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Survivor in the wilderness

Survivor in the wilderness
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First Published: Sat, May 31 2008. 12 30 AM IST

Call of the wild: Gautam Nath at the Musuga Bog, where the only way across is the plankway (Photograph by Gautam Nath)
Call of the wild: Gautam Nath at the Musuga Bog, where the only way across is the plankway (Photograph by Gautam Nath)
Updated: Sat, May 31 2008. 12 30 AM IST
Holiday Postmortem | Gautam Nath
Why did you plan to holiday specifically at Algonquin Park, halfway across the world?
When I was young, my family was posted in Canada with the Indian high commission and used to go camping on school trips to Algonquin, which left a deep impression. I wanted to experience it once again as an adult. My wife, Vineeta, was with me as I wanted her to be part of an experience that meant so much.
You decided to use a motor caravan. Why?
Call of the wild: Gautam Nath at the Musuga Bog, where the only way across is the plankway (Photograph by Gautam Nath)
It’s best to have your own wheels if you’re planning to be away from a big city. When I went with my family all those years ago, we’d see families camping with their RVs (recreational vehicles) while we merely had our tents. The idea of a wholesome camping trip is to have your own home on wheels. So, we picked up our caravan at Bolton, 40 minutes away from Pearson International, Toronto, though the 22-footer, 5-tonner—which we promptly christened Alexandria—did take some getting used to, especially the left-hand drive.
Was it a bit of a chore, being responsible for the cooking and carrying?
If you don’t like being self-sufficient, nature is not for you. The RV comes with a microwave, stove, fridge, crockery and cooking utensils, and we loved stocking up on our meats, vegetables, beer, cheese and wine, not to mention firewood.
RVs need to park for the night at one of dozen designated sites in the park, so we also had a road map identifying RV campsites, where we could call ahead, along with a list of amenities, such as swimming (pool or beach), barbecue, bonfire, fishing, tennis, volleyball, recreation rooms, convenience stores and even video hire. Something called a Hook-Up takes care of electricity, water and sewage.
How much driving was actually called for on the holiday?
The national park is spread across 7,000 sq. km, but there’s only one 60km highway running through it, touching the East and West Gates. Travel into the interiors of the park is either on foot over trails or by canoe. The campsites are located off the main highway, anywhere between 4km and 20km away.
And, what is the park itself like?
Rolling hills, large tracts of forest cover, lakes at every turn. Algonquin is home to more than 10,000 animals and a wide variety of flora and fauna. The forests are dense and the pine and spruce trees very tall—so much so that they shut out the sun in summer and you need a torch even if you’re walking the trails by day. Insect repellent is a key survival requirement. And, this is Canada. So often, during a hike, you are all alone with nature. Some tracks in the forest are home to the black bear, so one needs to be careful. There are also wide tracts of bogs, marsh and wet mud overgrown with all kinds of vegetation. If you attempt to walk on them, you’d just sink. There are special wooden boardwalks to cross the bogs.
Are the campsites crowded?
Vineeta relaxes at Camp Algonquin — the bonfire indicates it is past 10pm. (Photograph by Gautam Nath)
Canada crowded? Impossible. Although it was summer, when everyone is on holiday, Algonquin is so huge and the campsites so big that we never felt jostled. In fact, we were happy to find neighbours and often shared our lamb chops and beer over a barbecue in the evenings.
We covered four campsites in all and each had its own charm. Some were deep in the woods, so that we could experience little creatures passing us by. Others were on the lake, so we’d go canoeing and swimming.
What were the days like?
Canadian summer days are exceptionally long, with the sun going down at 11pm and rising at 6am. One day, we went on a 11km hike along the Mizzy Lake trail, carrying salami sandwiches and chilled cola. Soon afterwards, we encountered a very impressive beaver dam—Canada is well-known for its beavers; they have a natural instinct to dam the flow of running water and the lake thus formed develops its own flora and fauna. Some say Algonquin itself may not have been established if it wasn’t for the beaver.
Just after the 5km mark, we saw a herd of deer grazing in a forest clearing and then we came across an old rail bed. The track was built in the 1890s and during World War I, it was the busiest rail route in Canada. We also saw a moose drinking water at the lake, dozens of painted turtles basking in the summer sun and some bear nests but, luckily or otherwise, no bears.
We’d usually get back from the hikes by 10pm, light up a bonfire—it was a bit nippy in the evenings—and enjoy it till the sun went down.
You also went canoeing…
Yes, the canoe trip was well organized, with a guide in the lead canoe and about five other couples, each with their own canoe. The journey took us to various spots around the meandering backwaters for sightings of deer, moose and various birds and ducks. We passed a graveyard, where the guide told us stories about the lake and early settlers. We also found that canoes have a mind of their own and unless you are careful, they will take you in all directions except where you want to go. And, at the end, give you some weary shoulder muscles.
(Jet Airways connects Toronto with Delhi (return economy fares upward of Rs39,000 plus taxes), Mumbai (Rs62,000 plus taxes) and Bangalore (Rs69,000 plus taxes), with stopovers wherever necessary
(Gautam Nath, 48 and executive director, TNS India, a global market research firm, holidayed in Algonquin Park, a 7,000 sq. km expanse in Ontario, Canada, for 20 days last summer with his wife Vineeta. It was a nostalgia trip but it created some unique memories of its own)
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, May 31 2008. 12 30 AM IST