Chasing the Lights

I’d been fascinated by the aurora borealis ever since I first heard of them, which was a long time ago as a child. A time before I knew travel would be such a big part of my life. A time when travel wasn’t even a dream, it was more like fantasy, in the same category as unicorns and fairies and pixie dust! When travel changed from being a fantasy to a dream, and then finally to reality, I wanted to go everywhere!  Every place held some intrigue. My first trip to a foreign country was to Turkey. I stayed at a hotel where my room looked out to the lovely Blue Mosque, all lit up in the shining in the dark night. I cannot describe to you the rush of emotions I felt as I opened the window to gaze out into that magical night! I imagine it’s probably how Harry Potter felt when he went through the barrier at King’s Cross and walked into platform 9 3/4 for the first time.

So while travel kept happening, my dream of seeing the northern lights remained forgotten, buried under a collection of similar wishes gathered from childhood. Last year though, it came to me again. And now that I was in a position to make it a reality, I started working on it. I started my research, worked out the best time to go there, applied for my vacation, tried to gather other people who’d be interested, started working on an itinerary, a budget… the works!

I swear, planning a trip is half the fun! The excitement mounts as you get closer to the date until it’s all you think about. Normal life passes by in a blur cos mentally, you’re already there! And then, if you’re anything like me, you want to try to contain the excitement, cos you’re worried you’ll end up being disappointed for whatever reason. I pray to the travel Gods for a smooth ride. I don’t even tell a lot of people where I’m actually going or what I’m going to do there until the very end, in case I jinx it somehow, cos I’m superstitious like that!

Norway is a fascinating country with a lot to offer, so we planned quite a busy itinerary and ended up with just one day to actually chase the northern lights, which, if you ask someone in the know, is quite a gamble, cos people go there and chase the lights for weeks on end without luck sometimes. A clear sky is required to see the lights, plus the lights (which is dependent on the sun flares) actually had to be there for us to see.

We had perfect weather all throughout our vacation- Oslo, Stavanger and Bergen was great (ranging from 0-10 degC), with sunny days and cold nights. I obsessively kept checking the aurora forecasts and hourly forecasts of the weather in Tromso for the 2nd of Oct, when we would be chasing the lights. But every time I checked, the predictions got worse. First it was just cloudy, then it became random showers, and then it turned to rain all friggin day! When I landed in Tromso, I checked the aurora forecast again. There had been some special activity from the sun the previous day, and whenever those rays reached the earth, there would be quite a display of lights. Unfortunately, it was raining incessantly, and the cloud cover was just ridiculous!

cloud cover over Tromso

Our Arctic Explorers guide Thomas suggested we start our journey early that evening and head out to Finland, where the skies were hopefully clearer, and maybe we’d have a chance to catch the lights there. As we drove out of Tromso, he talked about how he had had to cancel the previous night’s trip cos the weather was just too nasty and there was no chance of seeing the lights, and how the chances were slim tonight as well, but he was willing to give it a shot. He said that it was funny how sometimes people come and search for weeks and don’t see anything, and sometimes, some people come and join the chase for just one day, and they get lucky. I didn’t even dare hope that we might be one of those people.

We got to Kilpisjärvi, got out and looked up at the skies, marveling at how beautiful the stars were, how close it seemed… when I saw a faint white line and asked Thomas what it was.

“Oh you see that!” he smiled. ” Do you know what it is?”

“Is it the Milky Way?” I queried. “Yup… that’s wha…”  But before he could finish, the line started growing thicker and then were joined by other lines and then started moving and spreading around us and he shouted ” those are the northern lights! It’s starting!!!”

The northern lights

The northern lights

We got the best display of lights that night! It danced all around us and we weren’t sure where to look even, cos it was everywhere!

Sometimes like waves…

… sometimes like rain

This is happening far away in space, but it seems so close that you feel like you’re engulfed in its magnificence, like you’re inside it somehow. It turned red and purple at points, but was mainly white and green. At times it danced around like rainfall, at times in lazy waves.

sometimes purple

sometimes purple

The magnificence of the Universe is humbling, and I felt privileged to be there in the face of such splendour. It quieted me and my restless soul. Usually at the end of a vacation, I’m busy thinking “where next?”.

This time though, I’m content to just be.


* All photos of the northern lights taken by Thomas Hunger, our guide from The Arctic Explorers


6 thoughts on “Chasing the Lights

    • Sanjana says:

      I get a month off from work, I split it into week-long vacations and include the weekends, which makes each vacation last approx 10 days, give or take a couple of days. :)

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