Wednesday, June 12, 2013


View of the Hudson and beyond from the train
One of the first tourist destinations that I visited after coming to the US was Niagara Falls. It was the Labor Day weekend, and the place was as crowded as possible. Still, the experience was overwhelming enough to rob me of words, and I did not write much about it here, although I did promise to be back with a post about Niagara, which I never did. That was five years ago.

Last week, I visited this natural wonder for the second time, this time with my parents. In some ways, this visit felt even more special than the first, so here comes the promised post, although with more pictures than words.

Cave of the Winds
I had decided to rent a car and drive to Niagara but my parents felt the seven-hour drive would be too tiring for me, especially since I have started driving only recently. So we reserved three seats on the Amtrak train called Maple Leaf and climbed aboard from New York City. Within mere fifteen minutes of leaving New York Penn Station, the train started offering unimaginably beautiful views over the Hudson on the left side. The train was running at the level of the water, practically along the edge, and the land beyond was hilly, covered in forests interspersed with Windows XP wallpaper style rolling meadows.

Moss-covered rocks under the falls
The train seats were very comfortable, with more leg room than I have ever seen in any form of transport. It passed through Albany, Utica, Rome, Amsterdam and Buffalo with gradually decreasing enthusiasm before dropping us at Niagara Falls and heading for Canada. Niagara Falls, NY is a tiny station in the middle of nowhere, with no platforms and the road coming right next to the train. We took a taxi to our hotel, which was next to the falls. After checking in and depositing our baggage in our room, we went to see the Cave of the Winds.

Baby gulls
The Cave of the Winds is approached via an elevator through the cliff wall that takes the tourists 17 stories below the ground to a wooden platform right underneath the Bridal Veil Falls on the American side. The experience of standing almost directly below the massive Niagara is quite humbling. The Bridal Veil Falls, which is just the smallest part of Niagara, is massive enough to have broken gigantic boulders off the face of the cliff. These boulders now lie in a heap at the bottom of the American and Bridal Veil Falls and the water leaps down on them, and then onto the tourists standing on the platform. The rocks all around are covered with thick velvety green moss. A rainbow permanently adorns the moss-covered rocks and the raging white water due to the spray from the falls. Also, the place seems to be a sort of nursery for baby gulls of all sizes.

Niagara at night
The bad thing about human beings is that they try to change Nature for the better, usually making it worse in the process. In case of Niagara, they decided that the falls were too beautiful to be allowed to disappear at night. To fix this problem, they light up the falls with lights of various colours at nightfall. While this undoubtedly robs the falls of the all-engulfing natural darkness which seemed so soothing to me at the Grand Canyon, it also has the effect of making the Niagara look absolutely mesmerizing. Add to it the glittering modern skyscrapers on the Canadian side, and the Niagara suddenly seems out of this world.

The Horseshoe falls, from the Maid of the Mist
After light-watching, dinner and sleep, next morning it was time for the Maid of the Mist boat ride between the horns of the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. We were on the upper deck of the boat. The ride started as a simple boat ride on a warm day passing by the American and Bridal Veil Falls, but as it approached the Horseshoe Falls, the spray increased to the intensity of heavy downpour. The Maid of the Mist lived up to its name, drenching the passengers in spite of their blue disposable raincoats. The water seemed to fall in impenetrable sheets all around us as the boat was engulfed in the white mist. Even my weatherproof camera, which I had been getting wet without worry, refused to focus since the glass was all wet and the vision was blurry. I realized I could see much better if I removed my glasses, and that's what I did in the end. After what seemed like an eternity under the falls, the boat turned back and headed towards the jetty again.

Full view of Niagara, with the boat on the right
After that we didn't have much left to do. We took the elevator to a high observation deck for a full view of Niagara, and then came back to our hotel. the taxi ride to the station was short and uneventful. We arrived at the station half an hour before time to see the train standing. Our taxi driver drove the taxi right around the train and dropped us at our compartment door. Noticing our hesitation, he told us that only one train passed through the station each day, and this train had to be ours even if it had arrived earlier than its scheduled time. We climbed aboard and curiously, sat down in the very same seats that we had occupied during the previous day's journey.  We reached home close to midninght.

Tourists near the Horseshoe Falls, with Canada in the background

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