Zenobia Khaleel describes her visit to the timeless American icon — the Niagara falls
When you imagine New York, the first thing that comes to mind is the shimmering skyscrapers, the high octane nightlife and Wall Street power play. But all that is confined to a tiny island strip called Manhattan. In the far outskirts of the New York state lies a more amazing and powerful entity, which will retain its glory when all of Manhattan has lost its lustre: one of the world's timeless natural wonders — the Niagara Falls.
Niagara's story began around 12,000 years ago when the melting of glaciers and soil erosion created a set of three waterfalls. Four great American lakes empty into the Niagara River creating a tremendous water body with the most forceful river current in the world; the water flows 175 ft at a speed of 32 ft/sec. The power of these falls is put into perspective when you realise that the electricity generated from these waters provide electricity to a quarter of upstate New York and Ontario.
The Niagara state park houses the majority of the three falls and even as I approach the vicinity of the sprawling park, the falls make its presence felt with the steady hum of the gushing water and a fine mist hanging in the air. The beautifully landscaped Niagara state park stretches before me, dotted with smaller attractions. As my stroll leads me to the direction of the falls, the atmosphere feels electrically charged with the mix of the mist and anticipation. The quaint green trolley service shuttles visitors across all the major and minor attractions in the park.
From romantic honeymooners to extreme adventure seekers to those with an artistic frame of mind, the Niagara has something to offer all ranges of tourists. The stroll through the park also greets me with artists with easels and lovers exchanging wedding vows. Not surprising as the Niagara boasts to be one of the top wedding venues of the world.
The American and Bridal Veil Falls lie on the American banks of the Niagara River. A small teardrop of land called the Goat Island, forks the river into two at the brink of the falls .The splitting of the river by this island has gifted the world these two amazing waterfalls.
At Prospect Point, I get my first glimpse of the first of the three falls, the American Falls. It is a unique zigzagged waterfall, the peculiar shape resulting from the chipping away of rock from the fall's edge .These rocks are proudly displayed at the bottom of the falls, and they splash away the water that hits them with tremendous force. The frothy flowing water looks like icicles, tinted with tiny strips of jade. During sunset, the twilight colours, twinkle on these crystal coloured waters, creating a stunningly surreal effect.
The Bridal Veil Falls takes me by surprise. Contrasting to the American Falls, it flows from a linear precipice. This is smallest waterfall of the three. I wonder if it is poetic imagination, or word association, but the image that comes to mind as I gaze at these waters is that of a beautiful sheet of silk filled with delicate filigreed lace, rolling down to the depths.
At the base of the Bridal Veil lies the Cave of the Wind, a huge sturdy wooden stairway which gets me within 20 ft of the cascade. Dressed in a yellow poncho and special footwear that the tour guides hand out, I am ready for my closest encounter of the fall. The multitude of steps do not daunt me as each deck on the walkway shows off the Niagara in a beautiful new angle .On either sides of the railings, wildflowers growing on rock crevices offer pretty distractions as I hike upwards. On top of the hurricane deck, my poncho and I are miserably pitted against tropical storm like conditions caused by the deluge! During winters, icicle formations on the steps weaken the wooden structure. So, every year, the walkway is taken apart in autumn and rebuilt in spring.
Finally, the enthralling moment when I catch the first glimpse of the biggest of the three waterfalls, the Horseshoe Falls. This falls accounts for nine percent of the water flow, and derives its name from its 2200-ft wide curved crest. This falls lies on both American and Canadian banks of the river. The voluminous water plunging from all three sides to the bowels of the arc create a colossal spray of mist that can be seen miles away.
Built on the Niagara gorge, the observation post is a 175 ft high viewing deck that overhangs the river. On top of this viewing pavilion, magnificent scenery draws my attention from all directions. To my left, is the hypnotic vision of the three majestic waterfalls, while the Canadian skyline glistens right ahead. On my right, the rapids of the Niagara river surge below the rainbow bridge.
If the beauty of Niagara is unmatched during the day, it's vision at night is like living a psychedelic dream: 21 powerful Xenon spotlights illuminate the falls in rainbow colours. During the festival of lights, a dazzling firework display adds to the cacophony of colour.
The pillar of the observation post has been gouged out to create a 175 ft elevator shaft, which takes me down to the Maid of the Mist docking station. The historic Maid of the Mist ferry is the oldest tourist ride of America. It takes you to the base of the American falls, the Bridal Veils and within a respectful distance of the Horseshoe Falls, which is as far as the ferry's powerful engines can go. Throughout the ride, the tour guide regales us with morbid tales of the daredevils who went over the falls in barrel, tightropes, etc and the ratio of the ones who made it back. The upper deck of the ferry comprises of the bravehearts who want to experience the full fury of the elements.
As we gingerly approach the vortex of the waterfall, the dull hum of water has grown into a deafening, thunderous roar. I catch a glimpse of the jagged rocks at the base of the falls and then the spray gets me. It hits me on the eye, the nose and in my throat. The surging water and the wayward spray create a white canopy of foam, and the ferry seems to rock. The PA system crackles and the tour guide states in a dramatic whisper: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Niagara Falls!”
In that awe inspiring, fear inducing moment, all I can do is try to keep my eyes open.