Ice, ice, everywhere

Ice, ice, everywhere
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First Published: Thu, Jun 19 2008. 11 58 PM IST

Freeze frames: (clockwise from top left) In the Arctic, icebergs take on weird and wonderful shapes; a natural gateway formed at Disco Bay; a view of the sky from within an ice formation; sighting ice
Freeze frames: (clockwise from top left) In the Arctic, icebergs take on weird and wonderful shapes; a natural gateway formed at Disco Bay; a view of the sky from within an ice formation; sighting ice
Updated: Thu, Jun 19 2008. 11 58 PM IST
Why did you want to go to the Arctic?
I like travelling to lesser-known places, especially unspoilt, environmentally balanced destinations. Over the years, I have visited five continents in the course of work, and for pleasure. Last year, it struck me: why not the Arctic circle, and then
Freeze frames: (clockwise from top left) In the Arctic, icebergs take on weird and wonderful shapes; a natural gateway formed at Disco Bay; a view of the sky from within an ice formation; sighting icebergs on the midnight sail
No sooner had the idea hit me than I began sounding out leading tour operators in Chennai, where I live. Most of them didn’t have a clue about polar tours. Plus, my experience with tour organizers is that they tailor trips to suit their requirements, not mine. Whenever I’ve taken a packaged tour, I’ve always added destinations on my own.
So, I finally decided to travel to the Arctic on my own, and sign up with individual service providers at each destination I wanted to visit. I surfed the Net, short-listed what I wanted to see and finally zeroed in on service providers who would help me see what I wanted to see. (Now, I’d be more than happy to guide others who want to do a similar trip.)
I believe you were unaccompanied on the trip.
Yes, that’s right. That wasn’t the original idea: A couple of Rotarians — I am a member of the club — were supposed to accompany me. But they backed out at the last minute and I had to do the trip on my own. Travelling alone is also quite a thrill, especially for a destination such as this. I met people from all over the world — Norway, Finland, Denmark, the US and Canada — and some of them were very amused to see an Indian coming all the way to the Arctic purely in search of adventure.
Sridhar at Ilulissat.
Polar trips can be quite demanding. Did you need any kind of preparation in the run-up?
Yes, one has to be fit physically, mentally and emotionally for an endurance experience like this one. I did my regular gym workouts and played badminton and also did regular laps in the pool. I also did some reading on the Arctic and surfed the Net for information.
And as far as the cold is concerned, I discovered that it’s quite possible to thrive there with some good thermal wear. A 2 degree Celsius in Copenhagen is actually more punishing than -25 degrees Celsius in the Arctic because the air at the poles is so dry. That helped, because I had no wish to carry tonnes of luggage — I like travelling light. But the three essentials for any polar trip are a very good pair of dark sunglasses, sensible attire and sturdy hiking shoes.
Tell us about the journey from Chennai.
From Chennai, I flew to Delhi and then caught a Finnair flight to Copenhagen via Helsinki. I switched to Air Greenland for the flight to Kangerlussuaq, in western Greenland; it’s the only regional airport with a runway long enough to support a large aircraft. For the journeys into the interior, we used various propeller planes, helicopters and small cruise vessels.
What was your first glimpse of the polar region like?
After landing at Kangerlussuaq, just north of the Arctic Circle, we drove 40km east to an ice cap — a 450 sq. km spread of ice and rocks in peaks and valleys — in a four-wheel drive specially fitted to travel over ice and snow. The beauty is breathtaking, you feel like you are face to face with god’s own architecture. We also did a little trek over the ice, a bit of a tricky enterprise since the ice is slippery. On the way, we spotted all kinds of Arctic fauna — musk ox, reindeer, seagulls. Unfortunately, there are no polar bears around any more — the last one was apparently killed in 1960 by a US armyman; the Americans had a military base here till the early 1990s.
And Greenland, as everyone knows, is a misnomer: There are no trees here. But since August is the northern summer, I did see some herbs and shrubs, including the beautiful niviarsiaq, a purple flower. Our guide called it ‘Greenland’s forest’.
Were you actually based in the polar region all through?
Yes, of the 15-day trip, I spent 11 days across Kangerlussuaq, Ilulissat, Thomson Bay, Disco Bay, Morse Bay and Qasigiannguit. In both Kangerlussuaq and Ilulissat, our second stop, there are three-star hotels. Elsewhere, there is moderately furnished accommodation available: usually small bars and restaurants with rooms and fabulous views over icebergs and fjords.
Misnomer: Greenland has no trees, only some herbs grow here.
Ilulissat. What was that all about?
Ilulissat is one of Greenland’s larger cities, lying to the north of Kangerlussuaq. It’s basically dominated by the fishing industry: Of its 4,500 residents, about 1,000 work in the fishing and seafood processing industries. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Ilulissat for me was the abandoned hamlet of Sermermiut, some distance away from the city proper. This is a 4,000-year-old settlement of the Inuits, now a Unesco World Heritage Site. The houses here are built out of rock and the roofs are basically whale spine — the principal support — and skin. At the entrance to the house, there is a design element that bars the cold air from rushing in. It’s quite amazing to see the ingenuity of ancient man.
Almost as touching is the Suicide Gorge (also known as Old Women’s Ravine), where elderly Inuits would throw themselves off to free up food and resources for the younger generations.
You mentioned a helicopter trip…
Yes, we flew really low over the Jakobshavn Isbreae glacier, said to be the most productive glacier in the northern hemisphere: It apparently yields enough fresh water a day to slake the thirst of a city the size of London. The Arctic region apparently has 10% of the world’s freshwater stock and, since industrialization is limited, it’s as pure as can be and tastes quite different from drinking water elsewhere.
And you also went on a midnight sail?
That’s right. There is 24-hour daylight in August but every iceberg and ice fjord changes colour depending on the time of day. I remember it was -38 degrees Celsius when we went on the boatride. We zigzagged through icebergs, soaking in the sights—it was an awesome experience.
I also went on an ice-fjord expedition in Qasigiannguit by a chopper: We landed in a vast, rocky zone completely surrounded by ice fjords for about half an hour. The point offers a fabulous bird’s-eye view of icebergs in all kinds of shapes and sizes.
What was your biggest takeaway from the trip?
I think it was the reinvigorated desire to see the South Pole — which I visited in April. But that’s another story!
GETTING THERE
Fly Finnair from Delhi to Copenhagen (return economy fares around Rs40,000, including taxes). From Copenhagen, fly Air Greenland to Kangerlussuaq (return economy fares around Rs47,000)
CEO of B.S. Pyromatic India Pvt. Ltd, an engineering solutions company, P. Sridhar, 45, travelled to the Arctic Circle for 15 days last August. Despite the 24-hour daylight, he found there a calm that touched the soul — and the tastiest drinking water on the planet
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Jun 19 2008. 11 58 PM IST