Come on, you have to admit it. The word Niagara makes you giggle because it rhymes with Viagra. Reem warned me in advance, the place has been commercialized to the extent it barely seems like one of the natural wonders of the world – what I didn’t realize was how much I would enjoy the bling ding.
We found good parking and then like good old desi girls, we walked wrong way down a road with cars turning around a blind corner. What can I say, we like living on the edge. Now that I’m reunited with my girls, we paused and took pictures at every five feet, with a slightly different background, green grounds, and the most beautiful blue-green water, swirling towards the edge, where it plummeted vertically into the white arms of the river that stretched upwards.
There is something strange about Niagara Falls, the way it stretches out so wide and uniformly, falling so neatly over the edge. Something manmade about the whole scenario. Maybe it’s the hotels that compete for height and customers, standing tall, taller, and tallest nearby. Maybe it is how controlled the environment is, with railings telling you how far you can reach out, and money determining how “natural” an experience you can get, how close to the falls you can be.
What I love about waterfalls is how hard it is to pen down the way they tumult off an edge and into the world below, reminiscent of ghosts and dreams in the way they dissolve into mist, the way you can’t tell water and air apart. How it might require hours of trekking, pausing and panting till you turn a corner and spot the waterfall, or scramble over rocks and streams and then precariously balance on a fallen log so that you can feel the mist on your face. I love the sounds, when you get close enough all you can hear is the waterfall, and it fills your head so that everything else is swept away. Waterfalls are supposed to be tucked away in forests or hills or mountains, not surrounded by streets and parking lots that charge $20 for the day, by shops that sell its mediocre miniature replicas on key chains, shirts, and mugs.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast at Niagara. We were finding it hard to walk straight because we were so excited, even before we saw the magnificent falls. We shrieked when we saw the omnipresent rainbow, a perfect arch with is ends disappearing into the deep aqua waves created by the falls. The rainbow travelled with us as we walked along the pathway, pausing at every other spot to shove ourselves between hundreds of other people, all wanting the falls, the trees, the rainbow in the backdrop. I loved walking past different groups of people, catching snatches of conversations in a hundred different languages, two Sikhs in bright turbans debating the merits of suntan lotion, a tiny Asian boy trying to squirm between his mother and slightly bigger brother, an Indian girl telling her counterpart: “and that’s how we will become cousins!”, Bengali, Punjabi, Russian, German, French, Hindi, word scramble.
There were a surprising number of pregnant ladies, and some couples that took photographs of one another till a kind stranger offered to take theirs together, a desi boy posing next to his slightly abashed partner, trying to look at her with the soft affection of a doting boyfriend but barely managing an inappropriately sultry expression as their friends snapped pictures. Little kids ran around with bubble guns that spewed out transparent spheres, reflecting the falls as they twirled around our heads.
The Maid of the Mist slowly bobbed along towards the fall, under the pale arch, disappearing into clouds of spray, bright blue people on board, awestruck, unable to whip out their cameras and snap away (probably a good thing) because of the sudden rain that fell on us, drenching anything that peeked out from under the plastic poncho.
The ferry ride was short and sweet, I almost strangled myself in the blue poncho, we waved to the Americans and dutifully posed like Jack and Rose on Titanic. We saw other people doing the same thing while sleazy men (no, not desis) snapped pictures of them discreetly from afar.
For all my naturalistic rants and odes to trees, I was mesmerized by Clifton Hill. There were wax museums, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, 4D rides and moving theaters, restaurants, cafés, shops, a golf course with plastic dinosaurs standing over the holes, haunted mansions and fear factories, novelty stores where you could buy ugly dolls or get your hands immortalized in colorful wax forms. There was a Ferris wheel, an upside house, a building that looked like it was caught in a terrible earthquake, with Godzilla climbing over it and men hanging out from the windows. It was loud, big, bright, designed to woo you in and slip cash out of your pockets while you stared greedily at burgers, fancy hats, or statutes of Justin Bieber. Crass commercialization was all around and we loved it.
There was a Coca Cola store, and a Hershey’s store where we walked around, wondering who would ever buy chocolate-colored t-shirts or candles that smell like Reese’s, giant stuffed Kisses, or bright green Jolly Ranchers. Like, come on (see how I’m upset enough to revert to teenage white girl lingo?).
We did go to the Nightmare Fear Factory, and scared ourselves shitless. It was absolutely terrifying and hilarious because we were 20-something year olds shrieking in what we knew was an artificially devised environment but we were so scared at some points we couldn’t move. That is definitely one place I would recommend if you want to find out who looks the most ridiculous when they’re terrified. And also study different coping strategies: some people turn into ostriches and dig their heads into other people’s shoulders (Hera), some freeze with their eyes popping out (Reem), others grab onto ALL their friends (Kate) and others try to wrench free and flee (Aisha).
As it grew darker, lights started to flicker on and the falls started to glow, all spotlights trained on them, star attractions at a concert. The spotlights changed colors, these bright strobes of light that cut across the black sky and poured, like pink, red, blue, violet and green paint, over the falls. We could’ve been in a Willy Wonka world – ridiculously fun day, indeed.