By: Supriya Sehgal
In January this year, I trundled up the snow-covered Mall in Mussoorie to meet a man who claimed he could balance a cup of tea on his stomach while sitting. The self-deprecating humour and easy writing of Ruskin Bond drew me into the world of Rusty and friends that the author created in the book, Room on the Roof. I must have been all of 10 years when I flipped through the yellowing pages of the borrowed book and fell in love with the mountains.
After that, a steady dose of Stephen Alter, Irwin Allan Sealy and Bill Aitken egged me on to read about the secrets of the Himalayas. In all mountain-themed books I have read, a hot sweet cup of tea seemed to play a significant role. So, later in the year, during a trip to the Canadian Rockies, when I saw the names of Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling on a billboard, near the Sunwapta falls, I almost jumped with excitement.
And sure enough, the grainy picture showed them sitting in a tea house, warming their hands on a tin cup, with the mountains, draped in white, towering behind them. They had been visiting Canada, possibly looking for secrets of their own, or for just that perfect cup of tea.
Since that moment, my maiden trip to the wildlife parks of Jasper and Banff became a lot more about following the trails to the existing tea houses that famous authors might have treaded on. With a fresh perspective on exploring the craggy grey Rockies, I reserved a day to hike to the famous Lake Agnes Tea House in Banff.
I was told that this and other tea houses serve as pit stops for weary trekkers and now have a contemporary touch to them. The trail starts from Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Ditching the comfort of my cosy room and the stunning view of the emerald green lake at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, I woke up early to start what’s considered a mildly gruelling hike for novices.
Though it takes not more than two hours to complete the 7-km round trip, I wanted to pace out the walk to give myself time to enjoy the sights of intense greenery, waterfalls and mammoth Rockies in the distance. The journey from Jasper to Banff on the Icefield Parkway is only 288 km, but the picturesque road begs for several stopovers. I looped around the lake shore and held on to the paved trail.
The first half-an-hour left me furrow-browed and concentrating on the steep incline. About 40 minutes into the walk, I hit upon an open field and switched back on the trail, which provided a breathtaking view of Lake Louise below. Since most of the path is forested, it is not uncommon to spot elks, black bears, mountain goats, big horned sheep and, with luck, grizzly bears and moose (I didn’t spot them, though). I continued, hunched slightly due to my backpack, up to the left of a horse-gate and on to the last leg of the hike.
Mirror Lake is the last stop before Lake Agnes, from where you can get a view of the old wooden house that was a tea house, established by the Canadian Pacific Railways in 1901. For the last 20 minutes to Lake Agnes, I was overcome by adrenaline as the prospect of finding wooden benches and a patio to relax nudged me on.
The diminutive tea house dishes out a large menu of cakes, sandwiches and has a variety of tea for weary trekkers. Though there is no large kettle boiling over crackling logs at the tea house, standing at over 7,000 feet, the warm smiles and the appreciation on having completed the trek add to the rustic ambience.
Having explored the trudge up to the Lake Agnes Tea House, I started liking the road trip in the Rockies better. The legendary marvels along the Icefield Parkway promise a dreamy ride. The foothill of the Rockies cling on the edge of the roads, while glacier-fed streams fill the lakes with sparkling blue water.
Midway, the Columbia Icefield and the frozen Bow Lake and a Glacier Skywalk over a 918-feet valley are spectacular stops. Spiky alpine forests cover the base as the mighty mountains rise towards the sky, in almost competitive spirit to touch the wispy clouds over them. Throughout the journey, I craned my neck, hoping to spot a log house on top of the mountains. Perhaps, another tea house was still undiscovered.
Supriya Sehgal is a freelance travel writer based in Bangalore. She also writes scripts for documentaries and TV shows.