Wrapped in snow and music

Natural Beauty

 The daylight and a window seat give me an advantage to track the 5228 km terrain down, and breath in the life, time and history of the lands passing by. The flight chart displays — Lahore, Faislabad, Peshawar, Kabul, Samarkand, Penza, Moscow, Tula.... Helsinki is still hours away. Lapin Kulta, the popular Fin beer, is served and time flies. We get down at the the Helsinki-Vantaa airport. A chilly air welcomes us. We head to to Lahti — a city wrapped in snow, nestling close to Helsinki in Southern Finland. Snow is all round, though it is not snowing. The road has no traffic, perhaps, because it is Sunday. Sign posts whiz past — Mtsala, Karkora, Hanko....
Our affable Fin companion Saara Rimon takes up a flurry of queries as the vehicle glides down the road — The national epic of Finland is ‘Karlevala’; there are three main spoken languages Fin, Swede and English; Fin family, relationships, marriages and the conversation continues.

Land of Santa Claus
Our chauffeur Janne Perkkio has a Swedish-speaking Fin as his wife. He owns two buses and has his own company. And his wife with their 11-year daughter also drives! Perkkio employs two other drivers. “Finn people can do anything. There is dignity of labour and sense of equality...”, I am told as the bus slides on the snow-washed roads going up and down along the enchanting terrain. We are at the picturesque Lahti. The snow flakes welcome us at Hotel Lahden Seuranhuone — a newly built one. We check-in with the dinner planned at 8 pm. The Viking restaurant — Harald is close by and with Viking headgear on top and Fin music in the background, the table is laid with multiple cuisine.
Venture out and the street lights are filtering through snow, landing silently on the city lamp posts. We are in the land of Santa Claus. The next morning, buses from Lahti are moving to various directions. One of them has a Lipolli electronic sign board. “What is the population of Lahti?” I ask the receptionist. The lady throws her hand up in the air saying, “It is a big city with a population of one lakh people.” The Fin Capital Helsinki has only five lakh inhabitants.
Finland is an environmentally clean country (one can drink water straight from the toilet tap). There is no concept of bottled drinking water like in India. Nevertheless, the country is not letting its guards down on issues like clean water, be it on or underground, treatment of waste water or re-cycling of all kinds of home and industrial waste. The separation of waste is done at home in separate bins and children too are aware on how to segregate their trash.
Lessons learnt, we drive down to Helsinki and check into the centrally located Simonkentta Hotel where plenty of Chinese visitors move in and out; some of them enjoying their smoke outside, with the temperature hovering at three degrees below zero. Every visitor here aims to soak in the weather and feel the city in their short stay.
Finland is also the land of Nokia. The company’s head office is close to a frozen lake. “Lot of Indians are working in Nokia,” I am told. The offices of Polaris, Kemira, Ramboll, Waterix, Honda, Suzuki pass by as we drive into the city. Snow has twisted around the leaf-stripped Birch and Spruce trees lined up all over the city and the speeding wind from the Baltic sea has slowed down as night life springs to its feet.
It is our last day in the Finland. There is no way one could go to the village of Santa Claus in Lapland in Northern Finland. So we chose the other best option — the Nuuksio National Park, about 35 minutes form Helsinki, where the snow leads you to a wilderness that seeks complete silence. After a sumptuous vegetarian lunch of trumpet mushroom, cauliflower, broccoli and aartichoke fernel, we move on to the forest track. There are seven of us leaving our footprints in the snow. Pekka Vaarianen, a rock climber, nature lover and a poet, leads us to the forest where “two bears are fast a sleep.” says Pekka. He hugs trees as his way to “give back nature what it has given to us.”

Finlandia
Our track in the snow culminates into a small hut where a fire is lit and black tea is made using melting snow by the inimitable Pekka who claims to have 62 girl friends. “One of them is right now attempting the climb Mount Everest,” says Pekka reminding us that he is soon going to be in India on his way to the Everest. Back to the base camp and sauna bath, Pekka and Saara Rimon sing a song together.
It is evening time and we are about to move to the airport. The wooden cottage is reverberating with the singing of the duo — Finlandia. Both have their eyes moisten. “Every time I sing, I cry....”, explains Saara. “Same with me”, Pekka seconds. “What is the song?” I ask curiously. “It is a love song for the country. One day you will rise... you will have your day...,” Saara translates the emotions. One bids adieu to the woods, snow, Sara and Pekka. We take off from the Vantaa airstrip with a bit of everything, tucked somewhere in the recess. Kiitos (thanks) Finland.

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