What does it take to climb Mt. Everest?

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”

-Edmund Hillary

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Many of us have read about people who have climbed Mt. Everest. But, I don’t know any of them personally. It is something to read about such individuals in newspapers and appreciate and applaud their efforts. But, when one of your friends climbs Mt. Everest it is a different feeling of pride and admiration all together.

Now such an individual is Brij Mohan Sharma or Breeze Sharma as we runners call him. I have known him for many years and have had the privilege to run several ultra-marathons with him almost end-to-end.

And Breeze recently became the first civilian from the Indian Navy to summit Mount Everest.

Breeze tried to climb Everest in 2015, but his attempt came to a halt following an avalanche, in which he was buried under heavy snow. All of us who knew of his expedition, know how much he had invested in this effort, including selling his bike to fund his trip.

But, he did not give up on hope. A year later, in 2016 he participated in what is considered as the toughest Ultramarathon in the world- Badwater 135 miles race and successfully finished it to become the fastest Indian at the world’s toughest foot race. And only two Indians have finished this race so far.

This year, he also broke his own previously-held record of 24-hour Treadmill-Running Asian Record by clocking 202.50 km in the timespan of 24 hours. And that’s not all. He has finished many 135 mile and 100 mile running events-and he makes it look completely effortless.

Having run many marathons with him, I know him as a person with tremendous grit and determination. But Mt. Everest we all know is a different beast all together. Many of us aspire to climb it someday.

Here I had my own set of questions for him on his journey to the peak of the highest mountain in the world:

What made you set your eyes on climbing Mt. Everest?

Since it’s the highest peak in the world, it attracted me right from the beginning of my mountaineering days. This was way back in 1993. Whenever I went climbing other peaks, I felt closer to the almighty. It was a feeling that this is how closer I can get to the God and this is how the world looks from the top.
How did you book the expedition?

I booked the expedition through my Sherpa, Phurba Sherpa from Darjeeling. I did not book it through any company.

Everest is considered as a financially denting, expensive expedition. How did you manage to fund it?

For both the attempts, I paid a sum of Rs. 45 lacs in total, out of which Rs. 21 lac was raised by Indian Navy, Rs.5 lacs given by my batch mates and  the rest I borrowed from friends, relatives and banks.

 

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How did you begin your training?

I prepared with regular gym workouts and long runs. Also, I had an advantage of having a vast experience doing a few summits before. However, unfortunately, I could not find time to scale one 7000 mtr. peak before my departure, which is extremely important.
This was your second attempt, the first expedition got called off due to earthquake and avalanche. What was that feeling like when you had to return?

It was unbearable. I can never forget the feeling when I was leaving the base camp in 2015 after 42 days into the expedition. My team was the last to leave the base camp. We left only when we got the assurance from Nepal Govt. officials that our permit to climb Mt. Everest would be extended. Only then did we leave.

I was disappointed that I could not attempt Mt. Everest back then. But, there was relief that I would get another chance to attempt it. The expedition cost for me in 2015 was Rs. 27 lac. I had borrowed more than Rs.15 lacs, a loan I had to repay when I was back.

I had gone through a life and death situation in 2015. I got trapped in the middle of an avalanche. For 3 days, 3 corpses were kept below my tent and I used to see their faces every day!

While returning this time, I was very well aware that anything could happen to me and I was completely prepared for that.

There were frequent avalanches at the basecamp even this time. Every time I used to hear the sound of an avalanche it would take my mind back to the things that happened back then, the things that I experienced in 2015.

How did you motivate yourself to go back?

It was my dream since last 23 years. This was my second attempt, I had no choice but to summit.

Now, whenever the thought stuck me that I may not return back alive at all, I used to tell myself that one day I have to depart from this world in any case, so let’s leave it on the AKKA (God). If he wants to send me back from here, I will return to Mumbai. Otherwise, I am fine to take my last breath right here.

“The choices we make lead up to actual experiences. It is one thing to decide to climb a mountain. It is quite another to be on top of it.”

-Herbert A. Simon

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What was your learning from the first experience? And how did these learnings help you change your approach this time round?

There are certain mountain manners that you learn. Except those nothing was applied second time.

It is a fresh start every time you attempt to climb.  Every time glacier changes, terrain changes, level of difficulty changes. Mountains never respect experience, every time you climb is a new attempt and a new challenge. Every time, you have to encounter a completely different sort of situation.  So, there was no co-relation between two expeditions.

What was the toughest point as you were climbing?

Around 8600 mtr. there was a wall which was around 60 feet high. It had an elevation of about 80 to 85 degree. Zummering over here was the toughest. After every push, I had to rest for at least 5 minutes. This took a very long time, almost more than two hours.

The saddest moment was around 8400 mt. when we passed the preserved body of a climber known to us. We had met during the 2015 expedition. My mind switched off for few moments there.

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We know you are a fantastic runner with great achievements. Did your running experience help you in your climb?

Running or ultra-running is relatively an easy activity. We run in areas with full oxygen level. We can regulate our speed as per our ease and requirement. Yes, it did help me. But not in a very big way. Maybe up to 10% of the entire effort.

When we run, we lose a lot of calories yes. But one loses more calories by sitting in a tent trying to balance body temperature with the outside temperature.
Also, we wear the lightest gear possible to reduce any kind of weight on us when we are running. At any given point in time a climber has more than 15 kg weight on his body, only the boots weigh around 5kg. There are no aid stations here, like you have when you run. And when you reach 8000 mtr. that is when you need the most energy and the irony is that you cannot eat!

At any given point in time did you feel that you can’t do it? If yes, then how did you motivate yourself to get back on track?

No, I never felt that I cannot do it. I was very sure that I would do it.  With permission of AKKA (God).
How did you feel when you reached the peak? What was the first thought?

It was like meeting the Almighty!  It was so amazing, so beautiful to see the world from the top. First, I thanked the AKKA for his permission to let me  reach his ‘DARBAR’!

What was descending Mt. Everest like?

Descend was the most difficult part. Even after having oxygen supplement, I was feeling breathless many times and used to rest frequently. My Sherpa, Phurba Sherpa was the most experienced person around me. He has summited Mt. Everest 7 times. He used to check my oxygen supply frequently and kept motivating me every second in the process.

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How does your body react to so much altitude? Did you get any hallucinations or hypothermia or loss of appetite?

Yes, my body reacted in a different manner. Up to 8000 mtr. it was normal, at 8000 mtr due to heavy wind of around 90km/hr we had to remain at camp for 28 long hours in tents while we were waiting for weather to clear. We were on oxygen, but I completely lost my appetite and I barely ate. Those hours spent in the death zone were critical including summit attempt. In that period I drank 2 litres of water, some soup, cup noodles and coffee. My Sherpa used to check oxygen supply frequently specially in the night after the summit. But no hallucinations or hypothermia no cold related injuries. I will never forget those 28 hours trapped in the tent.

Will you recommend others to go for Mt. Everest Summit? What are the tips that you will give to those who aspire to climb?

I will never recommend any one to go directly to this expedition unless someone is a mountaineer or has sufficient knowledge and experience in climbing. Even the best climbers fail there. In reality this expedition is toughest thing you will do in your life. There is no retake here. If you commit a mistake, punishment is right there.
I will suggest, first do the Basic and the Advance mountaineering Course. Then gain sufficient knowledge of climbing by summiting peaks of different heights such as 6000 mtr to 7000 mtr. One must know the subjective and objective hazards of climbing. One must know the acclimatisation process as per the height of the peak. One must know the improvised methods of survival.

Sherpa selection is equally important, Sherpa must care of the climber and must have sufficient experience to handle any odd situation. In my case when we stuck in death zone for about 28 hours, oxygen cylinders were limited. Our Sardar Sherpa Mingma Tenjii did not use oxygen for 72 hours to save the oxygen for the members. Also, he purchased more cylinders for the team from the other teams those who were returning from the camp due to heavy wind.

Ok, Bad Water done, Mt. Everest done. What is next on your list?

Ha ha ha….I think I have done everything.

About Mt. Everest, it is really costly to climb. If I get a sponsor, I will definitely go for Everest again from China side.  Also, I would love to climb Kanchenjunga, Lhotse and K2 someday. All are 8000 mtr and above.

As far as running is concerned, I will go for top 10 toughest ultras of the world.

 “To see what others can not…
You must climb the mountain”
― Ron Akers

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17 things I love about travelling solo

runner's sigh

“I wandered everywhere, through cities and countries wide. And everywhere I went, the world was on my side.” –Roman Payne

Have you been to a place where you know absolutely NO ONE. Yes, not a soul and it’s just you with your back-pack?

I have. And it is absolutely thrilling. In fact I must admit that the first time you travel solo, it can be a ‘butterflies in stomach’ kinda experience. Possibly, for many, it could be the first time in your life, ‘you only have yourself to rely on’ kind of experience.

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It all begins with small experiences such as nobody to hold your bag when you go to the loo. And then grander experiences like having no penny beyond the cab fare to the airport left in your pocket, starving till the flight attendant serves you food, being locked out of your hostel and having no where…

View original post 1,511 more words

17 things I love about travelling solo

“I wandered everywhere, through cities and countries wide. And everywhere I went, the world was on my side.” –Roman Payne

Have you been to a place where you know absolutely NO ONE. Yes, not a soul and it’s just you with your back-pack?

I have. And it is absolutely thrilling. In fact I must admit that the first time you travel solo, it can be a ‘butterflies in stomach’ kinda experience. Possibly, for many, it could be the first time in your life, ‘you only have yourself to rely on’ kind of experience.

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It all begins with small experiences such as nobody to hold your bag when you go to the loo. And then grander experiences like having no penny beyond the cab fare to the airport left in your pocket, starving till the flight attendant serves you food, being locked out of your hostel and having no where to go!!!

I have had all of these experiences over my years of solo travel. And I have cherished each one of these experiences…

Travelling alone doesn’t mean I am a loner. I equally enjoy travelling with friends and family. But travelling alone, well it feels like a cleansing experience. Generally travelling by itself is very cleansing, but travelling alone is taking it a few notches higher and a few levels deeper-like a deep tissue cleanser!!!!

But more than anything, it is such an empowering experience. You become the master of your soul during your trip alone, immaterial whether you are a man or a woman.

Here are my 17 reasons why I am totally in love with travelling alone, by myself:

  1. The journey to the travel is more beautiful than the actual trip: Because you are travelling alone, you invest extra time in checking, re-checking your hotel, the ticket is taken care-off by you. You meticulously check on the cheapest deals and the best prices. You become pro at filling Visa forms so much so that people call you to take your advice on what to write in a particular column on the form for their respective trips. You know the price range of the ticket rates to the cities you have traveled to, at the back of your hand. Mine do. Now, I am a little extreme. My favourite hobby is to go through the world map over the weekend and make plan to go to a new place soon!!!!!

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    As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” – Virginia Woolf

  2. You know much information about the place even before you land: When you travel alone, you are your own guide. It is immaterial whether you will find a guide there or no. Also, a woman travelling alone definitely knows to do her research well. You know the exchange rate well, the language, the way of dressing and the manner of speaking, the places to go to, etc.

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    at Leh…

  3. You are well aware of the fact that there is no fall back plan: You need to manage your money very well. That gives you full power to spend and save the money that you have. You could use it wisely or spend it loosely- you have to bear the consequence of your decisions. I have landed in a situation where I only had the money to take me to the airport left with me on that particular day. And it was evident that I couldn’t afford to eat much and was my crankiest best. I was glad that it was my last day in that city and all I had to pay for was the fare to the airport.

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    both in Bali and in Paris I had the last few bucks to pay the cabbie

  4. You can do whatever you feel like on your trip: ok, you are not into touristy things! Fine. Don’t go to touristy places. You want to get up late and just take a stroll in the local market? Go ahead. There is no one to make a plan for you on your trip. You make your own plan and execute it. Isn’t that liberating?

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    at a local market in Sanur, Bali

  5. You meet new people and share new experiences with them: I have met the best of people on my travels and I continue to be friends with them. When you travel in a group, you tend to hang around and chill with those whom you are travelling with. But, travelling alone you tend to meet interesting people that possibly you wound have never encountered in your life. Like I met Fong Tsit from Hong Kong on my train ride to the Santa Claus village and I ended up having the most wonderful time with her when we reached the destination. Or I met Maurice Janssen from Netherlands on my trip to Nilgiris and it has been over three years and several trips of great times with him. Or meeting my room-mate Sokratis Zor with whom I attended a great concert in Stockholm.
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    Swing ride with Fong Tsit in Santa Claus village

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    Post trek with Maurice Janssen in Nilgiris

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    With Sokratis Zor at The Cure concert

  6. You can modify and moderate your travel plans as per your wish: you wanted to go to place X but you went to place Y, fine. There is nobody to dispute your decision. Like when I was in Bali, a reduced to day from my stay in Ubud and headed to the beaches straight. Or my last few days in Scandanavia were completely unbooked!

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    Did nothing but walked through the day in Stockholm

  7. You pack your luggage sensibly: You know you have to carry your own baggage through that crowded bus or train. Sometimes it is not affordable for a solo traveler to take a cab. Hence, public transport is your best friend. When you know that you are lugging around your own luggage, naturally you tend to take lesser stuff.
  8. You are suddenly aware of the small things around you, that you could have missed otherwise: Things like warm breeze against your cheeks, that musician playing flute at the corner of the road, etc. catch your attention.

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    At a local market in Tel Aviv, Israel

  9. You are more cautious and responsible: You have to take care of your own passport, your own currency, that expensive jacket that you are carrying on your arm. You can’t afford to be irresponsible. yggvtbuoblqq92oov8sagkfowauwvwtgorke0w4qjdiw1024-h576-no
  10. The whole logistics of travelling alone is simple: Even for the best of travel planner, it can be challenging to coordinate a trip when it comes to managing a group of people. You have to take time away from your work match it with other’s date. You can definitely overcome the challenge by planning it way in advance. But, if you have less time, then planning a trip with a group can be super stressful. So if you don’t find a travel partner on short notice, well, it could be your time to pack your bags and travel anyway.dsc_0532
  11. You get your time alone to introspect:  Yes, travelling alone is a great introspective experience. You can just sit down by a beach, look within or just stare at the sun, without having the compulsion of striking a conversation with someone.

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    In Northern Finland

  12. Your mind expands: For most part of our life we are confined to a finite way of living. Expected people, places, patterns, etc. Travelling alone can challenge this and open your mind to new experiences. You step out of all of these predictable things and step out of your comfort zone.

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    At Yasser Arafat’s tomb in Palestine

  13. You own your experiences: Whatever experience you have during the travel whether good or bad, it is your own. Getting duped by a cabbie in Bali for double the amount of money is your own experience or getting food at night in the middle of a deserted village in Israel by two helpful strangers. These are your experiences, guided by your good or bad judgments and nobody can partake in that. There is no one to applaud and no one to blame either.
  14. You start trusting your intuition more: You will definitely sharpen your ability to judge in the correct manner, not just depending on facts but going by the gut feeling too. You learn how to read the situations better and the take appropriate action.dsc_1399
  15. Anonymity is bliss: Nobody knows who you are as you are not travelling with familiar faces. You can do all the experiments that you wanted to do without fear of having people around to judge. How about singing a local song at a karaoke?
  16. Meet locals and get to know about a place better: The experience that you have travelling alone is different from a guided trip experience. I tend to chat  a lot with locals than going through guide books for the required place. And from my experience, locals open up to a solo traveler more as compared to a group of people. Also, many times it has happened to me on my solo trips that I looked to act less like a tourist and more like a local because of getting a local guidance. Hence, you get a completely different treatment from many other locals.

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    In Monaco

  17. You come back home with the best possible travel stories which only you have to share and no one else. Isn’t that super awesome?
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Reaching Portofino in Italy after changing 2 flights, 3 trains and a ferry

“It seemed an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially moulded by whom we are with, we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others…Being closely observed by a companion can inhibit us from observing others; we become taken up with adjusting ourselves to the companion’s questions and remarks, we have to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity.”
― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

Street art in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.

runner's sigh

I was supposed to head to Langkawi from Singapore but then a friend who had visited Penang told me about the Street Art in Georgetown. The minute I hear street art, eyes closed I rush towards that place and open them up to the work of artists who paint the boring looking walls of normal looking streets into something beautiful.

To begin with, streets of Penang are anything but boring looking. Throw in some street art, you have a feast for your eyes!!!

20160518_180431_002 In the fishing Village

I took a Tiger Air fight from Singapore to reach Penang, Malaysia and booked myself into a hotel close to Georgetown and ventured out to see the streets.

I was staying just for a night in Penang. From here, I headed to my beach resort in Langkawi.

Expect the unexpected

I was not really sure of what to expect in terms of the street art…

View original post 473 more words

Street art in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.

I was supposed to head to Langkawi from Singapore but then a friend who had visited Penang told me about the Street Art in Georgetown. The minute I hear street art, eyes closed I rush towards that place and open them up to the work of artists who paint the boring looking walls of normal looking streets into something beautiful.

To begin with, streets of Penang are anything but boring looking. Throw in some street art, you have a feast for your eyes!!!

 

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In the fishing Village

 

 

I took a Tiger Air fight from Singapore to reach Penang, Malaysia and booked myself into a hotel close to Georgetown and ventured out to see the streets.

I was staying just for a night in Penang. From here, I headed to my beach resort in Langkawi.

Expect the unexpected

I was not really sure of what to expect in terms of the street art in Georgetown, but I was open to surprises.

I put my sport shoes on as the map promised a long walk. Just then a local told me about taking a cycle-rickshaw. I was thrilled by the idea.

Be prepared to bargain hard and stage a  walk out with the rickshaw guys!!

The added benefit of taking a cycle-rickshaw is that the rider who is a local can be your guide. Although those riding the cycle rickshaw barely speak English, you just need their help in spotting the art as most of it is hidden. Hence, broken English works!!

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Taking a cycle rickshaw would be smart if you have a short stay in Penang

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Taken from the cycle rickshaw, through the streets of Georgetown

What’s the fuss about? 

Georgetown is protected as a UNESCO Heritage site. There are different artists that have contributed to the street art of Georgetown. But the most prominent among these artists is Lithunian Ernest Zacharevic.  Zacharevic was commissioned by the Penang Municipal Council in 2012 to create a street art project in Georgetown. This project consisted of painting several large murals in different parts of the old town.

Now, let’s see what the art looks like…

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This was the first painting I stumbled upon.

 

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‘Reaching Up’ You will almost miss this as the boy from far and the speeding rickshaw looks real

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Two children riding an actual bike

 

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Boy on the bike!

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You will find people standing in a queue to take pictures with the disused motorbike

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‘A giant girl lifting herself’. This painting is really huge and I love the way in which windows are used in this one.

 

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This is ‘I Want Bao! mural which is next to Ming Xiang Tai pastry shop’

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‘Love Me Like Your Fortune Cat’

 

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Blue kitten just next to the fortune cat

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You can’t miss this huge cat for sure! She didn’t like my hair so much

 

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This one is by Australian artist Vexta. Is it hair or branches?

 

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My rickshaw guy was hungry it seems!!! 🙂

 

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This one is a part of 101 Lost Kittens project. ‘The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This’ is what it is called. There are 3 cats in this picture, one can be seen, two have faded!

 

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Please don’t eat me!!

These are some of the pieces of work that I loved clicking. There are many more to see. There are many artworks besides the ones listed here. I along with my ‘rickshaw guide’ tried our best to find as many as we could. If you have more do let me know. Some of the murals are already fading. Hence, do visit quickly before you miss out on the beauty!!!

Beyond Street Art…

Georgetown is a beautiful town to take a stroll in. The locals are lovely and helpful and the food is to die for. Here is leaving you with some more pictures.

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Local souvenirs

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Cycle through the old town!!

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In pictures, why Portofino left me mesmerised..

Portofino is a tiny sea village on the Italian Riviera. It is essentially a sea resort which is accessible by boat  (ferry) or train from St Margherita Ligure. St Marguerite Ligure is a station which is a part of the Italian Railway network and is closest to this port. There is no direct train going to Portofino.

This place boasts of ancient marine culture. It is also one of those spots frequented by celebs, artists of renown and writers.

The village is tiny and is characterized by brightly-colored houses.

This beautiful village left e completely spell bound. Why?

Let the images do the talking.

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When you enter Portofino taking a boat, this is the first sight that welcomes you

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I am standing at The “Piazzetta,” which is the meeting-up point

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My climb towards the famous Brown Castle (Castello Brown) the view from the path

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Brown Castle (Castello Brown) gives to best view to take pictures of the coloured houses

FINLAND: Below 6 degree Celsius, Amidst green, yellow and orange

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

I had the privilege to experience the Finnish autumn this year right from Helsinki in the south all the way up to Ivalo in the north. It was one of the most memorable trips of my life.  Being in a new place all by myself always fascinates me. And this trip to Finland was one such trip. I didn’t know a soul in the entire country and what made the trip special was exactly this!

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Autumn in Finland

Taking a Turkish airlines flight with a single backpack I headed off to Helsinki. Planning all the way through the flight journey-whether it was in the flight or at the Istanbul airport during the stopover. There were certain bookings done and confirmed, there were certain others left open.

But, the agenda for the whole trip was clear- NORTHERN LIGHTS or AURORA BOREALIS. Now, I have wanted to see this wonder for a very long time and scientists too have been scaring me for a very long time that they will disappear soon.

Fingers crossed, I started searching extensively for the aurora forecasts this year, right from the beginning of the year.

Now, I am girl born and brought up in Mumbai- a city known for its ample humidity and I don’t take windy winters well. Hence, I started searching for early aurora sightings on slightly warmer days of September and October. Thus, I locked October first week on my calendar.

Plus, I have always been fascinated by the colours that fall brings in. It is indeed a sight that I don’t get to see much in my own country. Hence, I was completely pleased with my choice, rather too happy about it.

With all this planning and thoughts, I got off at Helsinki airport. Taking a train straight to the city centre where my hostel was located.

I always prefer staying in hostels close to the city centre as the commute from the airport and then during your stay is hassle free.

…Wind cut through my skin as I got outside the station for a short walk towards my hostel.

Helsinki, Finland

“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton

Hostel Diana Park

It is one of the most charming hostels I have stayed in. I really like clean hostels with beautiful seating areas. The seating area and the kitchen at this hostel was beautiful indeed. It was at walking distance from many places of attraction like the Market Square, the Cathedral, the Orthodox church, the National Museum and most importantly the water front.

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The kitchen and the common dining area in my hostel

A few days in Helsinki..

Helsinki per say can be covered in a day as there is nothing much to visit. But, hey I am not really a touristy traveler. I rarely sit and tick mark locations on my map when I travel.

I really enjoyed walking around the streets, sipping my coffee or hot chocolate, going to the food market etc.

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Market Square, Helsinki

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Streets of Helsinki

Helsinki’s annual Herring Market

I was lucky to have been present during Helsinki’s annual Herring Market, which takes place at the Market Square every year in the first week of October.

Dozens of fishermen from around Finland gather at the Market Square to sell many interesting things. The air around Market Square was filled up with the smell of traditional salty herring. In addition to herring delicacies they also sold Salmon, home-made pickles etc.

Herring Market is in fact one of the oldest traditional event in Helsinki and I was told by a lady whom I befriended on the street that it has been taking pace since 1743.

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Crowds gather to visit the annual market

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Beautiful Churches

Center of Helsinki has many beautiful churches representing different styles. Most churches are Lutheran, but the city also has Catholic church and Orthodox church.

One noticeable point about the churches here is many bear a striking resemblance to Russian architecture.  Many are in fact designed by Russian architects.

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Beautiful Orthodox Church

 

Tallinn, Estonia

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

Eckerö Line: A Day trip to Tallinn, Estonia

I was told that you can take a ‘ferry’ from Helsinki, Finland to Estonia, the capital of Estonia. I booked the tickets online from my hostel room. When I reached the spot to catch the ferry, I was completely surprised to see what I saw. It was a beautiful cruise ship with casino, food options, shopping options, etc available on board. This 2 hour 30 min journey went by in a blink.

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Inside the cruise

Eckerö Line is a Finnish ferry company that operates daily ferries from Helsinki to Tallinn. You can choose your time of travel book the tickets online or at the location to board the ferry.

There is tram line number 9 from Helsinki Central Station that takes you straight to the location to board the ferry.

 

Tallinn Old Town

Twisted cobblestone lanes, beautiful charming buildings, tiny coffee shops with WiFi. This is Tallinn Old Town for you.

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top view of the old town

This town was built from the 13th to 16th centuries, when Tallinn – or Reval as it was known as a great trade and port city. One can easily get lost in the narrow hidden lanes with beautiful colorful houses.

The whole of this old town has a beautiful fairy-tale charm.

The town is full of churches and the Town Hall square has a battery of charming eateries to eat at.

Also, Old Town is included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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streets of Tallinn

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And then i took the evening ferry back to Helsinki…

Santa Claus Express

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.-Oscar Wilde 

After checking out from my hostel and spending yet another day, walking in Helsinki, I was awaiting my train ride to the Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi.

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Taking the Santa Claus Express

I didn’t take the sleeping compartment; I took the seating compartment as the difference between the tickets was vast.

Known as the Santa Claus express, this train is a night train from South of Finland to the heart of Finnish Lapland. The travel time is about 9 to 12 hours with trains departing from Helsinki Central Station from approx 7 pm to 10 pm.

The travel on this train is comfortable and affordable, depending on your choice of seats.

The café in the train offers options to eat and drink while on board. And the views outside the window are spectacular.

Although my train was empty, this train could be full during peak season. Hence it is important to book tickets in advance.

Rovaniemi Station to Arctic Circle and Santa Claus Village

After getting off at Rovaniemi Station, I took a bus to the Santa Claus Village. There is a bus at regular intervals from station to the village. Rovaniemi city bus route 8 travels between the Rovaniemi Railway Station and the Santa Claus Village.

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Taking bus number 8 to Arctic Circle

Just ensure that you know the first bus and last bus time, in order to not get stuck without transportation on the road.

Santa Claus Holiday Village

I’m happy to report that my inner child is still ageless.” – James Broughton

Yes, I was staying here. The main attractions in the area are all around Santa Claus holiday village. I thought why stay anywhere else. The bus takes you straight here.

All of the  rooms here are heated  and have private saunas, a kitchenette and a terrace. Also, the staff help arrange reindeer, husky and snow mobile safaris, and boats, bikes and fishing equipment can be rented on site.

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sauna inside my room-yaaay!!

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super cosy room!

 

What does the Village have?

-Arctic Circle:

The Arctic Circle cuts right through Santa Claus Village. A white line showing the Arctic Circle is painted across the park. Those who visit here officially enter the Arctic area when they cross the line.

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Sitting on the arctic circle line

-Santa Claus’ Main Post Office:

A large variety of  souvenirs, Christmas related items, postcards, etc. are sold in the post office. All mail sent from this post office is postmarked with a special Santa Claus postmark.  Visitors can also specify their mail to be sent at the next Christmas. Santa Claus Main Post Office is the only official Santa Claus post office that is part of the official network of Finland’s post office Posti.

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many letters written to Santa

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Tourists writing letters to Santa

-Santa Claus’s Office:

A Santa Claus’s Office is located here for visitors to take photographs and chat with Santa Claus. However, there is an “office hour” for Santa Claus. When we visited Santa was fast asleep!

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Santa is right here!!

-Go Hiking:

There are beautiful, well marked hikes all around this place, which are a must visit if you love to be amidst nature.

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on one hike

A bus ride to Ivalo

“I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine.” – Caskie Stinnett

I took a bus from outside Santa Claus Village to Ivalo. This is by far the most beautiful bus journey I have ever taken.

There are several bus connections every day from Rovaniemi (the town in the Arctic Circle) to Ivalo village. A driving time is about 3-4 hours. You can buy the tickets on the bus itself.

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A charming bus stop

En route, I thought I will catch some sleep but the sights outside left me mesmerized. Beautiful lakes, autumn colors, how could I sleep?

Hotel Ivalo

This bus, after taking multiple stops dropped me right outside my hotel, Hotel Ivalo. Now, Ivalo as such is a small village in northern Finland and my only purpose to visit this place was to view northern lights. This Finnish Lapland hotel is located on the Ivalo River. And you get awesome views of water from your room. It also has a heated pool and Sauna.

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View from my room at Hotel Ivalo

Seeing Northern Lights

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

I had written to Jouni Männistö, an ex-Finnish military man, who operates Northern Lights hunting tours, well in advance. I confirmed my presence on arrival and he said, we will take a call to go hunting today or later depending on the clouds in the sky. Just 50 mins before our departure, I got a mail saying, yes, we are going to see Northern Lights.

I packed my winter wear in my small purse, to set out for a northern lights hiking trip which lasted about 5 hours in the night (returned at around 2 am). There was also a Chinese tourist with me in the vehicle and both of us were lucky enough to see Aurora within 15 mins of the trip. The rest of the night we couldn’t spot them. Juoni drove us around to different spots and also made amazing hot chocolate for us in the night.

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This was an experience like none other. Someone once quoted that the experience of Northern Lights can turn an atheist into a believer. I say, I agree.

Arctic Wilderness

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Of the last day of my stay in Ivalo, I decided to go on a solo hike to UKK National Park near Saariselka. The Suomujoki river flows through the northern parts of the diverse park. It was beautiful to experience wilderness here. The route to well marked and you can choose between the short and the long trails. I chose a longer one and fell in love with the wilderness.

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the trails at UKK National Park

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Some Solace

On the final day of my stay, I woke up early and spent some time by the river Ivalo in the morning simply enjoying the tranquility it offered.

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From here on, I took a Finnair Flight to Stockholm, Sweden. This was completely unplanned and I decided on going here very last minute. But, I have no regrets!! Last minute plans are always the best!

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This charming Ivalo airport

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Taking the Finnair Flight to Stockholm