Hammerfest: The Northernmost City

 We took a long day trip to visit Hammerfest, Norway. This city was originally our destination of choice over Alta, but for various reasons we’d decided not to permanently stay there. An interesting fact is that Hammerfest lays claim to the title of “The Northernmost City in the World,”although Honningsvag has disputed this title. There is also technically the town of Barrow, Alaska that is further north than both of these places. It was roughly a 2.5 hr drive for us from Alta, but there were plenty of exquisite snow-capped mountains for us to enjoy. 

  Once we finally arrived, we immediately geared up for a hike up Mount Salen. I was happy that Tom finally got to make use of his utilitarian snow boots (he does have a propensity to favor those boat shoes of his 🙂 ). In good weather, it’s supposed to be an easy 45-minute trail hike up a steady incline that spirals towards the summit. However, as it is March, the snow was still quite deep, so we followed footprints up the trail, carefully trying to place our boots in the existing footholes, and making our own where there were none. 

 Eventually the snow drift became steep enough that we found ourselves gripping the chain-link fence. If it had been a rigid, full-height fence we would have been comfortable continuing our hike. However, rigid posts with only two rows of chains did not give us a high level of confidence. When I found myself almost sliding through the bottom of the fence, after the snow underneath my boot had given way, we decided it was time to turn back. The sun was starting to drop from the sky, and neither of us liked the prospect of descending in the dark. Fortunately, we managed to get to a rocky outcrop just shy of the summit for a gorgeous view of the city and the archipelago. 

 

After returning to the car, we grabbed dinner. I had some Norwegian Fiskesuppe which I found really creamy and flavorful.

 We then stopped by for a quick visit to the Northernmost station of the Struve Geodetic Arc. It is a chain of triangulations that stretches through 10 countries all the way to the Black Sea in Ukraine. Completed between 1816 and 1855 by the German-born Russian scientist Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, it was the first accurate measurement of a meridian. Tom wasn’t as excited about it as I was, but then again, I just spent the last year having to study the topic of Surveying for my P.E. licensing exams.

Then it was time to head home to Alta. The skies were generous and once again performed its dance of light for us.  

 

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.  

Travel: Vagator

This morning with a heavy heart I had to bid Nick adieu. But before he disappeared into the wind, he helped me secure a rigshaw to ferry me away to a hostel for the remainder of my time in Goa. Nick then hopped into a Taxi headed to the airport.

imageIt’s somewhat surprising that we are such good friends, with very similar travel philosophies, despite our colored past. You see, once upon a time, many years ago, we dated each other, and, as with many high school relationships, it ended dramatically and emotionally, igniting a rift in our social circles. But, as is typical with age and college, our friendship evolved and adapted to the adults we were becoming. Even today I still find some irony in our story. Nick is one of a handful of friends that sees the world and travels in similar fashion to myself.

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But enough about our history! I am now on my own, savoring the rest of my days on Vagator Beach. Unfortunately, with the New Year’s traffic it took me over an hour to get to my new crash pad.By the time I had checked in and dropped off my luggage I was hot, sweaty, and tired. I used the lounge area to catch up on some blog posts, and after recooperating some energy, made the 10-minute walk to check out the beach before calling it a day.

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Travel: New Years

Last night while walking amongst the crowds on the beach and celebrating the holiday, my butt got grabbed twice. The first time I thought it was an accident, but the second time I couldn’t help myself from turning around and shoving the guy behind me. Nick, ever a great guy friend, backed me up and the group of males backed off. It took me awhile to shake it off and go back to enjoying the celebratory atmosphere.

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This morning, Nick and I slept in. We started off our morning with lunch consisting of traditional Goan Fish Curry and Fried Prawns. It was so tasty! After, we meandered on to the local beach and rented cots for the day to spend a lazy afternoon. We enjoyed quick massages from a peddler, and certainly couldn’t skip our daily tradition of Chai and Biscuits.

With a twinge of sadness we watched the sun dip below the horizon. This was to be Nick and I’s last night together as he was flying out in the morning to spend some time with his extended family in India. We celebrated our eye-opening Indian Adventure together by sharing one last dinner.

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Travel: Ranakpur Apathy

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Our initial plan today was to hire a taxi to day trip to Ranakpur before being dropped back at the airport for our flight to Mumbai later tonight. Unfortunately, our lack of internet connection at the hostel proved to be our downfall.

 

While I had posited asking the staff for advice on taking buses, Nick didn’t hear me, and I was too snuggled into my cozy cocoon to emerge from the warmth. We did not make it to Ranakpur and I regret not summoning the willpower to face the cold. Admittedly though, it was really nice to have an open day with nothing planned.

Credit: Ingo Mehling

Credit: Ingo Mehling

Ranakpur is 91 km away from Udaipur, making it approximately a 1-hour car ride in US terms and a 2.5 to 3-hour travel time according to IST (one needs to factor in traffic, rough roads, and slower speed limits). It is home to a  UNESCO World Heritage Site, a massive, sprawling, Jain Temple constructed entirely of marble in 1437.

imageIt is with sorrow that I cannot speakbout how amazing the structure was, as it has over 1444 pillars that are each uniquely carved in exquisite detail. Additionally, there is a massive rock that is carved into 108 snake heads and tails. The layout of the building is in the form of a chaumukha – four faces in each of the four cardinal directions that symbolize the cosmos.

Instead, Nick went off to meet his Uncle and I found a little cafe to savor coffee in while using their wifi for some net-based tasks. We met up again later that morning to visit Monsoon Palace.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarmi

The Monsoon Palace was built in 1884 entirely of white marble on the Bansdara Peak of the Aravalli Hill. At a total elevation of 3100 ft overlooking Lake Pichola, the original intent was for it to be a 9-story astronomical centre to track the movement of the monsoon clouds. It would also be a vacation home for the royal family.

 

imageUnfortunately, despite the innovative water harvesting system the building utilized in its underground cistern, the storage capacity proved to be inadequate resulting in the abandonment of the palace.

After the palace, all we had to do was get Nick a shave for the wedding, and find him some shoes. This was surprisingly almost as difficult as finding me a Saree; there’s not much you can do about a gigantor’s foot size when you are on a continent that tends to produce petite-sized humans.

 

Merry Christmas from Jodhpur!

imageWe all woke up late this morning due to the festivities of last night. The staff had cleaned up the cake (from the glitter firecrackers) and shared some slices with us. Nick didn’t pull his string aggressively enough, so he decided to pour all of his glitter over my head. -_- I may still be sparkling….

Craig, one of the new friends we made last night, was traveling alone so we invited him to explore the city with us. We trekked up the hill at the center of the Jodhpur old city and entered one of the seven gates of Mehrangarh Fort.

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The fort is situated 400 ft above the city and surrounded by thick walls. Within the complex are several palaces known for the intricacy of their carvings and the botanical diversity of their courtyards.

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Legend says that Bhaurcheeria, “The Mountain of Birds,” initially had a single human occupant. In order to build Jodha’s fort, Cheeria Nathji, “Lord of the Birds,” was forced to leave. In his anger, the hermit cursed Jodha:

“Jodha! May your citadel ever suffer a scarcity of water!”

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

Nathji was only marginally appeased by the construction of a house and temple within the fort that was in close proximity to the cave that the hermit had meditated in. However, even to this day,the area is plagued by a drought every 3 to 4 years.

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As an even more extreme measure to ensure his new site was propitious, Jodha buried a man named “Raja Ram Meghwal” alive beneath the foundation. In return, Meghwal’s family was guaranteed to be looked after by the Rathores. Even to this day, his descendants still live in Raj Bagh, an estate beaquethed to them by Jodha.

imageAfter catching a gorgeous view of the “Blue City” from high above, we started our descent on the other side of the hill, and came across some traditionally dressed girls with baskets on their heads. I find it quite fascinating that even in this modern-day and age, a diverse array of traditional clothing can be seen in India as a stark contrast to the more readily adopted Western Clothing.

imageWe then paused by the Jaswant Thada for a breather, before continuing to engage in some aimless traipsing through the streets.

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Travel: Generous Jodhpur

imageShukriya is the first word that I learned in Hindi. It means “Thank You.” This is always the first term I learn when traveling in a foreign country because it allows me to thank all the kind people who help me find my way when I am lost and confused.

 

For me, it tells the locals, ‘Thank you for sharing your culture and heritage with me, Thank you for your generosity, and Thank you for welcoming me.’

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Today, is Christmas Eve, and it seems like an appropriate day to be grateful for the luxury of traveling. Too few people are given the opportunity, or have a passion to explore the world as I do. Let’s be honest, the hobby of adventure requires both capital and time, and such a large portion of the human population enjoy neither.

 

imageA family who can afford this extravagance is the Jodhpur Royal Family, and we visited their private residence, the Umaid Bhawan Palace. Built in 1943, the construction of the palace provided employment to thousands of citizens during a famine. Numbering at a total of 347 rooms, the building serves three purposes. It functions as a home, a hotel, and a museum.

imageLeaving the opulence of the structure behind, we headed back to the Saree store from yesterday for a final fitting. The fit was off, and the design of the blouse was not what we had discussed. Nick and I were both extremely frustrated as we had spent about 2-3 hours at the store yesterday to discuss and hash out all the details to make sure we got what we wanted.

We ended up walking out of the store unhappy and disgruntled.  Fortunately, my deposit was negotiated down to 500 rupees, so I only lost about $7 on this Saree attempt.

imageWe ended up making a third attempt at buying a Saree at the Sadar Bazaar, and settled on a dark blue Saree of a different style. I already decided that I refuse to buy more shoes or bangles to match this new color, so some clashing may occur. Thankfully, I know that no matter what I wear, I will still stand out of the crowd at the Wedding.

imageAfter dropping off our purchases at the hotel, we started to hike up to the fort before realizing it was closed for the day. On our way back down the streets, Nick started conversing with a young man, around our age, who promptly invited us into his home, which had been in his family for over 100 years. His mother and father were super inviting, and presented us with chai. Granted, much of the conversation was lost on me, but the mother asked to take a photo with me because she thought I was so beautiful. 😀

imageWe bid adieu with the intent to return to our hotel. A group of kids in an alley stopped us and asked for American coins, I felt bad because I didn’t have anything to offer. Their family also proceeded to welcome us with open arms, and we spent some time talking with the kids and their parents while savoring our second cup of Chai. They played a few games on my cell phone, and when the girls wanted to paint my nails, I couldn’t say no. Their future dreams ranged from working in Law Enforcement to being a Doctor. It was incredibly heartwarming to hear about their ambition, and Nick and I encouraged them all to study hard as we left.

Our hotel, the Castle View HomeStay threw all of its lodgers a party for Christmas Eve. We lit a lantern and attempted to let it float up into the sky, but alas, the windy conditions were not in our favor, and the lantern dropped like a rock. It was really funny at the time, and incredibly endearing how much effort the staff had put in. A ‘Santa Claus’ was nominated who gave us small handicraft gifts that are local to the region, and we enjoyed a buffet dinner together with some Gulab Jamun, a sweet milk dessert from a famous bakery in the city.

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