An Autumn Hike in Northumberland Forest & Scenic Drive Through Cobourg, Ontario

Last Sunday, my parents and I went on a pre-Thanksgiving hike to get some exercise and enjoy the beautiful colours of autumn here in Ontario. We decided to check out Northumberland County Forest, situated near the town of Cobourg, which is about an hour’s drive from Toronto. Northumberland Forest offers over 45km of hiking trails as well as routes for snowshoeing, horseback riding, hunting and ATVing. Having never been there before, we weren’t sure where to find the hiking trails; vague road signs led us to Morris Trailhead, a series of trails located in Northumberland County (which is about 15km north of Cobourg). The first thing we saw was a massive warning sign for black bear sightings in the area! This freaked me out more than I’d like to admit, though you can’t really blame me given this terrifying Leonardo DiCaprio VS Bear fight scene from The Revenant that was recently burned into my brain.

Surprisingly, we hiked about two hours (7km) without running into a single creature, bear or otherwise. Two ATVs whizzed passed us and we heard the occasional hunting rifle go off, but apart from that we saw no one else on the trail. I strongly believe in safety in numbers, so little wonder I was so jumpy with the three of us walking through a secluded forest in the middle of nowhere! My heart skipped a beat every time a twig snapped, but eventually I realized that the recurring sounds of dirt bikes and hunting rifles would likely keep bears away from the trail during the day.

I really enjoyed the relative quietness of that trail. We’ve hiked many a time up north in Algonquin Park, and although the scenery and colours were always unreal, the trails could get a little crowded. There was something special about the feeling of being removed from the hustle and bustle of Toronto while we walked through Northumberland Forest. The colours weren’t too shabby, either:

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Thanksgiving 2016: What Are You Thankful For? 

As its name suggests, Thanksgiving is a time to gather with friends and family and give thanks for what we have. It’s also a time for turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie, though unfortunately the excitement over these seasonal foods often overshadows the real purpose of this holiday!

My family’s tradition is a simple one: we either cook a turkey dinner from scratch or order one from Summerhill Market in Toronto and spend the day talking and laughing as we share a delicious meal together. Today’s dinner from Summerhill was, as always, very tasty; dessert was a creamy cheesecake baked by yours truly (recipe courtesy of my aunt). I took pictures but was salivating (okay, drooling) in a most unladylike fashion at the sight of the meal and couldn’t spare the time to snap better ones. Continue reading

World Elephant Day Confession: Here’s Why I Regret Riding Elephants in India

Happy World Elephant Day! Below, I share some thoughts with you regarding the recent elephant ride I took with my parents in Jaipur, India.

One of the best things about travelling is the new experiences you get to have. If you’ve read my daily blog posts from our trip to India and Dubai, you’ll know that my parents and I had many new and exciting experiences during our two weeks abroad. We tried new foods, met some of the locals and thoroughly enjoyed exploring India. But there was one thing we did that left me questioning its ethics, and that was the elephant ride. We didn’t have much of a choice because going on elephant back was the simplest way to get up a mountain that led to Amber Fort, a sprawling palace and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Rajasthani city of Jaipur. It’s the main tourist attraction in Jaipur and one of the most well-known forts in India (you can read about our experience here.) 

I really hope the elephants were treated well…

I remember being mesmerized by elephants we saw during our trip to Africa back in 2001. I had seen them at the zoo before, but there was something so special about spotting them in their natural habitat. They slowly roamed around, going about their day, free to go wherever they pleased. Elephants were (and still are) slightly terrifying to me, given their enormous size, but they’re awe-inspiring nonetheless. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re the largest animals I’ve seen up close, or maybe it’s hard to believe that I’m staring at (or riding!) the animals I loved watching in Disney’s The Jungle Book. Either way, there’s no denying that elephants are majestic creatures. 

So, back to Jaipur. As we climbed aboard the elephants (which were all female) and slowly made our way up the mountain, it dawned on me that these gentle creatures were probably suffering. They seemed to be huffing and puffing as they climbed up the winding path, carrying 300-400 pounds on their backs (each elephant carried two passengers plus the driver). Several times, we came to a halt because there was an elephant traffic jam (yes, I made that up), so our driver would tap the elephant with a small stick in order to get her to trot past the six or seven other elephants that were ahead of us. I didn’t notice any of the drivers actually hitting the elephants, and we were told that the rides up to Amber Fort were only available for two or three hours per day so that the animals could get enough rest, but something still didn’t sit right with me. 

While I believed that the animals at Amber Fort were treated fairly, I had to wonder if riding them meant we were promoting the global mistreatment of elephants. It’s widely known that elephants are killed or maimed for their ivory tusks, the trading and selling of which is a booming (and very illegal) business in Africa and Asia. It’s also known that the treatment of elephants at zoos and theme parks is likely subpar at best; unsurprisingly, they’re often unable to thrive in those manufactured and restrictive environments. I understand that zoos and animal theme parks can generate jobs and money, but it’s sad to see elephants (and dolphins, penguins, orcas, etc) forced to perform tricks for an audience. Animals are not our entertainment, which is why I had to wonder if we were helping to exploit them by riding on the elephants’ backs. 

Should we have boycotted the rides and simply walked up the mountain? Should we have inquired about the treatment of Rajasthani elephants? Maybe, but I’m not sure what good it would have done. Perhaps it would be more prudent to educate myself about the global treatment of elephants, to sign petitions that endeavour to protect their homes and species, and to vow never to ride one again. I would be much happier watching them happily roam free. 

Dubai Day 5: Meena Bazaar, Burj Khalifa & a Scrumptious Dinner at Dubai Fountain

Welcome to the last chapter of my trip to India and the Middle East! My parents and I are finally back in Toronto after a long and stressful journey home (more on that later). I’ve had a delightful sleep in my big, comfy bed for the last couple of nights, but keep waking up missing Dubai and the excitement of attending the Jubilee Games. When we left the house yesterday, Toronto felt boring compared to Delhi’s constant honking and insane driving!

We wanted to make the most of this past Sunday because, sadly, it was our final day in Dubai! We had the whole day to explore the city, so our first stop was Meena Bazaar, a famous shopping area in Bur Dubai. Contrary to popular belief, the Bazaar isn’t actually a souk (outdoor market); it’s a few streets filled with little shops selling clothes, jewellery, textiles, and souvenirs. After passing some empty streets lined with modern-looking buildings, we turned a corner and I immediately felt like we had stepped into a city in India. The streets were dirty with garbage and had puddles of something that did not look like just water, many of the buildings and stores appeared to be falling apart, and Indian men with thick accents harangued us to come inside their stores or buy knockoff designer handbags. I realized we were probably seeing the poorer parts of Dubai that people usually don’t talk about because they either forget about them or want to concentrate on the opulence within the newer parts of the city. While I understand that impulse – after all, rich sheikhs, magnificent buildings and over-the-top attractions are what Dubai is known for – it was a jarring reality check to see those few crowded streets, which were just a few minutes away from swanky hotels and shopping centres. If I ever go back to Dubai, I’ll take a river boat into the older parts of the city, where you can gain a better understanding of the authentic, day-to-day lives of the locals. I think that would be more interesting to see than Meena Bazaar, which felt like a tourist trap.  Continue reading

Dubai Days 3 & 4: Closing Ceremony of the Jubilee Games, Jumeirah Beach & a Road Trip to Abu Dhabi

I’m sad to say that our time in the Middle East is almost over. We’ve enjoyed lots of fresh hummus, dates and coffee over the past few days, and it’s been so much fun cheering on Ismaili athletes alongside fans and friends. While I’m looking forward to getting back to a normal routine and my own bed (the absences of which can throw us off whack during a long vacation), this has been the most eye-opening and adventurous trip I’ve ever accompanied my parents on!

You know how the days seem to blend together when you’re busy exploring a new place? That’s how the last two weeks have been. We hit the ground running in India, visiting three cities in six days. We took long, informative tours of important cultural monuments and areas such as Jama Masjid, the Red Fort, Lotus Temple, Fatehpur Sikri, and the Taj Mahal. I’ve probably just been having too much fun! The good news is that it’s not over yet – the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall are on tomorrow’s schedule for our last day in Dubai.

Yesterday, we attended the Closing Ceremonies for the 2016 Jubilee Games. It was held at Dubai World Trade Centre and featured a ton of awesome performances. From incredible Tajikistani dancers to a surprise concert from famed musical duo Salim-Sulaiman, there wasn’t a dull moment to be found. The best part was when each and every Ismaili athlete walked in a parade around the hall, some dancing to the music with their teammates, others proudly carrying their home flags. After months and years of dedication and hard work, it was their moment and they deserved to celebrate!

The Tajik dance troupe stole the show with stunning choreography and visuals!

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Dubai Day 2: Gold Medals for Canada and A Midnight Cricket Match

Today was a great day, mostly because I slept past 7 AM for the first time since we left Toronto, but also because I got to witness Canadian soccer teams taking home gold medals! As I mentioned yesterday, we’re here in Dubai for the Jubilee Games, a global sports competition organized by our Ismaili Muslim community. For me, soccer has been the most thrilling game to watch – I shouted and screamed so often during today’s games that my throat feels like it’s been burned.

During the day, I took it easy and just relaxed at the hotel. I had some time to kill because the men’s soccer final was taking place at 9 PM inside Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC). It was Canada VS Tajikistan – we knew it was going to be a very close match because both teams were equally strong and, I think, equally motivated to get the win. Tajikistan started off strong with a 1-0 lead for the first half, but in the end, the Canadians nabbed the gold medal with a 2-1 victory! 

The Canadian men’s team celebrating their win!

My mum and I also caught the second half of the Canadian women’s soccer final, where our team won 3-1. The U.K. won bronze and Pakistan won silver; on the men’s side, Tajikistan was awarded silver and Pakistan got the bronze. 

Right after the awards ceremony, my parents and I and some of my mum’s Council colleagues decided to check out the cricket game final (Canada VS Pakistan), which started at 11 PM at an outdoor field thirty minutes away. There was a coach leaving DWTC at midnight, and when we arrived, it was clear Pakistan was winning. The crowd’s loud cheers in Urdu and the hundreds of Pakistani flags made me feel a little out of place, but it was great to see so many united Ismailis supporting their home team. They also made a point of tossing out some, “Go, Canada!” cheers, which we appreciated given that the score was heavily in Pakistan’s favour. 

The outdoor game had a nice atmosphere. Congrats to Pakistan…

We left before the end and got back to the hotel at 3 AM. I’m heading to bed now – can’t wait for the Jubilee Games Closing Ceremonies tomorrow! 

Dubai Day 1: The Jubilee Games, Ismaili Centre Dubai and Great Indian Food

Welcome back to my travels, everyone! Thanks for sticking with me this far. Today’s post will be a short one as it’s 1:34 AM here in Dubai and sleep beckons. 

Today was the perfect first day in Dubai. Technically we started our week-long trip yesterday after flying in from Jaipur, but we were so tired that we couldn’t do much more than check out the hotel, grab dinner and go to bed. Today, we were able to have breakfast amongst family and friends from Toronto, watch an awesome soccer game, attend jamatkhana at the beautiful local mosque and go out for dinner with some friends.  

What soccer game, you ask? Let me explain. We and ~11,000 others are in Dubai for the Jubilee Games, an international sporting competition organized by the Ismaili Muslim community. Since my parents and I belong to this community, we decided to come and support Canada’s Ismaili athletes! The Games actually finish this week, but we’ll be able to catch the semi-final and final matches as well as the closing ceremonies. Yesterday we watched our men’s soccer team beat the USA 3-2, and today it started off as a tie game between us and Tajikistan and then our team ended up winning 6-5. Tomorrow (Thursday) is the final, which all of us Canadians are very excited about! Our male soccer players are the defending champions from the first-ever Jubilee Games back in 2008, so here’s hoping they’ll bring home the gold again tomorrow. (You can learn more about the Games here.) 

Such a thrilling game!

After screaming ourselves hoarse after the win, we got ready for jamatkhana (mosque) and headed there in a cab. (So far, Dubai seems like a very sleek and developed city – its streets are lined with fancy stores and flashy skyscrapers.) The Ismaili Centre Dubai, where jamatkhana is, is a beautiful space that my parents and I will hopefully take a tour of tomorrow. We met several Toronto friends there and decided we would all go out for dinner afterwards. One of our friends suggested we go to an Indian restaurant called Jaffer Bhai, and I’m so glad we listened to him – everything was great, from tandoori chicken and vegetables to mutton biryani and butter chicken. There were 11 of us, and even though we ordered about seven or eight dishes, we couldn’t finish it all. 

Jaffer Bhai’s may not look like much, but its food is delicious!

That’s it for today. I’m off to bed – goodnight!