The small, peanut-shaped crater lake of Nainital, set in a mountain hollow at an altitude of 1938m, 277km north of Delhi, gives its name to the largest town in Kumaon. Discovered for Europeans in 1841 by Mr Barron, a wealthy sugar merchant, Nainital swiftly became a popular escape from the summer heat of the lowlands, and remains one of India’s top hill stations. Throughout the year, and especially between March and July, hordes of tourists and honeymooners pack the Mall, a 1.5km promenade of restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops that links Mallital (head of the lake), the older, colonial part of Nainital at the north end, with Tallital (foot of the lake).
Nainital’s position within striking range of the inner Himalayas – the peaks are visible from vantage points above town – makes it a good base for exploring Kumaon. When the town’s commercialism gets a bit much, it’s always possible to escape into the beautiful surrounding country, to lakes such as Sat Tal (23km away), where the foothills begin their sudden drop towards the plains to the south, or to the forested ridges around Kilbury (12km) and the old Shiva temple at Mukteshwar (51km), both of which offer stunning Himalayan vistas.