Jordan Road – Look. That’s the name of my country up there” –Wali jumped up in excitement, from behind the wheels, pointing at the green signboard ahead, oblivious to the cars wheezing past left and right. A narrow dodge of a passing Merc, momentarily brought him back from his exhilarated state, only to be lost in the ancient, Roman ruins of Amman and the briny and brackish water of the Dead Sea, the very next moment. His lips slightly arched to form a faint smile and his hazy blue eyes glistened as he spoke fondly of his loving wife and three children. I thought he resembled Tagore’s Kabuliwalla – The Pathan fruit seller from Kabul, who stayed on in Calcutta but whose heart lay in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan. We are on the 401 West Highway, roughly ten-thousand kilometres away from Wali’s hometown, on the way to visit one of the most-visited tourist attractions of the world. Apart from his company, Migration and Memories also accompanied me during the journey.
It was past late noon when we finally seemed to approach our destination. Wali pulled down the car-windows and inhaled deeply, closing his eyes in an exaggerated fashion. “Can you smell it?” He muttered, eyes still closed. I started to sniff, in short bursts. Not knowing which scent I should anticipate,I ended up appearing like the one with a blocked nostril, who is in dire need of some brazen blows in a dry handkerchief. Few minutes later, the squally winds assisted me to identify the strong, sweet and unmistakable aroma of misty water. My Pranayam accelerated and in due course of time I imagined myself to be the senile Najir in the King’s court of Sukumar Ray’s “Gondhobichaar”. My over-the-top odor-detection heroics might not have been rewarded monetarily (Like “BriddhoNajir” who received prize money worth a thousand rupees), but with something which is simply priceless!
The impact of witnessing the rhapsodic flow of gushing water of Niagara Falls surging over the horse-shoe fault in the riverbed with thunderous force was indeed an iconic experience. Great plumes of shrouded icy mist rise sky-bound as the particles of water collide, like an enigmatic veil concealing the vast rift behind the torrent. Legend has it, that a beautiful girl, having lost her husband and her hope at a tender age, decided to end her life. One day, she stepped into her canoe, humming a death song softly to herself, and paddled out into the current. Soon the canoe was caught by the rough waves and it hurtled towards the rapids. But as it pitched over and she started to fall freely, Heno, the god of thunder who lived in the falls, caught the maiden gently in his arms and carried her to his home beneath the thundering veil of water; Hence the fanciful name – “The Maid of the Mist”. Clearly, the fantastical folklore adds on to the aura and romanticism of this magnificent natural wonder. If you consider myths, they can be interpreted in so many different ways that although the actual image is clear, the interpretation is infinitely blurred like the enormously arched double rainbows across the falls with every possible color you could think of.
Draining Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, the American, Bridal and Horseshoe falls combine to produce the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world. This record seems more imposing given the fact that a huge hydro-electric project upriver redirected much of the flow before it reached to plummet from the rifts! Thousands of tourists delight in the spectacle every day, drawn by the wild and raging force of the current and the magical and mesmeric mist. Today, being a Sunday of the Victoria Day long weekend, the tourist zone was thronging with sugar-saturated, hyper-active children blowing bubbles in the air and also dragging along their bludgeoned parents. There were considerable amount of cramming and jostling near the side-railings as each wanted to capture the best possible view of the gargantuan with both their lenses! The long queues outside the various theme rides, the 3D and 4D shows, the boat rides, water-parks and other morass of amusements were testimony to the hyper-commercialization of the town. If you do not mind bruising your wallets, then you might as well take the helicopter ride to enjoy a bird’s eye-view of the aquatic grandiose!
I was more than happy to lean myself against the corrugated railing and soaking in the spray of the mist while attempting to filter out the cacophony around that can only be compared to that of Ekdalia Evergreen’s on a Saptami night! There were special requests from back home to capture the awesomeness which I happily obliged. Travelling solo has it’s own perks; You can pamper yourself and cater to your own whims and fancies, rather than others’. After all it’s your trip and you have every right to plan it and execute it the way you like. It frees you from the burden of becoming the official photographer of a group (Given the fact that I carry my DSLR around) and pose and beam and pose again and make small talks. I chose to get lost in my own reverie; of a time when I was happy to just listen to his rendezvous of Niagara from the wrong “American” side. I had listened to the Maid of the Mist legend with rapt attention and hoped to go there together, some day. The vicarious pleasure I derived from the grainy pictures which he sent through the popular social communication app was immensely satisfying. Chiding myself, the very next moment, I liberated myself from all the thoughts which pervaded in the darker alleys of my subconscious. I told myself, as T.S. Eliot would say “Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought”. My meditation paid off; you believe-it-or-not, I had my moment, that one singular moment when the dancing was still. Yes, I could hear the stillness of the Niagara!
My trip to the world- famous Niagara Falls was fulfilling in many ways; not only was it my first (and hopefully many- more-to-come) solo hitch-hiking road trip in a foreign land, but at the end of the journey, I learnt a lesson or two about self-introspection, to accept and be comfortable with the truth of what I really want or desire. So I have no qualms in admitting by shedding all false pretenses that the word “waterfall” doesn’t evoke the magnificent and opulent images of the Gargantuan at the end of a man-made Highway, where the average footfall of international tourist is roughly 12 million every year! With all due respect to this highly popular natural wonder, which is classy in it’s own way, if you were to ask me to name a fall, which I might agree to visit again and again and never grow tired of it’s song, it would be one of those nameless stream of rapids, which playfully flows down the laps of the rocky Himalayas of West Sikkim, like a curvaceous, petite lass. Honestly, when I try to reason my choices, I don’t have the right words to explain. Probably one day I will find the right words, and they will be as simple yet beautiful as the unnamed cascade!