It looked like a shrub on the side of the road — until it moved, that is.
I pulled up closer and stared out of the window, and a big black bear stared right back at me. It seemed that the bear had just woken up from its winter hibernation and was as yet disoriented.
Which is probably why he allowed us to get so close! Yet, I was cautious not to roll down the window all the way, and kept the car running in case we needed to make a quick getaway.
Spring was bursting upon the astonishingly-pretty Canadian Rockies, and I was on a Globus self-drive holiday through the mountain state of Alberta. All my arrangements had been made when I'd booked the drive, including the car — a very capable Jeep Grand Cherokee — and hotels. So, I was free to do as I pleased during the day with no worry about finding a place to stay, or calling ahead for reservations.
We'd spent a lovely day in Lake Louise exploring Moraine Lake, which was yet semi-frozen, with snow still hanging heavy on the cliffs towering above its blue waters. Lake Louise itself was drama personified, with the glacier that feeds the lake as yet solid ice.
Perched on the edge of this lake is the Fairmont Chateau Hotel where you stay if you have a very heavy wallet — Marilyn Monroe stayed here. On a good summer's day, it is definitely worth having a meal on its patio that overlooks the lake.
Lake Louise to Jasper is a 236-km-long jaw-dropping scenic overdose. Don't for a minute think that you'll make it there in the recommended three-and-a-half hours. It took us six because the road, its bordering lakes and its towering mountains demand indulgent adulation.
At every stunning view point I thought I'd got the iconic shot of the Canadian Rockies when the next photo point would present a scene to beat the previous one.
The blue and white picture with the symmetrical reflection was taken at Bow Lake. I was fortunate to get a patch of clear skies and half-hour stillness. Just after I took this picture, the sky clouded over and the wind picked up making the lake choppy.
Seven km from Bow Lake is Peyto Lake. The snow was yet heavy on the side road leading to the lake, so we had to park our car just off the main highway and trudge through a km of snow to get to the Lake. But, the effort was worth it. There is usually a horde of people walking the path to this lake, which is bluer than Frank Sinatra's eyes. But since the snow was so high, it played deterrent, and we were fortunate to have it all to ourselves. Word of advice, rain, snow or hail — visit Peyto Lake.
The entire stretch of highway from Lake Louise to Jasper goes through the Icelands Parkway, which leaves you with a sense of being enveloped by the Canadian Rockies more than specific places such as Lake Louise, Banff or Jasper. That is why it is imperative that you do a self-drive holiday there.
In addition to these, there are other lakes, gigantic glaciers, wanton waterfalls, serene trails through forests and lovely viewpoints. Also, you have to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife because you'll surely see some. We saw the bear, then a coyote and the big horn sheep. When the latter fight for the females, the sound of their horns clashing sounds like a drumroll.
In Jasper, among the many activities to do is to take the Jasper Tramway up into Whistlers Mountain. The views from the top will blow your hair back — the lakes around Jasper: Patricia, Pyramid, Annette, Edith and Maligne — can be seen as dimples of deep blue on a land speckled with snow-capped peaks.
Another must-do activity is to go canoeing on Pyramid Lake. You can either paddle your own canoe or go for a joy ride on one, and for this you should contact the Jasper Adventure Centre. The guides love the land and their passion shows in how well and interestingly they explain the geography and the flora and fauna.
After the canoe ride at Lake Pyramid, I had that all-time favourite camping snack – Smores. This is a sweet snack made by toasting marshmallows on a stick at a campfire and putting it on a gramcracker biscuit with a piece of Hershey's Milk Chocolate, and then putting another gramcaracker over it and squeezing it together. The heat from the marshmallow melts the chocolate and the resulting snack is gooey, messy but delicious and sinful.
A self drive in the Canadian Rockies offers all this and more — get there and find out what it is like to drive through one of the world's most stunning regions.
(For details about self-drive vacations, go to www.globusjourneys.in , for more on the Jasper Tramway, visit www.jaspertramway.com, and for the Jasper Adventure Centre, log on to www.jasperadventure centre.com)