NIAGARA FALLS, NY: Fourth time around, it cannot be a coincidence, for sure. My wife and I are now very certain of one thing: if there’s one tourist spot in America where more Indians frequent than any ‘Little India’ area in the United States, it’s Niagara Falls – the home of three majestic waterfalls spanning the boundaries of the United States and Canada, beautiful gardens and verdant vistas, with quaint, tiny islands one can cross by foot over bridges, strong riptides lapping at edges.
Last week was my fourth visit to Niagara Falls in 17 years: the first time was with my girlfriend, when we were both graduate students in New York; then again after she and I got married, once when my parents visited from New Delhi, and my wife and I accompanied them; and now, with the kids and my wife in tow.
I asked an elderly park attendant at Niagara Falls why Indians love to come here so much; they seem to be the locals going by sheer numbers.
“It’s the honeymoon capital of the world,” he drawled, with a grin.
I couldn’t agree with him more. Forget the fact that the place has been growing in popular appeal for more than six decades since the release of the thriller ‘Niagara’, starring Marilyn Monroe, in 1953, and from initially being a popular honeymoon spot for upscale families, gained mass appeal across society. Indians and tour operators in India seem to have taken a cue from that, firmly placed the Falls as the one must-see-place in the North American visit itinerary.
Niagara Falls has an old world charm, with terrific ambience hard to beat when compared to other popular locales. It’s a lovely place to sit, eat and drink, stroll at one’s own leisurely pace, while away time holding hands, rekindle memories, gaze at the awesome beauty of the Niagara River from winding, lush green pathways, as it gushes with ferocious power to hurtle millions of gallons of water every minute down Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls.
Peer down from one of the numerous vantage points, and one can feel the unbridled joy of visitors who are brought near to the base of the falls on swaying boats, which look like toys, with tiny bobbing heads of people in it. People hoot in joy as they get sprayed by mist from water that seems to envelop them from every side, falling in humungous sheets as it seems miles above in the sky.
Getting thoroughly drenched is all part of the fun, despite the colorful ponchos draped to protect oneself. Or look down at lines of visitors as they trek up wooden walkways in single file to the Cave of the Winds, watch them brave a shower under the Falls. Water comes with enough velocity to make people gasp, scream in surprise; some move away hastily, as if suddenly come to reckoning with nature’s raw power.
As day slowly turns to dusk, the Falls turn surreal; a movie prop-like setting, lit up by fluorescent lights that turn the glinting water and its white foam into hues of blue, red, and pink. Nightly fireworks at around 10 p.m. ensure that the place is as crowded as Times Square, with the brightly hit hotel and casino towers on the Canadian side across the chasm making it seem for some minutes the Falls and its vicinity have turned into a giant party zone across two countries, carnival of pure joy, throwing a halo of romance around everybody present. The scene leaves indelible memories, to be cherished for a lifetime.
Of course, it’s not really a place for single people to stroll about nonchalantly, feel at peace, without being hit by a tinge of remorse; except, of course, for individuals with a morbid personality to revel in loneliness.
Single people, however, can take solace from the poem ‘Niagara’ written by the Cuban poet José Maria Heredia. When he was 20 years old, Heredia wrote perhaps the finest poem ever to be written on the Falls. There are commemorative plaques on both sides of the falls recognizing his contribution.
I read the lovely poem ‘Niagara’, which expresses also acute loneliness, apart from trying to capture through words, its ethereal, forlorn beauty. Here are some memorable lines describing Heredia’s pining for love he doesn’t have in his life, in a place he wishes he had one:
Never have I so deeply felt as now
The hopeless solitude, the abandonment,
The anguish of a loveless life. Alas!
How can the impassioned, the unfrozen heart
Be happy without love? I would that one
Beautiful,–worthy to be loved and joined
In love with me,–now shared my lonely walk
On this tremendous brink.
So, what’s it about Niagara Falls that draws so many visitors?
Perhaps it’s the water and the river itself, revered in India, flowing at dazzling speed, with one stretch of the river as it cascades downhill, creating myriad whirlpools, termed as the ‘Point of No Return.’ It’s hard not to be drawn into its powerful vortex, to feel the need to revive, rejuvenate, reshape one’s life. Feel the energy that courses through the river seep some in one’s mind and consciousness too.
It’s also one place where there’s no danger of one being jostled around as family photos are taken. Hours of people watching is a popular thing to do in Niagara Falls, if one stays there for some days.
On this visit, I saw a group of 12-14 Indians getting their photos taken, by strangers, and by family members, with the Falls in the background. There were peals of laughter as children positioned elderly parents with hands around each other, and embarrassed parents obliged; children picked up by grandparents and kissed, as cameras kept recording videos, capturing images. It was precious moments, savored by family members and strangers alike.
Thinking of it brings a smile to my face.