The colours of Fall
As a child, she had seen it only in postcards. Then, on a lazy Saturday morning in September, PAPIYA BHATTACHARYA left for New Hampshire by road, to witness ....
Fiery maples that set the countryside alight the splendour of New Hampshire.
A YEAR in the United States with the historic blackout that made headlines and the entry of America into Iraqi territory in the aftermath of the demolition of the World Trade Center was perhaps bound to be different. We were in the eastern coastal town of New Haven that houses the Yale University, on a year's self-proclaimed holiday from serious work because my year-old son, would allow nothing less! At home most of the time, I would bundle Ani in his stroller and go vagabonding as and when the weather would allow. Except for the bitter cold days when the winds actually howled as in the fairytales, Ani and I collected pine cones from somebody's yard, chased the fat furry squirrels, went sketching to nearby parks with great weeping willows, met nice old ladies, courteous old gentlemen and once in a while scowling ladies who walked their dogs with a "watch out, she bites!" Ani and I were of the same opinion. New England, with its little white fences, glittering snow and bare trees was beautiful!
The passage of seasons
Spring in Connecticut brings rain and daffodils and tulips begin to peep out from piles of dirty snow. All trees are covered with various shades of pink or white blooms, the magnolia, dogwood trees and cherry trees. With summer, come mangoes in Indian stores and leaves on all bare trees maple, birch, cherry and the weeping willow. Then comes fall, the grandest of all seasons. As a child, I had seen picture postcards of the autumn season in Canada, the trees all flaming red and yellow and orange. New Hampshire, further up north, is the best place to see fall colours in the east. Like all Americans, our two families waited for a long weekend and took off to New Hampshire by road on a lazy Saturday morning in mid-September when the fall colours were supposed to be at their best!
The history of Hampshire
The state derives its name from the county of Hampshire, England, where Capt. John Mason, the founder and first proprietor of the colony, was governor of the English city of Portsmouth, for which New Hampshire's only port city is named. New Hampshire is further up north from New Haven, surrounded by Maine and Vermont on the North and Massachusetts in the south. Famous for its White Mountains and the Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire has Canada as its bordering country. We chose, a longer, but scenic, route the 191 North around 250 miles to Jefferson, a town in the White mountain region of New Hampshire and the drive took us around eight hours instead of the usual 51/2 hours. On both sides of the highway, the trees turned from green to yellow, to pink and then finally to flaming orange red. They call it nature's fireworks in the local papers. We stopped at a local market selling scores of flowers and pumpkins; Halloween was just round the corner. There were butterflies everywhere and Ani ran around trying to catch them. We picked up pamphlets with directions to Robert Frost's House at another stop. The heart of the Green Mountains in Vermont is the country that is said to have inspired much of Robert Frost's poetry. However, we still had miles to go and Frost would have to wait. We crossed Connecticut into Massachusets, touched Vermont and Maine and were on our way to New Hampshire.
The Kankamagus Highway a 34-mile long national scenic byway, famous for offering its beautiful view of New England in the fall was choked with people like us on holiday and we were forced to take a longer detour. It was a good thing however, for on the way we saw a vintage train that offered a quaint way to spend evenings while dining in the train and passed a four-passenger gondola that takes people up to the Loon Mountain and a chairlift up Attitash Mountain where one can also slide down on an Alpine Slide.
The only caves in New England are boulder caves located at Polar Caves in Plymouth, NH and Lost River Gorge in North Woodstock, NH. We were lucky to go looking for the Lost River Gorge but I will get to that later! The Old Man of the Mountains, the famous landmark of New Hampshire in the Cannon Mountain at Franconia Notch had collapsed about a month before in a landslide. It was actually a side of the rocky mountains that resembled an old man's face, hence called the Old Man ... . We could only see the remains of the face. Thousands of ski tourists and visitors for whom the old man was always there for years together do miss him the most.
On our right lay pond after pond. New Hampshire is also known for its fishing/angling destinations but ultimately we found ourselves moving side by side to a stony mountain brook that we christened the Stony Brook. Stony Brook led us on along lazy hills and dales, and babbled along quiet valleys till dusk set in. It was cold and got colder as we drove up into the White Mountains with, now and then, the silhouette of a deep red maple against a redder evening sky. It took us a while to find the Lantern Resort at Jefferson on Route 2, our destination for the next two nights.
The ride next morning was to Mt. Washington in the White Mountain. Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeastern U.S. attains an elevation of 6,288 feet above mean sea level, and is located in New Hampshire, at the heart of the White Mountain National Forest. The 52-acre Mount Washington State Park surrounds the summit which is said to be home to the world's worst weather conditions. If not clad in warm clothes, one can die in minutes because of hypothermia. It was a warm summer day when we started from our rooms and the ride to the start of the Mt. Washington Auto Road was a beautiful drive through towns with houses painted white amidst the multi-coloured foliage.
Entry ticket for everything
In India, a visit to even the Taj Mahal does not require a ticket. Not so in the United States. Be it a visit to an apple farm, the Niagara Falls or Mt. Washington, one has to buy a ticket and the money is used to maintain the property. This is what we did before we could start on the Auto Road, and got a sticker saying "This Car Climbed Mt. Washington". It is an eight-mile drive to the top the summit of Mount Washington is 6,288 feet; we got an audio cassette telling us about the road's history, geography, legends, and lore. As we climbed, the view of the valleys down below clad in the colours was spectacular. As we neared the summit, the colours were gradually replaced by snow until at the top, the landscape changed. From the deck of the observatory, clad in wool and mufflers and gloves, I could see the snow everywhere giving way to barren patches here and there, with purple mountains in the horizon and the great colourful sunlit valley far below, a very different world! The cold made us hungry and we went into the restaurant. Through its glass walls we saw the Mt. Washington Cog Railway Coach leaving the summit while another purple and bright yellow coach entered. That is another interesting way to climb the mountain while some prefer to hike.
The drive to the foothills was shorter than we thought though we stopped now and then for photographs. After a Chinese dinner at the resort we huddled under the blankets and went to sleep.
A quest for the Lost River George took us on lots of hiking trails the next day. Nestled amid those trails and orange red maples, oaks, beeches and birches was the Lost River. We went along the wooden trails through the forest (of course after buying tickets!) and reached the caves hiding through which ran the Lost River. It was fun to crawl through them and hear the river gurgling beneath, now below us and now somewhere else. We all thanked God for our reasonably trim torsos; otherwise we could have got stuck in those tunnels! A visit to the gift shop proved to be necessary if we were to brag about visiting New Hampshire. There were T-shirts, bells, diaries and other knick-knacks with fall motifs on them.
On our way back it was difficult to leave all those colours for good. We finally stopped our car and collected some of those beautiful yellow, red or orange flecked red maple leaves and so many others whose names I did not know. My way of saying adieu to that glowing yellow forest on a warm summer noon!
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