Of Natural Beauty And Neon Lights: Las Vegas
As I sit with my notes, photographs and brochures to write about my latest travel to the city in mid-west USA, a breaking news item takes over my news feed — a shooter has gone on a killing spree at the Mandalay Bay hotel, killing over 50 people and injuring hundreds. And the first thought that goes through my mind as the news unfolds is ‘I was there just a few months ago’. Of course, I think, Las Vegas will be back to normal — as normal as a place can be after such a tragedy — in a few weeks. The neon lights will be up again, the casinos will be running as usual, and the Strip will light up in all its glory. That’s the Vegas we all know, the Vegas that I discovered in the warm summer this year.
Havens And Canyons
It is after the longest air journey of my life so far — a total of 26 hours consisting of two layovers — and understandably, I am tired and famished on my arrival at McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas, on a balmy Sunday evening. The drive to the boutique Nobu Hotel — a luxurious haven of peace within the grand Caesar’s Palace on the bright and noisy Las Vegas Strip — is pleasant, with the driver, a native of San Francisco, acquainting us with the sites around the city. Most people who live and work in Las Vegas aren’t from there, I learn — this is a tourist locale that’s not even built by the natives.
Post check-in at the Nobu Hotel which is in a separate tower of Caesar’s Palace, all I want to do is take a shower and dive into bed. I enter my room on the eighth floor, and the zen-like atmosphere makes me instantly forget my fatigue — the Japanese-style décor is complemented by a sleek layout and contemporary artwork that transports me back to the Asian country, almost making me oblivious to the fact that I’m on the other side of the world! Ordering a Nobu-style fish and chips from the in-room dining menu, I settle down comfortably on the corner sofa, ready to be pampered. The concierge walks in with my meal and lays the table as though serving a royal. I thoroughly enjoy the scrumptious, melt-in-your-mouth sea bass that’s accompanied by Nobu fries, various sauces, salts and devour the dish so fast, the attendant on the phone has to double check that I’m calling to have my room cleared of dishes within a few minutes of service! I slink into my cosy queen-sized bed and instantly melt into the soft mattress thinking of this very grand beginning to the trip, that augurs well for the days to come.
Undisturbed sleep is hard to come by when you’ve travelled halfway across the globe — crossing 12 time zones — and so it is with me. I wake up thrice through the night to check the time, and finally giving up, head out post a quick shower for an early morning walk to explore the hotel. Even at 6 a.m., guests are sitting at slot machines, a drink or two in hand, trying their luck at the jackpot! I remember the vow I made to my mother on leaving home (“No doing stupid things just because you’re in Vegas!”) and walk on. The atrium of designer stores at the Caesar’s Palace — with sculptures of the Roman emperors and gods all around — is inviting with its window displays of bags, shoes and clothes, but I resist temptation, picking to start my day with a helping of hot chocolate and a cheesy ham croissant instead.
“I should not have put anything into my stomach!” is the first thought I have when I spot the shiny red helicopters taking off from the terminal at the Grand Canyon, a 30-minute drive from our hotel. Since I weigh as much as only a tiny human can, I’m sitting in the front of the winged vehicle, right beside the pilot, and am praying to all the gods I know. I had seen the natural wonder on a trip to Arizona a few years prior, but that was from a 12-seater airplane because my scared-self never dared to set foot inside a copter. As we take off, a hundred butterflies in my stomach join us for the ride — but one view of the Grand Canyon, and I forget all my fears and thoughts of impending death. The hues of brown, green and white, and the shadows of the clouds above, add to the magnificence of this two-billion-year-old marvel of nature. Whipping out my phone to capture the canyon in all its glory (but tightly holding onto the seatbelt with the other hand), I am glued to the sights below, from the winding rivers to the giant Lake Mead and the marvellous Hoover Dam that I’ve seen only in pictures so far. The helicopter takes sharp turns and dives into the canyon for closer glimpses at several moments, and the four inhabitants of the copter continue to be awed by the scenic views below — the melodious music in our headphones providing background to this live showcase of a great geographical spectacle.
Spa And Spago
After a quick photo-op at the terminal with the pilot who brought us safely back to land with the helicopter in the background, we head back to the South Las Vegas Boulevard in time for lunch. The four-mile-long Strip — a street known for its casinos and nightlife — houses some of the most lavish hotels and experiences in the world, and is arguably the greatest contributor to Nevada’s tourism traffic. Our afternoon meal is at one of the newest boutique hotels here, The Cromwell Las Vegas. On entering, you instantly walk into the casino bar right in the centre of the lobby. We’re led up a marble staircase and up another escalator to reach the Giada restaurant — an Italian eatery started by Emmy Award-winning celebrity chef, Giada De Laurentiis. The classic white décor adds to the opulence, and we seat ourselves by a window overlooking the Strip. I decide to keep this meal light as I have an afternoon appointment at a spa, so I settle for the G’s baked pasta that arrives oozing with cheese. An hour spent chatting about our travels around the world later, we head for some siesta time back in our rooms before leaving for our spa treatments. Not wanting my jet lag to take over and lead me to miss my appointment, I make a quick call to the only person from my family who’s in the same time zone as me, my aunt in Houston — describing my luxurious room and eventful day to her.
After a long walk through several corridors — and almost getting lost in the massive expanse of the hotel — I’m finally at the 50,000-square-foot Qua Baths & Spa at Caesar’s Palace, ready for the first ever treatment of my life. The soothing smells of various essential oils and the sound of waterfalls instantly make me feel calmer, and soon I’m led to the treatment room for my 80-minute Nobu Zen treatment. A few minutes into the massage and I’m already thinking that if this is what it is to be ‘zen’, I’d love to be zen forever. The aroma of lavender permeates the room, and as the masseuse works her magic, I can almost feel my stress, jet lag and fatigue melting away. Maybe this was what it was like to be a Roman royal in Caesar’s time! All refreshed, and with my skin glowing like never before, I decide to head out for an evening walk along the Strip. And what a perfect time I pick. Just as the sun sets, the Bellagio fountains come alive for a sound and light show, with the water fountains lighting up in beautiful formations that passers-by like me stop and stare at. Several Boomerang videos later, we head back to the hotel for a delicious spread at Wolfgang Puck’s fine dining restaurant, Spago. We find the perfect seats for people-watching at the alfresco seating in the shopping area of Caesar’s. Over a lovely meal of rose wine and rigatoni pasta with mussels, clams and prawns, all I do is sit in silence, savouring the tastes and the sights of shoppers and diners around me — I’m still reeling from the after-effects of the calming zen treatment!
Shoot And Cirque
You’d think the only source of entertainment in Vegas would be on the Strip, and soon you discover a place that proves you wrong. The Mob Museum — also The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement — at the end of Fremont Street is a fascinating space that takes viewers through the history of Las Vegas’ organised crime era. The interactive exhibits are complete with gunshot sounds, holographic images of crime lords and even a live parlour with a singer regaling visitors with songs from the era. As I walk through the various exhibits on Al Capone and Vito Genovese (one of the inspirations for The Godfather series), I sit in on a ‘live’ trial session in a court room set up, and experience being in an electric chair — I’m transported back to the ’60s. And I discover that the fashion exhibits with gowns, suits and hats worn by the mobsters and their partners are completely ‘Gatsbyesque’! I leave the museum more enlightened, with a souvenir photo of my own mugshot. (“That’s the happiest criminal I’ve ever seen,” my bemused aunt tells me later.)
A morning surrounded by mobs in the museum is followed by an evening of circus tricks, acrobatics and gymnastics. We’re at the Wynn Las Vegas for a Cirque Du Soleil performance, one that you only need to see live to really understand the brilliance of. Le Rêve — French for ‘the dream’ — is a love story set in a circular aqua-theatre. Underwater tangos, aerial dances on swinging beams, dancers surrounded by water and fire and jaw-dropping sets leave me astounded during the 90-minute show. The next evening too, we head to Treasure Island — another hotel on the Strip — for Mystère, one more spellbinding performance by the Cirque troupe. A humorous showcase featuring acrobats as unique creatures in vibrant outfits working their magic on stage, Mystère makes me laugh out loud, and gasp at several moments. On my way back to my room, I mentally add a new note to my bucket list — to return to Vegas to catch the four other Cirque Du Soleil performances around town.
“The cheapest store in this mall is Tiffany’s!” You hear that, and you know you’re in a supra-luxe mall. The Shops at Crystals, situated in a place called Paradise, is a shopping mall in the CityCenter complex in the heart of the Strip. From the third-largest Louis Vuitton store in the world to a Prada showroom that has a separate enclosure with a crystal chess board for VIP clients, this shoppers’ delight is every luxury-lover’s greatest fantasy. The only completely luxe shopping destination in USA, Crystals even houses arresting water and eco-friendly installations, and has gilded stairways, to truly make you feel special. I gaze into the fictional crystal ball in my mind, and see that one day, I too shall return and go wild here like the shoppers around me.
As I sit at the high-end Japanese restaurant, Nobu, for my final meal of the trip — after feasting on starters of edamame and sheseido peppers and devouring the tangy tuna sashimi with cilantro followed by a portion of salmon sashimi — I hark back to my two days in the desert city. There are ample doses of entertainment, a lot of wining-and-dining in style at the best restaurants in town, and a whole lot of luxurious pampering too, just the best ingredients for a perfect escape from daily life. And today, months later, I know that no matter what adversity it faces, Las Vegas’ neon lights will forever shine on.
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