Nainital is the popular Uttarakhand hill town that has grown at pace since the 19th century. Its history is a reminder of how precarious life in the mountains can be, particularly as construction on steep slopes is usually at the expense of trees that hold the hillside together by preventing erosion. In 1880, the built-up northern ridge around Lake Naini collapsed after heavy rain, killing more than 150 people. As urban pressures have increased, the vulnerable hillside has gradually been built up for residential and tourist housing.
Nainital town and its growing economy depend on the health of its beautiful lake. Yet levels are declining, thanks to a combination of factors, including reduced rainfall, the concreting of porous areas that previously filtered water into the basin and the town’s growing water demands.
Seasonal water shortages are a problem across the Himalayas, as peak scarcity coincides with the period of highest demand, in the dry summer months. For the second year in a row, Nainital’s water levels declined to record low levels last summer, revealing its significant waste and pollution problems.