10.08.2007

Indian on a Chinese tour bus around America -2

Niagara, the Taj Mahal of North America. At least with respect to popularity. Every Indian worth his/her salt needs to make this much cherished trip to THE FALLS. The first question any relative back home asks is “Did you see Niagara falls?”. And if your answer is “No, because we dint have time or money or a bat mobile or whatever” you will elicit a sympathetic cluck and a description of the falls so exact that you might think your relative was the “Indian” who architected the mighty fall. Oh and if you, continuing with the hypothetical conversation, answered “Yes” then you will be quizzed about every nook and cave of the winds that you might have perhaps experienced. It’s really big; the way Niagara Falls is adored.
We, as industrious as we are, decided to do the Niagara pilgrimage on a Chinese tour bus. There were two options for the tour. One was via Thousand Islands and the other included the Corning Glass Museum tour. One of the main attractions at Niagara is to see the Illumination of the falls in the night. After a lot of power debating, we decided against Thousand Islands since that meant no night halt at the falls. We set forth on the auspicious day and reached the large Chinatown in New York City. We were one of the first to arrive at the boarding point and hence (and obviously) were at unease if this was really where they would pick us up from. As we stayed on a huge crowd conglomerated there. There were Chinese families, European boy friends and girl friends, American couples and Indian family-groups, all waiting for the bus which would take them forth and had to continue doing so for a good two hours since the bus was late! Once we boarded the bus, our tour guide, an apologetic looking Chinese guy, informed us that the first stop would be Thousand Islands. I was apoplectic and jabbed T so hard that it sent him straight out of the seat to find out what was going on with the tour. But the guide graciously comforted us and explained that “Some people for Thousand Islands many people for Corning Museum so we doing both. Stay night yes in Niagara”. Thus rest assured I fell into an AC cold-induced numbness for the long drive to the Thousand Islands. I did not even have the motivation to eat too many chips. And so T knew that I was really unwell.
We arrived at Alexandria Bay which is upstate New York. The Thousand Islands is a pristine resort community surrounded by Lake Ontario, the Adirondack Mountains and the mighty St. Lawrence River.
It’s got a nice waterfront which is not overly touristy decked but still maintains store fronts attractive enough for tourists to stroll in for a look or make an occasional purchase. All we purchased in one such store with pirate masks in the front window was coffee. Vanilla coffee!! It’s nice if you also eat spicy chips along with it.
The next thing on our agenda was a cruise through St. Lawrence River and see some of the thousand and odd islands. On the way we found a nice apple tree and indulged in some farm antics of plucking fresh fruit stealthily and eating it.I kept myself busy by shooting evidence which could be used for some gamely blackmailing later on maybe? The river cruise was amazing. The main reason being the boat operator’s camaraderie with the people on board. It was so good that it felt like a personal guided tour through paradise. The single mansions on these islands looked no lesser than paradise to me.
The blue waters with the sun glinting off it, the calmness all around, the warmth from the sun and chill from the winds and one’s own island (whoever said no man is an island could be disproved here). We could see some proud Richie Richs lounging about on their islands. How quaintly charming is that!
I don’t fully remember all the names of the owners but I do remember looking around in wonder. When we got off the boat T and me chatted up with the boat guy and also expressed our appreciation. He was very happy that someone cared enough to let him know.
The next stop was Niagara Falls which we reached by 11 in the night. We all trooped down to the falls to see the illumination. We lost our way in the darkness and strayed towards a main road, walked along the flowing river before it plunged as the Niagara.
The illumination of the Niagara is like seeing a bride in white with strobe lights on. It’s beautiful. Although the view is great from the Canadian side, you can take great pictures up close from the American side, like the one we took right on top of the Bridal falls. The strobe lights are evidently on the Canadian side, and the rest of the Main Street on that side is also very visually appealing.
On the American side though there is a small park near the falls which is not of much consequence unless you have time enough to spend on the luscious greens. We were bang on time to see the illumination because apparently the lights are switched off at midnight.
On the way back to the hotel through the darkened deserted streets we got hopelessly lost or so we thought. Although we were five minutes walk away from the hotel panic struck and we started walking around in circles. Eventually we did find the hotel and we did get our much deserved sweet sleep. I must make a special mention of the hotel room’s bathroom. It was a man-made wonder not as huge as the Niagara but close enough in a different category. The area was approximately 5ft * 3ft and we had all the minimalist stuff that make up a decent bathroom including the bathtub. I remember one hotel in Heidelberg, Germany which was of similar dimensions but they had effectively spaced out the interiors by having a shower cubicle instead of an out of sorts bathtub. I thought that was neat because who would come to a low budget hotel (if not tourists who are trying to fit in a lot on minute timescale and budget) and want to spend one luxurious hour or more sitting in a bathtub? Maybe a gangster type who was using it as a hideaway. I like it when I ask the question and know the answer to it even though it kills the imagination of the reader. Hee haw haw haw.
Well, the next day we were in for a great shock. Although we hadn’t seen a single cloud the night before it was pouring the next day. And it was the irritating kind of rain which is not too fast and not too slow and comes down evenly as though through a giant sieve. Gloom descended in our shiny eyes. We weren’t very sure of enjoying the beauty of the place getting wet in the course. Yes, we had forgotten to bring umbrellas. We had no choice but to heave ho and see the cloudy grey sights. The first stop for the day was Goat Island. This is the place that separates the Bridal Falls (American Niagara as some would like to humor themselves) from the Horseshoe Falls (THE Niagara Falls). We got beautiful views of the top of the Horseshoe Falls.
The most amazing thing that we found on Goat Island was outside the tourist shop. Among the flowers that adorned the entrance of the shop were chilies! I have never ever seen that before. Maybe neither have you so here’s the picture
From Goat Island we were taken to ride the Maid of the Mist. While waiting in line to buy tickets for the rides we saw that many people had bought rain coats from the souvenir shops. After consultation amongst ourselves we came to the conclusion that we were so much soaked to the skin that the skin wouldn’t feel it any more and so there was no need for those. Once we bought the tickets we were taken to a landing from where we had to take a speedy lift which would take us twenty storeys down in two minutes, to board the boat. The landing was the best possible view point for the Horseshoe Falls. Many people were forsaking getting wet and damaging their camera lens to take that one perfect shot of the horseshoe. I have to tell you, it needs a lot of patience to photograph this world famous falls. The very simple reason being the mist that gets formed at the base of the falls due to the momentum of the water plunging some 160 feet below. This mist moves up and most of the times the middle portion of the horseshoe is hidden behind this. And if it is a cloudy day then its plain bad luck. It’s over misty. Hence, a trip to the Niagara is not complete without a ride in the Maid of the Mist because it takes you right where the action is. Before boarding the boat however everyone is given a poncho style long raincoat with a hood to prevent them from getting wet from the spray of the falls. In our case however it was kind of redundant. But we did struggle one pair of hands and legs and three pairs of helper hands to get into it. Once we were on board we rushed to grab a front seat errr railing. The rest of the boat journey was amazing. The boat takes us slowly very close to the falls.
You see the giant looming up against the sky and the spray from it comes at you non stop. I even got my skin cut from the force (delicate as a flower me *batting eyelids*). After going a certain distance the boat is stopped and remains in one place for everyone to soak in the magic. But due to the bobbing and motion of the water underneath one doesn’t realize the boat has stopped at all.
We also saw what we had missed, from the boat, for lack of time. The cave of the winds. This is basically a series of steps which leads people right up to the bridal falls. Makes for excellent romantic photo-op and a little care so as to not slip. On the Canadian side there is a “Journey behind the falls” which is a tunnel leading right behind the falls. I had seen it on my last trip to Canada which was in March and was not season yet for the Maid of the Mist to operate.
After the boat ride we were informed that we had to have lunch and reach the bus in a matter of 30 minutes. We went running around madly in the rain searching for Indian restaurants which abound the place but they were all slow starters. Not many serve anything to eat till 11:30. There was one particular joint in the Welcome center whose owner was so rude that he was putting India to shame. We did find a place where they served idli and dosa alongside channa batura etc. The most ill planned thing on these Chinese tours are the meal times and places. Plus he had not given us any option for breakfast that day. You have to be really well prepapred for their trips else you just starve.
We were happy enough to get back on board the bus and away from all the wetness. The next stop after a long drive was the Corning Glass Museum. We decided not to take the tour of the museum which included being allowed to make glass by ourselves. This was because of the ridiculous 15 minutes that we were given to spend at the museum before getting back to the bus. The reason for that according to the guide was that we delayed the whole thing by overstaying our lunch time! Bah!
As we found out later all that people could do on it was sit through a boring video about how glass was made. We effectively used the time gazing in awe at the colorful glass magic on sale in the souvenir shop which was the entire ground floor and buying much needed hot coffee!
From Corning it was straight back to NY and home. We were greeted by a sea of red lights in NY. We got a taste of traffic in New York in which we were stuck for a good hour and half. By the time we reached home we were tired and warm, me a little more than the rest. But it was a trip which we thoroughly enjoyed and one that also made us realize the importance of a humble umbrella!
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