A small glimpse of the United States’ biggest state.
By Bhanu Chandran
As a part of our annual holiday trip, this time we chose Alaska. My brother-in-law, sister-in-law, my husband and my daughter’s family, eight of us, travelled together from New York to Alaska.. It was a long flight, appeared to be almost halfway to India from New York but once we reached there we realised it was worth every effort. Alaska is so vast that one wonders where to start. It is 424.5 million acres in area. It is the world’s largest wildlife resort. It was purchased by America from Russia in 1867 for 7.2 million dollars. It has several territories like Seward, Denali, Tlkeetna, Anchorage, Fairbanks, etc. We stayed in a hotel in Anchorage on arrival and the next day we travelled to Seward, two hours away.
on the way to Seward, we stopped in a small town called Whittier where the whole town’s population lives in one building. The town is hidden on the other side of a mountain and so there is a tunnel through the mountain and that is the only way to get to Whittier. This is where we went on our first cruise.
It was a five-hour cruise to see the glaciers. The temperature was 10oC and we were covered in layers. The ocean wind was so cold that we were forced to go inside from the deck every so often. The glaciers were breathtaking. The whole scene was so beautiful that one felt choked and overwhelmed. There were blue and black twinges in the glaciers. The whole mountain range looked like it was covered with silver foils when sunlight reflected on them.
We spotted a family of sealions lazing on a rock, a bald eagle flying above us, a mountain goat staring at us angrily, two orcas playing with each other in the water and a group of birds called kittitwake flying near some rocks. There were thousands of them and it was an amazing sight. They belonged to the gull family. Orcas are not killer whales as people think but belong to the dolphin family. Looking at all these creatures, one could not but wonder at the glory of evolution. The vast ocean and its roar, the magnificent mountain ranges, all filled my being with such calmness that tears were welling up in my eyes. We then proceeded to Seward.
As we reached the house we had rented, the landlady welcomed us with a smile and said, “I came here to warn you to be careful. A two-year-old bear is on the loose. If you happened to go for a walk, make a lot of noise and do not run.”
“What a welcome,” I thought. The house was in two levels and to go upstairs we needed to come out of the house. Our heart was in our mouths every time we went upstairs but the bear decided against visiting us. The house was beautiful, adjoining a lake in which we could see huge salmons floating. The kids were excited to see so many fish almost on the surface. It looked as though we could pick them up with our hands. That evening my daughter Priya, her husband and her two sons went for white water rafting while we went sightseeing.
On A cruise again
The next day we went on a cruise again to see the wild animals. We spotted two huge moose, a bull moose, two big bears, several caribous and two whales. Caribous are like deer with beautiful antlers. Some of them are very huge. A moose is so big that one doesn’t dare face its wrath. It is considered to be a very dangerous animal. A moose’s age can be determined by counting the number of sharp edges in the horns of the moose.
Day four took us on the road again. This time we stopped at a place called Talkeetna on the way to Denali. It is a small village with a population of about 900, mostly whites. It was a quaint, simple place with a small shopping area. We just walked around the shopping area and the price of even the simplest article was staggering. The beads made by the gypsies in India that were sold for 50 rupees were costing $20-25. They claimed they were handmade and hence expensive.
Day five found us travelling again, this time to Denali. The National Park in Denali is about 6.4 million acres. We had the most wonderful experiences at Denali. The next day , we took the day-long bus ride to the Wonder Lake. Packed with food, armed with warm clothes to fight the cold wind, we proceeded in the packed bus. Wonder Lake is about 80 miles inside and the roads are completely curved. One needed a lot of expertise to turn on these curves. If we missed, the drop was about 3500 feet. Every time the driver took a deep turn, we chanted a silent prayer.
Every now and then someone in the bus would spot an animal and shout excitedly. The bus would stop and everyone would rush to the windows with their binoculars and cameras. The lucky majority got a good view while the unfortunate minority was satisfied with just a glimpse. We saw Mr and Mrs moose, huge ones with big antlers, bears and mountain goats. Many hikers were walking along with their camping materials, some people were cycling. We stopped at many viewpoints. Wonder Lake is vast and beautiful and it freezes completely in winter. It was a tiring 11-hour ride but we would have never missed it for anything in the world.
The next evening, we went for a sled dog show. Several dogs were kept in various kennels and we got to pet the puppies. These were Alaskan huskies. Some of them were strong and ferocious. These are used to pull the sleds in winter carrying logs to build the kennels and these are also used for patrolling. The drivers who drive these dogs are called mushers and they have absolute control over the dogs. These dogs have a special diet and nutritionists decide on the diet fit for each dog. Depending on their height and weight, diet for each dog varies. We saw the demonstration of these dogs pulling the sled. It was at such lightning speed that we didn’t even realise that the dogs had completed one full round. It was a great experience.
On to anchorage
That marked the end of the Denali trip. On day eight, we drove back to Anchorage. It was a five-hour drive and finally when we reached we were exhausted. We decided to chill at home, cooked some hot food and relaxed. We had two full days before which we would leave Alaska. We visited the Alaska
History Museum while my grandchildren went cycling and hiking. I was amazed at the 11- and eight-year-old kids’ indomitable spirit and energy.
This museum opened in 1968 In a 10,000 square foot building. It is called Rasmuson Center. It gives the entire history of Alaska, its early Russian occupants, their lifestyle, their occupation etc. There are exhibits depicting the sale of Alaska to Americans by the Russians. The ancient people were Athabaskan, the Tlingit, Haida, Eskimos, Aluets etc. Models of their houses, the clothes they wore, the weapons they used for hunting, their everyday chores – all were beautifully displayed with a write-up on each of their villages and customs.
The gradual adaptation to the Western culture was depicted in the later stages. A day is insufficient to walk through the entire museum.
On the last day we went to the Anchorage Heritage Museum. There are small hut-like structures surrounding the main building. Each hut has displays depicting the culture of Alaska.
It was a glorious day, cool but sunny and, as we stepped out of the museum, we inhaled the fresh, unpolluted air of Alaska. That night as we boarded the flight, we carried, with us the indelible, wonderful experiences of Alaska that would remain green in our memories. Those were among the the most memorable 10 days of our lives.