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