History of Nainital

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The Kumaon Hills came under British rule after the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814–16). The hill station town of NainiTal 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 1882

A general view of the north end of NainiTal before and after the landslip of 1882.

In September 1882 a landslide (‘the landslip of 1882’) occurred at the north end of the town, burying 151 people. The first known landslide had occurred in 1866, and in 1879 there was a larger one at the same spot, Alma Hill, but “the great slip occurred in the following year, on Saturday 18 September 1882.”

“Two days preceding the slip there was heavy rain, 20 inches (510 mm) to 35 in (890 mm) fell during the 40 hours ending on Saturday morning, and the downpour still lasted and continued for hours after the slip. This heavy fall naturally brought down streams of water from the hill side, some endangering the Victoria Hotel, … (which) was not the only building threatened … Bell’s shop, the Volunteer Orderly Room and the Hindu (Naina Devi) temple were scenes of labour with a view to diverting streams. At a quarter to two the landslip occurred burying those in and around the buildings mentioned above.”

The number of dead and missing were 108 Indian and 43 British nationals. (See poem by Hannah Batters by 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 by laws were made stricter.

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