The Nani Lake is the identity as well as the backbone of the place. There are many legends in scriptures that signify the presence of this place many, many years ago. The ‘Manas Khand’ of the ancient scripture ‘Skanda Purana’ says that the place was traditionally known as the ‘Tri-Rishi-Sarovar. Tri means ‘three,’ Rishi means ‘Sage,’ and Sarovar means ‘the lake.’ Together the place was known as the lake of three sages and was named after the three rishis, Atri, Pulastya, and Pulaha.
The legend is that the rishis were on a long pilgrimage. On their way, they reached this place and started looking for water to quench their thirst. On finding no water, they decided to dig a hole and divert water into it from the Mansarover Lake in Tibet thereby giving rise to the lake.
Another legend says that Goddess Parvati was very angry with her father King Daksha for not inviting her and Lord Shiva (her husband) to an occasion. She took it as an insult and jumped into the fire and became Sati. While the grieving Lord Shiva was carrying the dead body of her sati to Kailash Parbat, her left eye fell into the lake. Hence, the lake got its name Nainital as ‘Nain’ means ‘ an eye.’ It is also one of the 64 ‘Shakti Peeths’ in the country. Every shakti peeth is a holy place where a body part of the Sati fell.
One more historic reference says that the place existed during the pre-historic period. It was ruled by the Khasi dynasty and hence was called the ‘Khasidesh.’ It had around 60 lakes that eventually disappeared due to deforestation and climatic changes.
Nainital was a popular summer vacation resort for the British. In 1817, the commissioner of Kumaon, G.W. Traill was the first European to visit the place. However, he did not mention about the place among his folks in order to retain the religious sanctity of the place.
Later on, almost after 20 years, the British sugar trader P. Barron found the lake while finding his way out of the hills where he went for hunting with his friend. He was so mesmerized with the place that he decided to settle down here and built a colony for Englishmen on the banks of the lake. The place was also visited frequently by the legendry hunter Jim Corbett to hunt man-eating animals.