It's Diwali season and the blinking, colourful lights take me back to a year ago when my family and I experienced a splendid auroral Diwali in the snow-covered wilderness of Finland. That extraordinary festival of lights—the aurora borealis or the northern lights—is a celebration of all things wonderful in our universe, a reminder that there is so much more to this world than our own lives and that we have a duty to protect and preserve nature in all its glory.
This Diwali, as I remember that magnificent, natural display of colours and light, I am also reminded of our responsibility to reduce the use of firecrackers and not add more toxins to our already polluted air. Instead, we should make Diwali a celebration of lights.
Green flashes of lights with specks of blue and pink illuminated the night sky, dancing merrily across the horizon. The vigil in the bitter cold was worth it.
My wife and I had been thinking of making a trip to Finland since the time we got married. And finally last year, 7-14 November to be precise, we finally made it happen. Finland, a country of just 5.5 million people, is probably best known for the northern lights and as the headquarters of iconic brand Nokia. We decided to spend a week during Diwali last year in Lapland, the northernmost region of Finland that turns into a winter wonderland that attracts tourists from around the world.
As tourists, we generally form first impressions of a new country at the airport. Our first impressions of Finland were formed on air—the Finnair flight to Helsinki from New Delhi wowed us with its efficient service crew and the minimalistic and comfortable interiors.
After a short layover in Helsinki, we took another flight to Ivalo and then a car ride to our final destination, Nellim. A tiny Lapland village of just 174 inhabitants, Nellim is a great place to chase the aurora borealis. Our accommodation was at Nellim Wilderness Hotel, which has a quaint log building and a number of secluded bungalows spread around the property.
The first sight that greeted us in the dining hall was a huge wolf-skin hanging on the wall. This was imported from Russia but we got to know that many wild species such as bears, wolves, wolverines and reindeer roam in this area. It somehow reminded me of Red Riding Hood and I told my children that she must have lived in this village near the Russian border and had her encounters with wild beasts.
We acclimatized ourselves with sub-zero temperatures (it was -5°C the first day) by visiting small neighborhood attractions such as an Orthodox Russian church and a husky farm. A memorable experience was a campfire and lunch inside a snow-covered forest. Even with several layers of warm clothing, the cold seeped right into our bones. Even as we looked around the countryside, our mind was on the main attraction that we had gone there for—the northern lights. Our excitement went up a notch when our guide, Robin, told us that this was a great season for it.
But later that night, our first attempt at seeing this nighttime spectacle ended in disappointment. There was too much snow and wind, and we didn't see any northern lights.
The next day, we set off for a long trek towards the Russian border and enjoyed some breathtaking sights of frozen lakes, snow-clad trees and colourful skies. By 2.45pm, the sun had set and we were back in the hotel in time for the sunset. The weather forecast for that evening was quite dismal with temperature at -1°C and cloudy skies. After dinner, we went to a Russian border bridge to see the lights but there was no luck. The mood in the hotel was sombre but I had not given up yet. All through the evening one of the sites I had been monitoring on my phone predicted that the highest probability to see the aurora was above our hotel. But nobody took that forecast well.
However, on our return, we noticed the stars were out which meant the clouds had cleared out a bit. We went excitedly to the lake near our hotel, and within 10 minutes, we saw what we had come all the way to Finland to see.
This Diwali, as I remember that magnificent, natural display of colours and light, I am also reminded of our responsibility to reduce the use of firecrackers...
Green flashes of lights with specks of blue and pink illuminated the night sky, dancing merrily across the horizon. The vigil in the bitter cold was worth it. We took some beautiful pictures and left after midnight.
We had booked ourselves in an aurora bubble room in the hotel, with a transparent roof and heated interiors. So our treat continued after we went inside. We lay on the bed and watched as the night sky dazzled us with multiple hues of green and blue.
The next morning we drove off to Inari village, where we got a glimpse into the lives of people in this Arctic zone and tasted some local fare. The countryside around us was calm and soothing in spotless white, with an occasional reindeer dashing across the snow and blobs of ice falling of the trees as if to remind us that it's not after all a postcard but a real scene in front of our eyes.
It was time to leave the Land of the Midnight Sun but we knew as our flight took off the snow-covered runway that the memories of this wonderland would stay with us for a long, long time.