Why so many Indians at Niagara Falls?
January 15, 2008 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Is there some special historical / cultural reason that (South Asian) Indians are really big on Niagara Falls?

When I was there this summer I was really surprised by the number of Indian tourists there. I swear, it must have been at least 10-15% Indians (my woman says it was 90%), and not just local resident-looking Indians, I mean people in saris that look like they had just stepped off the plane from Delhi / Mumbai / Calcutta. Big multi-generational family groups, kids, teens, adults...

So, I figure that there are a few possibilities:
1) I happened to be there coincidentally on the same day that some massive tour group from India was also passing through;
2) There is a huge Indian community somewhere near Buffalo that I am unaware of;
3) (this is the one I really hope is true!) There is some special cultural reason that Indians love / want to see Niagara falls. Maybe similar to the Japanese with Anne of Green Gables, they all read about it in school? Or there is some spiritual Hindu thing about seeing a huge waterfall? Or some other special reason?

Anyone who can shed some light on this, I thank you in advance!
posted by Meatbomb to Travel & Transportation around Niagara Falls, ON (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and just as a control, there was nowhere else on my tour of the States where Indians were a noticeable minority group. It's like every single Indian tourist in the States beelined to Niagara falls, and that was the only place they went! :)
posted by Meatbomb at 10:34 AM on January 15, 2008

I'm curious about this too. It's not (1) --- I noticed a preponderence of Indian restaurants when last I visited. Unfortunately I didn't have time to eat at one :-(
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:42 AM on January 15, 2008

Toronto, Ontario is not too far and has a sizable South Asian population.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:44 AM on January 15, 2008

It might well be that Niagara Falls is just one of those spots that Indians envision wanting to see when they visit America. I worked as a tour guide at the United States Capitol last spring and summer, and we had a noticeable number of Indian tourists. Its romantic reputation is probably also a factor, given the large amount of romance in Bollywood films.
posted by Atreides at 10:47 AM on January 15, 2008

Total speculation, but could it have been part of a wedding ceremony? Thus far, all of my friends who are culturally South Asian Indian have had pretty darn big wedding receptions (as in, minimum 500 guests).
posted by jamaro at 10:48 AM on January 15, 2008

My wife is from Buffalo. I asked her. She said, "What the fuck are you talking about?" So I guess this is a mystery even to the natives.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:53 AM on January 15, 2008

It might well be that Niagara Falls is just one of those spots that Indians envision wanting to see when they visit America.

When I was in Japan, many of the folks I talked to seemed to think Niagara Falls was one of the places in the US you just have to visit (I was born in Wyoming, now live in Vancouver and still have no desire to go to Niagara).

Maybe it's just that way in India too.
posted by Nelsormensch at 10:56 AM on January 15, 2008

Saris stand out. Also, Niagara Falls is the place all new Torontonians must go, and since south asians are a major new immigrant population around here, you see it there.
posted by Chuckles at 11:33 AM on January 15, 2008

My wife and I moved to Buffalo about 18 months ago. In the past 18 months, I have been to Niagara Falls somewhere around 10 or 12 times, with 4 to 14 friends and family in tow each time. Each time I've gone I've seen a higher percentage of Asians, Africans and South Asians than you see in the Buffalo area, but not more than you see in Toronto.
So I assume that these people are new to the area just like me, with friends and family from out of town in tow, and they've come to see Niagara because it's cool. And if the demographics of Toronto listed on Wikipedia can be trusted, that would explain what you've seen.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:34 AM on January 15, 2008

People come from all over the world to see Niagara Falls. Why is it surprising to see a lot of people from the second most populous country in the world? If proportional numbers of Indians and Americans visited Niagara falls, you'd expect to see 3.7 Indians for each American. (Of course, you'd also expect to see 4.3 Chinese tourists, so take this with a grain of salt).

The USD has fallen from 44 rupees to 39 rupees over the year. Perhaps you're just seeing the associated upswing in tourists.

Also, saris and turbans == observation bias. Could you tell the Dutch, Scottish and Swiss tourists from 50 feet away? Unlikely. You could, however, pick up turbans from the air.
posted by GuyZero at 12:02 PM on January 15, 2008

Response by poster: Also, saris and turbans == observation bias.

Please see my first comment in the thread. And there were (almost) no Sikhs, GuyZero.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:22 PM on January 15, 2008

Best answer: Growing up in Toronto in a Pakistani household, anytime anyone visited from Pakistan/India we would drive down to Niagara Falls. The GTA (Greater Toronto Area) has a LOT of South Asians, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if they weren't taking visitors to see the local wonder. Seriously, Niagara Falls is pretty awesome, especially in the winter when all the nearby trees are coated in ice.

As for the saris and turbans, I guess we just have a live and let live attitude towards fashion around here and this is one of the more pleasant results. My mom used to wear saris and shalwars to work (public school teacher) so just because you see people wearing them, doesn't mean they're visiting from abroad, or even new to the country.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:24 PM on January 15, 2008

Best answer: @Nelsormensh has it right.

It is a popular spot with Indians because is a "must visit" place for many Indians who come to visit USA. That is why you see a preponderance of Indians over there.
posted by shr1n1 at 12:44 PM on January 15, 2008

Its a "must visit" spot for tourists period. I mean, how do you know 10-15% of the visitors weren't from France or Poland? You wouldn't I suppose. JohnnyGunn has the best answer. I don't want to call this question stupid, but...
posted by chunking express at 1:08 PM on January 15, 2008

Best answer: Yup...I have a good friend from South India and he has told me about this phenomenon with his friends and relatives. For some reason, the falls are something that got ingrained in that culture as something that must be seen about our culture. Strange enough but true. The desire to see it was so strong that they thought nothing of the 7 hour drive to get to the falls from here.
posted by mmascolino at 1:09 PM on January 15, 2008

Please see my first comment in the thread. And there were (almost) no Sikhs, GuyZero.

I'm not sure I see how your first comment indicates that this isn't observation bias, but sure, OK. And if there were not that many Sikhs, OK. To be less politically correct, what you saw were brown people. I assume you didn't actually ask whether they were Indian or Pakistani or from Banglore (or Brampton) or where ever. And again, how do you know that there weren't even more people there from France? It still may be observation bias in that brown people are visually identifiable whereas you would be unlikely to notice several busloads of Dutch tourists unless there were all wearing orange football jerseys or you heard them speaking Dutch.

The people at Niagara Falls are nearly all international tourists compared to any other nearby place. I really cannot think of another North American place that has such a huge international draw. What you observed was that 10% (or 90%) of these people have a visibly different skin colour. But I'm pretty sure that the rest of the people there were not all locals. They probably came from far away too.

A desire to see Niagara Falls is not unique to Indian people. People in Australia asked me about it. It is the singlemost iconic geographic feature of the entire continent. (There may be some debate here, but it's up there). Chinese and Japanese people are bussed there by the thousands every year. Ever foreign sales person I have ever worked with has gone there when on one of their first business trips to head office in Toronto. Indians go there in large numbers by virtue of being a subset of the part of the Earth's population that doesn't live in North America.

The desire to see it was so strong that they thought nothing of the 7 hour drive to get to the falls from here.

After a 20+ hour plane flight, of course. If you were on your first visit to India purely for sightseeing reasons, would you take a 7+ hour drive to see the Taj Mahal? Of course you would - that's what you came there to do: see the sights.

besides, have you ever had to have a long visit with overseas relatives? God, ANYTHING to get out of the house. Even that stupid butterfly conservatory.
posted by GuyZero at 2:49 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

And if your comment was in regards to this:

and just as a control, there was nowhere else on my tour of the States where Indians were a noticeable minority group

Then I guess I'd go with the other commenters who have mentioned the GTA's large South Asian population. Try Brampton or Gerrard St.

The Toronto Star ran a map of the first-language breakdown of the GTA. Note the large concentration of Punjabi speakers in Brampton, which is only an hour from the Falls. Plus the smaller concentrations of Urdu and Tamil.

Once you go to the Falls, you may as well go over the border. The view is nice and in the old days you used to buy stuff cheaper. Now you just go for the view.
posted by GuyZero at 2:57 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

The desire to see it was so strong that they thought nothing of the 7 hour drive to get to the falls from here.

A 7 hour drive is a stone's throw in India. You might cross 100 miles in that time, 200 max. On potholed roads with suicidal (or homicidal) truck & bus drivers playing chicken with all other vehicles down the centre of the highway (which is about a lane and a half wide - each driver wants to hog the "good" centre portion & force the other onto the dirt shoulder).

They probably would have been enjoying the unsurpassed comfort of the ride. Just thought that needed clarifying.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:23 PM on January 15, 2008

I'm Malaysian of Bangladeshi origin, with relatives in North America. The Niagara Falls is one of the things we're told is great about North America, so if we have the chance, sure we'll go. Even if it's hours away.

That said, not all South Asians are Indian, not all of them look typically South Asian, and not all of them wear saris or turbans (my half-Sikh friend's dad doesn't, and my mum doesn't either). Indians don't just come from India. Also, are you sure they're all from South Asia? I get mistaken for Spanish or Fijian all the time.
posted by divabat at 5:35 PM on January 15, 2008

I work in Brampton (at most a two hour drive away), and yep, HUGE southeast Asian population (last estimate I got from City of Brampton six months ago was 60% but even that seems low to me) and pretty much all of them have been to Niagara Falls several times (I've been there at least a thousand times myself). Southeast Asians have been in Canada for over 100 years but their population has exploded over the past ten years or so because Canada wants well-educated english-speaking immigrants and so many Southeast Asians tend to fit the bill perfectly.

All my friends of Southeast decent, regardless of whether they are born in Canada or abroad, wear Sari's etc because there is not much of a stigma against it here. Heck, ~I~ wear Saris to work and out and about and I'm white. Actually I wore a Sari last summer when I was at Niagara Falls, are you sure you didn't see me? It was a beautiful pink/purple one.

As to the big family groups, well, that is a big part of the culture. An interesting development in Brampton is that because families like to live together (mother and father with maybe two or so grown-up sons and their wives and their children and maybe grandma too if she is still around) all in houses that were originally meant for a single nuclear family. Which as you know tend to be too big for four people anyways. So that most of the new housing developments are throwing up huge five/six bedroom houses with entire apartments in the basements so families can live together but still have a bit of space on their own. Talking to children they often tell me they have eight or so cousins/brothers/sisters all living in the same house. So of course they travel together and go see Niagara Falls.

Just out of curiosity were you in Canada or the US? I am surprised you did not see many Sikhs, (well, ones that dress traditionally) because there are certainly lots of them around too.
posted by saucysault at 6:29 PM on January 15, 2008

Hey Meatbomb!
Good question. I’d be pretty interested to know the answer to this one too. Let’s see, if I were coming to the States, my most likely port of entry would be NY (right?), and if that were the case, then I’d probably want to see the Statue of Liberty first, after which, the closest and most sought after place would obviously be the Niagara Falls.
But, speaking of Indians specifically, I’m just curious how much credence your third possibility might hold; India is after all the land of rivers (the Ganges, the Yamuna, the Brhamaputra are all considered very sacred to the Indian people), so that might be a reason why it draws in such a large number of tourists from this part of the world.

(just my two cents)
posted by hadjiboy at 7:03 PM on January 15, 2008

Interesting theory, hadjiboy. I was told by a devout Hindu in India that Ayers Rock (Uluru) in the centre of Australia is actually just a large Shivalingam, evidence of a past age where Shiva was worshipped all over the world, so perhaps the Niagara Falls and the Whatever River have their place in the sacred river system of some Indians?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:07 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK, so it seems to be mostly #2, with a bit of #3 as well... but sadly for me, a more generalized #3, in that foreigners generally want / expect to see Niagara Falls.

I was really hoping that it would be something much more interesting, but such is life.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:45 PM on January 16, 2008

I lived in Niagara Falls for 18 of my 21 years, and there were almost no Indian people at my school of 1500. I'd say they're tourists, not locals.
posted by piper4 at 3:44 PM on January 16, 2008

GuyZero, that's an awesome map.

I can't say I'm surprised that I'm sitting in one of the areas shown as having Cantonese as the largest mother tongue.
posted by oaf at 11:23 AM on January 17, 2008

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