Our baggage was tagged RKV and other passengers at the airport check-in counter were in envy of our destination. We were headed to Iceland. As one travels around Iceland, the landscape continuously changes but blends into each other effortlessly like a well-conducted orchestra endlessly assimilating new notes and new melodies, and punctuated with a few brilliant solos. It is a sight to behold to witness how nature, when left to itself can create such a plethora of contrasting colours and contours. How at higher altitudes glacial ice has carved out the mountainsides and moulded cosy valleys like a seasoned potter; how cooled lava has given rise to beautiful rock formations with the help of natural forces- the wind and rain.
But apart from the natural beauty, there are many more reasons to fall in love with this Island….
1. Because it is the best whale watching hotspot - The blue and red National flag of Iceland fluttered on the back deck of the ship as we looked around for any movement in the ocean other than that of the waves and the surf that the boat engine spewed. "Look 3 o’clock facing the front deck." -the voice of a crew member advised and every soul on the ship scampered to have the best view. We juggled through the camera and mobile lenses and our naked eyes to get a nice click or a video, perhaps. A water spray rose up in the sky breaking the ocean surface, followed by a shiny slate-coloured, oval back of the humpback whale just a few metres away -my first whale sighting. Against the spectacular backdrop of the distant icy mountains, the humpback rolled and plunged back into the ocean bidding us adieu with a final flip of her fluke- the tail fin. I kept staring at the circular ring it created on the surface of the water for her to return, but she did not. In a moment, I heard a low moan coming from behind and turned around just in time to witness the spout of another whale. It's not that whale watching is only possible in Iceland, but it is here that you will see them in their own natural environment. There's nothing quite like being a bystander to their world and habitat. And if you are lucky you can see many varieties of whales from the enormous Humpback, Minke Whale, Blue Whale, Fin Whale, Orca, Sperm Whale, Sei Whale, Pilot Whale, Harbour Porpoise, Basking Sharks, various types of dolphins, seals and of course sea birds- Puffins and Gannets – depending on the season.
2. Because there are no trees - The vast stretch of land, folded at places to create mountains of various shapes and sizes stay in view without any tree coming in between. There is an Icelandic saying, often recited to tourists, "In Iceland, if you see three trees together you have a forest".
3. Because Skyr tastes nothing like yoghurt – Call it Icelandic yoghurt or cheese pudding but Skyr is a phenomenon in itself. Brought by Vikings, the thick creamy yoghurt is very high in protein and is ambrosia. Don't leave the country without indulging.
4. Because the planes have diaries - I was amazed to find a notebook in the seat pocket in front of me during my flight from Reykjavik to Akureyri. I first thought somebody forgot and left it. But then I found one in every seat pocket. The diary had little stories and sketches about their Icelandic experience by travellers. Thrilled, I too shared some of my experiences. What a great alternative to inflight movies!
5. Because they don't need an army – Can you imagine a country with a population just above three lakhs and an area of 40000 square metres without an army of its own? Well, that's the truth! It’s probably possible because they have a small and peaceful population and no neighbours. Whatever the reason, it is an excellent idea, and people live in peace. The Defence budget is better spent on citizen welfare- free education, free healthcare, and other benefits to the inhabitants.
6. Because elves and trolls do live here and every Icelander loves talking about them-Yes, and they can stop you from constructing in an area where they live even if you happen to own the land. Elves are hidden people in Iceland and have lived with the people for centuries. If something is missing from their home and they can't seem to find it, they say that an elf queen has borrowed it. And usually, they find it the day after or so right in front of them where they were searching for it the day before. There is a road in Iceland that is named "Álfhólsvegur" Elf-road in Kopavogur. It was supposed to be a straight road, but when they were laying it, they came across a big rock that was practically immovable. They tried hard, but then an accident occurred and another one after that. They decided to let the elf rock be as it is and constructed around it to pass by it.
7. Because Yoko chose this Island- the Late Beatle’s king John Lennon's wife chose Iceland to fulfil his dream of the Peace Tower. The primary reason being it's a peaceful country, and it has the largest thermal power station that supplies the energy needed for the beam of light that emerges from the Peace Tower. Do visit the Videy Island a ferry ride away from the Reykjavik harbour where the Art installation by Yoko is.
8. Because the land smokes- The name "Reykjavik" means Smokey Bay and was given that name by the settlers because of steam or "smoke" rising from the land when they first arrived. It is not unusual while travelling on this Island to come across smoke emerging from earth suddenly. One wrong step in any of the bubbling pools and your feet would literally melt. Reykjadalur Valley is a geothermal area. Situated in the Mt Hengill volcanic range, hot springs burst from the ground to form bubbling pools and lagoons. There are many geothermal Spas too for a nice warm bath.
9. Because you get Volcano bread to eat– This is the warmest, most dense slice of bread I ever ate. The dough is made up of dark rye, whole wheat flour, buttermilk, golden syrup, baking powder, baking soda and a little salt encased in a metal container and buried in the ground to bake for 24 hours. Laugarvan Fontana is one such geothermal bakery where you may taste the Volcano bread as it is or topped with butter.
10. Because Icelandic horses have five gaits – Horses all around the world only know of three gaits, i.e., the walk, the trot, and the canter. But the uniqueness of the Iceland Horse lies in its two extra strides, the tölt and the flying pace. Also, it is one of the most purely bred horses in the world. It has remained isolated and exclusive to Iceland for more than a thousand years. Horses have not been introduced to Iceland since the Vikings first settled in the 9th century. A horse that leaves Iceland is not allowed to return, ensuring the pureness of the Icelandic breed.
11. Because this is one of only TWO places on the planet where you will see two of the earth's tectonic plates meeting above the earth's surface (the other being in Africa). The North American and Eurasian plates jutting up out of the ground in Þingvellir move apart roughly 2 cm per year.
12. Because they are the greenest – Believe it or not, they have more than 400 square meters of green space per person. Much more than the area of a flat of a person in any city in the world.
13. Because their HQ, or Happiness Quotient is the highest in the world. - There's a friendly, warm look on people's faces, a twinkle in their eyes. Thora, our guide told us that their ancestors, being cut off from the world, saw hard lives and have lived a clustered life with a feeling of one big national family. And that has increased their AQ- Adaptability Quotient to every curve ball life throws at them.
14. Because they can show you how to make Kakósúpa – Having piping hot chocolate soup will warm the cockles of your heart it is the best way to enjoy the freezing Icelandic climate. Yes, chocolate soup! You heard right. Made of chocolate, milk and starch, this recipe sounds adventurous, but it's sure worth a try.
15. Because they are bibliophiles - I love the beautiful tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the night reading. No wonder then, that one in ten people here publish a book in their lifetime, and in 2011 Reykjavík was designated a UNESCO City of Literature.
16. Because you can follow Aurora Borealis - On a clear winter night in Iceland, chasing the Northern Lights dancing magically across the sky is great fun. The freezing temperatures notwithstanding, it is a sight to behold.
17. Because you can sunbathe at midnight - On summer nights wake up at midnight to discover the sun shining bright. It is magical and surreal.
These are my reasons and for your own, you will have to step into the spectacular country. So, don’t wait and add it to your bucket list as soon as possible.
(This article is attributed to Nita Bajoria)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of India TV)