'Even a hard core agnostic or a die-hard atheist will start believing in the glory of God', was the first thought that ricocheted in my heart and soul as I feasted on the magnificent grandeur of nature unfolding before my eyes - unbridled and unplugged.
My wife Madhavi and I were on a ferry boat traveling on Sognefjord, which is the longest Fjord in Norway and the second longest in the world.
The dictionary defines a Fjord as a long, narrow strip of sea between high cliffs. But this definition is as pathetic and effete as describing Mother Teresa as a good woman or Hitler as a wicked man. It is virtually impossible to sum up the enthralling beauty, the enchanting charm and the endearing spectacle of the Fjord. It is equally futile to hope that one can capture the grandeur on lens or the canvas. For one should remember that this creation has been etched out by the greatest wordsmith, artist and artisan of all times!
We started our journey from the mouth of the Fjord at Flam and traveled all the way to Bergen a bustling and vibrant town on the west coast of Norway. We reached Flam after taking a train from Oslo to Myrdal. The journey took us along glaciers, waterfalls and a country side dotted with green fields, lakes and houses situated in tiny hamlets. There were a few moments when we saw the bright sunlight casting its spell on the icy white of the glaciers ' a sight which to our starved eyes was a succulent visual feast.
At Myrdal we got into a tiny train operated by the Flamsbana Railways. If the famous Jaipur Train is called the 'Palace on Wheels' this should be termed the 'Paradise on Wheels'. It has barely six bogeys and the d'cor inside is all bright orange with spacious seats like mini thrones. As soon as the train started we were greeted warmly by a male voice on the P.A. system. He welcomed us aboard and promised that the ride on the Flamsbana would be a truly memorable one. Even the Ticket Collector was all smiles and warm words and we really felt like royalty. As we trundled along, our 'host' explained that the 20 km journey would take 55 minutes. This was one of the world's steepest railway lines ' 20 km long with a descent of 865 metres, through 21 tunnels.
After around twenty minutes our host announced that we were approaching one of the loveliest sights en route ' the Kjosfossen waterfall and we could get down and attempt to capture the beauty in our lenses. The waterfall was breathtaking. There was a platform where we could stand, sample the splendor of the cascading water and pose for photos. After indulging in all this and more we were back on the fairy tale ride. The snow crested mountains, the yawning ravines, the flurry of waterfalls and mountain farms dotting the landscape ' the vista was exquisite.
Flom turned out to be even better than we had imagined. Situated in the innermost part of the Aurlandsfjord, a tributary of Sognefjord which is 204 kilometers long and 1,308 metres deep, Flam is charming and unspoiled like a cherubic child. It is a picaresque little town snuggling among the hills on the edge of the sea.
As we walked from the tiny railway station to our hotel we had our first glimpse of the fabled Fjord. We just stood there, luggage and all, completely mesmerized. Huge mountains loomed ahead like benign monsters and between them nestled the sea ' its clear, azure waters creating a symphony of serenity. It was quiet, as if nature itself had paused to wonder at the captivating beauty of its own creation.
Our hotel room was just what the poet or painter had ordered. We woke up to the sun rising between the mountains, its rays ' golden brown and ochre creating iridescent patterns on the blue waters and the lush green landscape adding yet another nuance to the magnificence collage.
We went exploring and came across a Fjord Park which had stones in weird patterns embedded in the grass. The inscription declared that these stones dated to as far back as 6000 B.C. and described scenes like hunting of deer, a herd of animals, men enjoying a feast, et al. To add to the quaintness the scenes had been recreated in the park using rose bushes. Though the roses were not in bloom the scene was picturesque enough.
On the other side near the railway station, we found a number of restaurants and cafes each housed in structures which would be an architect's delight. There was one caf' which was designed like a train while another looked like a conundrum. A souvenir shop inside the railway station offered everything from jewellery to handicrafts, clothes to cosmetics, stuff made of fox, wolf and even seal and yak skin and keepsakes galore.
In one of the restaurants we saw a 20 minute film on the Fjords. The auditorium with a seating capacity of around 200 had just the two of us and for the second time in 24 hours we felt like royalty. The film itself was riveting. We watched in thrall as nature cradled the Fjords through four seasons.
An hour of lounging around basking in the sun and sea and we were ready to embark on the most memorable journey of our lives ' our tryst with the fjord.
The ferry picked up speed and some minutes later the 'Captain' took a swerve and invited us to take a glance at a waterfall. It was more like a trickle when compared to Kjosfossen but was still worth a look. A few kilometers on the Fjord the 'Captain' asked us to keep our eyes open for a possible glimpse of a friendly neighborhood seal or two. Unfortunately we were not lucky enough. However, the fact that we were within 'looking' distance of the sea lions was gratifying enough.
By now we had been traveling for almost an hour. The boat was going at 80 kmph, the temperature was 2 degrees centigrade and the wind looked like it was aping Michael Schumacher. Madhavi was clad like an Eskimo and I was dressed like Santa Claus and yet the chill was almost unbearable. The icy wind was cutting through the layers of clothing and threatening to play tango with our bones. The parts of our anatomy exposed to the wind ' our faces and palms felt like they had been placed on ice slabs. Yet, as the beauty of nature unfolded layer by exquisite layer, we forgot all about the chill and really chilled out. As the mountains on either side raced to meet us we felt the narrow waters of the Fjord would lead to the expanse of the sea. However, just as we reached the shadows of the cliffs the Fjord turned to reveal another range of mountains and gently floating between them the turquoise sea.
This spectacle reminded me of the Bada Imambara (bhool bhulaiya) of Lucknow. It was as if we were unraveling a giant jigsaw puzzle created by the hand of God.
Madhavi's bravado didn't last long. A couple of hours later she ducked for cover and found refuge in the cabin. I didn't want to miss a single speck of splendor and stuck on with cotton in my ears, a muffler around my head ' looking like a chowkidar in Delhi on winter nights.
The boat stopped at quite a few towns perched between the harbors and the hills. Clusters of houses arranged on the verdant slopes, tiny farms, quaint railway stations ' it was old wo'ld charm at its best.
Back to the boat : it was six and the sun had just begun its descent. The bright golden rays were now turning orange and the sky had begun to darken. The reflection of the setting sun and the swarthy sky was creating a gorgeous kaleidoscope of shades and shapes on the waters. The impact was surreal. My eyes caressed the million images flickering ahead and I stood mesmerized on the chilly deck bowing my head in obeisance to the Master.
As we neared the end of the journey I fought with feelings that were mixed. On the one hand there was euphoria that we had had the privilege of enjoying one of the most enchanting journeys in the world and on the other there was a feeling of melancholy that this was the last time we were going to experience the fiesta of the fantastic Fjord.
Look for accommodation in a hotel which is on the mouth of the Fjord. Even if it is a bit costly the magnificent view will make it truly worth it.
Wear your walking/jogging shoes. You'll have to do a lot of walking in Flam. Try to explore as much of the area as possible. Believe me each bend in a road, each crest of a hill will throw upon delightful vistas of beauty.
The food is expensive but if you order judiciously, you will not burn a hole in your pocket.
For Souvenirs visit the shop at the Railway Station : It offers a mind boggling range of keepsakes.
On the ferry make sure you are properly clothed. At least a few layers plus gloves and a monkey cap will really help.