“This is Heaven on Earth!” I exclaimed, turning to my friend Kay as we stood on the edge of Geirangerfjord amidst the ubiquitous log hytters in Geiranger village — By Ramesh Beeharry
“This is Heaven on Earth!” I exclaimed, turning to my friend Kay as we stood on the edge of Geirangerfjord amidst the ubiquitous log hytters in Geiranger village. “Absolutely!” he simply agreed, as we gazed in silence upon the divine sight stretching in front of us. That was in August 1977.
In July of this year I returned to paradise exactly 40 years after that first visit. Since 1977, there have been quite a few developments in the village with more souvenir shops, hotels and eateries. Also in 2005, Geirangerfjord was enlisted a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What took Humanity this long to give it this well-deserved recognition is beyond my comprehension, but then UN bodies tend to move in mysterious ways.
Anyway, 40 years on, as I stood on practically on the same spot and gazed out with my teary eyes at the stretch of deep-blue water, I found myself thinking that my original opinion hadn’t budged an iota with the passing years. That Geirangerford and its village are, and will remain the earthly Brahmaloka** par excellence.
In 1977 when we were young, it was a carefree driving holiday across country that only youth has the energy and inclination to enjoy. This time round, however, it was a more sedentary journey courtesy of Costa Cruises. Noblesse (de l’âge) oblige! For the 3800 passengers and 1100 crew members, the cruise proper began — as it ended — in the Danish port of Copenhagen. From there the ship sailed straight up the North Sea to reach Geirangerfjord. It must have entered the fjord sometime in the small hours because when we woke up next morning, it had already docked at Geiranger.
With a tiny population of just 300 (lucky people indeed!), Geiranger plays host to some 700k tourists every year during the summer months. The vast majority of these arrive on 150-200 cruise-ships, and only stay for a day or two. In order to cope with this massive influx of visitors, hundreds of summer working hands are recruited from other parts of Norway and Europe. Our own guide up Dalsnibba mountain (more of that later) was a young man from Germany. Knowledgeable, with perfect English and a laid-back wonderful sense of humour, he made our visit both interesting and enjoyable.
The Norwegian fjord country (NFC) lies on the west coast of the Scandinavian Peninsula and is composed of 1190 fjords of varying lengths. At 1.5km the shortest of these is Nordefjord and the longest is Sognefjord which measures 205km. The NFC stretches some 500km from port of Stavangar in the south to Andalsnes in the north-east.
One of the most northernmost fjords, Geirangerfjord lies just 88km south of Andalsnes. It is 15km long and is a branch of Sunnylysford which is itself a branch of Stortford. Since 2005 it has rightly been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is fairly narrow in width but has a depth of 300m with deep-blue crystal-clear water. It is walled in on both sides by the steepest mountains to be found on the entire Norwegian west coast. Unlike some other fjords, Geirangerfjord has very little in the way of habitable or cultivable land along its banks because most of its precipitous mountains — some are 1.6km high — rise straight out of the water.
As every schoolboy knows from his geography books, Norway is the land of mountains, lakes and waterfalls. In this, Geirangerfjord does not disappoint. The high mountains are littered with many waterfalls. The ones to definitely write home about are the Suitor (TS), the Seven Sisters (TSS) and the foaming Bridal veil. TS and TSS happen to face each other, and legend has it that TS placed himself there so that he could woo TSS from that position. How very romantic! Fir trees and bushes clinging to the sides of the snow-capped mountains add further to the fairytale magic of Geirangerfjord. With such incredible beauty it is little wonder that it remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in Norway.
From Geiranger we took a coach ride up to the 1.5km-high Dalsnibba mountain which lies 21km south of the village. As the bus snaked its way round the many hairpin bends to the peak, our guide suggested we pay particular attention to the changing tree line. I must admit that I had never given this a second thought before, but it is surprising how dramatically the vegetation changes with changes in altitude.
At the start of the climb, we could see normal trees like conifers, willows and silver-birches. As we progressed upwards the tall trees gave way to shorter ones and bushes which turned into tufts of grass as we progressed further still. Eventually all plant growth disappeared leaving only rocks covered with moss and lichens. When we reached a certain height, even the moss and lichens disappeared leaving only bare rocks behind. Higher up still, starting with a mere sprinkle, varying thickness of snow began to cover those bare rocks. And when we finally reached the top of Dalsnibba mountain, the summit was covered by an extensive glacier; and it was snowing abundantly. Christmas in July in the midst of this awesome, surrealistic arctic landscape!
At 1.0km above sea level up the mountain road we came across a fairly rare phenomenon. Lying amidst the mountain rocks was the 2-sq.km Djupvatnet lake which at its deepest is 200m. I know it’s not quite Titicaca — which lies 3.8km above sea level and has a surface area of 8.400 sq.km — but I thought it might be worthy of a mention for its rarity value. Especially to potential visitors to Geiranger/Geirangerfjord. To you, I say a visit is definitely worth contemplating!
By the time we got back from Dalsnibba mountain, it was time to say goodbye to Geiranger. The sun was starting to go down when the boat turned around to take us back on the remainder of the cruise. As the village slowly disappeared into the horizon, a couple of tears found themselves rolling down my cheeks. In that nano-instant I knew that I had been highly privileged to have been to this divine place not once, but twice in my lifetime. The thought then crossed my mind that, after seeing Paradise for the second time, I could happily proceed to the next World now.
And so, as the boat glided along the silky-smooth water in the misty shimmer of dusk, I thought I could hear the faint voice of Sinatra crooning in the distance “Regrets I’ve had a few; but then again, too few to mention.”
** In Buddhism, Brahmaloka is the highest of the celestial worlds which consist of 20-heavens. Except for four of these which are Arupas (formless), the rest are rupa worlds. The inhabitants here possess a corporeal form, but they are free from all sensual desires. In these particular worlds there are no women, and rebirth is the outcome of great virtue accompanied by meditation.
* Published in print edition on 29 December 2017