It was the summer of 2015 and I was in Kumaon’s Lake region where Bhimtal, Sattal, Naukuchiatal lake are located. These pretty lakes all lie in close distance of each other and make for a welcome change from Nainital’s crowds. I’d arrived in Bhimtal after taking a ride from Almora and over the course of the next few days ended up walking to Sattal and Naukuchiatal. As a full time traveller and professional travel blogger, I was slow travelling around Kumaon with no fixed plans.
Distance between Bhimtal, Sattal & Naukuchiatal
Bhimtal is located at a distance of 22 kms away from Nainital. The distance between Naukuchiatal and Bhimtal is only 4 kms. Sattal is at a walkable distance of approx. 3 kms from Bhimtal. After enjoying the fruits of Kumaon in Ramgarh, I was still recovering from the overdose of apricots!
Fields in Sattal; locals pose outside a wedding ceremony!!
I was first trying to find a cheap homestay that would enable me to stay and work; and also let me walk around these lakes at my own pace. After all Bhimtal, Sattal & Naukuchiatal lakes are not places with a list of attractions. I was just hoping to find solitude walking on the serene and enchanting trails in the midst of nature. The weather was quite hot in June as compared to the other higher altitude hill stations of Kumaon.
And finding a cheap homestay wasn’t proving to be any easier; I’d somehow reached Sattal but unlike Himachal Pradesh’s well oiled tourism infrastructure of homestays primed for backpackers; Uttarakhand (Kumaon) had no cheap options for homestays unless I could get lucky and find one! I searched and searched throughout the course of the day; and finally found a homestay near Bhimtal for Rs. 400!
On hitched ride with tourists to Sattal; it seemed that most tourists visited one or two of these lakes for a boat ride. My experience in the region suggested that the real pleasure of Bhimtal, Sattal & Naukuchiatal lies in spending a day or two in a cosy colonial homestay located close to the lake.
There are many lakes in Nainital district, and Bhimtal, Sattal and Naukuchiatal are the most popular ones with tourists and are easily accessible. It is possible to explore all three lakes in one day; and due to the proximity from Delhi there are many tourists who do weekend trips in this region.
Bhimtal is the most easily accessible of the three lakes and does not lie on the main highway. For this reason, it is difficult to reach Bhimtal, Sattal and Naukuchiatal by buses. It may be possible to reach the lakes by shared taxis from Bhowali. Bhowali is a sort of junction point with bus and shared taxi connections to other parts of Kumaon.
Bhimtal Lake (Tal means lake)
Bhimtal Lake is a glorious sight and is surrounded by green hills that makes the location even more beautiful. Bhimtal is at a distance of around 22 kms from Nainital and lies at a pleasant altitude of 1350m. On my time spent wandering around Bhimtal, I noticed that boating in Bhimtal is one of the biggest attractions of a trip to Kumaon.
I’d walked all the way from Sattal to Bhimtal with my bags; having found no place to stay at Sattal. I came for a stroll to the lakeside in the evening; in the centre of Bhimtal is a small island with an overgrowing of trees. There were lots of tourists and kids enjoying the boat rides and picnic sort of atmosphere; ducks floated in the lake making it look quite dreamy!
The island houses an aquarium, which has a collection of different species of fishes and can be accessed by a boat ride. I was tired by my exploits of the day and was content to just sit and not attempt doing anything extravagant. Adjacent to the aquarium is the 17th century Bhimkeshwar Mahadev Temple; decided to Lord Bhima. Also, the name Bhimtal is based on this temple itself.
I ate food at one of the restaurants around the lake and it wasn’t anything to write about. The moon shined brightly as I head back to my homestay and the sweet lull of the breeze put me to sleep. I woke up early next morning and asked the homestay owner if he could suggest me some walks around Bhimtal. And off I went :
After a nice stroll in the jungle, I reached the Butterfly Research Centre and stood there for some time trying to find where to enter it from. A pack of dogs started barking and sensing that I could get into trouble I just started walking away from that place. I went hurriedly on the winding road around Bhimtal and was pleased to notice some colourful birds sitting on the Jacaranda trees that were in full bloom in the month of June.
According to popular local folklore, Bhimtal lake was originally called Bhimsarovar. During the Pandavas (12 year exile) they could not find a water body to quench their thirst. The legend states that Lord Bhima then hit the ground with his mace from which an underground source of water came out and formed a lake.
There were some upcoming beautiful looking cafés in the vicinity of Bhimtal, but I did not go to any of them. I spotted a gorgeous homestay in one corner of the lake but it was still under construction and the owner invited me to come whenever I liked after it was done! (I haven’t gone back to Bhimtal in 3 years!)
Sattal (also spelt Sat Tal) literally translates to 7 lakes and gets its name from the seven lakes that it comprises of. I had absolutely no idea about the seven lakes of Sattal until I heard it from a local! As you might guess, I quickly expressed my desire to see all the seven lakes!! Names of the seven lakes are said to be : Nal-Damyanti Tal, Hanuman Tal, Garud Tal, Sita Tal, Ram Tal, Laxman Tal and Purna Tal.
I have no recollection of which of the lakes I saw; but I did walk along the whole periphery and had reached a lake with many boats and tourists. The colourful boats at Sattal make for a lovely way to experience the serene waters of the lake. I’d a chance to walk around Sattal twice; once because of a hitched ride got me here and once when I walked with my bags to find a homestay! Vehicles have to cross an entry barrier and pay entry fees.
There are many eateries around Sattal lake and I remember having lunch at one of them. It was a place run by an old couple and they had made excellent bun omelette. The reflections in the lake look prettier with the sunset colours during evening. There are accessible hiking trails around Sattal, with a good mix of oak and pine forests for company.
After checking out from the homestay near Bhimtal; I was lucky to find a cosy room at a newly built hotel in Sattal and ended up staying there for a few days. On one of the walks in Sattal; I came across the pretty St. John’s Church in Sattal.
Attractions in Sattal
The St. John’s Church of 1912 is a part of the Sattal Christian Methodist Ashram that was established by Stanley Jones. Stanley Jones was a preacher and a missionary. The Church is a stone structure surrounded by trees but was closed when I visited it twice. It is always fascinating to see the interiors of old churches from the British era and marvel at the architecture but sigh, it was not to be this time.
A signboard on the St. John’s Church indicates that St. John’s Church was built by A.C. Evans in 1912 in memory of his beloved mother.
Butterfly Museum, run by Peter Smetacek who is a butterfly enthusiast, and the museum has a fantastic collection from across the world. It is a unique museum with some rare species of butterflies. I was very keen on seeing the butterfly museum in Bhimtal for its offbeat feel and also to get acquainted with the world of colourful butterflies. It was nice to find some other homestays located close to the butterfly museum in Sattal; they were trying to give out rooms for long term stayers at approx. 5000 Rupees per month!
Naukuchiatal literally translates to ‘lake of nine corners’. This lake is well known for the lotus pond that has a variety of lotuses blooming in the right season. The lotus pond is also called ‘kamaltaal’. I remember seeing a huge Hanuman statue in a temple complex that passes by just before reaching Naukuchiatal.
The lake is surrounded by tall mountains and has a fantastic setting with a plethora of colourful boats. I’d crossed the amazingly located KMVN Rest House at Naukuchiatal but they had no dormitory and hence I kept walking ahead. A local belief about Naukuchiatal lake states that if you view all the nine corners of the lake from one viewpoint you will attain salvation.
Tourists can experience activities like boating, kayaking, zip lining, paragliding and angling at Naukuchiatal Lake.
How to Reach Bhimtal, Sattal, Naukuchiatal Lakes
From Delhi, all the lakes – Bhimtal – Sattal – Naukuchiatal are at a distance of around 320 kms. The closest railway station from Bhimtal is Kathgodam at a distance of 26 kms. Kathgodam has regular train services from Delhi.
A small plea for Responsible Tourism
Rampant deforestation has meant the lakes Bhimtal, Sattal and Naukuchiatal are under severe environmental threat. The bird population is dwindling due to being deprived of their natural habitat. Also, try and shop local products from Kumaon so that the locals benefit from the tourism boom.
Have you been to the lakes of Kumaon? What was your experience?