Witnessing the Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Polaris , is a dream for many of us and the icing on the cake is when the same dream is shared by one’s life companion. In my case, it was a dream for both Swagata and I, to view the Northern Lights. The thought of visiting and watching this magical light show has always been on our bucket list since the time we first met.
What is a Northern Lights or Aurora Polaris ?
I am sure everyone knows about it and it’s present mostly on every traveler’s bucket list, ain’t it? Even then for those who are still ignorant, here is a brief introduction to Northern lights:
What are the best places to see the Northern Lights?
Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland
An aurora, also known as the polar lights or Aurora Polaris, is a natural light display in Earth’s sky, predominantly seen in high-latitude regions. Auroras display dynamic patterns of brilliant lights that appear as curtains, rays, spirals, or dynamic flickers covering the entire sky.
It was in March 2020 when our plan of visiting Europe finally materialised after a lot of brainstorming. We were really lucky and glad that my in-laws also embarked on this journey of a lifetime with us. The priority on our itinerary was to decide on the place from where we would try our luck of witnessing the Aurora. We decided on Rovaniemi. We, on purpose, didn’t utter a single word to my in-laws regarding our plan to see the Northern Lights, because to get to see the Aurora is totally a matter of fortune. We were pretty sure that if not Aurora, then we would definitely enjoy the snowy city of Rovaniemi, the capital of the winter wonderland Lapland, in northern Finland. Almost totally destroyed during World War II, today it’s a modern city known for being the ‘official’ hometown of Santa Claus on the Arctic Circle. But what we could never anticipate was how much excitement and enthrallment Rovaniemi had in store for us.
We left New Delhi early on the morning of 2nd March, 2020 and reached Helsinki, the capital of Finland, the very same day. Although it was an eight-hour flight journey, yet on reaching the beautiful and vibrant city, our tiredness disappeared. We proceeded for a long walk around the city centre. After coming back to our hotel rooms, we had an early dinner in a small Nepali restaurant named Mount Everest and retired to bed. We woke up very early the next morning and at 7 am, we boarded the train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi. It was an eight and a half-hour journey, and we made our way through beautiful snow-clad trees and forests. The constant shower of tiny snowflakes over the alluring countryside was a delight for our eyes.
We reached Rovaniemi in the evening and a cold wind greeted us immediately as we deboarded the train. We booked a cab from the train station to our hotel, the Scandic Rovaniemi City. On reaching our hotel, we freshened up a bit, bundled ourselves in woollens from head to toe and went for a quick walk around the city centre. The general weather of Rovaniemi during March is around 5 °C during the day and drops down to around -5 °C at night. We had a sumptuous dinner in a Chinese eatery right next to our hotel, before retiring to our rooms as we had a long and exciting day in store for us.
The next morning, we woke up early, had our breakfast and took a local bus to the Santa Claus Village which is around eight kilometres from the city centre. I had read somewhere that ‘A winter wonderland of pink skies, husky sleds, frosty fir trees, steaming hot chocolate and twinkling lights – Finnish Lapland is where all your snow-filled and childhood fantasies come to life’. It couldn’t get truer than this. On reaching the Santa Claus village, we decided to click a few pics as it wasn’t too crowded in the morning hours. But what we didn’t anticipate was the extremely biting cold breeze. It was an unbelievable -14 °C at around 9 am (brrrrrrr!). The time period from removing the gloves to the fingers turning numb was a matter of a few seconds!
The Santa Claus Village, is an amusement park that was opened in 1985 and since then, it has been the official hometown of Santa Claus where one can meet the Big Man himself and also cross the Arctic Circle. The line of the Arctic Circle runs right through the centre of the village, and one can see it marked with a row of lanterns and a strip of blue lights. The big hoarding right at the entrance of the village says, ‘Santa Claus spends his time at Santa Claus Village every day of the year to take care of his mission in life; to enhance the well-being of children and the kindness of grown-ups, as well as spread the message of love and goodwill and the Christmas Spirit across the globe.’ And trust me, the child inside of each one of us is certain to come alive in this magical kingdom. While Swagata and I booked a husky sleigh ride, our parents opted for the less speedy reindeer ride. Speeding through the snowy forest behind a team of Siberian Huskies was an amazing experience. It was ‘The Call of the Wild’ came alive. It is certainly one of the must-dos for anyone who takes a winter trip to Rovaniemi. There are various different distances of the route one can choose, from a short five hundred metres to eight kilometres. But these guys can really run like the wind, so hold onto your hats (literally) as the ride makes you whiz past, with the brutal cold wind hitting one’s face at top speed. While going for a husky sled ride is an option, one should most certainly visit the Husky Park to meet and pet some of the park’s gorgeous dogs.
Our parents who had opted for the reindeer sleigh ride not only got to witness the scenic beauty at a more sedate pace, but also got the chance to get up close to these amazing creatures. Like the husky sledding, there are various different lengths of circuit available – and our parents opted for a fifteen-minute Forest Path which took them through fir trees piled up with snow. We ended the tour of the Santa Claus Village with a nice warm cup of coffee in the restaurant followed by a tour of the entire village.
We returned to our rooms in the afternoon, took a quick nap and then got ready for the most anticipated part of our trip – the long awaited and cherished dream of witnessing the Northern Lights. It was around the midnight of 4th March when two young lady guides from Safartica Tours, Yolanda and Angie, drove us through a snowy road for about one and a half hours from Rovaniemi City centre to a quiet barren snowy land. Yes, you read that right!! Two young ladies operating a tour at midnight all by themselves, that is Finland-the happiest and one of the safest countries in the world, for you. On reaching our destination, we observed that there was a dense woodland at the far end of the horizon and our tour operators had arranged tents and a campfire for us as we waited with bated breath for a sighting of the Aurora. The sky was dark and the temperature was -20°C (It was freaking cold!). It was by far the lowest temperature we all had ever faced during our entire lives. Initially on reaching there, we saw some green streaks of light pouring out from the sky. We clicked a few pics and came back to our tents and started enjoying the warmth of the fire with sausages, grilled marshmallows and soul-saving Wildberry tea.
At that very moment, someone from outside shouted “Hey, It’s Aurora, Aurora…” and we jumped out of our seats. We ran out to see that magnificent beauty hovering in the sky above us. It was as if someone in the distant horizon had started a colourful light show just to entertain us. There was an assemblage of different shades of green emanating from one end of the sky and spreading all the way to the landscaped vistas and dancing right in front of our very own eyes. Our bewildered eyes! We were naturally thrilled to bits and couldn’t take our eyes off the sky. Although the cold was extreme, we managed to take some pictures in that chilling cold. What helped us to survive the biting cold were the huge dungarees and thick gloves provided by our tour operators. Our parents shared our awe, and we all stood together – mesmerised spectators to this enthralling spectacle that nature presented in front of us. We stood for a while in complete astonishment gazing at the sheer beauty of Aurora in that unbearable cold. Suddenly, the realisation dawned on Swagata and me – “Oh God, we are watching The Northern Lights together!”
Our happiness knew no bounds as we held hands and continued to gaze at the sky. We lived a lifetime in that very moment. We could finally tick it off our bucket list. From the Northern Lights to the husky and reindeer sleigh rides, the winter months in the far north are full of magic and adventure, and our first Arctic adventure certainly exceeded our expectations.
Contributed By Siddharth Ojah
Siddharth is a working professional currently employed as an Engineer at Oil India Limited and resides in Duliajan, Assam with his wife, a baby boy and two dogs. An avid cricket, fitness and quiz lover, Sid also loves to travel around the world with his family. And yes, once in a while, tries to pen down a travelogue based on the travel experiences.
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