Thursday, September 1, 2011

Travels in foreign lands-XXI (Discovering America-IV)

There are many Kashmiri doctors in Buffalo. The ones I had known very well are Dr. Ashraf Sohaf, Dr. Ashraf Balti, and Dr. Yusuf Fazili. I had known Yusuf Fazili from our first trek to Gangabal Lake in 1970 but Ashraf Sohaf I had known right from mid-sixties. We decided to stay with Ashraf Sohaf who, in fact, came to the airport to pick us up. We stayed three days in Buffalo. The first day we spent meeting people. All the Kashmiri residents were glad to see us. We had to decline many offers of dinners and lunches due to paucity of time.
Next day, Dr. Fazili and Dr Sohaf planned my daylong trip to Toronto while my sister had to stay back as she did not have a Canadian visa. Dr. Sohaf's wife would take her around to meet some other Kashmiri ladies. We started very early for Toronto. There is an expressway going all the way to Toronto. The first thing was to see the Niagara Falls which is just on the border between USA and Canada. We went to see the fall from the American side first. The view is really awe inspiring. Huge amounts of water falling over a long stretch with continuous roar. The sight of the fall is quite mesmerising! There are many places to stay in Niagara. After taking a round, we started for the Canadian border. The border crossing was very simple and quick. The immigration officials just checked my Canadian visa and the US I-92 card. The others did not need a Canadian visa being US Residents. We drove on the expressway through green countryside. After sometime we reached the banks of Lake Ontario. In my opinion, it is not a Lake but a small sea! There were some ships moving on the Lake. Toronto is situated on the banks of the Lake Ontario. As we neared Toronto, we could see in the distance the sky scrapper skyline including the famous CN Tower which was supposed to be the highest building in the world at that time. Yusuf Fazili had proposed that we have lunch in the restaurant on top of the Tower. There were also some interesting space travel rides in the basement. However, we first took a round of Toronto city. I saw quite a few Sardar Jis on the sidewalks. Canada has a sizeable population of Sikhs, some of whom are in high places. Around noon we drove into the parking lot of the CN Tower and parked our car in a suitable location.
The lift to the top of the Tower is quick and it affords views of the Lake and the surroundings. At the top of the Tower we went round to have a panoramic view and then found a table in the restaurant. After lunch we descended to the basement to have a ride on the space travel module. The module was shaped like inside of a spacecraft and there was a huge circular screen giving one feeling of sitting inside the craft. The entire show is based on simulated space travel. The programme takes about 45 minutes. In the beginning we were given details of the travel we would be undertaking and also the sights we would see. We were told to fasten seat belts and the spacecraft took off. The feeling while sitting on the chair was quite sensational as the whole module moved and it was like real take off in a spacecraft. The scene all round changes exactly as it would appear in real space travel. We travelled to many planets including the Mars and the Moon. We also travelled through some galaxies. Indeed, it was a worthwhile experience!
After the simulated space travel we went to our car in the parking lot and slept there for almost an hour and a half. Around five in the evening we started back for the Canadian border after having a cup of coffee in the ground floor restaurant. We reached the border when it was getting dark. Before crossing back into USA, we went to see the fall from the Canadian side. They have made tunnels under the fall and one can go right up to the fall. They gave us rain coats as there is a continuous spray inside the tunnels. The view of the fall with lights under it is quite fantastic. The night time view of the fall was the day's climax and we reached back Buffalo late in the evening. Next day, we were invited by Dr. Ashraf Balti for lunch and we also met some other Kashmiri doctors and their families. Back in Boston, we had to split for our travel to London. My uncle and his family were flying direct from Boston to London and then to Islamabad while we had to fly through New York. There was still no trace of the suit case of my sister and she had to undertake the entire travel in just few sets of clothes she had bought in USA.
We stayed in London for a day and said good bye to our uncle and the family. From here we flew to Geneva where Sylvain Saudan received us and took us to Chamonix for couple of days. The ride to the top of Aiguilles de Midi and lunch in the restaurant there was the highlight of the trip. Next we flew from Geneva to Paris where we stayed for a couple of days before taking the flight back home to Delhi. Thus ended my first trip to USA which was full of adventure including some setbacks on account of loss of luggage and the passport. I had discovered America the land but was yet to discover its people which I did in my subsequent travels. In the next episodes I will relate my experiences in the American West!

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