If you’ve succumbed to the dance of the green goddess, then just go and make your own stories. Let the distance or the night air that kisses your face at -30C not deter you. Just kidding!! I have been addicted to pictures of the Northern Lights for many years and sighed often, because hot and humid Mumbai seemed crazy far from the Artic Circle. A dear friend Charles in one of our travel chats got me all wondering about the Solar Minimum. I’ll tell you about it soon, but that was enough for me to take a spot decision to go see the sky drama.
LOCATION MATTERS WHEN YOU ARE CHASING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
Before I share pictures of my happiest 4 nights last December, I must tell you why I picked Abisko. To be honest I’d heard tons about catching the lights in Finland (next year, I’ve promised myself) and some more about Norway. But then when you are heading that far and for the 1st time, you do want to get lucky pretty much every day. Besides I knew a 1-2 night stop over was risking it. After all Mother Nature is at her fickle best when she puts on this show.
AT 68° NORTH, 250 KM WITHIN THE ARTIC CIRCLE LIES ABISKO
The perfect destination to see the Lights. It is. And the Photo Adventure team I hung out with, was brimming with confidence when they said that a 4 night stay meant a 100% chance of seeing it atleast once. I saw the gorgeous spectacle all 4 nights. Two of those sightings were an absolute delight. Abisko is one of those rare places that can truly boast of clear skies on most nights. Get there in November, right until March and the darkest nights will show you the brightest and most vivid palette. Surrounded by mountains, Abisko is the one destination where you can be sure the skies don’t get covered by the clouds as often.
(U-shaped Lapporten over Lake Torneträsk. Believed by the Sami people to symbolically represent the gateway into Abisko)
If you are heading to see the Northern Lights just once, get to Abisko. If you are beginning your chase, then make this your 1st. Not just for the Northern Lights but for the Ice Hotel, dog sledding and lot more. Abisko and just a few hours away Jukkasjärvi, gives you a lot to see and experience. The Sami reindeer people live here and while none of them stay in their original habitat, it is wonderful to get a glimpse of their lives in times of yore.
ENJOYED EVERY DAY OF SAYING ‘FINGERS CROSSED’ WITH LIGHTS OVER LAPLAND
To be honest spot decisions don’t often materialize or so I thought when I kept punching the ‘right way to see the lights’. I found Lights over Lapland (LOL) by default, but what excited me was they were really a Photo Adventure group. I totally enjoy meeting people who do something for the love of it. In photography often I have found kindred spirits. I was traveling to Abisko only for the lights and LOL gave a fab choice of making every night a photo journey. Just 10 of us were together chasing the lights for those 4 nights and with Sarah our amazingly patient, happy & helpful guide we landed up making each evening a lucky one.
(View from my room in Hotel STF Abisko)
Sarah is a wildlife & aurora borealis photographer and it’s a treat to see some of her pictures too. Especially got all starry eyed seeing the pictures of the lights, hoping I’d have many of my own. If I could I would every day send out a beaming smile & a hug to Chad who founded LOL for this really cool concept and even more as he took the trouble to answer my zillion questions before I paid up. Also Team LOL ensured I had a vegetarian feast and we were ready with just the right clothes/equipment. Gosh I still remember the preparation at 7.30 PM. The anticipation was half the fun. DAY 1 / SHOW OPENING
What a 1st day!! I am old fashioned at times like these. So after wearing 6 layers of warm clothing and one large insulated piece that made me look like a spaceman, I just looked up at the sky with twinkling hope in my eyes. Almost pleading that I don’t get frozen in the -18C temperature for the 3-4 hours I was going to be outside and the skies do come alive. A ‘once upon a time’ Sami hut became our makeshift warm zone. And just so that my hand didn’t completely forget sunny Mumbai, I slipped in a couple of times with the rest to relax in the heat of the fireplace, while glugging some lingonberry juice. Just yum.
And then the show began like curtains unveiling the most dazzling set I had ever seen in the roof of our planet. I first saw a dash of purple-violet almost running down the expanse of the sky. And then faint traces of a grayish-green silken fabric showed up in waves. Stars created a carpet of sparkles. And the best of it got captured by the lens. Truth be told the Northern Lights don’t look quite as dark green and the dancing can be seen by the naked eye only in the area where it’s most intense. It’s the camera though that truly captures the colors unabashedly. Here is the night act as it happened
DAY 2 / BLINK AND YOU’LL MISS
A day of mixed emotions. Well the lights did flash across the sky but stayed perhaps for just a short while. I heard murmurings of the solar activity not being so heavy that day. And while we did have a pretty location with a little warm up tent and a lonesome tree for company, the the sky and the lights seemed to have gone for a short break
What I loved though was clutching on to the railings of the snowmobile with a carriage, that took us to that distant location. I was reminded of the trivia given that evening before we set out that it was a stop point for bears, but since they were hibernating they would pretty much not drop by to say hello. Errr!!
DAY 3 / WHEN I FROZE AT THE AURORA SKY STATION
The ride by cable car to the mountain top was beautiful but it also gave me a hint of the coldest waves I had ever experienced. No amount of insulation could get me out of the restaurant that was my only cocoon for the night. We were atop the mountain (Mt. Nuolja) 900m above sea level and the scene below from there was terrific. Again the lights flashed across just as we were leaving for the sky station in our snowmobile, but the clouds played spoil sport. Despite the looming mountains there are moments like these which can change what the night comes dressed in.
DAY 4 / THE CLOSING ACT
I concluded that my 1st ever trip was utterly rewarding. Picture a yurt lit up with warm lights that give a pale orange hue. Frame the aurora borealis against that and another act is waiting to come alive. The final day, the final act gave us another stunning display.
It was true after all. Abisko gave me 2 nights of fantastical moments with the lights and topography. Not to forget the Geminid meteor shower that made the sky seem as if a lit canon ball show was on.
I hope I’ve inspired you enough to get out there and see it LIVE. I promise, you will have a different experience every time you see the lights open up. Mother Nature is truly imaginative, fresh and utterly spontaneous.
HOW TO GET THERE & WHEN
Figure out the way to Kiruna Airport (my route was via Stockholm). I have to admit with all the snowing & no sign of the runway I wondered how the plane would land. Silly me! The bus ride thereafter from Kiruna to Abisko took just under 2 hours. Get there anytime between November – March, but be prepared to see daylight for the shortest possible time. When I was there it was reasonably bright by 8.30 AM and dark by 2.30 PM or so.
You can book your transportation with VisitAbisko or even through LOL if you join them for their adventure.
DO YOU NEED A GUIDE?
It would seriously help to have a local, who could read the weather and translate the reading of the geomagnetic activity. Who knows places with the most awesome landscape and takes you to remote places within the Abisko National Park which otherwise wouldn’t be possible by yourself.
WILL THE SOLAR MINIMUM PHASE AFFECT SIGHTINGS?
So this is how you see the lights. All the electromagnetic matter that the Sun has decided to expel, when it hurtles towards earth interacts with gases (atoms & molecules). When it meets with oxygen the color green stuns. With nitrogen its the purple-violet shade. This much talked about Minimum or phase of lesser intensity is around the corner. But what it really means is with time it gets concentrated closer to regions within the Artic Circle. To be precise between latitudes 66° North to 69°, which is just above the Artic Circle
This means you need to get closer to poles to see the show and must not try chasing it in the current oft visited places. So Abisko would most definitely be a place to see these show stoppers.
Well that’s my overwhelming experience of the lights that have forever ruled my imagination. Eternally grateful. Will I do it again? Most definitely.
Have you been there too? Would love to hear about your Northern Lights moments and see your sky drama. For those heading there, HAPPY SIGHTING.
(Photo Credits: Lights over Lapland)6