Monday, February 26, 2018

My Aurora Borealis experience in Norway

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.
The greatest firework on earth – Aurora Borealis.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

What does money mean to you

A friend asked me this - What does money mean to you? I didn't have an immediate answer. Money - the great manipulative tool invented by mankind. What does it mean to me - NOW? Perhaps that would've been a more appropriate question. Our needs and wants change as we go through phases in life. Our experience teaches us a lot.

For some, money is a motivator - makes you do awesome things. It enables us to reach for the stars, to invent, innovate, to create. It makes us endure our struggles with a smile, enjoy that mundane job, keep us sane in the most insane environment. On the face, money is a tool to obtain what you want. Everything costs money. But deep within, it means more than a mere tool. For most of us money - it means many things. It means freedom, power, security, happiness, respect, reassurance and love.

When I was young, money for me was a way to obtain things my parents wouldn't buy for me. Simple! I wanted Diary Milk chocolate. It was a luxury those days. After months of nagging; my father would buy a slab and break it into half to be shared between my brother and I. I used to think that when I grew up and made money; I would buy lots of chocolates as and when I need. I need not have to depend on my dad. So, money then was a tool to gain freedom. It's another story that I don't like chocolates now :-)

These days, I work because I need money to pay my bills. Gone are the days when technology was passion. I think after having worked over a decade; it gets saturated. All that hoopla of learning and creating awesome stuff weans off. It could be due to various factors - opportunities that don't come easy, lack of support and the daily struggle of life. These days its about paying my mortgage and my bills. I have even reduced buying things for me - no more buying gadgets and footwear that I once so loved. I suppose most of us go through this phase, isn't? You want to acquire material comforts, car, house and then at one point it just does not make sense? Maybe not for all of us. There are folks who keep acquiring wealth, for their children and their children. Then there are some who see money as power and so keep hoarding money and properties.

I do think about future as well. How would I sustain if I didn't earn actively. How about my health? How long will I live? So the security part is something that I haven't got quite convinced. What if I save and save and then I die early? So this one is a bummer right? We still have to save for a rainy day.

Oh! I do indulge in my passion; that is traveling. Need a bit of money for that.  Nothing beyond that. I am glad that I have not been greedy. So when I actually think about what money means to me; it has been a tool for me to remain independent and to pursue my interests.