Monday, July 29, 2019

Canadian Rockies: Banff

Lake Peyto, as seen from the viewpoint on the hike to Bow Summit, Banff National Park

Banff National Park.

The last time I was in the Canadian Rockies was in 2016, as part of a trip to the Western Coast of Canada. The Canadian Rockies are a place you want to visit again and again. This time, three years later, opportunity presented itself and I took the chance to visit Banff, Yoho and Jasper National Parks. So much has changed, even in this short time, yet the beauty, majesty and magnificence of the place still remains unchanged.

Banff Gondola and Lake Minnewanka Cruise

The place to start with any Banff trip is Banff Gondola to Sulphur Mountain. I wrote about it in more detail in my last visit. If this is your first time, you must buy the Banff Ultimate Explorer Package. For each item in the package, you can give the time, but you can give it later if you are not sure. I would suggest to do the gondola in the morning, and then the cruise later in the afternoon (5 or 6 pm). You can book the times for the glacier on another day and call one day before to book a timeslot.

You can easily spend a few hours atop Sulphur Mountain. The views are amazing on a clear day, so make sure to check the weather before you go. Even if it's raining, remember the weather can change quickly in a short time.

Do remember that the gondola parking lot can get filled by 11 am. So if you are coming later, you can park in the free lot near Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre, walk to the Elk+Avenue Hotel (about ten minutes) and take a free shuttle to the Gondola. Or you can always try your luck with the parking near the Gondola as someone is usually always leaving.

The Lake Minnewanka cruise is something you may not think is worth it on its own, but as part of the package it's a great hour spent. The tour guides and the captains can be hilarious (ours certainly was!) and it's highly enjoyable - especially when they talk of the Devil's Lake.

There's ample parking so don't worry about driving to the lake cruise boarding area. For an in depth look at the cruise, refer to my post from three years ago.

Vermillion Lakes

These are an underrated and understated part of Banff. Many people miss it, as it's really outside of the town of Banff, and doesn't have a good parking lot but just viewpoints along a narrow road. But you miss it and you have missed a great viewing point. The lake and the mountains can be very scenic, especially during sunset, and more so if you happen to catch a train passing on the horizon.

Surprise Corner, Bow Falls, Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and Banff Hot Springs

If you drive up (or hike up) to Surprise Corner, this is where you have a jaw dropping view of the magnificent Banff Springs Hotel, the majestic Bow Falls and Bow river, along with a glimpse of the Banff Gondola and its ride to the top, as well as the magnificent scenery all around you.

Unfortunately there was a light drizzle when we went up, so it did make for dynamic pictures, if not very clear. Even then, do remember that no pictures will do the scenery justice. You just have to see it, and absorb it. Try to enjoy your surroundings and forget about taking a checklist of pictures. I wrote in greater detail about Bow Falls on my last trip.

The Banff Springs resort is an iconic hotel and resort built in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Yes, it's expensive, but it's also something to see. Parking nearby was $10/hour. We parked for two hours and it was more than enough to explore the hotel picture gallery, the famous dining hall, the lobby and other parts of the hotel open to the general public, the various shops inside the resort, along with the grounds and statues outside.

If you are in Banff, you must visit the hot springs. There are many hot springs in and around the Canadian Rockies, and many have been left in their natural state, but in Banff they have taken the hot water and piped it into a pool so people can sit, chill and relax. It can get crowded depending on the time of the day and date you visit, so do check, but even then it's very relaxing to sit in the open air, in waters that are 40C, and the gorgeous mountain scenery all around you.

We were very lucky with the weather. It had been drizzling on and off throughout the day, but the two hours we were in the hot springs the weather stayed dry. As soon as we got out of the pool and started to change to head out, it started to pour again!

Emerald Lake

Now to be very technical, Emerald Lake is in Yoho National Park, not Banff. And Yoho is actually in British Columbia, not Alberta. But Emerald Lake was the only place we visited in Yoho, and it's a short drive away from Banff, so I have included it here.

The rain was gone, the sun was shining and what a beautiful lake it was! Unlike Lake Louise there's hardly any body there at Emerald Lake at that time of the day - we went in the early evening, about 6 pm. You could enjoy the serenity and tranquility of the beautiful lake completely by yourself.

Of course, by 6 pm, the canoe rentals were shut, so if you wish to boat in the lake, you must go earlier (or have your own raft).

If you have no plans to visit Yoho National Park or explore BC, you must still visit Emerald Lake if you are in Banff. It's a must see.

People always ask me how long to plan for a trip to Banff. I always suggest three to four days, minimum. This is enough to complete all the highlights, especially if you are travelling with family (and kids) who do not like to get up at the crack of dawn. Moreover, with four days, you are playing safe with the weather. This is mountain area, so rain and bad weather can always be around the corner. If you only have reserved a day for Banff, and it rains on that day, you are out of luck. Best to plan for at least three days.

Next up: Lake Louise

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Kabir Singh - Is Misogyny the Big Problem, or the Fact it's so Popular?

What if I told you Hollywood just made a movie portraying the main protagonist as a racist man who kills minorities for fun and glorifies his act? Would you be aghast that such a movie was made? Or would you even be more alarmed if this movie actually becomes a blockbuster hit?

The movie Kabir Singh sweeping across India (and Canada), and running to packed houses worldwide is the latest blockbuster from Bollywood. According to Indian film-trade analyst Taran Adarsh, the film will “cruise past" the two-billion-rupee mark ($38-million) on its 13th day in cinemas, putting it on track to become “the highest-grossing Hindi film of 2019.” Mr. Adarsh also pointed out on Twitter that Kabir Singh pulled in 175 million rupees "on a working day [Monday]. Most biggies don’t collect that on a [Sunday].”

Those numbers are just for the business it did in India. Kabir Singh has been playing to packed houses in Canada, too. By July 2, the film had collected US$1.72-million in North America, with almost US$600,000 coming from 14 Canadian theatres, according to Weekend Cinema USA, the film’s distributor. On a Tuesday evening in its second week, a 250-seat theatre at Cineplex Yonge-Dundas in Toronto was almost packed, save for the front-row seats. The audience was primarily young South Asian-Canadians, many of whom seemed to be on a date. (Source: Globe and Mail)

Here's some reasons why the film has attracted so much (negative) criticism:

  • Kabir Singh, the protagonist, is a medical student with anger issues who often reacts to situations with violence.
  • A raging alcoholic and sex fiend, he catches his neighbour admiring his buff body, strides over to her room and almost rapes her at knifepoint.
  • He mercilessly hits a student from another college during a football match and claims it to be an act of pride for his college. This is celebrated in the movie.
  • He has to have a drink before surgery. His colleagues all cover for him and clean up his mess.
  • Women in the movie are treated as "property". He "claims" Preety - his soon to be girl friend, and tells other boys to tease other women and not her, because she is his. All this before Preety even utters a word. This is shown as desirable macho behaviour.
  • When his girlfriend displeases him, he slaps her.
Now this is just a small list - there's plenty more in the movie. The (main) problem is not that such a movie was made. Bollywood is known for making misogynistic movies where lecherous and stalking behaviour are portrayed as courting and romantic. Though you could argue this is cinematic liberty of portraying the story of an abusive relationship.

But Kabir Singh is not just a portrayal of a brash and badly behaved man. It also plots the story in such a way that every other major character adjusts for and accepts Singh's flaws and even forgives him. In the end, he emerges a winner and the heroine returns to him. Moreover, his mannerisms and acts are celebrated in the movie.

To me, all of this is troubling, but not troubling enough. The main problem is this - Kabir Singh is now the highest grossing Bollywood movie of 2019.

To me, in this age of secularism and so-called liberal progressive values, if you believe in absolute freedom of speech, then you cannot deny the filmmaker the right to make such movies. Even if he defends beating your girlfriend. It is his right to say what he wants to say.

But it is YOUR right not to support him with your $. Let's face it, if no one went to watch such movies, then such movies would not be made. I chose not to go see Padmavat and Kalank, because I believed they were anti-Muslim movies, or movies that portrayed Muslims in a bad light. I did not want to give such movies my hard earned money. These two were big hits in Modi's Hindutva loving India, so no surprise there.

But Kabir Singh? A movie that celebrates toxic masculinity, beating your loved ones, random acts of violence, rape threats and misogyny - the biggest hit of the year? What it shows perhaps is a sad reflection of Indian society as a whole.

And before we in the West laugh at it, go back to my first paragraph. American Sniper, a movie that played fast and loose with facts about an illegal Iraq War that has taken the lives of more than a million people, was one of the biggest hits of 2014.