First off, sincere apologies about missing the last scheduled newsletter.
I was far away, in a desolate place, totally disconnected from the rest of the world, experiencing a beauty that mere words in my hands would struggle to paint the picture of. My plans of scheduling a post got hampered by my laptop’s stubborn refusal to make friends with the hotel wifi and I had to end up waiting till I got back to some good ole internet connectivity. ( Pro tip : When all fails, blame tech J )
Now, to where I was.
Svalbard. ‘ The land with the cold shores ’.
The place where polar bears roam in blissful solitude. Where walruses sun themselves on ice, disdainful of the spectacular beauty around them. Where seals warily peep out of holes in the sea ice alert to any danger. Where the birds swoop down impossibly steep cliffs in the thousands, searching for a nesting place or fly kissing the surface of water vainly trying to get a tease out of the stonily icy waters.
I was on a ship for ten long days soaking in the beauty of this strange yet utterly bewitching place.
But, I am rushing too fast. First, a little bit of backgrounder about this place.
Svalbard is an archipelago midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. If you look at the globe, it will be located just a little under the North Pole. Our ship went beyond a latitude of 80 degrees and, yup, that’s not very far from the North Pole.
These islands went ungoverned until 1920, when, in the aftermath of World War One, a treaty that guaranteed Norway’s sovereignty over Svalbard was signed by nine countries. Today, 46 countries are part of the agreement.
The treaty states that the territory cannot be used for military purposes and holds Norway responsible for preserving the islands’ natural environment.
A striking feature of the agreement, however, is the unique clause that states there must be no distinction between the treatment of Norwegians and non-Norwegians and that possibly explains how Longyearbyen’s population of around 2500 people, comes from more than 50 countries !
That is where most people settle when they move to Svalbard and where we flew in – the northern most airport in the world, in the northernmost inhabited place in the world.
Longyearbyen came into existence because of the coal in the mountains, and was built by the mining industry and continued as a typical mining town right up to 1990s. Right now, however, it might look a tad different from how it did for most of its existence.
There is a university, a hospital, a school, a spread of cuisines in its restaurants, a cultural centre, a really interesting museum….quite the trappings of any modern town. Buildings have designated colour schemes which combine to give a really pretty picture of the town. Most of the town’s action is centred around the main street which has some rather impressively stocked shops and many restaurants and bars.
The town had a rather striking colour combination that works quite well, in my opinion
I loved this statue of a miner at one end of the main street. He does look so totally exhausted !
The other end of the street showcases a beautiful backdrop...look at those clouds !!
A particularly quaint custom in town, is to leave your shoes outside any establishment you enter. It’s a nod to tradition. Miners had to do that to ensure that they don’t trudge in, leaving a sea of dust and coal in their wake.
We took bicycles and cycled around the town and later, huffed and puffed up a steep slope to go to a lovely little church. The tiny town lay below us, nestled between mountains and the sea. The return was a nostalgic revival of long forgotten memories of childhood as we hurtled downhill on our bicycles, the wind against our faces.
Later, in the evening, we drove away from the town and walked down a winding road. On our left, dark clouds whispered secrets to the tall, jagged mountain tops and ahead, the same arrogant mountains swooped down in a hurry to make acquaintance with the sea. High above us, flocks of Little Auks swirled in and out of the clouds as if keeping tabs on us, and the one word that went through most of our minds was – Mordor !
This Arctic fox is deciding if he can come any closer. His coat is in the process of changing from its pure white winter coat to the summer brown one
Winters are expectedly tough and brutal and while many wildlife enthusiasts still travel to Svalbard during this period, for lesser mortals like me, it’s the summer months that beckon.
The ice would have melted sufficiently to allow ships to navigate the area thoroughly.
The polar bears will be out hunting.
The birds will be flying around in thousands.
The walruses will be oblivious to everything and will be lazing. ( As always. )
Our plan was to be on a small ship for the next ten days, circling the archipelago, investigating many of the fjords, soaking in the surreal beauty of the place.
Along the way, hopefully, get a few good images of the landscape and its doughty inhabitants.