Friday, December 7, 2012

Niagara Falls, A magical creation of mother nature

It is the weekend after the Independence Day in the United States. In a country where holidays are rare, we realised that it was the best time to take advantage for a long road trip. We drove for nearly five hours, a distance of nearly 330 miles towards the North, or in other words, towards the Canadian border.

Passing vineyards, blossoming cornfields and forests alongside the road, it was a beautiful drive. Though it was not apparent, we drove alongside Lake Eerie, half of the way - one of the five great lakes of America.
Throughout the journey, the first city we crossed was Buffalo. We passed many closed down and nearly dilapidated factories and long and massive bridges. Suddenly our peaceful journey turned into an adventure.
The woman inside the Global positioning System (GPS) unit nearly screamed directing us to rapid turns. After a while we were back on to a road with waterways on either side.
After about a half an hour drive, I saw something like smoke coming up in the distance.
“Hey, do you think something is on fire?” My voice was shaking and I felt a sudden adrenalin rush.
Instead of answering my question, everybody laughed.
“Why, did I sound like I was joking?”
“I think you will find the answer when we get closer,” one of them replied.
We got closer to the city, and then with the talk of looking for the hotel we booked and with the number of Asians we saw in the city, I got distracted from the incident. Later, we refreshed ourselves and went out to see what we actually wanted to see.
After walking a few metres from the hotel, one of us said, “Can you see the smoke coming up still?”
When I looked up it was still there. However, it was not really smoke. It was the mist coming up from the Niagara Falls. From the place I was standing, I could clearly see a rainbow across the fountain of mist.
We went closer; it was close enough to see the beauty of the constant stream of water falling down to the Niagara Gorge. According to one of the tourist guides there, nearly 75,000kg of water falls down from the Niagara Falls each second.
Though we call it the Niagara Falls, it is a collective name given to three water falls - American Falls, Canadian Horse Shoe Falls and Bridal Veil Falls - that straddle the international border between the Canadian province of Ontario and the US state of New York. They form the southern end of the Niagara Gorge. At one end of the Horse Shoe Falls is the American flag, while the Canadian flag is at the other end.
The best view of the Niagara Falls can be seen from the Canadian side as it faces Canada. The citizens of the United States have no problem entering Canada without a visa. Unfortunately for us, unless we obtain Canadian Visa, we had to be satisfied with the side view of the falls.
Apart from the beauty of the falls, Niagara Falls has some records too. Located on the Niagara River which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, the combined falls form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world, with a vertical drop of more than 165 feet (50 m).
Horse Shoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall in North America, as measured by vertical height and also by flow rate. The falls are 17 miles (27 km) north-northwest of Buffalo, New York and 75 miles (121 km) south-southeast of Toronto, between the twin cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York. The visit to Niagara Falls is one of the most memorable visits in my life. The whole experience and the things I saw can hardly be summed up in a single article. Expect more in the coming weeks.

Pix: Aravinda Dassanayake

Tour de Cincinnati

Cincinnati is one of the major cities in Ohio State situated at the North Bank of the Ohio River near the Ohio – Kentucky border. Known for its large collection of historic architecture, Over-the-Rhine, a neighborhood just to the north of Downtown Cincinnati, boasts among the world’s largest collections of Italianate architecture, rivalling similar neighbourhoods in New York City, Vienna and Munich in size and scope. Cincinnati was founded in 1788 by John Cleves Symmes and Colonel Robert Patterson.

I am not planning to tour all around the city of Cincinnati in one day. Because of the Ohio Buddhist Vihara, which is in Cincinnati, it has become a regular destination of late. The journey is about two hours drive from where I live. Two hours may not sound much, but the distance matters. It is a little more than 100 miles away. However, how much we love to make it a regular trip, practical issues make it difficult for us.

Therefore, to compensate we make sure that a visit to the temple is always combined with some sightseeing.

As a result during our latest visit to the temple, we went sightseeing. Unlike on the other trips, this time, we did some research before arriving at the destination.
After reading some online reviews, a decision was made to visit a place called ‘Krohn Conservatory’ in Eden Park within Cincinnati, Ohio.

We were excited by the thought of being able to see more than 3,500 plant species from all over the world. After some hassle of finding the way, even with the GPS, we arrived at a building that looked like a green house. The Krohn conservatory was completed in 1933, and named in honour of Irwin M. Krohn who served on the Board of Park Commissioners.
The garden landscaped to a butterfly theme was a love at first sight. A bench, shaped like a butterfly in a bikini, welcomed us. A man made 20-foot waterfall with a goldfish stream was the first vista from the entrance.

Yes! I am from a country where there are many waterfalls and yes again, I paid a visit to the Niagara Falls recently. However, I was in love with that artificial waterfall.
The sound of water flowing down those fiberglass stones was Beethoven music to me. My friends practically dragged me out of the place to see the rest of the green house.
The Tropical House was the first section to see. Built like a small rain forest, it contained a large variety of ferns, both terrestrial and epiphytic; cycad, bromeliad, and begonia collections; and important economic plants including a cacao tree, Pomegranate, vanilla vine and dwarf banana.

The moment we walked through the door, everyone went hysterical after seeing familiar plants such as banana, Papaya, Araliya, Erabadu, Crotons and hibiscus. That was something unexpected.

The entire section was full of plants we find in Sri Lanka. Some of those we plant and some grow in our gardens whether we like it or not. It was like going back home. It was familiar territory; everyone enjoyed the ability to recognise each and every plant in the green house.
The ‘Desert Garden,’ the next popular attraction of the house is where they kept succulents and cacti including agaves, aloes, crassulas, and yuccas, as well as cereus, opuntia, and pereskia.

The Golden barrel, a plant shaped like a barrel, stood out from the rest. It was fun to see how two little daughters of our friends’ ran around the area hugging themselves and yelling after seeing the thorns of those plants. They gestured as if all the thorns were pricking them while they ran around.

The Conservatory also owns a good collection of Bonsai as well. This is a collection of Bonsai trees from the conservatory itself, the Bonsai Society of Greater Cincinnati and private individuals. Some of the Bonsai trees date back to the 1980’s. Well grown branches and fat trunks evidenced how old they were.

The Palm House, another attraction of the house which is a 45-foot high central house with palm trees, rubber trees and bananas, shrubby plants and ground cover.
This is where the waterfall lies. When a visitor enters the green house, the waterfall in palm house is what catches his attention. If you pass through it, you will be treated with a gorgeous collection of orchids.

The Kandyan Dancers were missing, but the collection had other different varieties. In a corner of the section were Pitcher Plants. I wonder whether they had been tamed or whether I did not try hard enough, I could not get the lid of the plant to close.
Inside the Krohn conservatory is a good experience. The efforts they had taken to recreate an environment from around the world definitely deserves a big round of applause!

Pix: Aravinda Dassanayake

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A day at the Olentangy trail

 by Janani Amarasekara
The Saturday was glorious. Unlike the earlier days, the atmosphere was filled with a cool breeze and warm sunshine. It was the perfect day for an outdoor stroll. Weekends here in Columbus are usually sunny. We, along with some other Sri Lankans who live in Columbus, decided to take advantage of this perfect day. “It is the tail end of autumn.

Before the snow begins there’s something we should see,” suggested one of the Sri Lankans who had been living here for a while. I being a novice had no idea where to go and what to see. By about 10 in the morning everyone gathered at the hotel where we stayed. We packed snacks and drinks in our picnic bags, and armed with enough warm clothes, everyone was ready to leave.

Within a few minutes, everybody was in the vehicle and with the aid of a global positioning tool (GPS); we were on our way to our destination. Since it was Saturday, the road was full of vehicles. However, to my surprise I did not hear any honking at all.

There were queues of hundreds of vehicles, but I could hardly call it heavy traffic unlike Colombo. People were in their lanes, following the traffic lights. It was a smooth journey. We were driving along a river, and by the side of the road were trees of different hue.

“Hey, look at those trees. Those are beautiful. Don’t they grow in our country?” My voice was rather loud, almost everybody in the vehicle started giggling, and my husband’s flushed face turned towards me. It showed signs of discomfort. I realised that I said something stupid. “Idiot, those are not a special type of trees,” my husband whispered slowly into my ear.
“Then, what are they?” I was inquisitive and still loud. “Shush, haven’t you heard that in autumn leaves take different colours?,” “Oh! I know. But, I never thought they would be so amazing,” I tried to cover up and fake a relaxed smile at the others. What a shame! “We are going to Olentangy trails to see the Fall colours,” said a fellow traveller to rescue me from the difficult situation. “I heard we can see striking Fall colours in that locale.” He added.

Thanks to the GPS tool, we reached our haven soon. After parking the vehicle near the entrance, we unloaded our picnic bags and warm clothes. Though, it was a bright and sunny day, a slight chilly weather made us stick to our warm clothes, something unusual for me. In the morning, I was so delighted with the sight of sunshine, and was ready to leave my warm clothes behind at the hotel. However, luckily I listened to my husband and brought them with me.

If not I would definitely be freezing while on the trail. Finally, after the preparation, we were ready to see the Fall colours at the Olentangy trail. This is a beautiful greenway-walking path along the Olentangy River. It is one of the most popular greenways in Ohio. This trail offers an unspoiled 22 kilometres, from Worthington Hills to downtown Columbus.

This well-liked bikeway winds through several neighbourhoods, with trailheads at several major city parks. We did not walk until the end of the trail. However, we hiked quite a distance. On our way through, we passed a few artistic bridges, picturesque multi-coloured trees and a massive playground. By the side of the playground there was a Skateboard Park too, something we do not witness in our country.
A few boys on their skateboards were playing on the cement structure. Bikers and runners were a usual site on the trail.Unfortunately, we were a little tardy to see the Fall colours at that spot. To our relief there were some amazing trees, although the majority of the trees had already shed their leaves. One of the members of our crew said, “We came here to see the Fall colours, in vain all the colours have already fallen.” It was the joke of the day. However, it was a pretty good day outdoors, out of Columbus!

Pix: Aravinda Dassanayake


Saturday, July 9, 2011

All Saints Church, Borella

A short drive along Punchi Borella via Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha brought us to a glorious church with a tall spire and an unusual bell tower. Next to All Saints Girls’ School was the All Saints Church, which is one of the two All Saints’ Churches in Sri Lanka. Galle Fort houses the other All Saints’ Church.
The environment in the church at Borella is completely different. Some priests at a nearby mission house felt the need for a church at this area and the construction was carried out with the help of devotees. When we reached there, the Tamil mass was going on.
This is the only church in Sri Lanka, which has Mosaic Art on Royal glass paintings. The church was designed using the techniques of Gothic Architecture, on June 28 1886 Parish Priest Bonjan laid the foundation stone for the church. Fr. Collin, one of the initiators, was very enthusiastic about building a church. He succeeded in acquiring the land of two acres with the help of Lady Pies Johanna Wenham Thomson and Lady Arthur Gordon, the wife of the then Governor of Ceylon. At the auspicious moment of laying the foundation stone, Governor, Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon brought some documents written in Latin. It is said the documents described the construction of the church. Those were put into a tiny glass bottle and then buried with the foundation stone.
A result, number of carnivals and fairs were organised to collect funds Fr. Conrad was one of the priests who was eager to put up the church. Later, Fr. A. M. B. Jayamanna further developed the church. As a result of a vow he had made for the successful completion of the church, now there is a cloth with a scenery from the life of Jesus painted on it. It is fixed on the roof above the main altar. The first service after the completion of the church was held on September 24, 1938. Painted glass windows and doors add an extra colour to the already glamorous church interior. In keeping with the Sri Lankan culture, there are a few lotus flowers painted on the ceiling of the church.
Among the other attractions at the church premises are the cave and the bell tower which have taken a prominent place. According to legend some devotees had seen Mother Mary near the cave here. The bell tower, which was built in 1957, is the only one in Asia that has 25 bells in one place. The tower was erected to commemorate the 300th Novena of the church. These bells were brought from Bokum City, in West Germany. They were especially made from a metal unique to that particular factory. The largest bell of the tower weighs 2000kg. Operated manually at first, the bell tower was later converted to an electronically operated one. There is also a mission house at the back of the church. Words ‘Pax Huic Domu’ is written at the entrance. It means ‘Peace to this House’.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Alls well that ends well!

 It was a fine Sunday morning, I should have woken up earlier. I had to sit a very competitive examination at an examination centre I had never gone and never heard of before. It was at 9.30 in the morning, and I woke up at 8’o clock. At the first glance on the wall clock, I was convinced that the clock had stopped last night at eight.

Oh no, seeing the same time displayed on the mobile phone and my mother’s scream hit me hard, I nearly fell off the bed. Nothing was ready. “What had I been doing last night? Oh, Aishwarya was gorgeous in that lovely red dress and Sharukh was really handsome.” Another one or two minutes was wasted in pensiveness until my father also screamed at me.
Wearing a wrinkled top and not at all matching denim, dishevelled to the maximum, I got into the car with pens and pencils in one hand and a sandwich in the other. “Oh, I forgot the bottle of water,” I screamed. “I cannot turn back. Buy one from a nearby shop,” father exploded. I sat back and tried to loosen up.

The morning was a complete disaster; I hope that at least the examination will be a piece of cake. “Dad, do you know the place?” “I think so. I asked my peon for directions,” he replied. I was relieved. I admired the striking colonial type buildings along the road. Turning left and right, finally dad brought me to a place which looked like a school. “The building over there with a high green wall is your examination centre,” he pointed. “Right, then after the examination I’ll have to come home by bus?” I asked praying he would say he would come. “Yes, you better. Walk down this lane and what you see over there is the main road,” he rekindled my hopes. I walked into the premises, without wasting even a millisecond to confirm that the place was correct. “Could you tell me where hall number 01 is please?” I inquired from one of the girls there and they pointed to me the direction.

As I was on my way to the hall, another candidate asked me, “Is this Wolvendal School?” I was flummoxed, because it was not my examination centre, “I’m not sure. I didn’t actually check the board, however, my centre is Kotahena Central College,” Shocked as I was, she suggested, “Shall we ask somebody else?” “Yes, sure” At the end of all the inquiries, I realised that it was I who had come to the wrong centre.

I hurriedly rang my father while those girls lamented that I had to go a long way to find the centre in a limited time. My furious father virtually flew to the place and as soon as I got into the car he said, “Didn’t you ask directions to the school?” “They said I need to go to Kotahena,” I stuttered. “No, it should be somewhere around here,” he screamed.

He took a nippy turn to the next byroad, and asked a person about the school, “Go straight on this road, and take a right turn and then a left turn.” We followed his directions and it brought us nowhere. Time was ticking fast and there was precisely 10 minutes for the examination to begin. Highly frustrated, I was almost in tears. My father kept scolding me about my messy life. He dashed at of the car to ask directions, on his way back he asked another. He said, “Kotahena! My Gosh, you need to go to Kotahena what are you doing here?” We silently came up to the main road. The admission card had the address of the centre as Maha Vidyala Veethi.

We were both convinced that the lane should be somewhere around here.
I actually could remember passing that street when we were on our way to the earlier place. We gave up asking for directions for the school.

We asked for the street. Within a few minutes, we were standing in front of the school. As always, I have been lucky, it was exactly 9.30 and the examinations had not yet begun. By the time I entered the school, the candidates were still loitering. The morning was full of action and within seconds, my mind was at ease to write the examination in style.