Nainital was known as 'Khasidesh' in the pre-historic ancient period as it was ruled by 'Khasis' even before Lord Jesus Christ was born. It was once called 'the city of 60 Lakes' or 'Chakta'; however, over 40 Lakes disappeared due to deforestation and climatic changes and what is left are mere glimpses of the past. Had these Lakes existed, it would have been called 'The Lake City of the World'. In 'Manas-Khand' of 'Skanda-Purana' [Hindu religious text about the life and works of Kartikeya, son of Lord Shiva and Parvati], this district was called Tri-Rishi-Sarovar and a legend has that three sages Atri, Pulaha and Pulastya arrived here on pilgrimage and in order to quench their thirst, they dug a hole and siphoned water from Mansarovar, the sacred lake in Tibet into it. Another legend refers to Goddess Parvati, who leapt into the 'Yagna' flames after she felt insulted by her father, King Daksha for not inviting her and Lord Shiva. One believes that the left eye (Nain) of this Sati dropped in the lake while Lord Shiva carried her body to Kailash Parbat. Hence, the lake derived its name 'Nainital' or 'Naini Lake' and is also known as one of the 64 'Shakti Peeths'.
Other Myths surrounding the neighbouring places of Nainital include Mukteshwar graced by the Pandavas and many Gods, Bhimtal [Bhimsarovar] believed to have been made by Bhim [one of the Pandavas] who struck the earth for water in order to quench the thirst of all the Pandavas during their stay here and Sattal where King Nal and his wife Damayanti stayed all through their 14 years exile.
Nainital history speaks volumes of its creation and development as being a part of the Kumaon Hills in central Himalayas it has witnessed many changes through the 19th Century right from the Anglo-Nepalese War that lasted from 1814 to 1816, post which it was taken over by the British Rule. In 1815, Mr. E. Gardner was appointed the Commissioner of the Kumaon division and Mr. G. W. Traill became the second commissioner of Garhwal & Kumaon Regions, the first European who discovered Nainital.
While trekking through the Himalayan Forests, P. Barron, a sugar trader stumbled upon Naini Lake in 1839. He then visited the local chief of Nainital, took him for a boat ride and gave him options either to give up Nainital or drown in the Lake. The Chief realised there was no way out and signed a deed with the British transferring all powers to them. Mr. Barron constructed a Pilgrim Lodge in 1841 and throughout their rule; the British constructed many Villas and Bungalows around the peripheral of the Lake and became their favourite summer retreat including Mussoorie in Uttarakhand.
Nainital was hit by numerous landslip including known ones in 1866 and 1879 on Alma Hill, however, the worst landslip ever seen was on 18th September 1880, a Saturday preceded by very heavy rains for two continuous days that claimed 151 lives and completely destroyed the Naina Devi Temple, Bell's Shop, Victoria Hotel and Assembly Rooms on the very same spot of Alma Hill. Later to avoid any further mishaps, storm water drains and 'The Flatts' were constructed on that spot dedicated to the people who died and slowly transformed into a recreation area and the Naina Devi Temple was again established.
European Schools were constructed in Nainital during the latter half of the 19th Century mainly children of the British Army and Officers. The Diocesan Boys' School was erected in 1906 and administered by the Church of England, now renamed 'Sherwood College' where Mr. Amitabh Bachchan had studied. Other establishments were the St. Joseph's College, Wellesley School, St. Marys' Convent High School, Philander Smith's College, All Saints Diocesan High School [Girls Only] and Petersfield College [Girls Only]. Soon Indian Students also got admission from 1920 onwards and post independence became predominant. During the early 20th Century, Indian Businessmen and Bureaucrats started settling here and finally the big turnover happened in 1925, when the British presence started declining as they were given leave compensation by their government to holiday in England, hence, stopped visiting this Hill Station. Gradually post this change, Indians dominated this region completely.