Naukuchiatal is a terribly short drive from Bhimtal. The sky was still pink when we climbed past the kitschy Hanuman mandir and the Club Mahindra resort on to our B&B. We were greeted by two dogs: Sherry and Brandy. A third, named Tarzan, opened an eye and inspected us from its comfortable place on the rug when we entered the living room.
There was a nice big deck overlooking the lake. Naukuchiatal means the nine-cornered lake. The local belief is that if you see all nine corners from one spot you are going to be specially lucky. With a little craning of necks we thought we could see more than half the corners: semi-lucky us. The Lotus plopped down on one of the chairs on the deck and stretched out his legs. We had the second tea of the evening, and The Family brought out the cakes and biscuits she’d got from the bakery in Haldwani.
We sat there in the cool silence, watching the sky turn dark and little lights spring up all over the hills. The crickets kept chirping as mosquitos in large numbers tried to trade our blood for a soporific. The cook had prepared a wonderfully heavy dinner designed to knock us out. The Family supplemented this with local chocolates she had found in Haldwani.
We took a little walk after dinner. The road was pitch dark. People sleep early in the hills. The only place open was this restaurant which also did duty as a taxi rental and travel agency. Our driver passed us on his way to a pre-dinner tipple; he and the cook had agreed to eat late. We made our way back by starlight and phone.
In the morning we found that the stairs by the deck led all the way down a jetty on the lake. The water looked crystal clear. On later reading I discovered the enormous effort that goes into keeping the lake waters fairly unpolluted. We appreciate now that the battle is slowly being lost, but on that morning we were happy. Almost the first thing we saw in the morning was the bright blue of a Kingfisher; you can see it sitting on the rope near the boat house in the photo above.
As we climbed back up we saw a brightly coloured bird in front of us: bright orange breast and a brilliant blue top, colours like a Kanjeevaram silk saree. We had never seen anything like this before. It hopped around from tree to tree, defeating my camera. It was a blue-fronted redstart.
We had not given ourselves a lot of time in Naukuchiatal, which is great for birding. We saw a familiar sight near the water: a white-capped water redstart. We could hear the maddening cry of a whistling thrush, recognizable as a lovely tune which is cut off abruptly. A gray-backed shrike put in an appearance. As we had tea on the deck of the house, we saw a Himalayan bulbul and a yellow-breasted tit. We walked along the lake again and saw a tribe of monkeys grooming each other.
The lake district is around 1900 meters high. We planned to go a little higher. Our destination near Almora was not far off, but the road would be slow. At breakfast we realized we had crossed over to the country of alu parathas. We had to leave in a hurry because we had an appointment with Peter Smetacek. His book on the butterflies of the Kumaon is a much-needed addition to the small canon of nature writing in India. Peter runs a small but very good butterfly museum out of his home in Bhimtal; it is well sign-posted and easy to find. He turned out to be a very articulate man, passionate about nature. We had an instructive hour-long conversation with him. Then we were on our way.