The destination was Mexico but the air route is via USA and how could you skip visiting America's most bustling city, New York. Thus came this opportunity to visit this happening city, a city not only known for its dense population but diversity of culture and rich heritage. And then of course who could forget that 9/11 incident that shook not only Americans but had its reverberations throughout the world. Thus began this visit on a rain-touched New York when the temperature dipped and as if the city had opened its arms to welcome me and my family on a cosy note! The day temperatures were generally in the thirties but that afternoon it was at a welcome mid-twenties. The first and indeed the only sign of commonness with India was sighted there, at the airport! The John F Kennedy airport was a sea of humanity, not surprising for a facility reputed to be one of the busiest in the World. Passengers seem all over, a scene that would have matched a railway station in India. But there was a difference. There was no confusion but order around, even the long queues at the immigration counters.
Still it took two hours to exit the airport. Once out what would one see but a mass of moving but organised traffic. Beautifully laid four lanes filled with four-wheelers whizzing past at various speeds but no blaring horns nor screeching breaks. Smooth flow was the theme as roads winded away with lush green spaces on either side not to mention buildings and structures, so different in architecture but aesthetic to the eyes. It took another one and half hours to reach the place of stay, a hotel in Times Square, a name that immediately brings to mind all that one had read of this place: bright lights, big bill boards, people jostling for space, theatres and of course Madame Tussaud's museum and lot more. Checking into a hotel just a stone's throw away from this important spot made things easier, one could just walk to the Square and soak in the atmosphere. Where to look is the first confusion for there is so much to see, feel and enjoy. People it would seem from all parts of the globe thronged that square area, most of them clicking away and with mobile cameras now handy, the job is comfortably done from every angle. Amazing is the cleanliness of the area despite the large congregation day in and day out. During weekends, it is said, the crowd can be mind-boggling. But no complaints. That is not part of the New York culture, for sure!
A good night's rest after some helping in the choicest of Indian restaurants nearby, Saravana Bhavan being the most popular, provided a fresh start next morning. Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan, the over-100-year-old suspension bridge was the next big landmark on my itinerary. The vast bridge on East river is a sight to behold not only for its technical marvel but the expanse. The park nearby with abundant trees provides just the backdrop to enjoy the settings in the cool of nature.
The Statue of Liberty next is another major point of interest. Having seen pictures all this while, seeing it live so to say, is an experience to go through! Time flies and with the sun not kind anymore, a hot day provided a touch discomfort but the travel has to go on.
The World Trade Centre today is a poignant reminder of that dark September in 2001 when terrorists-air-attack brought down the twin towers and killed over 2000 people. Today people come in large numbers to pay homage at what looks a memorial with a bowl-shaped structure around two huge empty circle, that used to be the base of that towers. The wide parapet carries the names of all those who died in the mishap. Water streams down from the walls of this bowl to complete this solemn settings. Standing majestically next to this is the new gigantic tall structure, fascinating in every sense.
So went a good part of the New York tour but the experience is never complete without mentioning the warmth of the Cab drivers. They say in New York over 800 languages are spoken, a reflection of the diversity of people bound by one culture. The cabs provide that insight! You can meet an Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and any other Asian or even European. But the one who floored us was a Georgian who hesitatingly enquired whether we were from India. Upon getting a positive answer the man went on, “I have two Indians who I love most”. Before you wonder who they would be comes his quip, “Sharukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai”. Then begins his and his countrymen's love for Bollywood movies and before he could go into details, we reached our destination! Undoubtedly a fun-filled journey to a fascinating city.
(The writer is a sports columnist and was associated with The Hindu for several decades)