It was two minutes past midnight, as I reclined on the comfortable couch of a luxurious expedition ship, somewhere on the high seas that surrounded the largest island in the world – Greenland. Miles of crystal icebergs stretched as far as the eye could see, scintillating in the soft glow of the Midnight Sun. A cup of hot chocolate in hand, I gazed out dreamily. It was difficult to believe that it was twelve days already since the time we set sail from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik.
The sailing route, the remote lands we visited, the friendly Innuits I met had been nothing short of extraordinary.
From Reykjavik, the ship had taken us to the unpronounceable Grundafjord in the Snaefellsnes peninsula in Iceland. Known as ‘Iceland in a nutshell’, massive snow covered hills, gurgling streams and waterfalls greeted us. Here the population of sheep and horses easily outnumbered the number of people. During a hike around the emerald pastures, a dog befriended me and bought me several stones in its mouth to play with. In a while, to my amazement, he decided to turn tour guide as he led me to a clearing where right in the middle of a farm was a huge pile of soft, pink shells. After rolling in the shells for a while, he led me to his master, a friendly farmer who was the owner of 700 sheep! Soon after, he ran at lightning speed with the farmer to round up errant sheep, saving me the pain of a tough good bye.
Over the next three days, we sailed through the windiest area in the world, where wind velocity could go as high as 44.7 miles an hour! Known as the ‘Greenland Tip Jet’, climatologists believe that these winds were a key factor in influencing climate change. The combination of strong winds and floating ice on the seas has challenged the most formidable navigators.
But very luckily for us, the Labrador Sea, the Strait of Denmark and the narrow, mountainous fjords were as calm as a lake. This was extremely rare and unusual, we were told. Sailing through a sea covered with vast stretches of sheet ice, ice floes and icebergs was definitely challenging to the captain, but was an absolute treat to our senses.
It is fascinating the number of places that start with Q in Greenland. The names of both our landings on our first day in Greenland started with Q. As a guide book wisely warned, never attempt pronouncing these names if you have toncils or a mouth full of food.
At the quaint town of Qaqqortok fringed by icebergs, the first thing that struck me was the very colourful houses sprinkled like paint on a giant canvas.
Half way across the world, at the very edge of civilized world, I had half expected people to be dressed in fur and traditional clothes. To my surprise, the first of the Innuits I met were dressed in denim and the latest fashion, using fancy mobile phones and smoking cigarettes! The extra large supermarket in the tiny town had fancy imports of virtually everything from Denmark and Sweden. Luckily on that day there was a Christian ceremony of confirmation taking place at a local church. There I met several locals dressed in their traditional dress made of fur and decorated with intricate multi coloured embroidery, with red being the dominant colour.
Qassiarsuk, our next stop was where the Vikings first settled and even today one can see archaeological ruins of Viking settlements and also a reconstructed house of ‘Eric the Red’, the Viking who discovered Greenland. Eskimos are also believed to have settled here earlier. This is a photo of innuits dressed as vikings.
The pretty, coastal fishing village had a sense of surreal beauty that filled me with a sense of meditative peace.
But, for all the sense of peace I felt, it was difficult to believe that Greenland was discovered due to a series of gruesome murders.
Hot headed tempers ran in the family of the red haired and red tempered ‘Erik the Red’. Erik’s father was exiled along with his family from Norway in 960 AD as a result of several cases of man slaughter. They then settled in Iceland. In 982 AD, Erik kept up the family tradition when he was exiled from Iceland for 3 years due to a series of murders and sailed north till he discovered Greenland. He returned to Iceland and using his great marketing skills, spoke of ‘Greenland’ that contrasted visually with ‘Iceland’ and managed to convince several people to return with him and start life afresh.
Before he ‘discovered’ Greenland and gave it an official place in the map, it had already seen a wave of several immigrations from the Paleo Eskimos and the Innuit tribes. By the year 1,000 AD Viking societies numbered around 3,000 on 30 – 40 farms and survived for around 500 years and then disappeared mysteriously. Possible reasons could be a colder climate, conflicts with Innuits and European Pirates etc.
Modern day Greenland has a self government rule under the political umbrella of Denmark.
Nuuk, the capital of Greenland was fascinating as a modern town on the surface, with a well developed local transport system, supermarkets and branded shops that coexisted with Innuits trying to keep up traditional ways of life, selling fresh catch of the day, dried seal blubber and hand made artefacts. A visit to the local museum and seeing the display of weapons, utensils, ornaments etc opens up a window to understanding more about the history of the Innuits, their lifestyle etc. The most interesting was a description on how the modern digitized world has bought traditional Greenlanders closer to the world outside, embracing so called ‘modernity’. It was disturbing when I thought about globalisation and digitization and how in such a short span of time, indigenous communities who had for centuries retained unique cultures had significantly given up their cultural identities like local dress and food that were so unique to them and embraced a homogenous culture of denim, coke and burgers.
At Sisimiut, I treated myself to a lavish buffet to traditional Greenlandic cuisine. Reindeer meat, musk ox meat, snow crabs, whale skin and blubber, dried fish and a variety of other local food were a gastronomic delight.
Later, I happened to stumble upon a husky dog farm, where several ‘off duty’ huskies sat stalwart against an interesting backdrop of snow covered hills, taking a break from long, dark winter months when they would pull sledges. Not wanting to mess with the large, wolf like dogs that were chained to their posts, I cuddled some adorable pups who had warmed up to me.
200 kms north of the Arctic Circle lies Incredible Illulisat. No trip to Greenland is complete without taking a boat trip through the ice fjords there. Surrounded by massive mountains of icebergs, each one sculpted beautifully over centuries by the very hand of God, one cannot help but feel like a mere pawn in a very large game plan. No words can ever do justice to what I felt, as the boat noiselessly took us through a landscape that resembled what in my mind, the world must have looked like at the beginning of time. The only sound that I heard was of melting ice that broke off in chunks and fell into the sea with a resounding crash.
This is a photo of a man on our boat ‘fishing’ for ice.
In the little fishing village of Ittilek, I attended a ‘Kaffemik’, a traditional affair of tea and Greenlandic snacks. My gracious hosts comprised a large joint family of Innuits, right from the great grandmother (to be) to her granddaughter who was expecting soon. They treated me to little slices of home baked bread topped with delicious prawns and eggs and a selection of sweets. We connected despite an obvious language barrier and our cultural exchange included me giving them some Indian earrings and they gifting me a handmade brooch.
The football World Cup fever had reached the tiny little village and we sat for a while watching a match tohether. It was interesting that this seemingly primitive settlement still had to dry fish in summers to eat in winter and, as they were cut off from the world in winter and a dry pit toilet was used. But, they had satellite TV!
This is a photo of a father and son duo who came to watch the football match.
Typical scene of animal horns used to decorate local houses.
Since this was our landing of our voyage, it was celebrated in style with a football match between the villagers and passengers from our ship.Both parties put up a very good show, with the match coming to a draw.
We headed south to Kangerlussaq, where I was surprised to see mosquitoes, that I hitherto thought was only a ‘tropical’ problem, travelling with us in our bus ride to the airport!
As our chartered flight took off for Copenhagen, giving us a spectacular aerial view of massive ice fields beneath, I felt a twinge of melancholy, mixed with a shot of divine bliss. The friendly Innuits and this landscape of superlative beauty had pushed me to many moments of self realization and to ponder seriously on issues ranging from global warming to globalization.
A quote by Huraki Murakami sums up my feelings best, “Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard.”
In this one sublime journey, I had lived a hundred beautiful lifetimes and a million wonderful dreams.
This article was published by DNA at this link.
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