Alta: At First Sight

 The trade-off we made to stay in Alta, which is a bit off the beaten path, was having fewer day activities unless one wants to shell out $$$ to go dog-sledding or snowmobiling. I personally would have liked to visit the Sorrisniva Hotel, a hotel that is carved entirely out of 250 tons of ice every year, but at an entrance fee of $24, the price was too steep for either Tom or I to justify.

We intended to have our time in Alta be a bit lazy hazy, so we slept in and savored some extra sleep. As a result, we didn’t roll into town until the early afternoon. We popped-in to check out the inside of the Northern Lights Cathedral before grabbing some coffee and free wi-fi at a nearby pub.

The current design of the church is the result of a competition in 2001 that was won by a collaboration between schmidt hammer lassen architects and Link Arkitektur. The city council wanted an icon that would highlight Alta’s role as a gateway to the Northern Lights. In the words of founding partner John. F. Lassen, “The Cathedral of the Northern Lights is in its design a result of the surrounding nature and local culture. The building is a landmark, which through its architecture symbolizes the extraordinary natural phenomenon of the Arctic northern lights,…The cathedral reflects, both literally and metaphorically, the northern lights: ethereal, transient, poetic and beautiful. It appears as a solitary sculpture in interaction with the spectacular nature.”

 The sun sets earlier in the North than it did in Oslo, so we were greeted by darkness when we exited the pub. Outside, waiting for us was a varied display of ice sculptures. Some depicted human forms while others were animal sculptures. My favorite, however, was a realistic human heart that had a beating red light inside it. The heart was enclosed by icy brick walls, and I interpreted it as a metaphor for the warmth and life that lies in each of us despite whatever cold, outer, exterior persona we may present to the world. Tom thought I was overthinking it, but I personally like trying to analyze the message an artist is trying to convey.

 We then hopped into the car for Day 2 of our hunt. This time we drove about 2-hours west. The forecast was looking good for clear skies, and based on the lessons from yesterday, we knew we had to look for the stars. After all, if you can see the stars clearly, then you know that clouds are not obstructing the view. Eventually, I started seeing a light green shadow to our back right. At this point, I wasn’t sure whether I was hallucinating it due to my deep desire to see the Northern Lights, but Tom pulled over to have a look and verify my suspicion. It turned out I was right!

 Not too long after, bands of green danced across the sky. Tom and I were so excited about our discovery that we couldn’t help but laugh, and hug, and smile. It was a glorious gift that the universe had presented us, the gift of light. After you truly see the lights with the naked eye for the first time, you know exactly what to look for. It is true what they say, that the lights dance. You can see the shape and the density of the bands and swirls change as the particles shift with the wind. I was so happy to be able to share the experience with someone that is so special to me. 

P.S. I didn’t exactly have the right photography equipment for this shot, so we faked the lighting we’d need by using the car’s headlights.  

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Travel: Matrimony

Today, I was fortunate enough to garner an invitation to a traditional Hindu wedding as Nick’s plus one. (You may recall the various Saree shopping debacles that we encountered in Jaipur and Jodhpur).

imageUnlike a typical wedding, which tends to be a more serious and understated affair, Indian weddings are loud and energetic. The one we attended, was actually a 3-day affair (we chose to attend only 1 of 3).

It started with a Swagatam “welcome” ceremony. Under the raucous beat of drums, the Baraat “groom’s procession party,” consisting of family and friends, joyously dance into the building. In contrast, the bride’s entrance is a much more solemn affair.

 

The introduction between the families is made, and there is a Jai Mala, a garland exchange between the bridge and groom. During all of this, there is a constant flow of food and drinks circulating the room.

imageHonestly I had no idea what was happening for the majority of the ceremony, and neither did Nick. We had hoped to make the reception, which is when the bride and groom both perform separate choreographed dances to Bollywood music with their bridesmaids and groomsmen, respectively, but apparently that had occurred the day before. Nick’s friends, did however, regale us with some of their drunken stories from the previous night.

imageThe most significant part of the ceremony is the Saptapadi, a 7-step ritual. The bride and groom have a part of their clothing tied together, and they walk around the fire 7 times. The fire, represents Yajna, the divine witness and each circle represents the oaths that they make to each other. It is after this event that the bride and groom are officially considered married.

It was a vibrant affair filled with colorful clothing, diverse sarees, intricate henna, and shiny jewelry. The food selection allowed me to try some curries I’ve never had before. Nick and I even became best friends with the Chai-Man! I do wish, however, that I had known what was going on. Everyone is so busy carrying on conversation during the ceremony, that it was impossible to know what was occurring on the dais. 😦

 

 

 

 

Travel: Colorful India

Since Udaipur is a smaller city and Nick and I have already seen our fair share of ancient temples, palaces, and fortresses, we chose to experience the diversity of India by visiting Shilpgram.

Much like the Dilli Haat in New Delhi, Shilpgram is a heritage village composed of 5 west-zone states. Its purpose is to expose the diversity of tribal cultures to the general public and foster a spirit of collaboration between rural and urban artists. This cultural complex was incredibly large with a total square area of 70 acres!

Nick and I didn’t intend to stay for so long, but there was so much vibrancy to be seen amongst the artists. I’ve attached a brief collage below to illustrate the range of work.

imageimage

imageimage

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni and Myself (some are his and some are mine).

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

 

One of the things I enjoyed the most were all of the regional dances that were performed. As someone who studied traditional chinese dance for over 8 years in my youth, folk dancing continues to fascinate me. It is such a rich part of one’s ingrained heritage and it would be a true pity if these arts got lost in the sands of time.

 

 

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

Some of the female dancers kept inviting me to join them! I didn’t, but I did pick up the rhythm and pattern of their movements. At the end of it all, they were really friendly and invited me to take a picture with them.

 

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

Nick and I both hopped on Camels and went for a ride as well.

 

 

 

 

We finished our day with a sunset boat ride on the lake, followed by more famous dances from Rajasthan at the Bagore Ki Haveli.

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

My favorite dance by far was the Teratali dance. Performed by the Kamar tribe while sitting down, the woman balance a pot on their heads and clench a sword between their teeth while they use Manjeeras (cymbals) to acoustically provide thirteen different beats. The sounds made vary by the angles at which the cymbals collide, making this dance one that requires technique and precision.

Unfortunately, the seating area was less than optimal, otherwise I would have provided a video. 😦