Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Victoria - Royally British, charmingly English.

Victoria's quaint laid back atmosphere, old english charm and beauty, and its quieter pace of life, felt almost welcome and refreshing, after being on the road for nearly 8 days with a all-in-one kind of an itinerary!
Victoria is just a short ferry ride away be it either from Seattle on the US side or from its counter part city Vancouver on the Canadian side. And they have very convenient and comfortable double-decker buses waiting at the terminal to take visitors into the main harbor area of this picturesque town! BC Transit Bus # 70 will get you all the way there, besides what is included in the bus ride is a bird's eye view (if you are sitting on the top deck) of the beautiful country side, along marine drive! What more can you ask for? It keeps your anticipation building and makes the hour long trip seamless.

It would be wise to get a bed & breakfast or even a hotel stay downtown near or close to the harbor, there is plenty to see and do here, and most, if not all of it is walkable! ( I love walk-friendly places like Vancouver and Victoria...I am all for public transportation and good 'ol bus no. 11 ).
It never hurts to ask if you could check in early. 9 times out of 10, you can! We were lucky again, to get a beautiful room on the 4th floor, overlooking the harbor area in the distance, and since we were prepared to spend most of our time outdoors, we weren't concerned about the view out the window anyway - that just happened to be a bonus!
At first glance, downtown Victoria impresses you with its classic british-day built imposing Parliament building, the famed Fairmont Empress Hotel, which hosts the Queen herself on her royal visits...and the busy yet pretty harbor marina area. We were presented with a plate full of choices, the question was - how much can you eat? And I haven't even begun talking about the food places!

The Royal British Columbia museum is a great place to start your discovery of this charming British town. The museum, as part of its permanent gallery collection showcases a unique insight into the First People's culture where you are privileged to enter the house of an Indian Chief. There are many guided tours and one such is of the modern history gallery, which takes you through a replica of Captain George Vancouver's ship and onto the story of the Gold Rush in British Columbia. Amongst its other impressive permanent exhibits is the gallery of Natural History where a fossilized woolly mammoth stands testimony to the ending of the ice age. There is always something that appeals to adults, families and children here. Don't miss Thunderbird park behind the Museum.

If museums are not your cuppa tea, then maybe a cup-of-tea is!!! Yes, you can enjoy the royal experience of High Tea at the Empress Hotel. This traditional and important ritual of afternoon tea originally began in the 1700's to ward off hunger before the main dinner meal. Today, you can treat yourself to authentic English scones, pastries and sandwiches, and of-course to an array of great english teas while seated at the Empress Hotel's plush Victorian lobby. It doesn't get more English than that!
But probably the most impressive structure overlooking the inner harbor in downtown Victoria is BC's parliament building(s). An interesting piece of trivia is that these buildings (massive in their grandeur and appeal) were constructed in 1893 by a young and creative architect by the name of Francis Rattenbury who was only 25 years at the time! And he and his crew built these timeless buildings with as much local materials, expertise and resources. Unbelievable !

The Parliament building grounds apart from being lush green and inviting, are also the starting point for regular visitor tours (free). Don't be surprised to find a casual Victorian couple walking the grounds from time to time. Its a total package of drama, trivia and information that is a must for all visitors.
There is a reason why all the important buildings and structures are centered around the inner harbor area in downtown. Its because the inner harbor is the heart and life of downtown. Its floral signature welcome message invites people to take in all that it has to offer. This is definitely the most "happening" part of town. Out here sea-planes land and take off, every few minutes, and all the boats docked at the marina against a setting sun make for a picture perfect evening stroll. Sun down transforms the sea walk and all of the harbor area as more than 3000 light bulbs light up the parliament buildings casting an almost enchanting glow on the city. We were lucky to be here when the moon was high up in the sky, the waters - calm, and the evening perfect. Take your time to stroll along the harbor, you cannot miss the number of street performers and musicians to add romance to your evening stroll.

Victoria's downtown is certainly dominated by big and long standing structures, but its in the little shops and restaurants that you can see experience so much of a quaint british influence and charm.
TIP:The surprising part was that the ferry ride from Vancouver(Tsawwassen Ferry terminal) to Victoria (Swartz Bay) aboard the BC Ferries cost both of us a total of $20 and took only an hour and a half in terms of time ! And from Victoria to Seattle...nearly 8 times the price and more than twice the time! Go figure!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Vancouver's "rich" suburb

Vancouver does stand up to its reputation of being diverse, culturally rich and traditionally varied, and one of its lesser known testimonials to that effect is the brilliant Buddhist temple neatly tucked in along  Stevenson Highway. Nestled in Richmond's opulent suburb, this tranquil retreat is as eye-captivating, as it is serene and peaceful.

The temple architecture makes it stand out amongst its surburbial surroundings. The classic pagoda shape and style dramatized with carvings of saints and floral patterns portray Chinese influence. The property itself is carefully planned to include all elements in a well balanced and natural setting. The wispy aromatic burning of incense sticks and offerings of fruit and flowers mark the various smaller temples along the pathway that leads to the main deity.

Out here, you do not experience the crowds, or the humdrum of every day metropolitan life, instead you are treated to a sense of calm where you cannot help but reflect. With under-the-breathe echoing chants, the quite unspoken words of the nuns, and the constant turn of prayer wheels, you are bound to find your steps becoming more deliberate and with purpose. The magnificent statues, stunning wall decor and  labored gardens are enough to awaken your inner spirits and draw you towards a lesser known world, one filled with peace, truth and harmony.

Geometrically designed flower beds, painted curbside, warrior lion statues marking the entrance gates and 24 karat pure gold plated idols and statues are just some of the reasons to enjoy this hidden gem. The lotus ponds, classic fountains and colorful pagodas might be some others. But what you take back from here are thoughts, feelings and experiences that are transforming in nature. They are the kind that leave an everlasting impression in your heart and soul. In today's ever-changing  world, where pace dictates life, this, is a sanctuary where time stands still, and where you can pause to take a breather and get a fresh and invigorating perspective to life itself.

TIP: It could be easily missed - this tiny gift shop located on the 3rd floor of the temple, where you can buy, not just artifacts, but learn more about the temple, the community and how it all began in Canada- Vancouver. Visiting this temple is definitely one of my-picks!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Vancouver – on a shoe string!

There are places where prices matter…but not necessarily here. Vancouver has tons to offer without ripping your wallets. Its all up to you however, to experience Vancouver on a shoe string!
Picture perfect weather, culturally rich and vibrant, supporting diverse communities, and always finding itself on the cutting edge of innovation and advancement, Vancouver prides itself in offering the very best to its residents and tourists! Yes, tourism is a big part of its economy.
But you can enjoy and immerse deep enough into its culture without financially getting broke! Or lets say, even if you ARE financially broke, you can still enjoy what this city has to offer! That is what is so great about this place, and what possibly attracts hundreds of visitors every year!
Put on your walking shoes…and go get a day pass first!

We were here for soaking in the urban culture that defined Vancouver, and were prepared to flex our leg muscles to get us there. Getting a day pass just made it all the more easier! A day pass can be purchased at any sky train ticket vending machine, and is good for travel for the entire day on any mode of transportation including, Bus, Sky train and Ferry (seabus) within the downtown and surrounding areas. It is a great bargain for $8 and the rides are unlimited.
Head for Canada Place Building and get yourself maps!
The information center downtown is huge! The knowledgeable staff has answers and solutions to all your queries, and boy …do they have maps! Depending on where you want to travel, they provide you with the most up to date information on means of transportation, lodging, attraction tickets, passes …you name it! It is definitely worth spending sometime and getting all the info you need for your visit. The central hub of all transportation (bus depot), also is very near to the visitor information center.

A Canyon is a canyon is a canyon…and a suspension bridge…guess what….is a suspension bridge…is a suspension bridge!
So, there is all this hype about the Capilano Suspension Bridge, and how everyone visiting Vancouver must experience it! But would I pay $30 for a crowded impersonal experience that might last a few fleeting moments, instead of paying ‘nothing’…yes I said nothing, for a much less crowded, personal I-have-all-the-time-in -the-world experience?? If you agree with the later…opt for Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, located in Lynn Canyon Park. It is not publicly advertised which is why, you get to take your time experiencing the nature trails and paths around the park. Not to mention admiring the waterfalls deep down in the Canyons.
Stanley Park Downtown – Everyone’s favorite!
Stanley Park is Vancouver’s first park spanning 1000 acres of prime land close to the heart of downtown. Very popular amongst visitors, this park boasts hosting nearly 8 million people every year!
A lesser known fact is that the free Stanley Park shuttle bus service allows for visitors to leave their cars behind, and hit the park’s most popular highlights all from the convenience of this shuttle. Plus an added bonus is the animated narrations you get to hear from the shuttle drivers. They are informative and entertaining!

Museum of Anthropology at UBC
This wasn't planned, but we were plain lucky when it happened. The museum has an exquisite collection of Native First Nation Art, and is a must see when you are in town. It is good to know that on Tuesday evenings, the entry fee is waived, and the museum is all yours to see and indulge in without spending a penny!

So you see, these and many other attractions, are both enriching in its cultural appeal, and at the same time, are friendly towards your pockets! Its no wonder then, that Vancouver is constantly rated as one of the most livable cities in the world. And after spending nearly 3 days here, I am a believer!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Eclectic Urban - Vancouver

As mentioned in the very first entry in this journal – Head Start, we came to realize that our 10 day journey through Western Canada was distinctly broken into 2 sections; we had already been through the heart of the Canadian Rockies and needless to say were transformed by the whole experience.
The unforgettable train journey almost was perfectly timed and built into the itinerary with the purpose of slowing down the pace, to admire nature at its very best. It gave us much needed time to reflect, re-cooperate and rejuvenate ourselves for what lay ahead.
The rugged mountainous peaks, glaciers and ice fields were behind us now, and as the train was pulling into Pacific central station in Vancouver, we saw ourselves facing tall structures of another kind – those made of concrete and steel!

Again investing your time on re-search pays…we learnt that Vancouver is best seen on foot or by public transport, and essentially most of the action happens downtown! And the rest, can very easily be accessed from here as well. So we went ahead and booked ourselves for 2 nights at the YWCA downtown.

Those of you who love to get everywhere by foot…will absolutely love this city! It is a backpacker’s paradise. The train station and YWCA were within walking distance, and since the train arrived at 8.30am, it was perfect timing too! After having had a relaxing journey, we couldn’t wait to freshen up and immerse ourselves into the urban culture that is Vancouver.
TIP: The sky train station is right outside Pacific Central Station...and centrally connects parts of downtown. It is fast, cheap and very frequent.
Also, even though check-in at most hotels is around 2pm or later, it doesn't hurt to ask if a room is ready and available earlier. If you are lucky, you only have to wait a few minutes, which is lot better than having to wait several hours if you arrived early.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Real Romance in the Rockies...

Vancouver in the west to Toronto in the east, and offers its passengers, choice of destination, style and price range to select from.
We alighted onto this spectacular train journey at the town of Jasper and headed west towards Vancouver. This perfectly fit into our itinerary as well…since we had driven along the continental divide from Banff to Jasper anyways…and instead of returning back, decided to drop off the rental car at Jasper, and board the famed train from there.
The experience of getting on-board took us momentarily into the Victorian era…where the ticket collectors dressed in crisp starched navy blue uniforms (with polished buttons, and hats) prepared to take post at the entrance to the passenger cars. The  announcement, over the loudspeakers heralded that the train was now open to boarding. It was too much excitement to handle. The Canadian does have several ‘classes’ to choose from, we booked Coach comfort class…which not only was the most economical, but every bit comfortable and enjoyable. The seats were extremely spacious, with a reclining angle of almost 130 degrees…there is also a foot rest that comes up from under your seat, giving you the luxury to stretch yourself and relax. (Talk about ample leg any class on any airline, for almost or less than what you would have paid for your airline ticket!!). Oh! by the way, did I mention that everyone here is provided a blanket and pillow as well!? 

But what was most impressive, was the large single paned window on either side of the seats…giving you a complete un-interrupted view of the country side as you chug along! The catch phrase is 'chugging-along', as the train moves at a considerably slow pace around the bends and curves of the mountains, giving you and your camera enough time to focus and capture those timeless memories of the mountains, valleys and wildlife!

Observation deck: This ended up being our favorite hang out place! You have one every 2-3 cars…and the experience from sitting here is un-matched. The dome shaped car, has two levels to it, with a spiral staircase leading to the top level. The lower level has plush leather swivel chairs with attached tables to have a hot meal, or to indulge in a game of checkers or cards with fellow passengers. The top level is where all the excitement is! The entire dome is glass-paneled, lending breathtaking panoramic 360 degree views of nature that engulfs you when aboard. These glass domes are built for a reason, the scenery that you come across as you sit in one of these observation decks, is un-paralleled and second to none. 

You cannot resist falling into a trance-like-state just observing the ever changing scenery all around you. Between dinner calls, and depending on the time of day, the crowd thins out, and you get ample seating to enjoy the vistas that you are privy to on this train ride.

The advantage to taking the train in the summer is that there is daylight almost till after 10pm at night, and since majority of the journey from Jasper to Vancouver is during the day, we made the most use of the observation deck. Infact we clocked sunset that evening at 10:33pm!!

The Canadian is definitely VIA rail’s proudest achievements and our number one pick for all of you who thought – “train journeys are expensive”! This trip makes up for the ultimate experience through the Canadian Rockies and is synonymous with comfort, luxury, first class dining experience and overall un-surpassed enjoyment.
It is a dream-journey, one that we are proud to say – CAME TRUE for us!!!

TIP: Seats in comfort coach class are first come first serve, if you are traveling as a family, a four-seater would be offered to you as first picks...take it without question.

If you are a couple traveling without kids, the four-seater wouldn't be offered to you, you might even be forewarned to give up those seats if and when another family boarded at a different station. Take the four-seater offers the best broad-sweeping views, through the large single-paned windows. More than likely you will have it all the way through, and don't have to give it the chances for another family boarding in the dead of the night is very slim to none.

Friday, July 07, 2006

What is Canada's largest and most northerly national park?

It’s much quieter, peaceful, less traveled and matched equally in its natural splendor as its popular neighbor, why wouldn't you visit this place instead? JASPER is as much an entrance gate to the Canadian Parks as its popular counterpart Banff. But with Jasper, you don’t have to deal with the crowds, the tourists, and the commercialism that one would often come across in Banff, especially at peak times.
If you are driving on the world famous Icefield Parkway from Banff towards Jasper, you have already been through amazing vistas along the way that JASPER national park is known to enthrall visitors year-round with. The thunderous Sunwapta and Athabasca falls, mark the edge between the two large park systems. And its defining moment of glory is the up-close and personal experience with Athabasca Glacier and theColumbia icefields.

But this national park has even more to offer…in terms of its rugged, un-touched beauty of Maligne Lake, the sheer cliffs that make up Maligne Canyon…and amongst others, an abundance of very protected and varied wildlife including Elk, Caribou, Big horn Sheep, Mountain goats and other large animals.
The quaint and charming town site of Jasper, was inviting, appealing and refreshing in its own way. The so-called downtown area is very do-able by foot, and allows the traveler to really soak in the small town charm and hospitality that Jasper has to offer. There are numerous eating places that are ideal locations for good food, wonderful ambience, and great company, if you are traveling in a large group.

But if you are looking for a private dinner outside on the porch with the mountains and the setting sun in the background…this is the most likely place, where you will find that easily! The sunsets here are not to be missed! This small town ‘caters’ to all tastes and pallets!
For the serious hiker, Jasper national park offers more than 1200 kms of hiking trails…and if you are not one of those, and are simply looking for an evening stroll…on your very own private lake, try Lake Patricia or Lake Pyramid…close to town. With barely a soul in sight, these lakes are as breath-taking as any other and unite you with nature in the true sense of the word. 

The town of Jasper offers a host of lodging facilities from the bare and rustic…all the way to 5 star luxuries. Take your pick, you wouldn’t be disappointed. With spectacular nature surrounding you in such a pristine environment, one could hardly go wrong with any choice. Your length of stay, style of traveling and list of activities that you indulge in, while in Jasper, will help you decide where to select your room and board. The Athabasca Hotel is located very centrally in town and made a perfect choice for our stay. There are lots of fun little stores, only a stone’s throw from the hotel. And for celebrating that special evening, EARL’S restaurant is literally just 10 steps outside the hotel!! Offering a tastefully simple menu, and both indoor and outdoor seating, this casual dining restaurant definitely made our list!
So you see, Jasper is more than just a national park…it offers everything and more to all its visitors. You are bound to enjoy the slower pace of life here, and guaranteed to get in touch with nature more personally.

TIP: Added to the fact, that the Canadian VIA rail operates through the town of Jasper…making this a practical and obvious choice en-route your Canadian journey. With my next article-'The Real Romance in the Rockies', I hope to convince you that not traveling by train in this part of the world is missing out on one of life’s best travel experiences hands down. It is absolutely a MUST!!!

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Here is our TOP TEN list of some of the large and popular attractions on the Icefield Parkway where the expression tourist-trap literally means 'trapped-by-bus loads of-tourists'!! The order of 'must-sees' below is based on a drive originating from Lake Louise and ending at Jasper.
1.Hector Lake : It is the largest natural lake in Banff National Park, most of the lakes in the area have exceptional color and clarity because of the rock minerals suspended in water.

2.Crowfoot Glacier : Named so because in the early 1900s it had three toes resembling 
the foot of a crow, however later the third toe broke off and melted. 
3.Bow Lake : Rising from the turquoise blue waters of Bow Lake are steep rugged mountain peaks that define what the Canadian Rockies are all about. Num-ti-jah Lodge is nestled at the northern edge of Bow lake, this lodge stands witness to some of the most dramatic scenic vistas this place has to offer. Founded by Jimmy Simpson in late 19th Century, the fuschia pink outer walls of the lodge capture the corner of your eye and draws you to it. It is truly a sight to behold amongst all the nature surrounding it.  

4.Peyto Lake : If you are willing to stretch your legs,(have the bug spray handy) the short tarmac path off the main highway, leads you to the Peyto Lake Viewpoint. Your payoff for the somewhat steep but short hike is a view of a gorgeous icy blue lake set far below in a deep glacial valley. Its distinct bear-like unique shape sets it apart from all other lakes in the area, and leaves a permanent impression on your mind.
5.Mount Chephren 3266m : We were amazed at ourselves, for associating these gigantic peaks as living things! Each had a name, personality and character of its own. Mount Chephren was named after the son of Cheops - builder of one of Egypt's great pyramids. Its classic horned peak resembles that of the famed pyramids.Waterfowl Lake is framed by Mount Chephren, and is seen right along the highway. You cannot miss it!

6.Saskatchewan River Crossing : Meeting two other rivers- the Howse and Mistaya, the Saskatchewan River Crossing is one of Canada's heritage river sites. It can be accessed by taking a short trail to view the actual culmination of the three rivers. This extensive corridor of the river(s) provided a major east-west link across Canada serving as a popular trade, exploration and settlement route.
7.Weeping Wall : Just driving along highway 93, you come across waterfalls resembling a mountain crying a river of tears. The 'weeping' waterfalls tumble more than 100 meters, making a beautiful sight along the way. On a clear, sunny summer day, you wouldn't be surprised to see kids and adults enjoying a refreshing splash, to cool themselves off!

8.Columbia Icefields : This is how Highway 93 got its more popular name of Icefield Parkway. The Columbia Icefields are the largest reservoir of ice and snow south of the Arctic Circle. Covering more than 300 square kilometers in area, the icefields straddle the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, feeding three of the continent's major river systems which flow into the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans.
9.Athabasca Glacier : This has got be a geologist's delight! As one of the most accessible glaciers in North America, its tongue of ice 6km long and 1km wide, is within walking distance of the highway. Being born to, and taught by a geography teacher, I simply couldn't resist exploring the glacier on foot!! You can also travel (more popularly) in a specially designed giant 6-wheeled all-terrain Ice explorer (56 person capacity) that tours the icy slopes of Athabasca Glacier. Brewster company has tours operating every 15-20 min during the summer months between the months of April and October. The feeling of stepping onto a glacier and witnessing rivulets form as we speak, was indescribable. I dedicated this part of our trip to my mom, and all her lessons in Geography, being able to physically experience what she taught, was like seeing a fairy tale come true!

10.Athabasca Falls : Only 25 kms shy of the town of Jasper, you come across one of the most breathtaking and powerful waterfalls in the Rocky Mountains. This is where the Athabasca river thunders through a narrow gorge smoothing its walls and creating large potholes by the sheer force of rushing water carrying sand and rock. Although at a height of 75 feet, the Athabasca falls may not be considered very high by canadian rocky standards, nevertheless they are a brilliant spectacle of roaring water, spray and mist.
TIP: Even though walking on glaciers, presents an opportunity of a lifetime, they can quickly lead to disaster. Glaciers are dangerous, and are infamously known to consume lives when people wander past warning signs only to end up falling into a crevasse. Please exercise caution and stick to the cordoned area marked by yellow caution tape. Curb your over-adventurous spirit because just being here is adventure enough! And you definitely want to live to tell...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Riding the Great Continental Divide - Icefield Parkway!

Continental Divide (as researched by google) is defined as a line of elevated terrain which forms a border between two watersheds such that water falling on one side of the line eventually travels to one ocean or body of water, and water on the other side travels to another, generally on the opposite side of the continent.
All that information makes for a good geography lesson,(no Mom, I am not downplaying geography lessons!! I know as a teacher you are very passionate about the subject) but what you experience when you are actually riding this diverse mountain landscape, is something else altogether, that school books couldn't do justice to! The above definition doesn't even begin to describe the feeling. (Mom - you will see...the good stuff is coming!)

North America has 4 continental divides, the Great Divide runs from the Seaward Peninsula in Alaska through Western Canada along the crest of the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico separating the watersheds of the Pacific Ocean from those of the Atlantic or Arctic Oceans.
On our 10-day to Canada, we had the experience of a lifetime,  journeying a portion of the Great Continental Divide between the towns of Banff and Jasper. This section is part of 2 national park systems, and was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 for its outstanding natural beauty and unsurpassed geological value!
You can get on to the world famous Icefields Parkway (Highway 93), from just outside Lake Louise. This stretch of approximately 230 km between Lake Louise and Jasper rewards you with eye-capturing views of majestic peaks, ancient glaciers, crystal clear lakes and broad sweeping valleys. This is one stretch of road where you never want to hit the pedal to the metal. Keep enough time on your itinerary, to admire, absorb and reflect upon these magnificent sites.

There are many "must-sees" on this very scenic and historic drive. You can find a lot of information about the same from the internet, or from any library or information center. I have listed details on what to see in my TOP TEN LIST.Those of you wondering, nothing on the list falls under the infamous- 'tourist trap' category unless you re-think the usage of the word...yes... you have a fairly good chance of getting 'trapped-by-tourists' !! All the sites and stops listed on this drive are hands-down spectacular and worth your time and indulgence.
We were advised that the Ice-field Parkway is home to varied mountain wildlife such as mountain goat, black bear, elk and moose. We have to say, we weren't disappointed, and were lucky to catch a glimpse of wildlife in their natural setting. Often times herds of elk would cross the highway, holding up miles of traffic, and causing crazed tourists to jump out of their buses to capture photos.

Driving on the Great Continental Divide was like escaping to a world, where the mountains rule, and you - a mere spec on their topography.  Their rugged snow-capped world studded with icefields and alpine glaciers, make you realize what the Ice age might have been like. To this day these icefields continue to mould and sculpt the ever-changing landscape that is enough invitation to make this an awe-inspiring journey. 
See Mom - all your teaching hasn't gone to waste, you are now the proud mother of someone who literally rode the backbone of the continent and experienced first hand, what the books talked about. And having done that, I now have a new found respect for geography and how its workings have designed and redefined the landscape of the world! Wish you were here!

TIP: The Icefields Pkwy is often the ideal destination for avid bicyclers. This ever popular scenic route offers lodges and hostels conveniently located at the end of each biking pit-stop. If you are game to push your body and take the plunge, you will be rewarded with a perspective refreshingly unique and vastly different from the average high-speed automobile-driver's.  
Take you time enjoying this scenic stretch, it is a milestone in history, and is not meant to be rushed. Give yourselves a good portion of a day to traverse the great divide...and then tell the world, you did it!!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Have you seen an Emerald of this size?!

Picture perfect day for Canoeing on Lake Emerald

We have! And its not the kind that you would wear on your finger or around your neck, but one that you would carry with you always... in your heart and mind. It would only seem fit and appropriate to compare the brilliance of the lakes in the region to the most sparkling of jewels known to man... like the dazzling blue of the sapphires,  or the purity of the pearl...the clarity of the diamond and the vivid intensity of the EMERALD. Yes! I am talking about EMERALD lake located beneath Yoho National Park's towering mountains in British Columbia.
Seen this shade of green? Its Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
Hardly 10 km past the town of Field in BC, once you come onto Emerald lake you understand why its named so. This shade of green is yet to be discovered and named! It is the prettiest sight in the vicinity.

It is no surprise then that the rustic Emerald Lake Lodge situated on the lake takes pride in offering the most extraordinary of views nature could provide. This romantic mountain getaway exudes charm and elegance, offering the best of facilities and beckoning its residents to stay, soak in the wilderness for a while.

TIP: To enjoy the splendor of the lake, plan to visit late afternoon or early evening, when the bus loads of tourists have departed. The  waters couldn't be more inviting and calm and you wouldn't have to watch it from around and above people's shoulders to get that best scenic snapshot captured in your camera.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Its a stunningly beautiful, well kept secret!!

Is this place for real or was it a faction of our imagination? How can there be a place so pure and pristine, untouched, unscathed, wild and glorious? How can the waters be this placid, yet multifaceted...this vivid, and so full of character, this inviting and at the same time so mesmerizing? Is this a dream, or does such a utopia really exist? How could nature surrounding this haven, be so rugged, alpine yet legendary?     
If you can believe it, all the above was answered in superlatives, when we stepped foot onto a well kept secret amidst the Canadian Rockies. True in every sense of the word to it being called the Jewel of the Mountains - Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on earth.
The tree trunks are actually underwater, thats how crystal clear the waters are...
Framed by spectacular snowcapped peaks, lush alpine meadows and an evergreen tree line, the brilliant turquoise waters of the lake are a sight to see. I can guarantee that you couldn't have seen this shade of blue, or wait a minute it is green, or is it any of the million shades in between?

Surrounding the lake from its shoreline all the way to the top and around it are a web of trails offering sights only fit for the gods. As you climb higher on the switchbacks, the view only gets better, till you reach the edge of the cliff, from where - this sunken gem literally takes your breath away! We felt like we were the luckiest people have experienced this wondrous place on earth.

Any amount of photographs couldn't capture and do justice to what has got to be the pinnacle of the Canadian National Parks. It is no wonder then, that access to this lake is very restricted in order to protect and preserve it. There are only a limited number of day-hikers allowed on any given day, and  reservations both for overnight stays at the lodge and for day-hikes get sold out months in advance.

Refreshing waterfalls en route the Lake Oesa trail
It’s possible to walk to Lake O’Hara (11km/6.8 miles from the nearest public road), but most visitors take the shuttle bus along a road closed to the public. Buses for day visitors depart between mid-June and early October at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., returning at 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. To book a seat, call the dedicated reservations line (250.343.6433) many months in advance as seats are limited. The reservation fee is $12 per booking, and the bus fare is $15 per person round-trip. Its not easy making the reservations, it takes patience and a strong index finger to hit re-dial a hundred times. Is it worth it - you ask, ABSOLUTELY, and you do not want to miss out on this experience of a lifetime.
Alpine meadows surrounding Lake O'Hara

TIP:  Six seats per day are set aside for those who haven’t made advance reservations. They are allotted via the reservation number on a first-come, first-served basis. No-shows are filled on a standby basis by folks waiting around at the parking lot on the day of departure (generally, arrive around 7 a.m., head to the covered shelter, and you’ll be the first in line). You have the best chance of snagging a seat on the first morning 8:30 a.m. bus. 

If you are wondering, you are correct, we were among the 6 lucky people who got into the bus last minute, after all the trials and tribulations of not being able to get through the phone lines. Hands-down this is the best TIP that I could ever suggest to you!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Climb every mountain...

Right off the bat, I want to say, we are novices at hiking/trekking/mountain climbing...however you want to call it! And after spending a few precious months re-searching the canadian rockies, it was decided that not hiking the mountains here, would be like being in India and not visiting the TAJ !!That being said, Sulphur Mountain in Banff Townsite stood testimony to our debut hike! A well-defined and well-maintained 5.3km trail takes you all way from the Gondola parking lot down below to the summit of the mountain offering views un-paralleled along the way!

Yes - there is a Gondola ride up, for the faint-hearted!! (we can boldly say that now). But there are other advantages to not taking the Gondola, you can experience nature first hand, see sights and views on every bend and turn of the switch backs, not to mention, give yourself a good bit of cardio...and feel the exhillerating sense of achievement and accomplishment once you reach the summit.
As you criss-cross underneath the Gondola ride on your way to the top, you are privy to nature's bounty in terms of wild-flowers , trickling waterfalls and foliage that is unique to this part of the world. You also have the opportunity to meet and greet fellow hikers who invariable pass you (us) by, after you have exchanged a flurry of FAQs about the height and length of the trail- remaining!

But the feeling once you reach the summit, is in-describable. The panorama of mountains, some still snow-capped (in July), awaiting you at the top is worth every second of the steep climb. The freshness of the cool crisp air on top takes away your fatigue in an instant and instead rejuvinates your mind, body and spirit. It is a spot where you can feel the power and magnificence of the mammoth mountains surrounding you.

A restaurant and gift shop are located at the summit along with a viewing platform, picnic tables and interesting interpretive signs. A wide self guided interpretive walkway leads along the top of the peak past the concrete foundation of the Cosmic Ray Station and on to the turn-of-the-century weather observatory on Sanson's Peak on which you can follow in the footsteps of Norman Sanson, who walked to the top of the mountain about every week for 30 years to check the weather! .

The trail offers breath-taking picturesque views of the valley and surrounding mountains. And this (being our 'first' conquest), gave us bragging rights for a long time to come. At 2270 m, Sulphur is the highest mountain in the Banff area with a fairly tough hiking trail to the summit. But at every point, when you stop to look, you feel you are on top of the world...and the world couldn't have been a better place.

TIP: If you chose to hike Sulphur Mtn, you can take the Gondola ride back down for half-price! Some articles have reported that the ride back-down in such instances is free, but we found that to be in-correct. Still, its a time and money-saver, no doubt.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Fairmont Banff Springs - A Paradise Resort

Whats the one thing that all real-estate agents and books harp about when buying or selling property, its Location-Location -Location!
And staying true to every alphabet of the word is the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. If you look at the photograph, you will know why I called it the Paradise Resort, for us it was all a DREAM!!  
Located in the heart of the valley, surrounded by towering impressive peaks, alongside the bubbly Bow river, under the open sky - could one ever have asked for anything more? How much more perfectly could a resort be situated? It was such a sight to behold.
Locating the scenic overlook from where these pictures were captured, wasn't easy to find!!! But once there, you couldn't possibly get enough of the views, it had to offer. Its from here that you could admire this unique blend of opulence and seclusion that makes the resort appear so much a part and parcel of nature, like it was meant to be.

Flowing alongside the castle-like-resort is the effervescent bow river cascading into Bow falls not too far from the hotel, behind it. It is quite the view, if you are prepared to share it with hundreds of other tourists at a popular time of day. It is from here that you can catch a glimpse of the river meandering through the mountains that define the Banff Springs Resort.
Styled after a Scottish baronial castle, the Fairmont Banff Springs offers stunning vistas, championship golf courses, unparalleled skiing, classic cuisine and Willow Stream, a world class European-style spa. With over 700 superbly appointed guest rooms, I was positive that each room offered a brilliant view because you cannot go wrong with this place. Its out here on those well kept lawns that you experience timeless beauty and luxurious becoming one with nature.

TIP: Ask the concierge for a map of the hotel...yes it is that big, you can take a free self-guided tour, absorbing the interiors, the gift shops, and the eloquent settings that the resort is known for.
If you are lucky (as we were), you get to hear the concierge play the bagpipes in full scottish attire on the back terrace overlooking the panoramic grounds that make this resort a true paradise.