A trip to Ruby Falls
Anyone going on a trip to the US for a holiday with their son and daughter settled there, never comes back to India without seeing the Niagara Falls, Disney Land, Disney World or both. These are the two outstanding landmarks- places to go – that top the list of must-sees on one’s tour itinerary.
But I wonder how many of these people have seen or even heard of Ruby Falls.
Yes, Ruby Falls. Mention Ruby Falls to any woman of Indian origin and immediately her thoughts will go to saree falls – the 4 inch wide three metre long piece of cloth used to line the bottom hem of the sari.. That is exactly what I thought of and what my husband also said as we saw the sign ‘Ruby Falls – don’t miss’, on our way back from Florida to Champaign, Illinois.
It was 1985, and we (my husband, my son Bala, his wife Jaishree and children Kartik and Yamini, who were then only four and two )were coming home after a long vacation covering most of the eastern part of the US, starting from Champaign, going first to Pittsburgh to pay our homage in the temple there and get his blessings; then Washington – where we ‘did’ all a tourist is supposed to do – that is, whatever we could fit in four days. After that we drove down to Atlantic city, where we became poorer by as many dollars as we dared to gamble with, then to Williamsburg where we witnessed 18th century America, and from there through the Chesapeake tunnel and through parts of Virginia and finally to Florida where we spent a week in Disney World Epcot Centre.
Then to Cape Kennedy to take the Challenger taking off – a highlight of our trip.
All told it was a memorable trip- in many ways. That was the last time my husband and I visited the States together. After that, I have made three or four trips alone, for he is no more with us.
On our way back to Champaign, we took an inside and quicker route as we did not want to miss a Cubs game in St. Louis on July 12.. As soon as we entered the state of Tennessee, we caught the sign ‘Ruby Falls – don’t miss’
‘Ruby Falls, 10 miles’, then 5 miles and finally ‘Next right turn’. The signs were intriguing and we started wondering and discussing, and it remained our topic of conversation for that day’s rip.
All of us wanted to know what it was – but we were all tired, having been on the road for more than twenty days. And also we did not want to wander away from our original plan. So we left Ruby Falls in peace and continued our homeward journey.
You may wonder why I am writing so much about what we did not see. But wait a minute – we did see it. Not then , but after four years – in 1989 when I was with my son Bala and family again.
That time there was a wedding in the family, taking place in Orlando in Florida. We decided to drive down and this time through the shortest route.
Even then it took us three days driving from early morning to late evening, stopping only for the bare necessities.
On the second day, we were nearing Chattanooga, where we were planning to spend the night at Holiday Inn where reservations had already been made. There we saw the same signs again, ‘Ruby Falls, don’t miss.’ My thoughts went back to the other trip when my husband was also with us, and what a lovely time we had discussing what Ruby Falls meant
Well, we were nearing our destination and we saw yet another board saying ‘Ruby Falls – This way’.
That aroused our curiosity, and Bala decided that this time we were not going to miss it. So after going to Holiday Inn, registering and freshening up in our rooms, we came down and got into the car and followed the sign ‘Ruby Falls – This way’.
I was shocked to see that the sign stopped abruptly in front of a building. Again I was assailed with doubts, but Bala and my daughter-in-law Jaishree were determined to see the Falls.
I followed them quietly without voicing my doubts.
As we entered the building there was another sign ‘Ruby Falls – This way’- and that sign was towards the staircase. So we climbed up and here we found a group of people waiting near the lift, and we were asked to joining them, after promptly having been deprived of our ticket money!
We waited for the lift, and soon it came up, and disgorged a number of people and we got in. The lift went down and kept going down for about 200 ft. and stopped. When we got out, we found we were in a corridor like place which was dark, cold, and damp. A guide was waiting to take charge of us – we were about thirty in that group – and led us. She asked each person in the group where we were from, and en route if she found any one lagging, she would holler, “You Illinois, come forward!”
She really had a good sense of humour, and that made the underground walk in the dark damp narrow space entertaining, and kept us moving forward. We had to walk for more than half-an-hour, and I won’t be exaggerating if I say we walked for nearly an hour.
That walk , in spite of its condition, was interesting. We were walking through a subterranean cavern which was really a wonderland with stalactite and stalagmite formations – defying all imagination.
It was dark, only the wonderful formations were illuminated very subtly, so that the natural beauty was not lost.
One cannot believe it unless one sees with one’s own eyes figures like Virgin Mary carrying child Jesus, the Leaning Tower, chips and bacon served on a plate, Arabian lace curtain …
The formation of stalactite was the best. It was like sheer lace, done with so much precious care with delicate fingers, an elephant’s foot. These were some of the formations our guide pointed out to us. And there were plenty, the Leaning Tower of Pisa being the oldest formation in the cave – believed to be several million years old. Countless centuries of dripping trickling water in the cave have created a host of rock formations that dazzled and, to use Wodehouse’s English, boggled one’s imagination. Being from India, I could make out formations like Lord Ganesh, Buddha doing penance, and Lakshmi and Saraswathi with waist long hair open, as in Ravi Varma’s paintings.
It was a difficult walk – at times we had to bend down, with water ankle deep flowing at our feet. In fact at places we formed a human chain, hands clasping hands. Yet we went on - firstly there was no turning back, you HAD to keep moving forward; secondly curiosity got the better of us.
Now a few words about these caverns. These caverns, known as Lookout Mountain caverns have been there for centuries, with an entrance on the bank of the River Tennessee, these cavern with their high chambers and weird passages served as shelter and hideouts for the native Indians, outlaws, criminals and even the civil War soldiers.
But the natural entrance was closed when a railroad tunnel was built through these mountains. After nearly 25 years, someone got the idea of opening up he caverns again, and making it accessible to the public.
And as they were drilling an elevator shaft from one side of the mountains, this section leading to the Falls was discovered. The chief engineer, Philip Lambert was the first one to walk through the caverns and for a time, he even lost his bearings. He walked, crawled on and on when suddenly in front of him he saw the magnificent falls. He simply could not believe his eyes. He named it ‘Ruby falls’ after his wife.
Coming back to us, we too were just as awe struck when our party came face to face with this wonder. One minute we were walking in the narrow space, the next we were in the middle of around clearing – in the centre of which were the magnificent waterfalls. It was sheer unadorned beauty, this waterfall – 1120 ft. below the top of the mountain falling from a sheer height of 145 feet, through a large opening above, and disappearing in to the flooring of the cavern.
None of us could believe our eyes!
From where does the water come, and where does it go?
We knew we were watching the handiwork of nature; aided, of course, by human hand for the waterfalls were subtly illuminated very artistically, just enough to magnify the natural beauty. It was something we had not bargained for. We just stood there, gaping and gaping at this wonderful vision, when the rasping voice of our guide urging us to move forward, brought us back to reality.
So we all followed her our return walk in another direction through another passage, which also contained beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations.
But for us, who had witnessed the unbelievable and most beautiful sights, the formations did not hold a fascination any more.
And this passage being shorter, we were near the lift entrance in no time, and joined the crowd there waiting for the lift to take them back. We came up in no time, and we were still in a state of euphoria.
I have seen many other waterfalls which are in the open, but this one inside a mountain, and how!
I am writing this after a period of three years (!993), and even now while I look back I cannot suppress my feelings of awe and respect, mixed with a sort of fear and respect
I had witnessed one of nature’s hidden glories and I will never forget it. There may be many like this – I mean ‘hidden beauties’, but since I have seen only this, this is the greatest to me.
My only regret was that my husband was not with me to share this wonderful sight.