The dramatic, peanut-shaped crater lake of Nainital, set in a mountain hollow at an altitude of 1938m, 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 continues to be one of India's main hill stations. Throughout the year, and especially between March and July, hordes of tourists and honeymooners pack the Mall, the promenade 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: Corbett Tiger Reserve, Almora and Ranikhet are all within easy access. 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 where the foothills begin their sudden drop towards the plains to the south, or to the forested ridges around Kilbury.
A favourite pastime for day-trippers is to rent a boat on the lake by the boat club on the northeast corner; rates start at Rs85 per hour, but can shoot up to Rs200 in summer. The boat club stands on the large plain known as the Flats, the result of a huge landslide in 1880, which buried the Victoria Hotel along with 150 people. The Flats now hosts sporting events and a Tibetan Market.