Niagara!! Oh Niagara!! people say it is like heaven on earth.. I never thought I could visit this beautiful place, one of seven natural wonders of the world, I never even wanted to go! As we say.. it is not my cup of tea! But situations brought me here.. sad thing is.. I was not in high spirits that day.. but still it was worth going and seeing the falls in its full glory..
I started at 12.30 pm from Toronto.. My bus started in downtown Toronto, from where I could see the CN Tower ( this is the tallest individually standing tower in the world ). I did not even bother to look out of the window and see all the interesting things along the way to Niagara. I was busy with my novel!
The bus reached Niagara around 2.30 pm. I could see there were a lot of visitors.. mostly from the USA. The view of Niagara Falls from the Canadian side is breathtaking!! US visitors can only have a side view of these falls. There is a bridge that is opposite to the falls that connects USA and Canada, it is called the Rainbow Bridge. People walk or drive to and fro on it.
My main reason for coming to Niagara is to get my landing papers stamped. So, I need to go the Canadian consulate for that. Nobody there seem to know where the consulate is!! Somebody directed me to the City Hall telling someone there might be able to help me! I was told that I should go to the Immigration office and that there were actually two.. one at the Rainbow bridge and another at the lower level bridge.. I can go to any one of those two.
There is a bus that takes visitors around the Niagara falls and nearby attractions. So I bought the ticket, it was 5 dollars. In the bus, many passengers were interested in going to the Casino.. They all seemed to be frequent visitors. The drive to the falls took 5 minutes.
When I watched the falls for the first time, it was the most awesome and exciting experience I ever had.. Water fell like a white curtain, pouring millions of gallons of water from the edge, the foam and the mist it created, the multiple rainbows that can be seen through this amazing mist of water is an awesome sight!!! The faces of the visitors were glowing with excitement.. all were truly enjoying this great marvel created by nature and had a look of satisfaction at watching the world's most exquisite sight!
Then I thought, I had come for my stamping.. I had to get that done first.. and then I can just enjoy myself later. So off I went.. directly to the Rainbow bridge where the Immigration office was located. In the office.. I saw an Indian couple sitting on the chairs.. They seemed a bit worried. I wondered why? When the officer at the counter was done with them.. I told her the purpose of my visit. She advised me to walk to the USA side and the immigration officers on the US side would give me a paper redirecting me to Canada. Then, I should get my landed immigrant paper stamped in the same office. After that, my official status will be one of a legal immigrant in Canada!
I was scared.. can I go to US side without visa?? She told me not to worry. I told her an incident which involved a friend of mine who told me that he walked to the US side to have a look at the falls.. and the US officers stopped him with a curt warning. I was scared out of my wits. She told me that if I show my passport or any photo ID and the landing paper in the US Immigration office, it would not be a problem.
I walked on the bridge which leads to the USA.. The walk on the Rainbow bridge costs 50 Canadian Cents. As I crossed the Rainbow bridge, on the other side is the USA Immigration Office. There, a officer asked me the purpose of my visit and wanted to see my ID. He asked me which country's citizen I was? In USA.. they have different treatment for people coming from communist China, Vietnam, Russia.. etc.. The officer there took my Health Card as my photo ID.. but I wondered what would happen as you know.. my Health card expired 2 months back and I never cared to renew it!
He returned with a paper 5 minutes later. I read the paper he had given me.. In that, it was stated that I was seeking entry into USA and my request was rejected.. I could not understand! I thought, when did I ask him to let me into the USA? May be this was the redirection letter the Canadian officer had talked about!
Just in the middle of the Rainbow Bridge, there are USA, UN and Canadian flags fluttering in the air on the pole masts. I stood below those flags and wondered.. Where I belong and where am I!! Situations had brought me to Canada.. If somebody told me two years back that I will be standing there and seeing this place!! Oh No!! I would have told them that they were mad! Not that it is a big achievement.. but I feel funny! I got everything I dont want and did not get what I want!! May be that is the irony of life!! and then walked to the Canadian side.
As I entered the Canadian Immigration office, I saw to my surprise that Indian couple were still sitting and I again wondered what could be their problem! The Immigration officer wanted to see my bank statement. He remarked at the bank statement
" You earned quite a lot of money! " Curiously or suspeciously..he asked about my profession.. when I told him I am a Software professional.. he commented I did not look like a Software Engineer rather look more like a school kid!! He said I could apply for Citizenship two years later. Normally it is 3 years after getting landed immigrant status but since I was in Canada for 2 year.. He also told me that I could not leave Canada for more than 6 months.. otherwise I will be out Landed Immigrant status.
Then after I was done with the immigration.. I went to see the Niagara Falls. I just wondered what would happen if I jumped onto the falls and die.. and when my parents come to know about my death.. how would they feel. Umm, how long would it take for the Government of Canada to inform my parents in India! I wondered if I could stand just below that falls.. and survive the sheer force of the water just thundering down on me ?? Gee I am sooo pessimistic!!
Niagara Falls are in the shape of a broad Horseshoe which curve their way over to Canada and are probably the most impressive.. There are two other falls besides the Niagara falls, the Bridal Veil and the American falls from the American side. The tallest are the American and Bridal Veil falls, separated by tiny Luna Island and plunging over jagged rocks in a 180ft drop.. and USA.. built a small bridge like thing to watch the Horseshoe falls.. still the view is not that impressive.. Canada has the best view. Then I just walked along the pathway around the falls.. from there.. There are plenty of other attractions, like the boat ride to the falls ( The Maid of the Mist ) and then you have, Journey behind the Falls. Later in the night all the falls are lit up in the rainbow colours. There are other things to see like the Botanical gardens, the Butterly conservatory, Aero Spanish Car, Marine land Canada and the Skyline Tower are notable ones. There are other commercial attractions which one can explore. It would take three days to enjoy all that. But I could not go to any of these places as I had to take the ride back to Toronto in the Shuttle..
I looked at people.. they are all happy.. and having a great time.. I felt soo empty and alone.. I am in a beautiful place.. and I am alone.. not doing a good job of enjoying myself.. Umm is it really true that you can have fun only when you're in the company of other people!? After spending around 1 1/2 hr looking at the roaring plunge of water, I walked through the streets and went past the Niagara gardens.. shops.. horror shows.. Guinness book of world records store. I noticed a lot of Indians.. curiously listened to the languages they were conversing in.. and thought that Canadians were open minded people.. who gladly welcomed immigrants and accepted their culture too..
I felt funny when I saw old Indian ladies walking along.. dressed in saris.. and umm shoes. Boy! Half western.. Half Indian.. Wearing slacks and big kum kum and a knot! I just had a little time and I thought I will go and spend it in the Casino.. But there the guard told me that I should keep my bag in the bag store which was on the other side. I went there and kept my bag and papers and then when I returned.. he wanted to see my ID with age on it.. he thought I was below 18!! Another great remark about me on the same day!! I felt that it was great that they were checking to see the age of people entering in the Casino.. but I was angry too.. I left all the relevant papers and Id's in the bag.. why did not he get that doubt when I first came to the counter with my bag ? I could have shown the Id then!
I thought go to hell.. and walked back on to the street.. and did little bit of window-shopping and when I was thinking of going back to falls again.. I saw the Niagara shuttle.. time was 5.45 pm.. so, I changed my mind and took that bus. The driver asked us, how much we had spent..and thanked us for making Niagara rich with our gambling money!
I was tired but happy to be back home, and I started surf the net on my computer. The ride from Toronto to Niagara is about 1 hour 45 minutes and it depends on the traffic conditions. If there is no traffic you will reach in the time specified otherwise there will be a considerable delay.
This is the revised version of a letter I wrote to my friend Syam in Qatar about my first trip to world famous Niagara falls on September 30, 2000. Thanks a lot Vini!!