Thursday, January 20, 2011

'Midnight Sun' @ Kiruna Lappland, Sweden

Sweden is the land of Ikea, Absolut and Viking Warriors.
But to bask in the midnight sun, one must travel to its northernmost city located in the Arctic Circle – Kiruna. It is the second largest Municipality in the world with a population of only 24,000 (as of 2008) . The sun never sets!
I took a late evening, two and half hour FlyNordic flight from Stockholm. My hosts Anders & Monica Wollmen met me at the airport and took me home.
My first day was lazy. I went to see the 100 year old Kiruna Church. Made completely of wood. 

Met up fellow Swedish filmmakers. They told me I was probably the 3rd or the 4th Indian they had seen there. I wondered at the irony of fate. To be sitting in a place so far off and yet discussing the very same things that I do with friends at  Shivaji Park Barista - Films!
Many people asked me if I worked at Ericsson. A large number of Indians are employed by this Swedish telecom giant in Stockholm.

A trip to the Swedish state owned LKAB iron ore mine is something any visitor to Kiruna must not miss. One of the biggest and deepest upgraded iron ore producer for the steel industry. A bus tour took us all the way down to the mine.
The lady who explained the technical know how  mentioned, "This mine has given us livelihood for the past 100 years and has enough mineral to last another 100 years". However, the city is in the danger of caving in due to excessive mining. When I asked if there was a solution to that she said, "We the people of this city along with the government have taken a unanimous decision to go ahead with the mining. Half of the affected town which is around the Kirunavarra mountain will be moved completely, house by house to a location 4 kms away at the base of the Loussavaara mountain.

They are actually digging out every single house with its foundation, putting it on trailers and relocating it!
Trekking Mount Loussavaara at 12 midnight
That night we decided go for a trek on Mount Loussavaara. We started at around 10:30 pm. We reached the top around 12:30 am. It was Anders' birthday. We sang "Happy Birthday to You" at the top of our voices. We were sitting on a mountain top bench in Sweden. To our right was Norway and to our left was Finland. It took me some time to let it all sink in. 

Once back, I found it difficult to sleep. At 3:00 am the birds were chirping and dogs barked. Was it night or afternoon?? My body clock was going haywire. Now I understood why every room had so many lamps. In winters the sun is visible only for an hour through the day. So to avoid the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which affects almost half a million people around the world during winters is a phase when people feel socially withdrawn and depressed. Lamps, Light Boxes and Public Light Rooms (Just light Turkish Hamams) take care of it to quite an extent/

The Guide, Me and Monica at the Ice Exhibition
Monica works as an administrator at the famous ICE HOTEL in Jukkasjarvi along the river Torne. They construct it on the onset of winter every year. By June the hotel melts down. 

We went to see an indoor ice exhibition there, based on works of the famous Swedish Botanist Carl Von Linnaeus. The temperature inside was -7 degrees Celcius to keep the ice sculptures from Melting. We wore warm capes which looked like silver space robes.

Apparently, all their ICE BARS around the world have one thing in common –  ICE HOTEL ships Ice Blocks made only from the water of river Torne. The composition of this water is such that even when many cubic feet in dimensions, the blocks are crystal clear. They don't crack while sculpting either. The rest of the Ice is harvested in winter by various suppliers and exported out into the world for various other features.

I was thrilled beyond words when I saw a tiny orange flower embedded in an ice cube which read, "collected by Carl Von Linnaeus himself from India". When you are away from home, even a tiny flower can fill you up with so much pride. I had taken spices and a round steel "Masala Dabba" for Anders and Monica. It looked silly when I packed it in Mumbai but when I opened it in Kiruna, it looked exotic.

Jukkasjarvi Church on their National Day
Jukkasjarvi is a small 400 year old village near Kiruna. It has a church where Jesus is portrayed as a native Sami. That was unique. Samis are the official indigenious people of the Arctic region. One look at them, their culture and handicrafts reminded me of things back home. May it be the Rabaris in India, Red Indians in America, Australian Aborigines, Nordic Samis, Pacific  Polenesians or Masais from Nilotic Africa - they look similar, dress similar and reiterate the fact that somewhere we are all connected, across continents.

It also happened to be their National Flag Day. I sang along 'Du gamla, du fria' with them and the band. 
On our way back I shopped for dried reindeer and elk meat (it’s legal and easily available there). I am a vegetarian but I knew my friends back home were going to be mighty happy.

Next day was my last day there so we just went for a drive. Anders asked me to keep my passport and camera handy. Monica insisted I sit in the co-driver’s seat for a better view.

I had no clue where we were going. When Monica asked me again if I had carried my passport, I kind of grew curious so as to where we were headed. I was to find out soon.

We were driving into Norway!
Port city of Narvik, Norway
We drove along the river Torne and a railway line. As we crossed the international border, snow capped mountains showed up at every turn. Windmills and Fjords appeared in succession. We reached Narvik in a couple of hours. It is a port city which is well connected with Kiruna by rail and hardly connected to the rest of Norway. This strategic placement was used craftily by the Allied forces in WWII to stop iron ore supply to the Germans in winters. 

Norwegian Kroner is more expensive than the Swedish Krona. In case you ever want to make an excited call back to India describing the ink blue waters, save it till you get back to Kiruna. I learnt it the hard way. My international roaming bill went through the roof!!!

Next day, I took the early morning 6:10 am flight back to Stockholm. What wonderful three days!

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