13 March, 2018

Chasing the Northern Lights

Northern Lights

One of the most important things in my Must-Do-In-Life was seeing the Northern Lights dance or the Aurora Borealis. It was also one of the reasons for me agreeing to move to Sweden with my husband. Since last year, we were dreading and yet eagerly waiting for the winter to set in, hoping for clear skies and not-so-snowy days so that we could take off to the Lapland.

Do Your Research

Aurora Borealis happens because of solar flares which reach the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gas atoms towards the poles. That gives the brilliant greens and purple colour in the night sky. This solar activity is measured in a unit called Kp number which ranges from 0 to 9. So 0 means minimal activity and 9 means so much activity that aurora can be seen in France as well. I guess that rarely happens.

Technically, Aurora happens every night, but the closer you are towards the poles the higher the chances are of spotting one on a clear night. And this beautiful show of dancing lights may last for just a few minutes or hours or might not show up at all. So all you need is patience, time and money to spend days and nights chasing the lights in the freezing cold Laplands.

We tried to look at the weather forecast for months in advance, Kp number predictions and read a ton of reviews. We looked at where to spot the Aurora, who to book a tour with, how to get away from the “light-pollution” spots, how to keep yourself warm in the cold and even about camera tricks on how to take pictures of the Aurora. But when you are there, remember some things work and many don’t. You can never be prepared for everything.

Kiruna or Abisko

Kiruna is the northernmost town in Sweden, has iron ore mines and attracts tourists from around the world who come here to spot the Aurora. While, Abisko, a small village above the Arctic circle is also known for Aurora spotting and its national park. It’s just a 2-hour drive from Kiruna and is connected by train from Stockholm. Kiruna has more activities, restaurants options to stay for tourists because it receives more tourists, compared to Abisko. But the cheapest places to stay in both the places would be hostels where you could share dorms and stock up food from the grocery shops nearby to stick to your budgets.

We love the idyllic pace of a small town and wanted to be close to nature and have a more relaxing time. So we decided to go to Abisko, stay in a hostel there and relax.

So much to do

Abisko offers ice climbing, ice fishing, snowshoe hiking, snowmobile tours, Sami-Life tours and so many other things. We spent most of our day-time in walking along the trails in thick deep ice. We loved the stillness of white snow everywhere, glittering as the sun shone on it. The best activity was the dog sledging tour. It was amazing to see 10 powerful huskies pull the heavy sledge and run with it. They ran with such speed and barked to complain whenever we stopped the sledge. It seemed that they were never tired and wanted to run for more. While I was freezing as the cold winds hit me on my little-exposed nose and eyes.

The other fun things to do at night, apart from trying to spot the Aurora was to enjoy the heat in the Sauna. When the temperatures are well below -15C in the nights, nothing can make you as warm as a Sauna. A nice cold beer in the Sauna and rolling in the snow between Sauna sessions is the best Swedish thing I have learned so far!

Spotting the Lights

Despite all the planning, we were in Abisko for only 2 nights and 3 days. So that left us with only 2 opportunities to spot the Aurora. Unfortunately, on the first night, it was snowing. Fortunately, on the 2nd night, for which we had booked the night Aurora tour, the sky was clear. So in a group of 10, we hopped on 2 snowmobile sledges. Our guides took us near the top of a hillock with tepee pitched in the centre of a flat area. At around 8 PM they lit a small fire inside the tepee to keep us warm while everyone adjusted their camera settings to capture the lights. With naked eyes, we could see a faint glow in the north, which was slightly green in colour. With the long exposure in the camera, it came with a sharp green and purple colour.

Technically, we did see the Aurora but we didn’t actually see it like you do in the beautiful pictures. Some nice warm Lingonberry juice and Kanelbullar kept us warm in the tepee. Long chats with the guide and other aurora enthusiasts made us realise that we need to spend 4-5 nights in Abisko to give nature the time to show us its awesome colours.

Abisko was one of the best trips for us this winter and we would go there in winters and summers to just soak the beauty of nature and maybe even chase the northern lights.

Written by: Akanksha Srivastava

Hi I am Akanksha. After living and travelling to multiple cities and villages in India, I’ve recently moved to Stockholm. Backpacking across Europe, discovering cities and nature (especially Sweden’s Allemansrätt) convinced me to make this big move. Though I am still trying to find my feet in this city, I am glad to be discovering new stuff and things to do. Food, technology, motorbikes, the fast pace at start-ups and sunshine always keeps me ticking. If you are ever looking for a fika-buddy or a movie-buddy, feel free to shout out!

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