Aug13'2010: "How to celebrate India's Independence Day in a foreign country ?" , was the question on everyone's mind. In fact, even more important question was, "How do we make it memorable ?".Most people in the group had already visited the usual places like Chicago, New York, Niagara - the places Indians must visit.Not sure who made that rule.We wanted to spend the weekend at a more peaceful place, a more natural place - Smokies was the destination chosen.Six of us left from Cleveland. We were to supposed be joined by another friend who was on his way from Atlanta, which was just 3 hrs away from Smoky Mountains. Was the trip memorable? Read more to find out.
How to get there : Smoky Mountains a.k.a. Smokies is one the many national parks that exist in the United States. Vast in size,with over 760 sq.kms spread out forests makes this national park a mighty one in terms of size alone. In fact its actually called as "The Great Smoky Mountains National Park". I would discuss how to reach Smokies from the city we resided in i.e. Cleveland.However, it would be of useful only to readers residing in the northern part of United States. But, having well laid out maps and having advanced GPS capabilities, you don't really need guidance while travelling in the U.S.We took the I-71 S route from Cleveland till Cincinnati.Then we took the I-75 S.The major cities on I-71 S were Columbus,Cincinnati(Ohio). The major cities on I-75 S were Lexington(Kentucky), Knoxville, Pigeon Forge then our final destination Gatlinburg(Tenesse). Gatlinburg exists in Tennesse state.Any GPS or maps from Google Maps can help you find the route.We left around 6.30 pm on Friday. After having an interesting dinner and even more special indian drink near a popular local restaurant, we started off to a rather slow start to our trip to the "The Great Smokies".
Places to stay / eat : We reached Gatlingburg, thanks to our loyal GPS which guided us way inspite of the forests and mountains almost accurately.GPS's in the past have had this habit of breaking down mid-way. Since most of the journey was overnight, except for the guys driving the vehicle,rest of us dozed off. I guess we had taken just a couple of breaks since our dinner.We had booked a cottage with Mountain Laurel Chalets Inc. We reached the office around 5.30 am. We took cottage keys from the main office and from there proceeded towards our cottage. they even provided a map to the cottage along with the keys.With two storeys and a basement, made it ideal for staying in these parts i.e in forests. There were signs to keep doors closed. We wondered why? The reason was simple. To keep the Wild Bears out!!! Gulp!! Our friend had already checked in. I mean the friend from Atlanta and not the bear ;) After spending couple of hours checking the house all over, around and within ;) it slowly sinked in that we are actually staying in a huge cottage with a lot of amenities. Just read this - 1) Two bedrooms on each floor including basement - Six in total. 2) A vast drawing room with a large dining table. 3) Neatly arranged kitchen with all the cutlery one might need. 4) Fire place on every floor waiting to be lit up. 5)Toilets, bathrooms with all the towels,soaps, etc. 6) Balcony at each level with table and chairs 7) A pool table 8) jacuzzi 9) Two Huge LCD Monitors with a massive sound system, enough to shake the cottage.There were books, maps and novels, DVDs too. And finally the view from the cottage - staring right down the valley with huge forest trees all around. The highest peak in Gatlinburg in sight, right across. The atmosphere too helped create an aura around the place. Being early morning meant being greeted with the birds chirping, the entire smell of freshness spoke volumes about the place. Just too enchanting.
What is there to see / Things to do :
Breakfast @ River Road Pancake house & Grill
After everyone got ready, we decided to have a brunch. We went to the main busy area in Gatlinburg and tried some of the local delicacies available especially in breakfast. We tried out this place called River Road's Pan cake house. It was run by some Thai immigrants. So much for local.:) We tried out some of the omeletes. Does sound very regular breakfast, but it wasn't anywhere close ot being regular. Omelette's made of 4 large eggs with filling of America's most famous accessory - cheese. There were fillings of two different cheeses - Mozzarella and cheddar. Top it up with some nice sauce.Hash browns and some toasted bread with salted butter. Boy!!!! Was that some brunch ? I wondered if any of us could finish that kind of breakfast.Well, we did finish it though.And what more there was enough space in our tummies to order some more stuff.How about some Waffles?Why not? Brunch almost became a heavy meal. It cost around 10-12 $ per person. Well, now it was time to sleep..oops I mean to do some sight seeing.
Site seeing tips :
Smokies offers a lot of activities - white water rafting, rappelling, rock climbing,mountain biking, etc. The lazy guys we are- we couldn't do either. ;) we tried the usual stuff - simple hiking. And there are plenty of options for that too. Smokies has lot of trails spread across. In fact hiking is the prime activity.Simply because people of all ages can take this up.Most trails are well planed with a proper walkable road and signs to the place. There are variety of options too - river, waterfall, mountain peaks.etc. There are different visitor centers in the Smokies. The centers are often the starting points for all these trails. We went to the closet one - Sugarlands visitor center.They have friendly and experienced staff who can guide you the trail to take up according to your liking.There is also a store there for memorabilia or stuff you might need on the trail - ponchos etc. There are maps available for 1$. The maps are really informative which tell you all about all the trails - how to go, difficulty level, distance,the duration etc..In fact, that helped us plan better.
Trek@Laurel Falls :
We chose to go to the nearest one - Laurel Falls.As expected, the trail was well maintained- a proper walkable road leading up to the falls.On the way,we could see many people - young, old, families, couples all enjoying the walk in the nice weather. There were even forest officers patrolling the trail for any incidents, just in case.There were signs everywhere to guide you to the place. The weather was a bit cool because of the light drizzle, but manageable. We reached the falls in around 1/2 hr. However, the fall was a bit of disappointment. It was just too small to be considered as a fall. Anyway, it was a nice walk.If you are visiting the smokies, make sure to have enough time to explore various places. We were on a short trip, so there wasn't any time to explore. Also, if you plan to do whitewater rafting, make sure you do it early morning. We were too late to try that, and the next day being a Sunday, it was closed.Missed!!!
Trek @ Clingman's Dome :
Next, we tried the highest peak in Smokies - Clingman's Dome. (6643 ft.) We need to reach the base of the trail by car. It was an interesting drive to the base. Lots of turns and low visibility due to fog meant the skill of the driver getting tested, especially as we were ascending the mountain to reach the trail. In almost an hour or so, we reached the base of the trail. the trail was around 5 miles.It was a steep trail. So it took a lot of effort to reach the top. However, it didn't take us more than 40 mins to reach the top.It was fog all around us - no wonder it was called the smokies.
On our return, we ate food at the restaurant - No Way Jose's which offered pretty good Mexican food. In case people want to do any shopping, you would find almost every store in Gatlinburg. We did some shopping at Walmart. It was nice to have walmart close by. So we did spend some extended time at the Walmart shopping. We reached the cottage around 10.00 pm. After some interesting and unique attempts at lighting up the fire place, we had a little party before we retired for the day.
The next day, we packed up and left around 1100 am. We had to hand over the keys to the cottage authorities as we were checking out. We then proceeded to Cade's Cove horseback riding center.It was far from Gatlinburg. Spent most of the way listening to some memorable and now unforgettable numbers.It almost took an hour to reach there. All of us took horses - they provide helmets. The ride cost around $75 per person. The ride was going to be of one hour. Obviously none of us had done horse riding before. They gave us horses of varying heights may be depending on our heights. They took us through the jungle.Almost 8-10 horses following each other, with the expert horse leading the way. We spotted some deers in the jungle. Riding on the horses and observing how they handled a rabbit, or a car or even a stream of water was a good experience. The horses were well trained. Still the moment they found some grass, they would stop and grab a bite.Did learn a thing or two on horse riding.The ride was one of the highlights of the trip.
Lunch@Thai Thani :
Our last stop in Smokies was the hotel Thai Thani. The restaurant had variety of oriental food including Chinese,Japanese and Thai. Mostly non-veg. Luckily for me, they agreed to make a special vegetarian lunch.The food was as usual.I guess the non-veggies enjoyed more.Well, that wasn't really the last stop - we did stop at a couple of places more before bidding the smokies a warm good bye.We visited some local shops. Please Note - Tennessee is the state of Pepe Jeans. So you would find lot of jeans stores here in Smokies.
Return journey : Return journey was rather smooth - most of us dozed off. We had a couple of breaks in between. However, it was a nice journey back home. We reached around 6.30 am. With that our little trip came to an end. Hope our exploits mentioned above guide you on your trip to Smokies.
P.S. Things 'not' to do in smokies :
- If you have ordered dinner on phone, when you visit the restaurant to take your parcel, it is perfectly ok to eat at the restaurant itself. - You don't take the parcel and eat it in the car parked just outside.
- Never order tea at the time of dinner - especially if you are in a hurry and the restaurant has run out of milk.
- You shouldn't be waiting for an hour for tea.
- When you are briefly checking out the place you are going to stay - you don't open every cupboard and every drawer hoping to find if someone has left something behind.
- When you go out for a picnic - Walmart shouldn't be on your must see places
- On a picnic, if you do end up going to Walmart - make sure you don't end up buying a whole load of stuff almost as if its the month's groceries.
- Never try to light the fire place during summer.
- Never use petrol to light up the fireplace.
- While lighting up firewood stand away from it doing so - if the fire lights up suddenly you might end up burning your eye brows.
- Make sure the chimney is open before trying to light up the fire place or else your room will end up becoming smoky mountain.
- If the fire turns big, its o.k. to use water to extinguish the fire. You don't blow air tiring out your lungs out.
- "Jungle Jungle baat chali hain pata chala hain" from Mowgli is not supposed to be on the list of most memorable songs.
- When you go to places like Starbucks especially if the there is a huge queue, make sure you buy everything at one go - You don't keep going back and standing in queue for everything.
- Last but not the least - when you go out for a picnic, the places you visit should be the highlight of the trip - not the food!!!
- The question on your mind should be "Which site shall we visit next?" and not "What shall we eat next ?".
Site seeing places visited 3 - (1) Laurel's falls, (2)Clingman's Dome, (3)Cade's Cove
Restaurants visited on trip 6 - (1)Delhi Darbar, (2)River Road Pancake House, (3)No way Jose's, (4)Thai Thani, (5) Starbucks,(6)Apple Bees
Btw the above 15 were points were lessons learnt from our personal experiences learnt on the trip. Yes, it was truly a memorable one. Enjoy@Smokies.