Day 6: Beginning of the end – Winter is here

It was a totally random crazy idea to make a trip to Svalbard. I had seen this Island on list of 50 or so countries Indians can go without visa and had checked out wondering if it would be possible to go up there. While planning the trip to Kiruna and Tromsø , I realized it was not that difficult to extend it to Svalbard. Theoretically anyone with a passport can go to Svalbard. In reality however flights are operated only from Norway and hence it requires a multi-entry Schengen visa to embark on this adventure.

Svalbard is an arctic desert and experiences polar night from end of October till mid of February. My days in Svalbard were the first few days after the region slowly wakes unto the daylight. Even though the days were shorter, it wasn’t completely dark even after the sunset. The region was filled with a magical bluish light called polar twilight. Longyearbyen is the main town with just around 200 inhabitants. This is the northernmost town on the planet. They had however all the basic amenities required for a permanent settlement like a hospital, school, university, bakery to produce freshly baked bread and even a brewery. The main means of transportation was snowmobiles and they even outnumber the number of people living there. Being around 1000km away from North Pole, this is even used as a starting point for North Pole expeditions. The town came into existence owing to abundant coal deposits. Mining and tourism remains the two major sources of income. It offers plethora of winter activities like dog sledging, ice caving, snow mobiles, hiking and Northern lights. However it is so far up in the north that if often falls beyond the aurora oval that the Northern lights are better visible in more southern towns than in this Island. People come also in summer in large cruise ships, during the course of which they literally double the population of the town. They go on cruises around the island to catch glimpses of the arctic wildlife including polar bears.

I reached the airport in the afternoon and my host from Airbnb picked me up from the airport. I decided to go out immediately and have a quick look around before it gets dark. It was a cloudy and windy day and hence there was very limited visibility to the mountains around. I went to the city tourist information center to book some trips for the next day. I managed to get a city tour and was informed that all other trips were cancelled in response to a storm warning. I was little disappointed but decided to keep my hopes up.

I strolled through the town fighting the occasional winds. I walked up to the city limit which had the famous polar bear warning symbol. I was told by a lady that it was illegal to go beyond without a rifle and I should immediately go back. It was late in the afternoon and was already dark. She also emphasized that the sign itself is no protection against the bears and there were four polar bears in the town just a couple of weeks back. I decided to walk back, taking the local advice seriously and later learned that what she said was true. The polar bears had come to the town but didn’t create any havoc. I visited the polar dogs on the way back and was perplexed to hear them cry out loud. The owner told me that they are just talking with each other. It became colder and the winds grew stronger on my way back and I had to cover even the little part of my face that was exposed. The mysterious winds with howling of huskies in the background omened that something that was going to happen.

 

Longyearbyen:

Huskies:

Spotted Polar Deer:

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