The first indication that this trip is going to be a little unusual is on the SAS flight to Oslo. A group of Americans occupy four of the six seats in the two rows across the aisle from mine. Scruffily dressed in the universal budget tourist uniform of T-shirts, battered sneakers and drawstring bottoms, they look unexceptional.

Except for the fact that they all wear luxuriant beards and moustaches. The quietest fellow has a long, brown, somewhat scraggly beard that easily reaches his seat belt. The most talkative one has a shorter but much thicker beard with a pronounced finger-thick moustache. Just before take-off, an unsuspecting middle-aged woman sitting next to him asks him about it.

When he is done enthusiastically telling her about the World Beard and Moustache Championships (WBMC) in Trondheim, the plane has levelled off and the cabin crew are preparing breakfast. He only stops talking because everyone around him is beginning to squirm uncomfortably, or feigning sleep.

Hair-raising! A participant in the Sideburns Freestyle category of the championship; and (below) Germany’s Pia Weis prepares her husband Hans-Peter for the Full Beard Freestyle event.

As it happens the muesli is nowhere to be found.


Oslo Airport at Gardermoen is much like most modern airports except for the ubiquitous use of wood. Ceilings in the arrivals terminal are high, swooping, curving affairs made of strips of wood massaged into flowing shapes. In some places the airport looks like a massively oversized log cabin.

“Why are you going to Trondheim?" asks the woman from Norwegian Border Control.

Before I can finish explaining, she nods and stamps my passport: “Yes. Today… so many people with beards…"

The Scandinavian countries are often held up as the epitome of all that is good and great about democracy and mature governments. In his latest book, The Origins of Political Order, author Francis Fukuyama talks about how countries can “get to Denmark", that is, how they can become liberal democracies with a functioning state, rule of law and an accountable government.

For an extended version of the story, moustache tips and videos (Click here)

Fukuyama could have easily used Norway instead. The country of around five million people has the world’s highest Human Development Index scores. It also boasts of some of the highest wages, per capita GDP and lowest income disparities in the world. Which is why the locals can afford to pay the ridiculous sum of some 100 kroner for a pint of local beer, three times as much as in London.

All this might make you think the Norwegians take life easy. But, in fact, they also have one of the highest rates of hourly productivity on the planet.

Still, no amount of economic prosperity and social equality can prevent bizarre airport toilet graffiti. In big blue letters on the wall in my cubicle someone has written only one word:


Perhaps there is a context there that only the original artiste is aware of.


The train from Oslo to Trondheim, which I only catch after many trials and tribulations, takes approximately 7 hours. By the time I reach Trondheim, it is almost 10pm. The summer days are long here in the land of the midnight sun, and even at this hour there is as much light as on a cloudy morning in Delhi.