the taxi was empty with only two of us in it apart from the driver. But while returning, looking at the cramped taxis we preferred to walk.

Apart from the interpretation centre there is a souvenir shop, clean paid washrooms and a cafeteria (with fresh delicious snacks) are also present around the entrance of the zoo.

Timing for the zoo (Friday to Wednesday) – 10am to 4pm

Ticket for Zoo (for Indian nationals – free for senior citizens, children upto 5 years) – INR100 p/p

Ticket for interpretation centre (for Indian nationals above 12 years of age) – INR30 p/p Taxi to and fro from Mall road uphill to the zoo entrance – INR30 p/p

02. Walk on Thandi Sadak.

Once down the Zoo hill back on Mall road, turn left to cross the iconic ‘I love Nainital’ signboard to reach Thandi sadak.

A pedestal road spanning 1 km goes along half of the Nainital lake opposite the Mall road. Thandi sadak is lined up with lush greens of pine, deodar and oaks, which restricts warm sunbeams to fall over the road, keeping it cool always. I have walked on this road a decade ago, the enchanting winter morning mist still gives me the chills when I think about it. Not many people come this far, so it’s likely that social distancing will be pretty easy.

Due to our extended zoo trip, we had to skip the Thandi sadak part of our itinerary.

03. Take a boat ride from Naina devi temple to Mall road.

From the base of the zoo, if you take the route of Thandi sadak – the walk will end at Naina – devi temple. It’s beautifully constructed temple dedicated to Goddess Parvati’s reincarnation – Naina devi, on whose name the town and lake is named.

Our plan was to walk to the temple via Thandi sadak and hire a row boat to the Mall road instead of walking to it. We had to off-course cancel the plan and walked directly onto the Mall road.

04. Walk on Mall road.

For decades, Mall road has been the pathway to millions of romantic rendezvous. Walking along the lake with antic street lamps bordering it and café’s inviting aromas of hot chocolate and cappuccinos and fresh bakes will surely make you fall in love with this tiny town. It’s a pretty wide road with a ‘no car’ section, making social distancing quiet easy.

View of Thandi sadak and Naina devi temple across the lake from Mall road.

05. Shop for wood work and candles.

The shops on mall road sell a lot of locally sourced wood artefacts as well as really fancy molded candles. These are good souvenirs to pickup when in town. It was essential that we avoided the popular local markets as they tend to get over crowded during the day, so we decided to only visit empty(ish) mall road souvenir stores.

Some well made fruit shaped candles bought from Nainital.

06. Check out the Murals

This was something that I think I appreciated the most during my visit. A group of artists have painted portrait murals on mall road as an appreciation and to honor civic workers/cleaners who actually keep Nainital pretty behind the scenes. All tourists must pledge to travel responsibly and support the efforts done by all these hard workers in keeping the cities/town we love looking lovable!

Portrait murals of Nainital.

07. Visit one of the many lake side cafes and restaurants

We chose to visit ‘Café LakeSide’ for lunch. The retro ambience and old English melodies made the charming afternoon most relaxing. Hot steaming sizzler and grilled fish was all that one can ask for to end a memorable day in Nainital.

Sizzling delicious lunch at Cafe Lakeside.

Full meal for two: INR2000/-

As we watched the bustling  Mall road below us(balcony seating) and the sun setting behind the hill across the lake with its last beams cutting across the high ridge, it was time to put on our jackets and order for that cup of hot chocolate. Temperatures in Nainital start dropping drastically in the late afternoon as the sun goes behind the surrounding hills, adding extra cool awesomeness to this valley town.

Bonus recommendation!: If by chance you are around till sun down drive towards Pangot to see Nainital lights at night.

I hope this list has given the creamy top things to do in Nainital on a short trip ‘When (you are) on a Break!’


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