Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Chasing the Northern Swedish Lapland

The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are one of nature's wonders and if you are lucky, you get to see them.

Abisko, in Swedish Lappland is one of the best places to see them. So they say! I have been there twice and unfortunately they have been elusive. That too in a year of heightened activity which occurs once in every 11 years!

Nevertheless, I am still fascinated about the auroras and will continue to chase them till I am LUCKY enough to see them.

Some interesting facts:

  • The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth's atmosphere.
  • The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.
  • They are known as 'Aurora borealis' in the north and 'Aurora australis' in the south..
  • Auroral displays appear in many colours although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported.
  • The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.
  • The Maori of New Zealand shared a belief with many northern people of Europe and North America that the lights were reflections from torches or campfires.
  • The Menominee Indians of Wisconsin believed that the lights indicated the location of manabai'wok (giants) who were the spirits of great hunters and fishermen.
  • The Inuit of Alaska believed that the lights were the spirits of the animals they hunted: the seals, salmon, deer and beluga whales.
  • Other aboriginal peoples believed that the lights were the spirits of their people.
  • The best places to watch the lights (in North America) are in the northwestern parts of Canada, particularly the Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Alaska. Auroral displays can also be seen over the southern tip of Greenland and Iceland, the northern coast of Norway and over the coastal waters north of Siberia.
  • Southern auroras are not often seen as they are concentrated in a ring around Antarctica and the southern Indian Ocean.

 Getting to Abisko:     
  • Fly to Kiruna which is the nearest airport.
  • Take the train or the bus to Abisko.
  • The town Abisko has one train station whilst the Abisko National Park has another.
  • You could also arrange for a private taxi transfer but these are expensive unless you are travelling in a group.

I would recommend that you stay at the Abisko Touristation at the National Park as it is extremely beautiful. It is also in the midst of nature which is spectacular no matter if you visit during summer or winter. You also have access to the Abisko sky station which is one of the highest chairlifts in the Arctic. It can get really cold (here we are talking of -30C) so they give you boots, a warm jumpsuit and gloves.
Once you are up there, you can choose to either stay outside, though I guarantee you that you will not last long in the freezing cold or you could look outside the glass windows of the cozy warm café. They do have an explanation of the aurora and solar activity. We were lucky to have a very intelligent and witty guide.
Going up and down the chairlift can be a frightening experience if you have watched the movie Frozen but it can also be a very personal experience if you can absorb the silence and the greatness of the universe. You have to experience it yourself but imagine it is still, completely pitch dark (we are after all in one of the remotest places on earth) and there is no sound around you (we are in the midst of a national park). You are now being transported by chair ski lifts up the mountain and there is nothing else below you, around you. Above you is the clear sky full of bright stars and if you are lucky, very lucky, you will see the aurora.

If the Aurora does not motivate you to make a trip there, nothing else will.


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