Nainital Knowledge Guide


Early construction

The Kumaon Hills came under British rule after the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814–16). The hill station town of Naini Tal was founded only in 1841, with the construction of the first European house (Pilgrim Lodge) by P. Barron, a sugar trader from Shahjahanpur. In his memoir, he wrote: "It is by far the best site I have witnessed in the course of a 1,500 miles (2,400 km) trek in the Himalayas." In 1846, when a Captain Madden of the Bengal Artillery visited Naini Tal, he recorded that "houses were rapidly springing up in most parts of the settlement: some towards the crest of the military ranges were nearly 7,500 ft (2,300 m) above sea level: the rugged and woody Anyarpatta Aashish (Anyar-patt – in Kumaoni means – complete blackout. The reason for this nomenclature by the locals was because there were minimal sun rays due to its location and dense forests) was being gradually planted and that the favourite sites were on the undulating tract of forest land which stretched back from the head of the lake to the base of China and Deopatta (Camel's Hump). The church, St. John(1846) in the Wilderness, was one of the earliest buildings in Nainital, followed by Belvedere, Alma lodge, Ashdale Cottage(1860)..." Soon, the town became a health resort favoured by British soldiers and by colonial officials and their families trying to escape the heat of the plains. Later, the town became the summer residence of the governor of the United Provinces.

The landslip of 1880

On 18 September 1880 a landslide ('the landslip of 1880') occurred at the north end of the town, burying 151 people. The first known landslide had occurred in 1866(old Victoria hotel was destroyed), and in 1869 there was a larger one at the same spot, Alma Hill, but "the great slip" occurred on "Saturday 18 September 1880.""During Friday(17th) and Saturday(18th), 33 inches of rain fell, of which 20 inches (510 mm) to 25 in (640 mm) fell during the 40 hours preceding Saturday evening, and the downpour still lasted and continued till the evening of the next day. This heavy fall made the whole hillside one mass of semi-fluid matter, and required little to set in motion. The motive power was a shock of a minor earthquake, which was felt on that day itself by competent observers in the Bhabar below and Nainital itself. On the site of the Slip was the Victoria Hotel and its offices, and below it was the hindu temple of "naina devi" and the Assembly Rooms, both by the side of the lake, and Bell's shop, which was close to the temple. Initial slip started around 10 am of 18 September, taking away western wing of the Victoria Hotel and portion of the hotel's out-houses. Tragically, most of the people were not moved much further away from the spot of the morning slip. At quarter to two the major landslip occurred and within few seconds all the buildings mentioned above were destroyed and made into an unrecognizable heap of rubble and much of it was swept into the lake."The number of dead and missing were 108 Indian and 43 Europeans and Eurasians, along with numerous people who narrowly escaped. (See poem by Hannah Battersby on the page Literary references to Nainital.) The Assembly Rooms and the Naina Devi Temple were destroyed in the disaster. A recreation area known as 'The Flats' was later built on the site and a new temple was erected. To prevent further disasters, storm water drains were constructed and building bylaws were made stricter.