Lakes

At 3996 feet, this cozy hamlet nestled in the hills has a history traceable to the Puranas and finds special mention in the Padam Puran.  It is a valley surrounded by hills. The bottom of the valley has a large lake.  The bio-diversity of the region has something in store for everyone, from the casual traveler to the trekker and the ornithologist.

Naukuchiatal is a short drive of about 5 kilometers from the Daanth area of Bhimtal. Trains and buses arrive at Kathgodam which is thirty kilometers away from where it is possible to take a taxi/bus to Naukuchiatal.

Flora and fauna
The miscellaneous deciduous forest belt – extends from the ‘bhabar’ area of the foothills to about 4,000 feet and is characteristic of steep, well-drained slopes with high summer temperatures. Pear, lemon, Mango, anar, apple, guava are found abundantly in the orchards and the forests boast majestic pine ( chir ) and oak (banj)trees.

Reasons you should Visit
UNESCO has declared the Nainital – Naukuchiatal areas as one of the several Gene Bank Zones. These are maintained through the concept of Bioreserve – a natural ecosystem maintained in its pristine state.

Trekking
Climb the Karkotak peak where on a clear day you can spy a  side view of a couple of  Himalayan peaks.
Visit the Lok Sanskriti Sangrahalaya ( Museum of Folk Culture ) which contains rare artifacts, folk paintings, evidences or rock art and archeological finds dating back to prehistoric times.

Dos and Don’ts
Do not wander the forests surrounding the lake at night without a guide as they are populated by Leopards and other wild animals, reptiles, etc.Do not swim in the lake

Bhimtal

Situated at 4498 feet, This town is a sibling in terms of development when compared to the bustling hotspot that is Nainital but it is this untamed quality and the wilderness, which makes the place appealing.  The region is located among the Chir ( Pine ) and Banj ( Oak ) forest belts. Bhimtal is part of a group of lakes, including the Rani Damayanti Tal, the Sattal lakes and Naukuchiyatal. Bhimtal is separated from Sattal by a ridge forested on both sides by oak and pine trees. The Karkotak peak is the highest point on the east flank, measuring 6319  feet on the east flank and Jantwal Dhura, 5810 feet on the west flank.

Travelling involves an overnight train or bus journey from Delhi to Kathgodam from where a 26 km bus, jeep or share taxi ride lands you in Bhimtal. Bhimtal lies at a distance of 22 kms from Nainital
( via Bhowali ), 4 kms from Naukuchiyatal and 13 kms from Sattal.

Flora and Fauna
The forest consists of oak, pine, deciduous and evergreen trees. The undergrowth contains a varied selection of ferns, mosses, ground and tree orchids, wildflowers and herbs. The aromatic Queen Lily or the Himalayan Monsoon Lily found in the monsoons in Bhimtal is a rare sighting. Equally delightful are the Iris Kumaonensis and the Rock Orchid. The tropical right-hand side boasts of papaya, mango, litchi, guava, avocado, grapes and louquat while the temperate left-hand side contains peaches, plums, pears, apricots, apples, walnuts, cherries, Malta, Oranges, Lemons, Big Lemons, mulberry and almonds. Wild animals include Leopards, Wild Boars, Wild Hares, Porcupines, Wild Fowl, Mountain Goats, Barking Deer’s and the Himalayan Black Bear (Rare).

Dos and Dont’s
Do not go swimming in the Bhimtal Lake.
Do go boating in the Bhimtal lake and sit at the Daanth and watch the fog roll into the lake.

Sattal

Sattal is a thinly populated, picturesque little hamlet in the hills of the Nainital District. Sattal consists of 5  lakes – the Pannatal, Ramtal, Sitatal, Sukhatal and the Nal-Damayantital. Wildlife abounds in the lush forests of oak and pine surrounding these lakes.

Situated between 5,800-4,222 feet above sea level in the outer sub-Himalayas, Sattal falls in the ‘blend zone’ of the Palearctic and Indo-Malayan regions of zoo-geography and harbours a diverse selection of fauna and flora from both regions. It comprises three lakes, five water springs, deep, shady ravines, meadows, ridges and steep slopes.

To Reach there
One can avail of trains and buses going from Delhi to Kathgodam from where buses, jeeps and share taxis run to Bhowali which is the nearest bus junction to Sattal. Similar travel options are also available at Bhimtal.

Flora and Fauna
The Sattal lakes form an integral part of the lake region of the Kumaon Himalayas, and play a very important role in determining the overall climactic conditions of the region. The lakes themselves are fed from surface and underground springs that originate in the dense oak forests that clothe the hillsides between Bhimtal and Sattal. There is also a waterfall in Sattal fed from natural sources.

The botanical community is unique, with plant species ranging from Sal to Deodar, Oak, Bauhinia, Retusa, Tun, Cypress, Silk Cotton etc – an unmatched variety of plant communities from the ‘bhabar’ to the ‘banj’ forest regions. 250 species of birds have been accurately identified. Among the rarer species are the Green Magpie, White-collared Blackbird, Orange-headed Ground Thrush, Indian Blue-Chat, Yellow-bellied Fantail Flycatcher and Rufus-chinned Laughing Thrush. More than twenty species of animals still inhabit the region including the tiger, leopards, jungle cats, mountain goats, barking deer, White owls, red and black chickens, foxes, hyenas, the Indian Giant Flying Squirrel, the Himalayan crestless Porcupine, the Yellow throated Marten, the Himalayan Palm Civet, hares etc. The Bhimtal-Sattal region also boasts of butterfly species from all over Asia.

The medicinal plants found here are Gurj, whose vines can be made into a paste from which almost 15 kinds of medicine can be made. The Kutki plant cures cold, fever, malaria. Sada Bahar is a flower which mixed with Kutki, cures blood sugar.

The Ashwagandha plant comes in use in almost 40 medicines. Its roots are so potent that they are believed to  make a fat person slim and constitutionally fit. For making a thin person put on weight, the leaves are consumed.

Myths
Religious beliefs pertaining to the Sattal lakes go back to the times of the Mahabharata. The Nal Damayantital is named after King Nal. King Nal, one of the most famous kings of Hindu mythology, was sentenced to a fourteen year exile by his brother, Pushkar. Penniless and ostracised, he and his wife Damayanti sought refuge in Sattal, among other places.

According to local belief  one day Nal went to nearby Ranibagh to hunt. The queen of Ranibagh, Jiya Rani, was bathing in a stream nearby. To avoid being seen by him, she sent Kal Bhairav to cause mischief to Damayanti in the form of an invisible voice asking to enter her cottage. Nal sensed his wife was in trouble and went back. On hearing Damayanti’s account of the mysterious voice, Nal told her to call it in. She was cooking fish. Kal Bhairav entered, pressing the earth with his feet so that the land sank and water flooded the house. Thus, legend has it, the Nal-Damayantital was formed. King Pushkar placed a price on Nal’s head. With the help of the Karkotak Nag (snake), another mythological figure which bit Nal and made his countenance dark and unrecognizable, he managed to remain anonymous during his exile. This Karkotak Nag is worshipped in the Karkotak Peak in Bhimtal.

The population of Sattal consists of  local Kumaonis, settlers of the Christian Missionary Ashram and people who have migrated from other parts of the country.

Festivals
The festival of Makar Sankranti on the 15th ofJanuary, commonly called the Ghughutiya in Kumaon, is celebrated here. So is the Harela Mela (fair), marking the harvest season when puris and vadas made of urad (a kind of lentil) are traditionally served.

The Hidimba temple is presided over by Hidimba baba or Vankhandi baba. Elaborate yagyas are performed every year here. Pujas here in the summers are hugely popular and well attended.

People
The earlier traditions of weaving and basket-making have been supplanted by more income-generating occupations like horse-riding, boating and running small shops and businesses. Cattle rearing and agriculture also form a component of the vocations practised by residents.

Things to do
See the Bhim ka laddoo – an ancient heavy rock found near Garudtal. Also, the Garud tree found there is rare and specific to the lake region only.
Sattal boasts an astounding variety of rare resident and migratory birds sure to delight the hearts of any birdwatchers.
Boat in any of the various lakes and lose yourself in the pristinely beautiful area.
Visit the Getaway Jungle Camp, across the lake and situated in a clearing in the hills.
Visit Hidimba Devi Temple.

Dos and Don’ts
Do not litter the area.
Do wear trekking shoes and socks when walking the forested paths; they are full of leeches in the monsoons.Do listen for the cry of the Indian Giant Flying Squirrel.