The Travel Talkies debuted amidst insightful conversations between travel enthusiasts and an excited audience. The stories exchanged were not your run of the mill kind but tales of grit and passion. Bottomline, Travel Talkies was here to stay, and Team Kosha was over the moon. Now the task of presenting an even better second edition was on our mind. As if on cue, the Northern Lights chose us.
The Aurora Borealis, commonly known as the Northern lights is on every traveler’s wish list. And why not? Nature puts up a spectacular show of the dancing lights above the earth’s magnetic poles. Of course, there are so many questions when one undertakes an adventure like this. If only we could talk to folks who had a first-hand experience rather than Google, so many questions would find better answers.
Come 16th March 2018, and Team Kosha was all set at Title Waves, Bandra to make this evening one of a kind.
Yuktie took to the stage with brief introductions and promised to present breath-taking travel tales of the Scandinavian countries. Our first speaker for the evening was Chhavi Sachdev, a radio, web, and print journalist by training, and a podcaster and independent radio producer. This travel enthusiast and a die-hard Kosha loyalist had chased the Northern Lights in Iceland and Sweden, and this was her story.
“I wish life worked as per schedule because the Northern Lights have evaded me much to the amusement of my family who feels I squander any extra cash that comes in to chase my dream.”
“I visited Iceland in October 2014 along with a few members of my Kung Fu group in the US. We took the Northern Lights tour bus from the hotel. These tour operators are organized and have special maps, radar and scanning equipment to make optimum use of the sighting. That night was clear, and we were excited. 45 hopeful people on the bus waiting for nature’s magic to take over. Somewhere between our wait and 4 pm, the excited driver shouted that there were flares in the west. So, we took a turn and headed in that direction. Once we reached the venue, we got off the bus and were greeted by the biting cold and some green spots in the sky that were such a dampener to our expectations. The tour was a waste, at least for me. My friends and I had a trip lined up across the Southern strip of Iceland. However we kept chasing the Northern Lights pretty much every night, but no luck. Nothing prepares you for the cold that numbs your senses. We returned without capturing the phenomenon that we had traveled miles for, but we got to see the raw beauty of Iceland. Also, the thing about these tours is that if you don’t get to see the Northern Lights, your pass is valid for a lifetime. So, my next trip to Sweden in 2016 was on the same coupon.”
“Sweden was a work trip, so I couldn’t exactly hop on a bus and roam. We did go to Uppsala on the outskirts but as luck would have it, no sightings of the Northern Lights. I was scheduled to visit Norway this February. Unfortunately, that plan fell through. The quest continues, and I am still determined to make it happen. Finland, Norway, and Denmark are on my bucket list. I made two winter trips and returned empty-handed while I have friends who have visited in summer months, have stepped out for a smoke and have witnessed a stupendous show. If jealousy had a name, it would be me. But I am not giving up and maybe next time when I talk about my expedition, I would have conquered the Northern Lights.”
Keep these tips handy.
- Iceland is expensive. So, plan accordingly.
- Traveling is easy, and people are friendly.
- Pronunciation is extremely difficult.
“Having said that, it is a trip of a lifetime. Make sure to tick it off your bucket list.”
Chhavi ended her anecdote about her unfulfilled dream. That’s when Yuktie stepped in with words of wisdom mentioning how even though our expectations with the Northern Lights are high, there is science and astronomical facts that we must consider. And that is where our next guest fit right in.
Mr Arvind Paranjpye is the director of Nehru Planetarium of Nehru Centre, Mumbai and comes with more than 30 years of experience. Astronomy is his passion. He started his professional career as an assistant in the photographic laboratory of Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore in December 1981. Besotted by astronomy, he was involved in the science popularisation activity of IUCAA. Right from observing & photographing four solar eclipses to hosting sky shows on All India Radio at Pune and Mumbai, Mr Paranjpye was the man of the hour, and Travel Talkies was delighted to have him. Here’s a gist of what he shared.
“I am not as entertaining as Chhavi and hence will try not to bore you with inconsequential details. What I can share is how to capture the Aurora, the goddess of the dawn.There are Southern Lights, too called Aurora Australis.”
“The sun is the source of energy for earth. It is also an active body that throws out charged particles termed as Auroral mass rejection. Many of these particles explode and travel towards north and south poles with the speed of few hundred kilometres per second. During this journey, they encounter the magnetic fields of the earth, combine with oxygen and emit electrons giving out radiations. And due to this, we get to see magnificent colours in the skies.The Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis happen simultaneously. It’s beautiful to behold and difficult to photograph as they aren’t predictable. So, here are some tips on how best to achieve those elusive pictures.”
- Make sure your digital cameras have the sufficient number of batteries. The wait might be extended.
- Basic photography skills are always handy. To capture star trails, you will need a long shutter speed 5-30 seconds. Since the intensity is low, the ISO rating could be within 800 to 3200. Your aperture should be on the lower side to ensure more light enters the lens.
- Don’t use a filter to capture this phenomenon but do carry a tripod for stable images.
- Wear adequate winter wear to stay protected else among other issues, your hands might pain and freeze, and it won’t be a good experience.
- The Solar Cycle lasts approximately for 11 years. During this time, the sun gets sunspots, and that results in solar flares or coronal mass ejection (CME’s). Bottomline, it is ideal to catch the Aurora during this phase.
“The Northern Lights are an interesting phenomenon, and you must visit them well prepared.”
And with that, Mr.Paranjpye handed over the dais to Yuktie, once again who asked the audience to look up Mr.Paranjpye’s blog www.skytonight.wordpress.com for more astronomical information.
She then went on to call our third speakers for the evening, a dynamic couple who love to travel. Ankur and Megha Poddar are Kosha veterans. Megha is an investment banker, while Ankur is an International Operations Specialist. Two things that set them off from other travelers is this. One, they choose the most off-beat destinations for their travel bucket list. And two, Ankur has such in-depth insights of the place. Before heading to Norway and Iceland, he put over 200 hours of research. And this is how it went.
Ankur: Let me tell you how I landed up in Scandinavia, hunting for the Northern Lights. Our love for travel started with our honeymoon, three years ago.
Megha: We didn’t want the run of the mill destinations so we went with New Zealand and we fell in love with it. It’s so sparsely populated, and being from Mumbai, it was a shocker. I am sure the population of Andheri is more than Singapore.
She continued between some giggles and laughter.
Megha: A road trip is the best way to explore New Zealand, and I returned dreaming about relocating to NZ but made peace with a travel consultancy firm dedicated to NZ, that eventually failed.
Ankur: We decided on an international holiday every year. Post a predictable Thailand, Megha wanted to see snow next. I decided to take her to the coldest place on this planet. Alaska was too expensive, so Scandinavia it was, post a well-done research on Iceland, Norway & Svalbard (the northernmost permanent human settlement with a population of 2000.) The trip was more in search of snow and less people, rather than the lights. Our joy on a holiday is inversely proportional to the population of the place. We explored the beauty and indulged in adventure sports. And we saw a glimpse of the Northern Lights while driving. And even before we knew it, they were gone. So, our trip worked the other way around for us.
Megha: We were encouraged to travel more. And, here are our travel tips.
- You can either chase the Northern Lights, or enjoy the place, but you can’t do both. The reason behind that, the lights are visible only when it’s cold and dark. So, you could go exclusively on the Northern Lights trip, and give a natural beauty a miss or perhaps return massively disappointed. Alternatively, go on a relaxed holiday, and treat the Northern Lights as a bonus.
- The predictions during the season are almost accurate. Plan your trip around them. There are specific tour operators who cater to this sector and take you to different points from where you can see the lights.
- Be prepared for the extreme weather because the colder and darker it is, the chances of visibility are higher. Use the Northern Lights alarm services at most hotels.
Ankur: We never went looking for Northern Lights. Instead, we enjoyed our holiday to the fullest. During my research, I found a place named Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finland that has glass igloos for a magnificent view from your room. Perhaps, we will do another trip specifically to see them.
Yuktie returned to the stage, and the mixed emotions in the room were evident. The Northern Lights seemed to be evading us all. What were the chances of spotting it?
Well, our final speaker for the evening could perhaps shed some light on it. Lillian Mendes is a dancer par excellence. Her company, Dance Planet specializes in the dance forms of Salsa, Jive, Ballroom, and Bollywood. She also teaches on Madhuri Dixit’s website and has been featured on favourite dance shows like Jhalak Dikhlaja, Boogie Woogie, and Nach Baliye. And this is what she shared with us.
“As a dancer, I started traveling at an early age in troupes. My first show was in Hong Kong. Post work, we’d head out to explore the city. That was how my love for travel began. A friend of mine, Kailash and I normally take trips together because of our choices in food and activities. I began looking for holiday packages, but nothing appealed to our pockets. So, I began my research by reading blogs, articles, and contacting travel agents. My DIY efforts resulted in a budget-friendly travel plan across five countries – Norway, Sweden, Brazil, Iceland and lastly, Amsterdam. And of course, the highlight of the trip was to capture the Northern Lights and hence we were spending maximum time in Iceland. Just for this, we went luxurious on our budget and found a hotel named The Northern Light Inn. The great thing about this hotel was that you can see the lights through the window in the comfort of your room. There was no need to venture out in the cold.”
“We reached the picturesque hotel one afternoon, but the weather did not seem promising. There’s nothing much to do around this hotel, so we decided to grab some dinner. At 8.30 pm, in the middle of our meal, there was an announcement about the sighting of the lights. And all of us just rushed out! 9th October 2015, I’ll never forget that date. I saw the dancing lights changing colour and shape for at least 30 minutes. No pictures could do justice to what I witnessed. And we still had three more days to go.”
“Iceland is gorgeous, and there’s so much to explore, so we headed out the next day. And believe it or not, that evening, I saw the Northern Lights again, post-dinner on my little walk. I just stood there taking it all in. As I mentioned that this hotel was on the expensive side, so we checked out the next day and moved to the main city. We booked a recommended tour and headed into the night. After an hour of travel, we stopped at a café. And while we were sitting and sipping coffee, we got lucky a third time. The brightest and best show of the three nights but the cold kept making me run to sip my hot coffee every 5 minutes. But the night was magical.”
“So, basically I had a hat-trick on Northern Lights sightings. Now we were so mesmerised by these lights, that we decided to give up clubbing and chase them once again. And I think they knew because good weather and a clear sky combined to give us another grand performance. And we felt we were the luckiest folks on the planet. Alaska is on our wishlist. I recommend this trip of a lifetime to all. And here is my list of tips.
- Iceland can be a DIY project. Instead of booking from here, do it yourself, it will be comparatively cheaper.
- If possible try to do these Scandinavian countries together starting with Sweden, Norway and then Iceland.
- The Igloo hotel in Finland, which Ankur was talking about, is a great option but it’s always occupied. You will have to book at least two years prior.
As Lillian ended her incredible story, we couldn’t help but notice that from no-shows to four back to back sightings, the Northern Lights were enthralling us. Yuktie stepped in to mention how each speaker had stressed on being adequately geared for the Scandinavian winter. Fortunately, no guessing game there because Kosha has got your back. Our winter wear collection ensures that you will be warm and comfortable at all times, in all icy terrains.
Yuktie also introduced our media partner 4Play, the first channel from the East in the outdoor and adventure space. They are putting their best foot forward to bring India on the outdoor and adventure map. A teaser of their short film, The Great Indian Tamasha – Base Jump in India was also screened.
The Q&A session saw some delightful banter between our speakers and the audience. Some of the interesting questions are here, verbatim.
Diipti: As you mentioned the peak time to see the lights is during the solar cycle, so is there any website to get the dates for Canada for the next season?
Mr Pranjpye: The peak time lasts for a couple of years. A good 4-6 days trip with an eye on the predictions will get up your chances of a sighting.
Member from the Audience: How do we get lucky enough to see the lights? What did you do?
Lillian: I don’t know, and I have been asked this question umpteen times. I don’t call myself lucky, but very lucky. I can only say give it time as that’s a natural phenomenon.
Shachi: How often do lights change colour? Is there any specific time to travel or a wavelength you should be able to capture? I have seen green hues in most pictures.
Lillian: To be honest, we had no idea about the changing colours and I, too, witnessed the green lights. I believe, Paranjpye Sir would be able to shed more light on this scientific phenomenon.
Mr Paranjpye: As I mentioned, the colour is due to the charged particles interacting with the oxygen and nitrogen in the earth’s atmosphere. At higher altitudes, the tones are red, while the lower altitudes are predominantly green.
Pamphlets were handed out of Mr. Paranjpye’s recently initiated free lab project. The Hands-on Laboratory project is meant for the kids from 7th to 9th std. Generally, in schools, children don’t get to perform adequate scientific experiments and hence this free lab provides them that opportunity.
Another fantastic event came to an end. Travel stories don’t come to an end. In fact, they become legends over a period. It was exhilarating way beyond our expectations. A massive round of applause for our speakers for making this edition a power-packed one. Title Waves, Team Kosha, and all the partners take a bow.
Do look out for the next post where we talk more about travelling to see the Northern Lights.
Do write to us what you’d like to talk about at the upcoming sessions.
If you have any stories for us, then shoot us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org