History of Nainital


Nainital is a picturesque hill town situated in the northen state of Uttarakhand in India at an altitude of 6358 feet above sea level. It is set in a valley containing a pear shaped lake called the “Naini Lake” from which the town gets its name.

It is believed that Nainital figures in some ancient Indian myths like the Manas Khand of the Skand Puranas, where it is referred to as the Tri Rishi Sarovar (the lake of three sages), hinting at the story of three sages, who, upon finding no water in Nainital, dug a large hole at the location of the present day lake and filled it with water from the holy Manasarovar Lake in Tibet. It is also believed that Naini Lake is one of the sixty-four Shakti Peeths or religious sites on earth where parts of the charred body of Sati (Goddess Parvati) fell while being carried by Lord Shiva. The spot where Sati’s eyes (or Nain) fell came to be called Nain-tal or lake of the eye.

The town of Nainital was founded in 1841 by P. Barron, a British sugar trader from Shahjahananpur who constructed ‘Pilgrim Lodge’, the first European House. The Church of St. John In The Wilderness was established in 1844. Soon the town became a lively summer retreat for British soldiers and officials. Later on, it became the summer residence of the Governor of the United Provinces. In the Landslide of 1880, the town along with the Naina Devi Temple was destroyed. A recreation area known as ‘The Flats’ was later built on the site and a new temple was also erected. To prevent further disasters, storm water drains were constructed and building bylaws were made stricter.

In the latter half of the 19th century, a number of “European” schools were founded in Nainital for British boys and girls. By 1906, there were over half a dozen such schools, including the Diocesan Boys’ School (later renamed Sherwood College) under the guidance of the Church of England; Philander Smith’s College (now Birla Vidya Mandir), maintained by an American; St. Joseph’s College, a Roman Catholic institution; Wellesley School, an American institution; St. Mary’s Convent High School, a Roman Catholic institution; All Saints Diocesan High School for Girls, under the Church of England, and Petersfield College for Girls. In the 1920s and 30s, the schools began to admit more Indian students.

In fact, it was only during the 20th century that Nainital started transiting from an exclusive English preserve to an Indian retreat. The first signs of change came early in the 20th century, when Indian bureaucrats and professionals began arriving in town as part of the annual migration of the state government of the United Provinces to Nainital every summer. The next big change came in 1925, when British civil servants began to receive subsidies for taking their annual vacations in England and, consequently, many stopped going to the hill stations in the summers.