Ashis Dutta discovers an unspoilt county in the south western part of New York State

“There’s more to New York State than the Big Apple,” said Sandra as we drove out of the small town of Olean in the westerly direction by the Southern Tier Expressway. Olean, at the south-western nook of the State, gave enough hint — provincial, courteous, know-one-another. And far, far removed from the halo of New York City.

Soon we crossed the Allegany River. The expressway snaked along the valley, keeping the river on to the right. Sandra had switched off the air-conditioning and lowered the glasses. The cool air that splashed on my face carried with it the freshness and earthen aroma of the forested hills around. We were driving through the Allegany State Park in Allegany County. The unspoilt Allegany County is in the south western part of New York State bordering Pennsylvania. And, it’s a favourite of hikers, backpackers and campers.

A green canopy

At Exit 19, we left the expressway and took a narrow paved road that curved up the hill that brought the tall trees near enough to suddenly dim the light of the day by a good notch. “We are entering the Indian Reservation,” said Sandra. We soon came to the entry check-point to the Reservation. Past the barrier, Sandra said, “We are now technically in an independent territory. Some of the laws of New York State and federal laws too do not apply here and these indigenous people are free to make many of their own laws. That’s why cigarette and liquor are cheaper inside the Reservation as taxes on them are lower. So is gas (petrol). Up there near Salamanca, there’s a huge casino inside the Reservation while gambling is illegal in New York State.” “A State within a State?” I asked. “Reservations are actually sovereign nations with their own police force. You can even call it a country within a country.”

Walking trails

We drove up to a building that houses the reception centre, a cafeteria and a boutique shop selling handicrafts from the Reservation. Sandra collected maps and at the cafeteria we poured over the map showing the different walking trails. We debated over Osgood Trail, which is of 2.5 miles and Red Jacket Trail of two miles, both originating from near the reception centre. After three cups of coffee and as many slices of pepperoni pizza, we agreed over the slightly lengthier Osgood, more out of guilt.

The walking trail began at the northern shore of Red House Lake, one of the several lakes inside the Reservation. The path went up and down amid Scotch pine and red cedar and striped maple and chestnut oak. We stopped by a rivulet that came rippling down from our left. Sandra folded up the legs of her khaki cargo and stepped into the water. “These streams are good for fishing trout,” she said, “but you need permission from the reception.”

Back at the reception I decided to pick up a few memorabilia, articles crafted by the people of the Reservation. A model canoe made of goat hide, a sleeveless hunting jacket embellished with feathers. “Let’s have something to eat in one of the Indian joints,” Sandra said as we drove from the reception. After about 15 minutes of drive through the forest we came to an Indian village and stopped at a log cabin on stilts. We climbed the wooden steps into the cabin. Robert Mohawk, the Indian, a jolly plump man in a dark brown jumper over a pair of jeans, came up smiling and shook hands. Sandra was not a stranger, I gathered. “We have some beautiful smoked trout today,” he said and we sat down at the plank table with low benches. Smoked trout arrived. Peperoni pizza was now in oblivion. We both attacked the trout.

Where to stay

Hotels, motels, lodges and B&B are available in the towns of Angelica, Belmont, Caneadea, Alfred and others. There are also resorts inside the Reservation. The towns have delightful shops for antiques and collectables

What to do

Several activity companies organise hiking, backpacking, cycling, camping, fishing, sailing, buggy-ride and (in winter only) snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding. Popular driving trails are Antique Trail, Alma Pond Trail, Scenic Trail 1 and 2