Rockies & Alaska Cruise by Jayant Doshi The Heathrow airport terminal was abuzz with a crowd of fifty three, quite early in the morning on Saturday 23rd July, who were boarding a flight for their tour of the Canadian Rockies and the Alaska cruise organised by Navnat Vanik Bhagini Samaj. Over the years, Bhagini have established a reputation for precision and care in their planning any trip. After the check-in was completed, each passenger was handed a bag of breakfast goodies. The food on the flight was inadequate and inappropriate, and this thoughtful packet from Bhagini came to the rescue of the passengers. We flew directly to Vancouver, a flight time of over ten hours, and then immediately took a flight toCalgary. The long flight, the time difference and lack of food on the flight, drove all the famishedpassengers to fill their stomachs with whatever was available in Vancouver airport. From Calgary airport wewere taken for a short city tour which included Calgary Tower which gives a panoramic view of the city, andon a clear day one can see the Rockies. We arrived at our hotel, and went out for dinner. Every one wasexhausted. We had woken up very early, the flight was long and the time difference had started taking itstoll. Everyone opted for an early night.After a good sleep, I woke up early and I had a nice early morning walk. Later we visited the CanadaOlympic Park which was used for the winter Olympics in 1988. Winter Olympics, always loss making, madeits first profit at this venue. We had a tour of the park and its facilities, and some of the members tried someof the equipment. The park is now used for practice and training.The rocky mountains, or rockies as they are well-known, of west Canada have a beauty that can not be putto words. It has snow covered peaks; it has mountain slopes covered with tall fir trees and lush greenery,and slopes which are void of any greenery; it has rivers, ravines and gorges of every description; water fallsabound in the area, and emerald green waters of lakes add colour to the beauty; it has thick forests, and ithas valleys with green grass; in short, nature has endowed it with all types of natural beauty. To preservethis beauty, the government has created five huge parks, and have strict laws to preserve the nature andthe environment. However, this in itself has broughta huge influx of tourists to savour the beauty, and inturn this has been the cause of environmentaldestruction. Banff is a beautiful little town which hasgrown on the back of tourism. We visited a cavewhich has springs of hot sulphur water coming fromthe grounds.We took a cable car ride to the top of one of themountains. The scenery was spectacular, the ridewas breathtaking, and the visit to the top worth itswhile. The mountain peaks had snow, tall fir treesand shrubs covered the slopes, and the river andlake in the valley had azure blue waters ofdistinctive hue. A wooden pathway, possibly over amile long, has been built leading to a lonely peak,where a hut has been built by a recluse who livedthere and checked on the weather. The walk along that path was pleasant, the azure blue waters in thelake and the river were stunning, and the scenery was a paradise for a photographer. After lunch some ofus went to a hot water sulphur water swimming pool. It is said that the sulphur water has some goodmedicinal qualities. Later we took a stroll along the shops in Banff, and relaxed for the day. Some of uswalked down the street and visited some of the stores and did some shopping.
It was late departure next day from Banff. We drove through Yoho National Park. We passed through theSpiral Tunnels, the turquoise serene waters of Emerald Lake and a natural Rock Bridge spanning theKicking Horse River. We stopped at some beautyspots. Lunch was taken along the coast of a lake ata lovely spot. We reached Lake Louise just afterlunch. The hotel was situated right on the shores ofthe lake. On both sides of the lake, and the far sidetoo, one could see mountains covered withgreenery, and some had snow on them. I took along walk along the lake. The walk was pleasant.There were steep rocks, almost straight, andabseiling was being practiced by some enthusiasts.The track led to some glaciers but as dinner hadbeen arranged early, I had to rush back and missthe sight of the glaciers. On my return I was toldthat dinner had been postponed. I was angry that Imissed the beautiful scenery and the glaciersbecause of originally planned early dinner. Some ofus spent the spare time in the health club. Therewas karaoke and music with dinner.As we were not leaving hotel till late I had a long walk up one of the mountains. Today we were travellingthrough Banff and Jasper National Parks, and the highlights included Bow Lake, the Columbia Ice fieldsand the Athabasca Falls. We stopped at the Columbia Ice fields where we were transferred to speciallymade ice coaches with huge tyres. Only these ice coaches could drive in that snow and the glaciers. It wasraining and bitterly cold. But having come so far, most of us spent some time on the glacier taking photos.On the way to Jasper we stopped at two water falls with some stunning scenery and walks around the area.We reached Jasper by evening. Next morning we visited Pyramid and Patricia Lakes, Maligne Canyon andAthabasca viewpoint. In the afternoon we visited the sulphur hot pools and everyone enjoyed a dip in thehot waters.Rocky Mountain train is famous for the difficult terrain through which it has been built. But it also passesthrough some magnificent scenery, lakes, rivers, falls, greenery, and mountain gorges and valleys. Thetrain is luxurious, and very comfortable. This train journey is considered one of the most wonderful trainjourneys in the world. Our group had a coach of their own. The train journey was for the day time only, butthe journey would last for two days. Passengers are well looked after. Breakfast and lunch are provided onthe train, and tea is served twice during the journey. We passed Mount Robson, the highest peak in therockies, and Thompson river through the snowy peaks of the Monashee and Caiboo mountains and alongthe rolling plateaus until it reaches the town of Kamloops. We spent the night in a hotel in the town ofKamloops. Next day our train journey meandered along the natural path of the Thompson river, and travel along the impressive Fraser Canyon. One of the highlights in the canyon is Hell’s Gate, where millions of gallons of water per minute rush through the narrowest point of the canyon. We reached Vancouver in the evening. Everyone took advantage of doing some shopping around the hotel. For those who appreciate nature, and its beauty, this is a wonderful way to admiring the beauty of this region at close hand. Perhaps travelling by car and exploring the region at leisure is a much better way of taking in this beauty. It is a wonderful place for those who love trekking. But for that one needs time, and the inclination to walkover these mountains and explore its inner most beauty.Victoria is a small island across the bay from the city of Vancouver, and we boarded a ferry for our full daytrip. We were taken to the world renowned Butchart Gardens spread over 50 acres of land. The wonderful
colours of flowers and the floral arrangements were excellent, and a delight for all photographers. We weregiven some time to explore the beauty of the gardens. The garden was immaculately maintained. Onecould spend hours and admire the immaculately laid and maintained gardens, but our time was limited.After lunch we had a glimpse of the city which included Beacon Hill Park and the Parliament buildings. We were ready by 9.00 to board our coach to take us to the cruise ship. On arrival there we were informed that we had some free time. Some of us went up the high tower from where a wonderful view of Vancouver could be captured with the naked eye. We also saw a replica of the Big Ben clock of London, but run on steam. We stopped to hear the chime at 12.00 noon, and that was enchanting. After lunch, we went on to our cruise ship Norwegian Sun, our home for the next seven days. The process of embarkation was smooth and fast. Soon after embarkation, we were exploring the facilities of the cruise ship. Cruising in a luxurious ship means relaxed life foreveryone. After the hectic tour of the Rockies, when we were expected to wake up everyday at 6.00, andalways on the move, this was sheer luxury. Food was in abundance, and available all hours of the day andnight. There were a few swimming pools and jacuzzi, and steam and sauna rooms. For those who werekeen on their fitness, there was a well equipped gym and a jogging track. Our group of fifty-three wasamidst thousands of other passengers, but there was no pressure to wake up at any particular time, or todo things what others were doing. Everyone could wake up when they liked, eat when and what they liked,and do what ever they liked. There was some sort of entertainment every evening. These included comedysketches, dance extravaganza, magic shows or game shows.The cruise ship travels along the coast of Alaska. We made four stops during the seven day cruise. Theseincluded Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway and Wrangell. All these small towns were developed during the goldrush, and today exist on the mineral wealth of the interior. The winters are so cold that these towns arecovered with snow for over six months. Most of the businesses belonged to traders from New York whocame here with their gear during summer and closed for the winter. Each town had its own characteristic;but they all looked like the towns from the cowboy movies of Hollywood.All these stops offered a variety of excursions from city sight seeing, and visit to some park or place ofinterest, or boat ride to watch whales or fjords and glaciers, or sky plane ride to some remote beauty spotor helicopter ride to the glaciers. There wereexcursions to see polar bears, or to have a skyview of the beauty of the glaciers, or a walk on theglaciers. There were trekking trips to remote partsof the region. Unfortunately weather played a majorpart in these excursions. We selected some of theexclusive excursions by helicopter, but they wereall cancelled due to bad weather. We walkedaround the towns, and looked at the shops. Webooked to see polar bears and the weatherstopped the flights. We booked for dog sledging,which we so much were looking to do, but wespent the whole day hoping that weather willchange. But the helicopters did take off, but had tocome back in no time. This was a bigdisappointment on the trip.Some of the group decided to take a boat ride to watch the whales. They succeeded in having a cursorylook at the whales, which jumped out of the water and disappeared in the deep ocean at the same speed.We decided to go for a boat trip that took us to give us the closest look at some of the glaciers. The boatwent deep into a fijord, and took us past many water falls. Whenever a water fall came, the boat would goliterally a few feet away from the falling waters. The trip was wonderful, and the close sight of the glaciers
was amazing. The boat waded through blocks of ice floating in the ocean. The floating blocks of ice werefrom small block to huge blocks – similar to the size of a dining table to the size of a house. The turquoiseblue ice surrounded by white ice, gave a wonderful opportunity to take some nice photos. The boat took usalmost to the fringe of the glaciers, a distance of perhaps less then fifty yards, and what we saw was mostamazing. After seven days of cruising, we arrived back to Vancouver. We had a tour of the city which included the Gastown and the Chinatown. We visited the world famous Stanley Park and stopped at the Totem English Bay beach. Then we went to Queen Elizabeth Park, which is the highest point and affords a wonderful sight of Vancouver. We had our farewell dinner and next day we departed for London. Overall it was a good trip, with a friendly crowd and some enjoyable moments during the trip. We had problem on the flights as our food needs were not catered for, in spite of specifically being ordered and notified. Such tours are normally managed bythe tour operator himself or their experienced staff. With a large group there are problems, and there arespecial needs and requirements, and a good manager can make a lot of difference by catering for theneeds of the group, and taking care of problems. But above all, the tour manager listens to the group, andtries his best to accommodate their requests. Group members may make suggestions or wish to makesome changes, and it is the duty of the manager to listen and to try to accommodate them. The managerdoes not impose what has been decided, even though it is possible to change that, and the manager listensand tries hard to do what the majority of passengers want and are requesting. This was totally lacking onthis trip. The trip could have been wonderful if the manager had been more cooperative and listened to thepassengers. I have been on several trips organised by Bhagini; and every time we had the mostcooperative and helpful manager. I wish I could say the same for this trip.