On Sunday, we made the mandatory pilgrimmage to Niagara. I call it mandatory because it is considered by some to be a crime against the great god Touristeshwara to be living so close to this scenic (a mere three hours) spot and yet not have seen it in all these years of visiting the US. So ... we set off, my sister, my brother-in-law and I.
None of us took our travel documents because we decided in advance that we weren't going to be dashing across international borders just to stare at a major waterworks. So we were confined to the American side and of course, it is not as dramatic by half as the Canadian side. I have been wondering, ever since this visit, who was in charge of divvying up the Falls so that this astonishing glitch occurred. It is on a par with realizing that Everest is NOT, after all, actually on Indian territory.
Anyway, the high point of the trip was, of course, the boat-ride on the MAID OF THE MIST, a series of boats with the same generic name (though they have various Saints' names inscribed on their bows. I didn't get to see which one we rode in) which permits those of us who were so unfortunate as to be stuck on the American side to get the charge that comes from crossing over to the Canadian side -- just an eentsy-weentsy charge, to be sure, because it lasts all of 5 minutes -- but without this charge, you can forget about saying you've seen anything. This was the Labour Day weekend, so of course there were capacity crowds. My sister and I got into queue and stayed there for about 90 minutes. I hate queues and I hate sight-seeing, so I was basically whining and complaining and hating all the fellow tourists all the way, right down and into the boat, until we were practically under the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.
Three-fifths of the crowd was Indian, I would guess. The rest was Latino and European, with only the tiniest sprinkling of Local American. Amongst the Indians it was definitely South India Week -- all those rounded consonants and dosa-flavoured vowels -- Malayalis, Kannadigas, Telugudigas, Tamilidiggigaddadas ... uhh ... you get the point: Southies. Some Gujjus too. And a number of NSSAMVBHBWTVESs -- Non-Specific South Asians with Masses of Very Black Hair, Big White Teeth and Very Dark Skin. These are the kinds of Indians we never see in the movies or in television commercials in India or elsewhere -- these are the Invisible Indians, who are nevertheless highly visible in Real Life, because they are definitely not only in majority but their numbers are apparently rising fast. Clearly, being invisible is an important breeding incentive, as it must surely lead to visibility sometime in the future.
And there were lots of small children, of all nations, religions and designer label clothing. Unfortunately, I really dislike small children. They bring out the Tyrannosaurus Rex in me. All those tiny hands and chubby feet -- all they inspire in me is the idea that they would make such admirable snacks.
Before boarding the boat, prospective passengers are given blue-plastic ponchos to wear, in order to be saved from a drenching. It was really hot, and my feet were complaining and my back was giving notice that I am too old to be a tourist and should just cease travelling and watch TV for the rest of what seems sure to be my rather short life, given the rate at which my constituent parts are deteriorating. While we were lined up just moments before boarding, a Kannadiga father was trying to get his six-month-old larva to stand on the railings, by repeating "Why don't you stand here? You want to stand here! Yes you can stand here! It's a good place to stand! Be a good boy now, just stand here!" etcetera in that demented way that parents have, when anyone in the galaxy can see that we humans are entirely different to, for instance, impala or giraffes, in the matter of being able to stand efficiently in anything under two years.
Then we were on the boat. I put my poncho on. Soon we were in front of the American Falls, which were nice enough, but reminded me that back in the Third World (i.e., Madras, where my mother lives) there has been no regular water supply and if only we could find some means of teleporting a quarter of an hour's worth of these Falls back to my mother on a daily basis, she would be SO happy. Then we moved off and towards the Horse Shoe Falls. The spray became somewhat boisterous. One young person, about 11 years old and un-poncho-ed was cavorting up and down the deck, getting wet.
There is something primal -screamy about getting really, really wet when fully clothed. Within seconds of entering the core area of the Horse Shoe Falls, all my snarly feelings of the past hour and a half were flushed right off, in spite of my flimsy blue poncho. The Kannadigas were screaming in tongues! The Italians were hugging their unfriendly Israeli girlfriends! The fat white kids were losing weight! The Ukranians were looking thrilled for the first time in centuries! Soon, we were not only getting wet, but the boat was heading right into the boiling white fury of the mid-Falls area. There is really no experience that approximates being within yards of being pounded by several million tons of falling water -- oh the recorded commentary told us how many gallons per second were thundering down around us, but all memory of these figures are wiped clear from my memory: all I know is that the world was suddenly transformed into a brilliant white roar of water, like pure exhilaration, like being mind-rinsed in a cataclysm of billion-megawatt energy.
A blink later, the boat had wheeled around and we were surrounded once more by the placid rainbows dancing in the spray around us, heading back to shore. Everyone was transformed and transfigured. Even me.