Tuesday, Oct 24, 2017 | Last Update : 04:01 AM IST

Laugh all the way to Banff

THE ASIAN AGE. | KAVITA PAUDWAL
Published : Oct 8, 2017, 12:21 am IST
Updated : Oct 8, 2017, 12:22 am IST

Lake Louis, discovered by a Swiss mountaineer, is a living postcard, and reflects its surrounding mountains like a mirror.

Crowsfoot Glacier and many others are dotted with ice blue glacial lakes on the way to Jasper.
 Crowsfoot Glacier and many others are dotted with ice blue glacial lakes on the way to Jasper.

Banff is a lot more than just a town with a national park. With boutique shops, nightclubs and fancy restaurants in every nook and cranny, Banff is no ordinary town.

Hailing from the land of the Himalayas, I was expecting the Canadian Rockies to be an attractive brother from another mother. After all, Mount Everest was what the world tried to conquer, but Mother Nature has its own way of leaving you dumbstruck. And I had to eat the very sweet but humble pie when I spent a week at Banff National Park in Alberta Canada, in the heart of the Rockies post a quick concert in Calgary.

Exhausted and jetlagged from a 24-hour flight to Calgary, and a performance on the same day, I fell asleep in the back seat of my host’s car after a delicious meal of creamy white pasta. A good meal begets good dreams and I woke up to a even more beautiful reality — before me was God’s most beautiful  palette, which was nothing less than a dream. Mountains and its endless ranges looked like three dimensional images. The clouds in a myriad colours, textures and forms covered a wide canvas of the sky, looking enchanting. The slopes were covered with dense and lush fir trees and crystal-clean glacier water ran down little playful streams to merge with gigantic waterfalls.

Many beautiful homes near the Calgary Airport (also the closest airport to Banff) have scenic golf courses across their backyardsMany beautiful homes near the Calgary Airport (also the closest airport to Banff) have scenic golf courses across their backyards

I took the road leading into the spa town of Banff, which is cosily cuddled in the warm embrace of the Canadian Rockies. A UNESCO World Heritage National Park 80 km from Calgary was magnificent. Three hundred million year old sedimentary mountains arising from the sea surround the town and carry within them life as it might have been during evolution.

My first stop was at the Columbian ice fields. The Athabasca glacier is an ancient and non-polar thousand-foot deep, solid stretch of ice. Such brilliance of nature leaves you marvelling and skidding around alternately. Children and adults were drinking the ice-cold water and eating ice without a thought. Then we walked on a glass skywalk built over a ravine plunging below but frequented by elks, mooses and mountain goats.

Within Banff are several stunners like the Banff gondola and hot springs on the local Sulphur Mountain, which is known for its very first cosmic ray station.

A quaint spot near Lake MoraineA quaint spot near Lake Moraine

Here one can study and measure the sun’s cosmic rays very close to the northern-most part of the earth along with differences in wind and temperature. You can hike the Sulphur Mountain trail, ride the gondola, or just soothe your aching back in the natural hot springs.

There are a range of treks meant for people with different fitness levels. Then there are animal trails, horse riding, quaint picnic spots near the lovely bow falls. You can enjoy a cup of coffee at the elegant Fairmont Banff Hotel.

Activities change from music festivals, rafting and rappelling in summer to hardcore mountaineering and skiing in winters. There is something to whet all travellers’ appetites, right from actually indulging in adventure sports to shopping for adventure sports brands!

Beautiful tours conducted by Brewster are much recommended to visit the neighbouring treasures like Lake Louise, Lake Moraine, The Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, which houses crystal-clear fossils of the Burgess Shale, a half a billion year old prehistoric fossil.

A restaurant-cum-inn near Emerald LakeA restaurant-cum-inn near Emerald Lake

Lake Louis, discovered by a Swiss mountaineer, is a living postcard, and reflects its surrounding mountains like a mirror. It will be my screensaver for many months to come. You fall in love with the people and the place over and over again.

There are numerous small and big falls forests, cute animal bridge walks all through the Trans-Canadian roads, if you are lucky you can spot a deer crossing the road on the animal bridge above your bus.

Basically, you cannot return without seeing the Banff National Park, where one should go for walking and hiking trails. It has the Rocky Mountain Park offering fun activities throughout the year. It is Canada’s oldest and most beautiful national park. The Banff Upper Hot Springs are commercially developed hot springs located in Banff National Park, near the Banff townsite. The hot pools are outdoors and when one is in the pool, you can look across the valley to Mount Rundle, fabulous location and scenery.

The Rockies are home to fossils from pre-historic times and can be seen all the way from Calgary to Banff National ParkThe Rockies are home to fossils from pre-historic times and can be seen all the way from Calgary to Banff National Park

There’s also Cave and Basin National Historic Site, located in the town at the site of natural thermal mineral springs. It is a small but beautiful cave. There are many hotels and average price is `5,000 onwards for decent hotel, better ones are available at Rs 8,000 onwards.

When you leave behind the rugged terrain of the Rockies, Alberta and British Columbia, and travel further east, you are astounded by the startlingly contrasting landscape of the Prairies. Prairies of the textbooks do no justice to the beauty of this landscape. It is the biggest piece of flat land you can imagine and you enjoy its vast nothingness. Hundreds of miles of flat land enveloped by the widest sky you can imagine! Stars, satellites, comets playfully travel through the expanse and you see it all with the naked eye. The much-evasive northern lights dance with gay abandon all through the year in this playground without rules. The winters are treacherous at minus 40 degrees but summers are happy and even warm at thirty degrees and above. Regina, Saskatchwen Saskatoon, all provinces as you travel teastwards viewing the Canadian countryside, are almost unfairly blessed with so much beauty.

It’s places like these that make you quote Robert Louis Stevenson’s Vagabond:

Give the face of earth around,
And the road before me,
Wealth I ask not nor hope
nor love,
Nor a friend to know me,
All I ask the heaven above,
And the road below me!

Kavita Paudwal is a singer

Tags: lake louise, yoho national park, emerald lake