Those mystical greenish dance of lights, an enigmatic natural phenomenon occurring in the northern hemisphere are comparable to none. Having read about the Aurora Borealis in school; it had been my dream ever since to experience this wonder. My perseverance finally paid off when I booked a flight to Copenhagen for the second week of November. The plan was to fly into Tromso, north of Norway, one of the best spots to catch the lights.
For someone like me from a tropical place; winter in the arctic region was quite an experience. The warmest it got was 0 C. Layers of clothes and mugs of hot chocolates don’t help much. The chill wind hitting your face makes you feel as if you are sitting in a freezer set on the lowest possible temperature. I have been in the subarctic region earlier once; in Iceland. That was during summer; not the kind of summer that we tropical folks know with loads of sunshine and flip flops and straw hats. Nevertheless; there was no brazen wind waiting to freeze your hands the moment you remove those gloves to click a picture of the spectacular landscape around you.
There are tours you can sign up in Tromso to “chase” Aurora Borealis. Since it was the primary reason to have ventured that north, my friend and I chose a tour on that very day we landed. There are few revelations about the northern lights occurrence that we didn’t know earlier. It was not that I was expecting the lights to be dancing throughout the day. The aurora is elusive and skittish. No one can really predict the time and place when one could catch a glimpse of the lights. It depends on many factors; like the skies being dry and clear, the location and of course tons of luck. I had also researched well about how to take good pictures of northern lights with a DSLR – the shutter speed, focus and all that nuances. Need to capture them to show off on social media, right?
A couple of hours before starting for the tour; a mate in the hostel I was staying prepared me for what to expect. He went for a tour the day before. I didn’t really think it was necessary then, but I thanked him tons after the tour. After the initial guidelines from the guide and the usual “It’s all up to nature ultimately” sermon; we started at about 7 PM. The tour is a “chase” where we set out in a group of 8 in a bus and drive out of the city lights for about an hour or two until we find the aurora. You need a dark spot without any other light interference for better chance of seeing the lights. We stopped at a spot; grabbed our camera and tripod; got out and adjusted the settings and gazed at the sky. The wind was brutal, the thermal suit, gloves and caps were not at all a match to the freezing negative temperature. All we could see was a sky. “Where?” desperate for a flick. We saw a thin grey streak for few seconds like the tail vapour of a jet. The guide took a couple of quick photos (You see, since they are doing this day in and day out, they have the camera set to right settings to capture the lights, including the height of tripod). The clouds hovered over in a short time and we had to leave. We roamed around for another hour or so desperately trying to catch a glimpse. The lights just decided it was not ready to show up in the locations we went. Resigned to ill fate; we returned to hostel just before midnight with promises from the guide to share the photos he clicked.
Now; this is what Northern Lights are – mysterious. There was nothing close to how they looked on photos versus how they were seen to the naked eye. No wonder there are many folk tales and legends surrounding the lights. It is not easy to give up on northern lights that easily. So a second trip was booked for the third night of the stay. Don’t they say you get surprises when you least expect. On the second day while returning from our drive to Lyngen Alps (this warrants a separate post); we saw a grey haze in the sky. Oh! I should’ve mentioned, by now we got accustomed to the fact that lights dont show up as electric green to your naked eye. It’s only the camera that can capture that color. To a naked eye; a whitish glow is a sign of northern lights. A stop on the road and a rush to unpack the camera gear and seeing the picture confirmed that we did spot northern lights. Totally unplanned and unexpected. It was difficult to capture it on camera though since we were on the road and lights from vehicles constantly crossing us didn’t give many good chances. Nonetheless; a few stops and many tries later; I did manage a couple of pictures.
We got lucky on the third night when we had booked for a trip. The lights that night at the location was literally all over the sky and green enough for the naked eye. They blazed the sky, sweeping and swaying like a graceful dancer. They put up a spectacular show for complete ten minutes before coming to an abrupt end. I stood there speechless; unaware of the gusty wind that was knocking me down or the cold numbing my bones. I waited holding my camera, like a lovelorn teenager; feeling forsaken. I did not take hundreds of time lapse pictures or video as I had carefully planned. I just lost it all. The guide suggested we move since the wind was really harsh that night. Everyone had at least one broken camera equipment, courtesy the wind.
I saw the lights even on the last night of my stay as we were casually walking along the main street in downtown Tromso. Words are inadequate to describe what the Aurora Borealis look like and how I felt every time. But the sense of awe that accompanies an encounter gives you goosebumps.