Nature's beauty in a nutshell

Nature's beauty in a nutshell

Raw and rugged in some parts, dreamy and fairytale-like in others, the fjords in Norway inspire a childlike wonder at the grandeur nature can conjure up, writes Arundhati Hazra

The fjords around the country are frequented regularly by tourists in cruise ships.

Among hills and mountains out near the sea, the Norseman has found his home. These words, by Norwegian poet Ivar Aasen, resonate in my head as my ship cruises through majestic fjords on the penultimate leg of my tour of Norway.

Norway is a country that seems to have won the jackpot in terms of natural beauty, and the tour, a self-guided day-long journey from Oslo to Bergen by train, ferry and bus, provides a perfect opportunity to soak in all the splendour.

My trip begins at daybreak, with the 6.25 am train from Oslo. The train goes all the way to Bergen, but I intend to alight at Myrdal to experience the tour. Mountains in the distance shake off mist as the sun peeks over their peaks, and the colours of the Norwegian countryside rush past — candy-coloured cottages straight out of a postcard, emerald green conifer forests speckled with autumn hues of red and gold, electric blue waters shimmering in the sun.

Ski destination

The train climbs steadily to Finse, the highest point on the Norwegian rail system. In the distance is the Hardangerjøkulen glacier (Norse names are designed to challenge spelling bee winners, I think), that was featured in the Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back, as the Rebel Alliance’s ice-planet base. The glacier is a popular ski destination too, and I gaze at the ardent skiers crisscrossing the silvery slopes.

The Flamsbana is a locomotive train chugging through the mountains from Myrdal to Flam. The line was constructed in 1940, and is among the steepest railway lines in the world, with a height difference of 865 metres between the start and end of the 20-km journey, with 20 tunnels en route. As the train takes me down to the Flam Valley, past rivers slicing through deep gorges and waterfalls threading down mountains, I stare slack-jawed at the scenic
beauty unfurling before me.

The train stops awhile at the Kjosfossen waterfall, and I join my co-passengers in clicking a few pictures in front of the roaring falls.

During summer, a dancer from the local ballet school enacts a huldra, a mythical Scandinavian forest spirit, dancing and singing in front of the waterfall, but there is nobody today — maybe forest spirits go into hibernation in the autumn chill.
I explore the village of Flam, before my next leg, the ferry to Gudvangen, commences. I check out the Flam railway museum, which showcases the history of the railroad along with miniature models showing the layout of the railway line. I grab lunch at the Toget café, built using two old railroad cars, and then sit at the edge of the harbour, looking out at the fjord. The word means passage in Old Norse, and is as intrinsic to Norway as canals are to Venice, with over 1,000 fjords around the country.

The two-hour journey from Flam to Gudvangen covers the Nærøyfjord, an arm of the 200-km long Sognefjord and a UNESCO heritage area. It is said to be the inspiration for the kingdom of Arendelle in the movie Frozen – the opening shot of the Arendelle castle is a spitting image of the view from Flam harbour. The fjord is named after Njörðr, the Norse god of seafaring, and created by nearly three million years of glacial activity eroding away at valleys. The mountains tower over my ship as it sails through the narrow fjord.

The bus from Gudvangen to Voss is waiting for us when we step off the ferry. The bus winds its way through the Stalheimskleiva Road, the steepest road in North Europe.

The ‘mail farm’

Stalheim was founded as a ‘mail farm’ in the mid-17th century when the Danish king decided to open a mail route between Oslo and Bergen, and in the years since, has inspired many a poet and painter with its views of the dramatic landscape. The 13 steep hairpin bends on the 1.5-km long road will make even the most level-headed people dizzy — I marvel at the skill of the bus drivers,
and think to myself that if I were directing the next instalment of Fast and the Furious movie franchise, I’d definitely set it in Norway and cast these expert drivers.

The bus pauses near the Stalheim and Skiva waterfalls, as well as on some of the sharper bends, and I manage to prise my eyelids open to take in the foamy white spray against the verdant valley below me, even as I hang on for dear life. Dusk falls in the last leg of the tour, a train ride from Voss to Bergen. The day has been a whirlwind, but I don’t want it to end. I am not a Norseman, but I feel like I’m leaving my home behind, among the fjords.