From ice fishing to spotting the Aurora Borealis, Sameer Azad and his friends have been on the “trip of a lifetime”. Adventure enthusiasts and travel junkies that they are, they wanted to explore places less travelled and so opted for Slovenia and the Kola Peninsula in Russia.
These places are known in part for their extreme climates, and this is no doubt one of the reasons tourists tend to steer clear of them. Sameer travelled to the Loverzero district and Murmansk, a city--and administrative centre for the adjoining areas of the Kola Peninsula, located in the far northwest of Russia. “Travelling to such places is hard because they are located in the interior regions. And the language is also the biggest barrier for tourists, as most of the population there speaks only Russian,” says Sameer. But that wasn’t a problem for him, because he had learnt Russian when he was in Moscow for a research programme a few years ago.
He says the people of Loverzero were cordial and their hospitality was overwhelming. Local students performed their cultural dance for Sameer and his group. “They were so happy with our visit and, as a matter of fact, we were told that we were the first Indians to step on their soil,” he says. “That made us feel spectacular because we did something that nobody from our country had done.” They hired snowmobiles for transportation and explored the Tundra region, a vast terrain mostly covered in snow and located on or near the Arctic Circle. The fun there included husky and reindeer sledging, and ice fishing. “We spent hours together fishing, and if we drew a blank, we would leave our rods overnight and come the next morning to collect the fish, if any. We had a great time sitting in the snow and talking our hearts out”.
They also had the opportunity to taste various authentic delicacies, and among them were caviar on bread, fish soup, and reindeer meat, which is the only meat that is widely available in Loverzero. “We stayed in small cabins in the tundra; they weren’t luxurious but were quite decent for a place so far from the cities.”
Then came the terrific experience of seeing the Aurora Borealis, which can be sighted in the North Pole.
Auroras are a play of lights seen in the sky around the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. The auroras that appear near the South Pole are known as Aurora Australis. The cause of the auroras is the collision between charged particles released from the sun and gases like oxygen and nitrogen present in the earth’s atmosphere. Although green is the most common colour seen, the Aurora Borealis can appear in other colours, including red, violet, yellow and blue. “We were very lucky to spot the Aurora displays, as I was told by many of my friends and relatives that they hadn’t seen the lights when they visited. My friends and I set alarms every 30 minutes and took turns to go out and look for the gleam. The weather was so extreme that underneath the protective gear we’d rented, we wore five layers along with knee-length boots and ear and face guards every single time we had to step out of our cabin. Finally, we spotted the green lights around four in the morning and everything seemed worthwhile. The view was spectacular and this was definitely one of the biggest highlights of our trip.”
Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital is known for its greenery, museums and cafés. And amidst all this is Metelkova, an unconventional culture community. This district is home to hundreds of artists and graffiti painters. “There is graffiti on every building, and the artists make things out of metal, waste and various other things,” Sameer recalls. “It was a very colourful place and I highly recommend people to visit it”.
Sameer and his amigos preferred to walk around the place rather than hire a vehicle, as most of the places were nearby and during their stroll they’d come across one of the best food joints in the capital city: Pop’s Place, also known as Pop’s Burger. “I mostly avoid junk food but we wanted to try the food there and – I am not exaggerating – they were the best burgers I’ve had in my entire life. The owner was a very sweet man; he gave us free drinks knowing that we were Indians. When asked what the secret behind his burgers was, he said that they pound, marinate, and freeze the meat for 30 days prior to cooking.”
Fifty-five kilometres from Ljubljana is Lake Bled, with Bled Island that features many architectural highlights. But at the top of the list is the Assumption of Mary Church. “We travelled to the island on a ferry and the view from the water was spellbinding. One can see the church wondrously reflected in the lake.”
All in all, the adventure lasted 18 days, and the itinerary also included Budapest in Hungary and Vienna in Austria.
..... Sneha Reddy