The Call of Niagara Falls

How did the roaring waterfalls become an essential stop in the South Asian immigrant experience?

Ishani Nath

September 20, 2022

The Call of Niagara Falls
Priya Agrawal at Niagara Falls, 1981: "My parents, who are in their early 30s in this photo, migrated to the USA in 1969. Girdhar (not pictured) was visiting the USA from Aligarh, India. As it was his first time in the States, my parents drove us to Niagara Falls, a destination even now insisted upon by our visitors from India. I think my parents have made that same drive dozens of time." (SAADA)

You can hear and feel Niagara Falls before you see it. The sound of 3,160 tons of water rushing over the flat edge of the Niagara River is like a drum roll, growing in intensity as you get closer. The air thickens with mist, offering cool relief during hot summers, and sparkles with frost in the winters. “It’s an exhilarating experience,” Vijay Punjabi, a 74-year-old living in East Brunswick, New Jersey, said.  

Punjabi has been to Niagara Falls several times since moving from India to the U.S. about 50 years ago, often with friends or relatives visiting from India. Despite seeing waterfalls in India and traveling the world, Punjabi said there’s something uniquely special that draws him to Niagara Falls. “The awesomeness of such a huge body of water — it’s like seeing nature in motion.” 

Many South Asian visitors — both from the diaspora and the subcontinent — seem to share that sentiment. India, for example, is the top inbound market for tourism to America’s Niagara Falls, surpassing both the U.K. and Germany. Niagara Falls, a trio of waterfalls that span the U.S.-Canada border, receives more than 13 million tourists annually on the Canadian side and more than 8 million on the American side. “We’ve always had this mystique and appeal from the South Asian market, and especially India,” said John Percy, Destination Niagara USA president and CEO. The appeal, it turns out, is driven by a perfect storm of factors. Over the years, the destination has become an unofficial pilgrimage for South Asian visitors and, for many, an essential stop in the pursuit of the American Dream.