Some legends live forever, spinning the tales of a magical past and its incredible splendors. Tirelessly told and treasured over generations, they uphold the essence of their once credible past. During our recent visit to the Niagara Falls, we chanced upon the various stories that have associated themselves with the intriguing history of the magnificent falls. After watching 'Niagara - Legends of Adventure' in the park's IMAX theatre, it felt as if the raging waters of Niagara carried an altogether different meaning. The daredevilry of people in the past who challenged the fury of the falls is indeed stomach churning. From the French rope walker Charles Blondin who walked across the perilous river on a tight rope to the 63 years old school teacher Annie Taylor who of her own volition chose to tumble over the thundering cascades in a barrel, the mysteries and myths of Niagara are astounding. What is even more fascinating is that these bravehearts not only survived the ordeal but also lived to recount their moment of glory. However Lelawala's story was the one that had a lasting impression on my thoughts.
Hundreds of years before, when the place was chaste and untouched by the European explorers, an Indian tribe by the name of Ongiara dwelt on the banks of the Niagara river. The Ongiaras worshiped Hinum, the God of thunder who lived with his two sons in the caves behind the falls. Every year the Indians offered the fruit of their harvest to appease their thunder god. But there came a time when many of them died for unknown reasons. The Indians were wary and thought of ways to curb the mishap. Instead of sending the annual canoes laden with fruits and flowers down the river, they decided to sacrifice the most beautiful maiden of the tribe every year to please Hinum. One such year Lelawala, the daughter of the chief was chosen. On the day of the ceremony Lelawala was bedecked with flowers and a doeskin garb. After the ceremonial feast, she stepped into a canoe and rowed towards the caves of Hinum. She plunged into her death as the canoe tumbled off the edge and cascaded down the turbulent falls. Hinum's two sons caught Lelawala in their strong arms as she fell and were mesmerised by her beauty. Each of them desired her. She promised to accept the one who told her the reason behind the unexpected deaths. They told her about a giant snake that poisoned the water once a year to get near its victims. Lelawala remained loyal and returned as a spirit to warn her tribe about the monstrous snake. As a consequence, the villagers waited for the snake and mortally wounded it when it visited the river banks the next year . The snake returned and lied limp across the river dying, with its head on one side and the tail resting on the other, forming a semi-circle. This later came to be known as the Horseshoe Falls. It is said that Lelawala's soul still lives in those caves and it is she who creates the spectacular mist and reigns the Horseshoe Falls. Since then she has been called the Maid of the Mist.
This story might be just like any other mythical folklore that leaves one in an imaginary realm for a certain time. Of course the reason behind the mist is quite obvious. The Horseshoe falls is 53 meters (173 ft) high and when the voluminous waters crash on the rocks beneath, they give rise to a gorgeous blanket of mist. But when you are there, amidst the hovering gulls in the misty breeze and the deafening roar of the falls, you might just as well keep the facts at bay. Because it, definitely, is an experience of lifetime. For only a maiden so beautiful and pristine as Lelawala could conjure up the resplendent, foggy mist that veils the caves behind the falls. To leave such a place with a feeling of being enchanted and intoxicated is certainly much more enriching than it is to analyse it as a factual piece of wild nature. Call it a nature lover's eye after all!