It was so quiet on the banks, you could hear Tahoe rustle up and lap at your feet. The gentle waves come one after and another in swift, clear laps seizing you with the luminosity that it so typical of the lake known once as the spiritual haven of the native Indians. And, like the translucent spirit of the vanquished natives, Lake Tahoe's restful silence inspires awe. Its beauty is a magical charm and its peace a totem for harried souls.
Its early autumn and the forests around the lake and those leading up to it are changing colour. Amidst a profusion of pine green are patches of bright yellow, rust and sheer red. Across the bright blue rim of the lake, stand the dim ink blue hills cupping the orange of a setting sun. Tahoe's colours tug at the sleeves and make you tarry long after the orange has faded into the inkiness of the evening.
Lake Tahoe is a four-hour drive from San Francisco's Bay Area, up north through the Bonanza Road (Highway 50) which constantly reminds you of the Californian Gold Rush of the 1849-59 decade. It is here that the Comstock Lode was discovered in 1859 and gold diggers arrived by wagon-fulls armed with no more than pans and shovels. En route to Tahoe, the NH 50 takes you through the El Dorado region and its many streams and rivers, which saw frantic panning during the fabulous gold rush. Hang Town and Rough and Ready are only two names of tiny settlements which have survived along the Bonanza Road. Otherwise, it is wilderness all the way.
The silence of the hills suddenly drains into the huge nearly oblong crater which is 35 km long, 19 km wide and covers more than 150 sq kms. The lake is the 26th largest fresh water lake in the world with a depth of 1625 feet. The water of the lake is 99.9 per cent pure and is so transparent that visibility is 100 per cent to about 80 feet below the surface. The purity of the air is likewise unmatched.
Tahoe is active both during summer and winter. It has some of the most interesting and picturesque biking, hiking trails, scuba diving spots and water sports facilities during the summer months. During winter, it turns itself into a ski resort, offering some of the most delectable down slopes in that part of the world. Its reputation as a skiing paradise dates back to 1960 when the Winter Olympics were hosted at the Squaw Valley. In fact, walking through the Californian side of the town is like a stroll in a Swiss resort. From the typical Swiss style cottages and buildings to the horse driven buggies carting tourists from one location to another, it is a complete alpine setting. The pace is languorous and time of no essence. A trolley ride uphill gives a panoramic view of the lake and a close glance at the ski slopes carved out of the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains. Many of the ski slopes dive down from about 8000 feet to the cosy confines of the town located at a height of about 6,225 feet.
But ground level action is just a step over the California-Nevada stateline. Gambling and brothels are banned in sunny California but not in the desert state of Nevada. The legal-illegal notion is a blur of a white-line on the pavement. You exit placid California to the gaudy heat of gambling dens and turn back after a few hours to celebrate or drown your gambling indiscretion. Its Harrah's and Harvey's all the way.
In fact the quiet of the lakeside was rippled first when dollar coins started to jostle on the tables on Harvey's Wagon Wheel Saloon and Gambling Hall which opened in 1944. The Hall's preeminence was short-lived as competition soon sprang up and Harrah's opened its gambling area. Since then, a large number of casinos have been making a neat pile out of the tourists gambling tic. Nights, which till then meant early retirement, have extended themselves into fevered activity till dawn.
Brothels too were a great attraction for gambling weary souls. Some real posh ones dotted the historically spiritual site of the Injuns where many a sacred ceremony were solemnised. Most brothels have shut down now because of one reason or the other but a pesky tourist can still have a glimpse of the once client-rich bordellos via conducted tours.
But away from Vegas-type of fun and that is what makes Lake Tahoe so mesmerising, are its biking trails and lake-side camping grounds. A bike ride of even a few kilometers unfolds before the eyes the wondrous world of fauna and flora which the lake basin encompasses. As the snows evaporate in early summer, numerous varieties of flowers and shrubs unleash their colours along the coastline. The views of the lake change every 100 metres, each vista giving you an enchantment that only sanctified waters can. Washoe Indians recognised this sacredness hundreds of years before the White Man trod on their domain. They used to gather at Lake Tahoe every year for their sacraments till 1849 when El Dorado dreams of gold mountains brought a horde of ravagers to its shores. White trash overran the Washo injuns. A few of the native inhabitants still remain, running curio shops on the outskirts of Tahoe --- more of curios themselves than the artifacts that they hawk.
Scuba diving and camping are the two other experiences which are self-rewarding in Tahoe. One camping site is located a few kilometers from the main square. It is at the edge of the lake and has regular camping facilities. A walk along the lake beach, or through the forest adjoining it, can be both restful and inspirational.
Whatever time of the year, carry adequate warm clothing. Even during the height of summer, temperatures can be cold for us Indians. Winter time, it is freezing, though Lake Tahoe never freezes over. Blizzards and heavy snow is common. If you are driving up to Tahoe, get your vehicle fixed with snow chains. The best time to enjoy the lake's beauty is summer and autumn.
Towns near Tahoe: Reno, Carson City, Truckee
How to reach by air: Reno-Tahoe international Airport, Lake Tahoe Airport, Trukee-Lake Tahoe Airport.
How to reach by road: Interstate 80 via Truckee, US Highway 50, Nevada Highway 431 via
Main ski areas: Heavenly Mountain Resort, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Northstar at Tahoe, Kirkwood Mountain Resort
Trails: Tahoe Rim Trail, Granite Chief Wilderness
Must visit: Tahoe Vista, King's Beach, Sunnyside City, Squaw Valley, Emerald Bay
Casinos: Harrah's, Montbleu, Harvey's, Horizon, Lakeside
Ashwini is a Lucknow-based media professional who culls out travel experiences while on mundane assignments.