On the Canadian Rockies


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Category: Travel Date: 01 Sep 02

To get to the Canadian Rockies, we flew from Toronto to Calgary from where we were to drive to Banff National Park.


The immediate impact of Calgary (apart from its quaint airport filled with warm attractive motifs of the city) was the refreshingly chilly temperature of 10 degrees. After Toronto’s heat it was a pleasure to whip on the sweaters and brace ourselves against the crisp morning air.


Calgary is a pretty enough city, built around farms and its more recent oil industry. After collecting our car, we meandered into the busy downtown district, where we stopped for a “typical” Canadian lunch (since I was told in a country of immigrants the Canadians have been able to claim the food of the world) of falafel-a Greek dish of meat and salad wrapped in pita bread.


But we did not leave Calgary till late afternoon. I had a hypochondriac panic and was directed by a sympathetic department store worker to a walk-in clinic where I waited in a clean, efficient and friendly environment for three hours, with people with an assortment of real injuries (broken ankles, children with colic) to be told that the cancerous bump I had was a rash - providing great comic moment for my husband and the kindly Jewish doctor. The incident, because I interacted so closely with the real Canada, endeared the city to me. After you’ve taken off your clothes in front of a strange doctor, an intimacy of place is established.


Armed with bottles of water, an assortment of fruit (raspberries, blueberries really give you a flavour of this country) and a map, we set off in the golden late afternoon sunlight towards Banff.


As we drove, swallowing the endless wide highway, craggy mountains crept up on us –the surface in some areas so smoothly white the children shouted it was snow.


Approaching Banff, the mountains grew and grew, until finally, they loomed large, their peaks snowy.


By now we had got used to the dense pine forests flanking the highway, which felt like a carving through the wild.


The air, when we stopped to stretch or legs was cool and clear and my 11 year-old son, raising his eyes from the valley to the snowy mountain peaks and icy crevices, echoing his father’s mad nationalism summed up the Trini response to the Canadian Rockies with a “them little ice trays on that hill is nothing to our green northern range”.


We had to pay a toll to get into Banff National Park that the guidebook described as: “2,564 square miles of protected wilderness of soaring mountains, glaciers, mineral hot springs and blue-green lakes and rivers”.


Our entry to the wilderness was disappointingly touristy- a tourist toy town, jam-packed with prettily dressed shops selling frivolities, extravagances and labels and a tourist information centre that made it worthwhile after all.


We walked along clear brooks and streams, along which a profusion of bright, delicate wild flowers grew, and took a small hike into the pine forest dappled with light, where squirrels darted, bright red berries grew. Everywhere were warnings to look out for bears, look out for elks, and wild life.


That night we stayed in a rustic lodge (they are all named variations of “pine tree’) and carrying logs of wood into our cabin, built a fire, breathed in the pine air, and anticipated being somehow part of those enormous snowy mountains.


Instead of the closed Gondola, I opted for the open chair. What I didn’t expect was to be dangling on a cable with my delighted seven-year-old on an open swing like contraption, hurtling up a ski slope, a heart dropping fall into the assortment of rock, exquisite clusters of lilac and yellow wildflowers, tripping streams where the water was so clear you could see the outline of every pebble.


When the damn thing stopped suddenly, jolted back and forth, I screamed inwardly, a long piercing scream.


We were half way up the mountain. Ahead was a cable that linked up to the top, behind us, was more cable, directly above us was mist, not cloud, and all that protected us was a little bar.


It got going again, and this time, I did scream, and a little hand held mine saying: “Mummy, look around you-when in your life did you see something so beautiful?”


I didn’t answer her until we were at the top when, in a renewed burst of exuberance, I raced the children up a pathway to look down thousands of feet of jagged rock and ice, down to the emerald and turquoise lakes and across the valley to towering mountains.


I was speechless, breathing hard, shaky partly because of my fear of heights, but mostly with awe.


Apart from a childhood memory of the Himalayas, of Simla, I hadn’t ever been in the midst of such splendour, such imposing eternal awesome beauty, as I did in the midst of the Canadian Rockies.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur