Sitting with our feet buried ankle deep in the sands of the sequestered Gokarna Beach on the New Year’s Eve, taking in the cold of the sand. Looking at the vast expanse of Arabian Ocean outstretched in front of us, we saw a distant light source in the sea. Anchored in, yet floating on the surface, we assumed, was to light up the sky for the fishermen at sea during the dead of the night. This light source, however, was green in color, and from the distance that we saw it, made the entire horizon have a green band of light.
“This is what it would be like to see the Northern Lights? The sky completely green against the black night?” said Karan
“I’m sure it would be way more spectacular”, answered Tejal.
“We really wouldn't know how it is until we see it” I chipped in
“It’s better to see it once than hear or wonder about it a thousand times” Himir nonchalantly mentioned.
This was the last day of 2014, when we, four friends sitting on a secluded beach, making plans to see the one of the most amazing natural phenomenon and braving the harshest winters.
And on the last day of 2015, we were standing under the Stockholm sky, bringing in the New Year with a marvellous fireworks display and waiting for the Northern Lights leg of our trip.
Between the two New Year Eves went in months of research, numerous changes to the itinerary, waiting for deals to book, optimizing on the budget and just waiting to go to Norway! And yes, of course, incessantly talking about the impending trip and annoying everyone around us.
In the posts to follow, I’ll write about our entire journey about how we made our itinerary, short-listed places to see, booked our tickets, optimized every stage to save money, even if it was as less as 1 Euro, our experience of actually witnessing the fabulous Aurora show and just relive Norway all over again as I write!
I’ll start off on how to start planning for Northern Lights and Norway!
1. Expensive Norway!
- Scandinavia is expensive. Food, cabs, hotels, public transport.... everything! Even though the exchange rate was about INR 8 for 1 NOK/SEK, everything is priced high. A trip to Scandinavia will burn a deep hole in your pocket.
- If you thought prices cab/rickshaw Mumbai are expensive, wait until you set foot in Norway. About a kilometer in a cab will cost about INR 800. You’ll have an outpouring of love for the Mumbai rickshaws after a trip to Norway.
- More than a making a budget, it’s important to stick to it. More often than not you’ll come with temptations to stay in a slightly better place, eat at a fancy restaurant and take the cab instead of the metro, but, resist the temptation and stay in control.
- Once you have decided you’re going, start hunting for deals. For flights, for hotels, for your excursions, for everything. Getting good deals is essential to seeing more in less money. Before the start of our trip, we had fixed a budget of spending not more INR 1.5 lacs per person, we stuck to it religiously, save for a pint here or there, and spent close to INR 1.65 lacs per person for an 18 day trip. Yes, you read it right. This was inclusive of flights, hotels (Radisson and likes), food, excursions, expensive cab rides and other miscellaneous expenses. I’ll write more about how we managed our budgets soon.
3.How cold is it actually?
- It is going to be COLD. But, with the right clothing, you can manage it. The Norwegians have a saying, ‘There’s nothing like bad weather, only bad clothing’. I couldn't agree more. I'm a person who feels cold in Mumbai winters. And if I could go to Scandinavia in winter and come back alive and not in a frozen state, anyone can!
- Everything under a roof in Norway/Sweden is centrally heated helping you manage the cold. But still, it is easier said than done. Personally, I felt that more than the layers what helped us manage the cold was the fact that we were mentally and physically prepared for the cold. We even prepared ourselves physically for the cold by not wearing a jacket when the office temperatures decided to mimic the Polar temperatures or not asking the husband to turn off the AC while sleeping and shiver away all night. All this helped us immensely. And now that Norway is over, screaming at the Office Maintenance guy and the husband to turn off the AC is back!
- More than cold, it’s the wind that gets to you.
- Yes, you will have to dress in layers. 5-6 or more depending on cold tolerance. But resist the temptation to over pack. Please travel light. Carry not more than 10-12 pairs of clothes per person. You don’t sweat nor smell there. Dragging heavy suitcases on snow covered roads with hands protected by mittens and you in 5 layers of clothes is not easy!
- If you’re a non-vegetarian Norway is your paradise.
- If you’re a vegetarian and Ambani’s kid, you’ll survive eating out at the Norwegian prices.
- If you’re vegetarian, not Ambani’s kid and travelling on a strict budget, CARRY FOOD. Ready to eat meals, soups and now that Maggi’s back, carry tons of Maggi. Even if they come back uneaten, you can stock and sell it in black if it gets banned again. This is what my uneaten Maggi stock is for!
- If you’re a Jain with strict eating policies, may God bless you in Norway. You have no option but to survive on theplas and khakras. Luckily, due to the cold, the theplas will last longer. Ours didn’t go bad in 18 days.
- In very simple terms, Northern Lights occurs when certain solar particles hit the particles in Earth’s atmosphere and because of a lot of stuff that was taught to us in Physics classes about electrons, ions, magnetic fields, energy states and the works, the sky lights up!
- Since the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis is a natural phenomenon depending on the solar activity, you will never be able to predict for sure of an Aurora display. So yes, all your money spent on this trip is a huge bet.
- Sometimes, the Auroral display will last for hours and sometimes, only a few minutes. So basically, you’ll have be ready once it’s dark.
- Photographing the Auroras is quite tricky. You’ll need a DSLR camera and will have to make a few setting changes to take pictures. A normal digicam or your phone won’t do. For iPhones, there’s an app – Northern Lights Photo Taker (Rs.60) is a decent enough app to take pictures.
- There’s too much to the Northern Lights to be able to fit in the sub-point of a point in a blog post. It deserves more!
And yes, the most important thing about the famous Northern Lights that no one will tell you – The magnificent Aurora Borealis is nothing like what Google Images or National Geographic or Instagram pictures have been telling you. To know more, keep watching this space. Till then, enjoy the slideshow I've created on the Northern Lights pictures we've clicked.
Photo Credits - Karan Mehta