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Tour & Travel

BUSHKILL FALLS – “the Niagara of Pennsylvania”

Juned A. Choudhury
Sheila, a niece of mine, an anthropologist by profession, has recently taken up residence in New York as a consultant in an UN agency. With her son gone to school in Perth, husband and daughter in Nairobi, and father in Islamabad, I promised to write her a note on a lovely spot where my wife and I had spent a day out and which she could visit during a week-end.  

The river Delaware runs along the border of New Jersey and North-Eastern Pennsylvania. On the west bank is Pennsylvania with the heavily-wooded Pocono Mountains. At the foothills of the mountain range, the river widens in the plains and this stretch is known as the Delaware Water Gap. The Bushkill waterfalls are located in the hills, 1200 feet above sea level, in the Pocono/Water Gap region. From New York City it is less than two hours drive, along Interstate80 to Exit 309, then Route 209N.

Pocono Indians

The original inhabitants of the Pocono Mountains and the Delaware Valley were the Lenape Indians who lived and moved in groups with hunting providing their food and clothing. It was a matriarchal society. They lived in a sort of “long-houses”, similar to the ones of the Dayaks of Sarawak in East Malaysia. (The Dayaks were also known as “head-hunters” - human heads, in this case.) By the 17th and 18th century, the European settlers started grabbing the lands of the natives, whom they regarded as “uncivil and stupid as garden poles”. The settlers tried copper mining, which did not last long; annihilated the animals for fur, the forests for long logs and later chopped those, that were easier to carry down, for railway sleepers; and finally settled as farmers along the fertile shores of the Delaware. They built a coach road along the river, but found it difficult to build bridges over the many tributaries of the Delaware coming down from the mountains. Travelers on this road had to break journey; so the farmhouses became the first motels. The lure of the forests, snow-covered in winter, and the beautiful valleys, well-publicized by the energetic and enterprising early settlers, laid the foundation of tourism in the region. The cart road was taken over by the State in 1912, which, with some realignment, was to become Route 209.   

“I hiked Bushkill Falls”

It was a pleasant day in mid-May, with temperature around 60C, when Dr. Arif Choudhury and his wife Luna, who live in Easton, Pennsylvania, took Nishat and me to Bushkill Falls for a day’s outing. It is only about an hour’s drive from their home. At the entrance to the Falls, there is the Visitors’ Center, a Wildlife Exhibition hall with over 80 preserved examples of animals and birds native to the Poconos, a Native American exhibition, a miniature golf course, a gift shop, a snacks counter and a picnic pavilion. All these have been built unobtrusively blending with the surrounding forest of evergreen pines and other trees. Besides, there is a large picnic area with wooden benches and tables laid out.

Actually there are eight Falls of various heights in Bushkill. They are spread over hills and valleys of about 300 acres. The cascading Falls are linked by about two miles of shaded trails along murmuring streams, with wooden walkways and bridges. We did almost the whole trail, at times huffing and puffing, to earn a bright red lapel button emblazoned with “I hiked Bushkill Falls”. It is on sale in the souvenir shop.      

A word about Dr. Arif may not be quite out of place here. Having done his MBBS from Rangpur Medical College he has just completed his 3-year Residency in Easton Hospital. In true democratic manner, his professional colleagues secretly voted to nominate him as the “Resident of the Year” for his “clinical skills, compassion and scholarship”. In a separate election, he has also won the “Best Dressed Resident” Award. His brother, Dr. Asif, has done even better. A MBBS graduate from IPGMR (now Bangabandhu Medical University), he has done his specialization and has set up private practice in Fort Meyers, Florida. He has been named the "Physician of the Year” of Florida for 2002. The brothers have done Bangladesh proud. Many Bangladeshis abroad are excelling in their own fields. If only the politicians could keep their dirty hands, money and arms away from our campuses, many more would have done even better.

100 years of Bushkill Falls

Waters of the Bushkill Falls originate from the highlands of the Pocono Mountains, the streams being fed by natural springs and lakes. These must have been flowing for hundreds of years, but it was left to Charles Peter, a 22-year old fourth generation Dutch immigrant, whose family had earlier bought the land containing the Falls, to develop it into a tourist attraction, in 1904. He widely advertised it as “the Niagara of Pennsylvania”. It is thus that Bushkill Falls will be celebrating its centenary in 2004.   

Well, Sheila, anthropologists before you must have spent years studying the behavior pattern of the Delaware Indians and the Dutch Settlers, and, for that matter, the present-day Americans, much as it baffles the world. All that I ask of you is to put on your hiking shoes, pack a few sandwiches, go to Bushkill and have a great day.   

Juned A. Choudhury is an eco-tourism consultant based in Dhaka.
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