Hidden gems in Nainital

Written By Amol Kokane on Wednesday, January 30, 2019 | 11:29 AM

I never took my bird photography very seriously. I take bird photos but hardly like my photos. Mostly I go on birding with my brother, Parag and few other friends. But this time, my brother encouraged me (rather almost forced me) to go on solo birding trip.
I had a scheduled official trip to Noida in Jan this year. So I decided to visit some nearby location for birding. After few discussions with my colleagues in Noida, we zeroed on Nainital as 'THE' location. And we planned a trip for adjoining weekend.
We decided the location but I was little skeptical about the time of year that we had planned to visit Nainital. Especially, after reading news about North India being very cold this year; and I was not able to sustain Pune's cold & already had cough & cold.
I landed in Delhi on Monday, January 14 and did my normal work till Friday. Noida temperature was ranging between 5° - 7°C in the evenings that week, which did a kind of prep work for what to expect over the weekend.
My trip started on Friday, January 18 at 4:30pm with a 7 hrs train journey from Ghaziabad to Kathgodam by a Sampark Kranti Express. We reached Kathgodam late night at around 11:30pm and decided to stay in a lodge for rest of the night and continue onward journey in the morning. The outside temperature dropped down to 3°C that night and when we all woke up in the morning around 6:00am, it was even worse. The temperature did not change much but it was too windy. I was freezing to a point where I thought either I may not continue or even if I continue I may not be able to take any photos as I would be shivering all the time.
Friends accompanying me somehow managed to keep my encouragement. We hired a cab from Kathgodam to go to Sattal, where we booked our hotel. We started at around 7:30am and reached the hotel, the Birder's Den, around 8:45am.
As soon as we reached hotel, I knew I am at an awesome place for birding. As we were moving luggage to our rooms, we were greeted by a pair of Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babblers (a lifer for me). I was completely unprepared for the moment, dropped my bags and got hold of my camera and clicked a couple but didn't get a good photo.
The hotel guy noticed my impatience and said not to worry and they have a hide in the premises where I can see more birds. Without wasting any time, I had a quick breakfast and went straight into the hide with my camera and a mono-pod.
As soon as entered the hide, I saw the state bird of Harayana, Black Francolin (another lifer for me) and thereafter many more birds.
I spent 3 hrs in the hide and got multiple photos of Blue-throated Barbet, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Great Barbet, Great Tit, Grey Treepie, Grey-winged Blackbird, Greater Yellownape, Oriental Turtle Dove, Red-billed Leiothrix, Rufous Sibia, Russet Sparrow, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, Brown-fronted Woodpecker and Blue-winged Siva.
I was happy as many of them were lifers for me. After taking a break, I checked my frames and my happiness doubled as I managed to click many good frames. Thanks to the mono-pod which gave that extra support to hold back the camera from shakes. Also, to the nice weather!! It was cold, no doubt, but not to the level of shivering at all. In fact, it was just pleasant!
Post-lunch, I went around the hotel premises and got few photos of Black Bulbul, Green-backed Tit, Himalayan Black-lored Tit, Himalayan Bulbul, Oriental White-eye and Red-billed Blue Magpie.
After spending an hour and half around the hotel & the hide, we decided roam around in the village. Ultimately, we ended up in Bhimtal by walking good 4-5 km distance but luckily we had to climb down the hill. Around Bhimtal lake, got photos of Blue-fronted Redstart, Plumbeous Water Redstart, White-throated Fantail and White-capped Redstart.
While I was on a peak of capturing these photos; unfortunately there was a sudden change in weather. It was just 4:00 pm but the light dropped dramatically and started getting cooler. Saw few more birds like Black-throated Bushtit but couldn't take pictures because of low light.
As it started cooling, we decided to head back. On our way back, we stopped at a small shop to fuel our stomachs with some evening snacks and a hot coffee. After stomach full of snacks, to avoid climbing hill, we took a cab from Bhimtal and reached hotel.
When we reached to hotel; it was already dark and there was hardly anything to do than checking photos and charging camera batteries and getting it ready for tomorrow.
We talked with the hotel guy to see what we can plan for the next day before we checkout. The hotel guy told us that just like the complementary hide he has in his premises; there are few more hides in the village & nearby locations which are paid. The next obvious question from my side was, which is the nearest hide and how far is it from hotel? He gave all the details about it. It was not too far; just 20-30 mins walk from hotel as he said. Since, we don't had our own vehicle; I was thinking to walk down to that place the next day.
At dinner time, the hotel guy introduced me to another group of birders (from Bengaluru) who were planning to go to the same hide the next day. I asked them if I can join them and those generous people accepted my request. I was super excited to visit that hide as I came to know I could see Green Magpie at that place from some of them.
We finished our dinner and went to washroom, the wash basin tap didn't had any sign of which one is hot. I tried the left one and got very cold water, then tried the another one, and it was super cold. :) Temperature was down to 1°C at that time.
With a good sleep at night, I woke up 5:30am. Hotel guy served a tea at room and we left for the hide. We reached the place at around 7:00am. Due to low light I had to push ISO very hard. We spent around 4 hrs at that hide and paid ₹300 per person. But let me tell you, it was worth!! I don't regret paying that money at all because the session added lot of birds to my tally.
The list includes, Blue Whistling Thrush, Great Barbet, Grey Treepie, Grey-faced Woodpecker, Lesser Yellownape, Greater Yellownape, Grey-winged Blackbird, Kalij Pheasant, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Red-billed Leiothrix, Rufous Sibia, Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Rufous-throated Partridge, Streaked Laughingthrush, Oriental Turtle Dove, Oriental White-eye, White-crested Laughingthrush and White-throated Laughingthrush.
After a good birding session at the hide, I returned back to hotel around 11:00am and checked out from hotel. We were booked on to 9:00pm bus from Nainital for our return journey. We had ample time to spend before we could board the bus.
So here comes 1 more quick plan. We hired a cab for going to Nainital from the hotel. We managed to convince the cab driver to take us for sightseeing around Nainital (obviously for additional charges). After reaching Nainital (which was about 22 kms from hotel), he took us to different sightseeing points.
First we went to Himalaya View point on Pangot-Kilbury road. Due to clouds we didn't had a greatest of views.
A view from Himalaya View Point, Naini
While descending down the hill, we stopped at a tea stall from where I got a very good shot of complete Naini lake.
Naini Lake
After that we visited few points like Lover's Point (not sure why it is called as Lover's Point?), Khurpatal View Point, Botanical Garden and finally driver dropped us at Mall Road.
A View from Lover's Point, Naini
Khurpatal View, Naini
Naini Lake from ground zero
Rest of the time we spent around Mall Road, Nainadevi temple. While walking on the sides of Naini lake saw birds like Great Cormorant, Blue-capped Redstart, Plumbeous Water Redstart and White-capped Redstart
After it was dark then we preferred walking on the Mall Road doing some window-shopping.
Bought some local sweets (Baal Mithai) for family and then boarded shared taxi at 9pm that took us from Nainital to Haldwani. At Haldwani, we boarded private bus for Delhi. Reached Delhi early morning next day from there I took a flight back to Pune.
While on the flight was quickly recapping the entire trip. The entire trip was wonderful!! The stay at the hotel, Birder's Den, was just perfect - with simple but excellent food, nicely maintained rooms and very helpful & kind staff. And also a very successful trip with so many very good shots and 15+ lifers. :)

About Amol Kokane


  1. Hi Amol, nice writeup about your birding experience. Enjoyed reading. Wish I could go there some time for a similar experience.

  2. Very well documented Amol! And excellent pics to support your knowledge about birds!

  3. Hi Amol, what an incredible trip! Great shots, thanks for sharing!
    Goes to show that a breakthrough is always just a step away from resignation :)