Kiruna- the Arctic Lapland
Sitting atop the biggest underground iron ore mine in the world the city of Kiruna has much to worry. But it doesn’t seem so there. Life moves at a different pace altogether. There is no rush or chaos, and everyone enjoys life as if there is no tomorrow. I thanked my stars as my flight descended at the quaint little airport where a bright red building against the pure white mountains welcomed me with a promise of something new and unique. In the middle of nowhere, driving a sled pulled by good looking huskies through the forest and a frozen river was an experience to cherish.
Kiruna comes from the Sami word, Girona, which means ptarmigan, a bird commonly found on the nearby mountain Kiirunavaara. Although Sami people have lived here for several centuries, Kiruna only turned into a city for one reason–iron. The iron ore was created by volcanic eruption thousands of years ago.
When I heard that Kiruna’s Church from 1912 has been voted Sweden’s most beloved building of all time I decided I will start my day visiting it. As I entered the Sami tent-shaped Church, the first thing that my eyes rested upon was the magnificent painting of sunbeam behind the alter. Earlier, the Sami inhabited Kiruna and the region around. Then the Swedes invaded Kiruna and settled here. This 400-year old Church marks this invasion. The organ has three interesting sounds, birdsong, drum and reindeer hooves. The organ keys are made of reindeer horn.
After having a lunch of grilled focaccia and roasted veggies, I set off on foot towards the 40-seater coach bus that would take me down the iron-ore mine with our lady tour guide, Lisa. As if lifted straight from the pages of Jules Verne” s “Journey to the centre of the earth”, the bus took us inside the mine’s paved road and didn’t stop until we were more than 500 m down. My jaws fell as Inengrad told us that the mine’s daily production of iron ore is enough to build six Eiffel Towers. After watching a short film and taking a guided tour of the process and machines used for mining, we were informed about how blasting is done with a special technique. Every night, all year at 1:30 am, the city of Kiruna feels the ground shaking from these blasts. Inserting in my pocket a sample of the concentrated magnetite pellets that make the mine – and the town of Kiruna – possible, I enjoyed a cup of complimentary coffee at the miner’s canteen before returning back to my chalet.
The experience of the mine was so overwhelming that I forgot that in a few hours I was going to witness a unique arctic phenomenon. During summer in Kiruna, the sun doesn’t set for about two months between mid-May and mid-July. If your body clock allows, you can just be outside playing frisbee at 1am, or you can just walk around while everyone is sleeping the way I did. Basking in the golden sun at 1 am I strolled around experiencing a perpetual sunset that never arrived. I checked my watch, I pinched myself finally embraced the fact that I am finally experiencing it.
At breakfast, the berry-lover in me was delighted as I was introduced to the small golden blackberries, called cloudberries. I had them with my cereal and yoghurt and decide to get some cloudberry jam before I leave the Lappland. Little did I know that I am going to encounter more of nature’s bounty throughout the day as I was going to visit the Sami Museum.
To get a close look at the Sami culture, I went to the Sami Siida, a reconstructed Sámi Camp in Jukkasjärvi, which was an old Sámi Market and assembly place. More like an open-air museum, this is where I got a glimpse of Sami life, with reindeer, huts, lassoing, and their local food In the camp, various outdoor displays were depicting the traditional lifestyle of the Sámi people.
In Swedish, Lapland reindeer outnumber people almost three to one. We passed through a sequence of metal gates and into an enclosure of hard-packed snow where the reindeer were waiting. They stared at us with huge, glassy eyes. And as I had a bag of reindeer food pellets, they came near me and nuzzled for the food. After spending some time with my Rudolph, I relished a Sami coffee, Fika cooked in a pot over the fire. And then headed towards the Ice hotel that was just a few minutes away.
Imagine building a spectacular hotel over several weeks only to be destroyed at the season end. Would you still want to build it again? You may not, but the creator of the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarvi always does. Every year, tons of snow and blocks of ice from the Torne River that flows just behind are assembled together in November to erect the hotel of more than fifty rooms within a month. The hotel opens in the middle of December and runs till late April or early May. Its ice rooms, furniture and ice sculptures are individually carved by international artists invited especially for this task. Despite being expensive, thousands of guests spend a night in thermal sleeping bags in 23 degrees Fahrenheit, reviving in the morning in the sauna with a cup of hot lingonberry juice just to have this unique experience.
And then the hotel slowly starts melting as the days become longer and is gone by mid-May. But no one really complains because building an ice hotel has become a popular activity in Kiruna. Artists from all over the world wait for the invite. Since I chose Midnight sun and it was summer, I didn’t get the opportunity to stay in the Ice hotel. But to get an idea I tried my hand in ice sculpting and also took a tour around the ice workshop.