Mukul Singhal, 42, IT and agro-chemical businessman, went twice with his wife, Preeti, and sons, Yash, 11, and Rishab, 17, to Lapland first in the summer, and then again in the peak of winter in 30ºC temperatures. They traversed the jungle in an all-terrain vehicle and visited the Santa Claus village in the summer, then zipped around on snowmobiles, rode husky sledges and reindeer sleighs and went skiing in the winter.
Undoubtedly you picked an unusualplace to holiday. Where exactly did you go?
We went to Lapland, in northern Finland. To Ivalo, 250km north of the Arctic Circle, and 1,000km from the capital, Helsinki. We stayed at Hotel Kakslauttanen, which is about 40km from Ivalo.
You went to the same place twice, why?
We travel a lot and were looking for somewhere different to holiday and decided on Finland. We discovered the Hotel Kakslauttanen when we were looking for a place with the midnight sun. During our summer vacation there, we heard so much about how different and amazing a winter holiday in these parts is, we decided to brave it and come for Christmas and New Year. In winter, the opposite is true. It remains dark all the time. We wanted to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), which are visible in winter. Unfortunately, the lights eluded us. But we still had such a good time that it wasn’t a big deal at all.
What did you do during the summer trip?
In summer, we had very pleasant weather, we could jump into clear freshwater lakes (a little chilly for us, but fun, nevertheless). It was great fun going for a jungle safari in these ATVs (all-terrain vehicles), or forest scooters, and driving into deep, mosquito-infested jungle. Yes, surprisingly, there are millions of mosquitoes in summer, though they don’t carry malaria. The hotel equipped us with the right gear and repellents so they didn’t bother us. We were in the middle of the jungle at midnight, but because it was summer, the sun didn’t set and it was as if it was still 5pm. We also went to an old gold-panning site and, best of all, we paid a visit to the Santa Claus village.
What’s the Santa Claus Village?
Lapland is considered the home of Santa Claus. We visited Santa Claus’ office in Santa Claus Village, 9km from the city of Revaniemi, the capital of Lapland, on the Arctic Circle at 66º 32’35”. It’s a fun place from where we mailed ourselves a postcard just for Santa Claus’ stamp. It’s an interesting place that gets 32,000 letters a day from 192 countries and, around Christmas time, they get some half a million letters.
You seem to have enjoyed the Lapland winter even more than the summer. What did you do?
Plenty. We went on a husky safari, a reindeer safari, skiing, a snowmobile trip, and enjoyed a traditional Christmas celebration. The reindeer safari is a slow ride through the landscape. The animals move at a leisurely pace. There’s pin-drop silence all around you. All you hear is the hoofs of the deer on the ground. All very calm and serene. The hotel has a husky farm with some 250 huskies. On the husky safari, there are two people per husky sledge pulled by six huskies. They go quite fast compared with the reindeer safari. One of the most enjoyable activities was when we zipped around on snowmobiles. There’s you and the driver, and it’s a smooth, fast ride that’s quite thrilling. We also went skiing on a learning range. In fact, Yash liked it so much that this year he’s going to learn more skiing at a ski camp in Switzerland.
You had a white Christmas. Did you enjoy it?
It was the best Christmas we’ve ever had. All the traditional Christmas-related rituals were planned. It was just amazing. The boys got involved in helping decorate the place. There was a small chapel service, and Santa Claus came in complete gear (and red nose) on his reindeer. Even though the kids are not so young, it was nice to have a traditional Santa Claus who looked the part.
You obviously liked the hotel very much; what was the accommodation like?
We stayed in a lovely log cabin at Hotel Kakslauttanen. It was very warm and cosy with a fireplace, heated floors and a private sauna. In addition, they have ice igloos and glass igloos, where you can spend a night star gazing, if you want a different experience. We spent one night in the ice igloo. Your bed is a slab of ice on which there’s an animal skin for insulation. The down sleeping bag provided keeps you very warm. If you need to use the toilet though, you have to go to a heated toilet outside.
And the food?
We are vegetarians, but our tastes were catered to. Luckily, the hotel has Thai cooks and they worked up Thai curries and stir-fried vegetables and assorted food for us, plus we had vegetarian dishes from the regular menu and, in general, were quite satisfied.
That far north in the middle of winter, did you feel like leaving your hotel room?
We were a bit apprehensive of the cold because we’d heard that the temperature would be as low as -30ºC, but on the other hand, since we were going there for a second time, we felt familiar and comfortable with the hotel and staff and we knew we’d be fed okay. We spent a lot of time outdoors—there is so much to do. In winter, it’s dark outside and a complete whiteout, and you can see reindeer hanging around outside your cabin. An interesting fact about reindeer is that they are the world’s only deer species in which both males and females grow antlers and they shed their antlers every year in the winter and grow new ones in the summer. The male reindeer lose their antlers usually by December and the female reindeer a little later.
What sort of clothing did you people take along for that kind of weather?
One layer of thermal underwear and a sweater is all we really needed. The hotel gave us outerwear, these are warm body suits (made of a down and synthetic blend), plus hats, gloves and snow boots. We were so well protected, we hardly felt the cold. Plus the cabins and all the indoor spaces were very well heated; you could even roam barefoot in your room, the floor is heated.
Of course, Finland is famous for its saunas; did you indulge?
Of course, we did. Saunas are considered an absolute necessity, rather than a luxury in every Finnish home. Every log cabin at our hotel had an attached sauna, plus the hotel has the world’s largest traditional smoke sauna, right by the lake. The ritual is that you first spend time in the sauna to warm up and then come out and roll in the snow (in winter) or jump into a cold lake in summer, then you go back into the sauna and repeat it. My wife and I enjoyed both the saunas, but refrained from diving in the snow, though the kids did attempt it.
As told to Niloufer Venkatraman. Share your last holiday with us at firstname.lastname@example.org