Mornings that start with toasted bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon can never go wrong. And if that happens to be your breakfast in a brand new city, you are in for a treat. But exploring the city was on hold, as the first half of the day was going to be spent in driving to and enjoying the Whistler village. We were going to take the Sea to Sky Highway which has been ranked among the five best road-trips in the world by The Guardian. Although lack of sleep and jetlag were trying to raise their ugly heads during the two-hour drive, our eyes stayed focus on the beautiful view to our left.
Vancouver is home to many concrete wonders but it is also home to a green wonder called Stanley Park – a 1001 acre expanse of green that boasts of a breathtaking view of the city’s urban skyline, while your toes sink in the grass! The bay divides the city and yet it bridges a gap that many cities struggle with – the balance between development and nature. We strolled around the paved-sidewalk which goes around the seawall of the park as cyclists and runners whizzed past us. Show me the blue bay and a pretty skyline, and I’ll gladly run 8.8kms at 8am on a Saturday morning.
Back on the highway we took the Lion’s Gate Bridge -- the bridge was owned by the Guinness family (yeah, the awesome beer people) until 1955 -- to get back on our road to Whistler. There were oohs and aahs and multiple clicks of DSLRs and cell-phone cameras as we saw the lovely mountains reflected in the blue-green waters of the sea. A quick stop for coffee at the Galileo Coffee Company for a caffeine fix was in order. They have a huge world map, I looked at India and realised just how far away from home I was. On this map, many cities in Canada, America, Europe and Australia had names scribbled on them in a crowded fashion but India was blank! I took out my pen, and like during the ‘mark the map’ geography tests, I took a wild guess (I hope I was right) and marked my name on Mumbai.
On the agenda next was a cable car ride to the top of the Blackcomb mountain followed by a peak-to-peak Gondola ride to the top of Whistler mountain and then down to the Whistler village. So, our coffee cups in tow (smooth roads, no coffee spilling, *pinch self*) we resumed our journey.
The summer means flowers and berries on the green slopes that are open to the sun and that means BEARS! As we went up the Blackcomb Mountain (in a gondola, don't you assume I went trekking), I peered hard. But every time I heard a movement behind the trees, it turned out to be biker who emerged from a path, and went along the path back into the foliage. Turns out it was the Whistler leg of the free ride mountain biking extravaganza Crankworx, which sees a lot of competitions, music and more.
As we hopped into the ‘Peak 2 Peak’ gondola, we readied ourselves for an 11-minute journey from the Blackcomb Mountain to the Whistler Mountain. As the gondola approaches the valley, a little butterfly flips its wings frantically in your tummy because you are staring at an unsupported cable, kind of like a washing line, hanging about four hundred feet from the valley, and your Gondola is going to go over this cable! But as the gondola reaches the unsupported part of the cable, you get a breathtaking view of the valley where the two mountains marry. On one side, you see the valley stretch towards other peaks, and on the other, you see the Green Lake and the mountains beyond it. You’re in the middle of a panoramic, scenic view. And I might try and define the view in words, but…
Once atop the Whistler peak, there are a few options for you. You could walk a bit and then head to another Gondola that takes you closer to the snow or you can get a 'bite to eat' at the Roundhouse Lodge Restaurant. We had travelled 6000 feet up a mountain and we needed refueling! So, we grabbed a cup of coffee at the lodge.
Because we were going into the mountains, I decided that it would get nippy and hence a fleece jacket was packed in my bag. The sun was out and it was 20 degrees! This was great weather for the mountains and by Mumbai standards, it was just fantastic. But as we went higher and higher, and the early afternoon sun transformed into a late afternoon sun that started to scorch us. The closed Whistler village Gondola was a welcome break from the sun as we descended into the charming Whistler village. In the usually snow-capped mountains, the sun was a welcome break, which brought out people and the by-lanes of the pedestrian village had traffic jams of a different kind -- people and their pets. Yes, I spent a chunk of the afternoon petting dogs of every variety.
Whistler village is intimate and charming in its own way. With paved walkways taking you around chocolateries, gellaterias, gift shops, cycle shops, all of which have lovely potted ferns and plants bright with colour surrounding them, making it seem like Hogsmeade (Harry Potter!). Imagine my surprise when I learnt that the village actually came into existence quite recently (in the early 1900s actually) and it only got basic facilities like electricity, sewage facilities and water by the 60s, when the area became a possible location for a ski resort with an aim to host the Winter Olympics.
The village proudly hosts one of the best mountain bars in North America, The GLC, which is an ode to the Garibaldi Lift Company that was formed in the 1960s to make the mountains accessible to public. Located on the first level, with multiple seating options, The GLC is packed with bikers, hikers and visitors to the village wanting to get a chilled beer with something to eat on this lovely (hot, even by Mumbai standards) afternoon. Chilled apple cider, chicken wings, salads and more kept us company as we made plans to explore the village. As we walked around the lovely lanes, the jetlag started attacking us head-on (by now it was well past 2am in India). But we grabbed a cup of coffee at the Lift Coffee Company and made our way to the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.
Whistler Valley is home to the Squamish and Lil’wat people who are the First Nations of the region. The centre screens a film explaining their varied traditions, including the ritual of peeling a bark off a cedar tree (the bark is used for making many articles of daily use) and then thanking the tree for it. This bark is used for making many articles for daily use.
It is heartening to see the centre’s efforts to conserve the culture and tradition of the region, because the Squamish and Lil’wat cultures laid emphasis on co-existing with the nature. So, while the cedar tree bark is of great utility to them, they never take more than a certain amount, because that causes harm to the tree.
Because we have a float-plane to catch, we hurry out of the centre and make way to the Green Lake air base of Whistler Air. Yes, we sat in a cute little plane that takes off and lands on sea. As the plane cruised along green lake and then took off, it was time to bid goodbye to Whistler… As the plane rose higher into the mountains, the blue-green waters, the cascading valleys, the lush-green expanse beneath us made for a breathtaking experience. Pick a peak to peek at!