A Week in the Arctic

Marek perhaps made the mistake of tying a female Alaskan Malamite  along with two males of the  species to the sledge. He tied her behind them but it was not long before  they caught her scent.  This distracted them and they would sniff the air , the path, and turn around intermittently breaking the ride from time to time. Marek  had to shout `go' more than once.  But the scent of the female was clearly too overpowering. In the  pine and birch forest  Mareks `go' echoed  back along with the excited yelps of the dogs.  But despite the frequent interruptions in which the dogs performed their mating rituals in front of me , I was at least happy that unlike on a Reindeer sledge I could at least see where the dogs were dragging me. (sanjay austa austa)

Alaskan Malamite Huskies draw a sledge in the Arctic forest.

(click on photos to go to gallery)

Northern Lights, Husky rides and a Nude Sauna: Adventures in the Arctic

Whenever I get an invitation to visit a cold place I am generally not too excited. I was born in the foothills of the Himalayas (Himachal Pradesh) therefore snow, mountains, and high altitudes  generate  feelings of home not wanderlust. But an  invitation to visit the Arctic is different. I have never crossed the 66 degree latitude for one and the opportunity to relive your childhood  storybook fantasies  of reindeers-rides and  huskies sledges  is too hard to resist.

And so I head to  Lapland, a province of Finland that falls entirely in the  Arctic region. Visiting Lapland when it is still snowbound is an overwhelming  high. Accustomed so far to see snow only in the high mountain passes and peaks,  it is interesting to see flat snowfields for miles around. I am not sure if   Santa Claus excites  me, though I am standing  in a queue with excited children for almost an hour waiting for one of Santa’s elves to show me in. The `official’ Santa Clause is remarkably the same rotund chubby- cheeked man from my childhood story books. He greets me a predictable namastay  and asks my colleagues if they have been good girls in a manner he would ask any naughty school girls who line up for hours to meet him. I am happy to get a picture with him to reinforce the Santa Clause legend in my  nieces and nephews.

The Reindeers are strong reliable and mild  arctic animals who wait for a tug from you on the reign before they move anywhere. But  my reindeer seemed to have a mind of his own or perhaps he could sniff out nervous tourists. He choose to ignore any tugging on the reign and dragged my sledge of his own volition and speed.   From the sledge all you can see is the narrow hump of the Reindeer and his flat hoofs as they spring back and forth. I wondered how anyone riding the sledge could possibly  see where they were going.   But my reindeer had gone down this path a lot many times before and after cutting a large swathe in the  pine woods we were soon  back at the reindeer farm. (sanjay austa austa)

Reindeer sledge ride. From the sledge all you can see is the narrow hump of the Reindeer and his flat hoofs. But the reindeers thankfully knows where they are going.


 The husky sledge ride is the  high-point of my  travel to the Arctic. Husky along with the reindeer sledge rides, I think denote the archetypal arctic  adventure.  These ferocious looking dogs, who have a wolf ancestry are surprisingly very  benign to humans.

Every home here has a sauna. The sauna experience is  new to me and I learn the hard way  that   it’s a bad idea to go in a sauna in your underwear if you are sharing it with  the Finns.  Its perfectly normal go  in the  nude otherwise  you stick out like a sore thumb with your jockey.

But our sledge dogs today were thankfully the less bad-tempered  Alaskan Malamites. They were overfriendly and clearly raring to take us on a ride.  Marek said the dogs loved long excursions but were put off if they knew the ride was short. That made me feel less guilty having these lovely dogs put on a leash for me and have them drag me across the Arctic forest.  They looked huge but weighed only 35 kilos.  When I attempted to pet one of them my hand sank in the furry coat.  The dogs were all hair and  fur and that's what kept them going in the sub zero Arctic winter. (sanjay austa austa)

Getting the sledges ready for the Husky Ride.

Coming to Lapland and not witnessing the spectacle of the Northern Lights is  like coming to India and not seeing the Taj Mahal.   Northern Lights is  indeed a rare  phenomenon for any photographer to capture and  I am not so lucky. The cloudy weather does not let up but Jari our guide takes us to a Northern Light centre  where a genial lady gives us a presentation on Northern lights on a projector.

They have the screen  on the ceiling and I lie looking up at the swishing and  the swirling of the array of lights .  Lying there I dream of clear skies and lights and suddenly it dawns on me that   a photograph of  Northern Lights has been my screensaver on my Mac at home all along.


7 Responses to “A Week in the Arctic”

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