Updated: Nov 18, 2022
I dug my hands deeper into my pockets searching for some warmth that could be lurking inside, hunched my shoulders a little, stamped my feet, shivered despite my many layers of clothing and wondered if I should return indoors.
I was on the deck of MS Malmo, the ship taking us around Svalbard and I was loathe to leave the deck.
How does one leave such stark, intensely beautiful landscapes around you ? Even if it meant going into the welcoming warmth of the dining area and the laughter and merriness of the rest of the group. Since we were here in summer, the sun never sets. It’s a different kind of joy to walk out onto the deck at any time of the night and enjoy the beauty around you.
Svalbard sometimes reminded me of Ladakh.
The dramatic light and shadows, the starkness of the brown hills...so similar to Ladakh
It had the same starkness, hills rolling in a similarly stoic manner, the same dull brown landscapes barren of any trees, with occasional splashes of snow providing relief. The one noticeable difference here was there seemed to be an invisible hand coming down on the mountains and squashing them. As if, there was a threshold beyond which the mountains were forbidden to grow.
The water, forever kept changing in its hue, a deep green now, a shade of blue aimed at matching the blue sky a little later, or a brown that seemed to borrow its colours from the surrounding hills.
The zany patterns that you can see in the waters
We took a northward route initially before moving in a non linear but predominantly eastward direction. We made frequent forays to see glaciers and often hopped off the ship and on to our Zodiacs to go take a closer look.
And those glaciers…boy…
They were a brilliant mix of white and blue, sometimes craggy, sometimes calmer, often sweeping down between two hillsides before coming to an abrupt halt at the edge of the water. Some of the glaciers were predominantly white and there were some that were of the most brilliant and spectacular shade of blue.
I love the way many glaciers sweep down from behind the hills and come to an abrupt halt
The brilliance of the blue of an older ice contrasts sharply with the white of the glacier behind
We also learnt why we see these colours show up.
When glacial ice first freezes, it is filled with air bubbles. As fresh snow falls and becomes part of the glacier, that ice gets buried and squashed underneath younger ice on top. The older ice starts to take on a blue tinge. The air bubbles from the original ice keep getting more compressed.
To the human eye, older glacial ice acts like a filter, absorbing red and yellow light and reflecting blue light, creating the beautiful blue hues of a glacier.
On the other hand, snow is white because it is chock full of air bubbles. Snow reflects back the full spectrum of white light.
Ok… enough of science and back to the glaciers.
Glaciers are definitely a stunning piece of Nature’s art but its advisable to maintain a respectable distance. The Inuits had a simple formula –stretch your arm and hold your thumb up. Visually, if the height of the glacier is more than the length of your thumb, slow down and paddle away from the glacier.
Because glaciers calve – that is, the process of chunks of glaciers falling off. When they fall off, and we are talking of potentially really large pieces of ice, the impact can cause a rather dangerous swell in the water.
The Three Sentinels, is the caption that came to mind when I saw those silent, watchful hills
At one of the largest glaciers here, Austfonna, we gawked in awe as this giant slab of ice stretched on and on, the stony, impassive face of which was often broken by small little waterfalls.
Jaw dropping. To see this giant slab stretch on and on...see that waterfall towards the right side ?
Around us, the water was filled with small pieces of ice floes that lay scattered like confetti. It looked like a stadium on a Monday morning after a highly competitive Sunday game. Littered. Quiet.
Small ice floes lay scattered all around us, littered like confetti
As we moved further east, by the time we were nearing the White Island, Kvitoya, the landscape had changed even more. It had become bleaker, starker and colder.
The water too had changed beyond mere colours - it seemed to change in the way it felt. It looked heavy, viscous, the waves dully moving as if too lethargic to put in any effort to move.
We also got the best light of the trip here.
This is what Serenity looks like.
There we were in our Zodiacs, well past midnight, the sea unbelievably calm, the waves gently reminding us that we were not on land, the sun peeping out of the clouds bathing the entire area with its gentle light and nudging the biting chill of the night away.
Oh…and there was a polar bear on the beach right in front of us.
It felt divine.
Stunning light. Mind blowing landscape. And a polar bear. What more can one ask for ?