Nainital, that long-favoured hill station that rated a mentioned in A Suitable Boy, is just as beautiful as they say: a sparkling lake surrounded by the green, gently rolling Kumaon hills. However, serene it is not, with cars, autos and Honda Heroes screeching up and down the upper and lower Mall roads that run alongside the lake. Trying to take a weekend afternoon stroll alongside the lake is like getting stuck in a dodgems pit.
Thankfully, we were only in Nainital proper for a couple of hours, having wisely decided to stay outside town in a little guesthouse, perched on a bluff with valleys stretching out on either side. Called Two Chimneys, I'd stumbled across the place online, fell in love with it and when I rang to book I discovered it was in fact the converted holiday home of renowned Indian writer and journalist Tarun Tejpal. Indeed, his first book, The Alchemy of Desire - which I devoured during the three-day stay - has two predominant themes: the Two Chimneys house, and sex.
The house is everything you'd expect of a writer. There are sprawling lawns, stone steps leading down steep inclines, a library, a dark leather-and-oak style bar, and plenty of spaces in which to read.
I didn't spend the entire weekend reading, there was time spent in or by the pool:
...And a day trip to the surround smaller hill station towns of Sattal, Bhimtal, Naukuchiyatal (try saying that after two Kingfishers), and of course, Nainital.
The first three are blissfully serene. Each has a lake, dotted with little fishing boats (or paddle boats shaped like either a swan or a dragon), a cluster of shops and jacaranda trees in full purple bloom hanging overhead. Being at around 1200m altitude, there's a cool breeze blowing through and people are strangely placid, there's no one yelling at a rickshaw driver or revving their engines, just standing around staring at the lake while licking ice creams.
Nainital was none of that, it was crowded and hectic. We stopped in a spotlessly clean bakery-cafe for lunch, I ordered a paneer steak sizzler (they're vastly popular, the sense of drama offered by the sizzling plate adds that much-needed dose of drama to the Indian table). Once the thing stopped spitting specks of gravy at me I ventured to eat it; the garnish appeared to be little cherry tomatoes.
Actuallly, they turned out to be maraschino cherries.