Engr. Abid Hassan Khan
Whenever my wife and I get a chance to travel, our interest is in lands and places which are remote, unknown (to many of us), or less visited and are enriched with history and culture. During one of our visits to Canada, we decided to go on a Scandinavian adventure. I was most interested to visit Greenland. Why Greenland? Because I wanted to watch ‘Aurora Borealis’; a magical cosmic show of lights known as the Northern Lights. It was one of the main reasons why we traveled to Alaska a few years ago. Unfortunately, it was summer in Alaska and we were left with no option but to enjoy simulated Aurora spectacle instead of the natural one. So, when we heard that Greenland is one of the best places to see Aurora Borealis, we immediately added it to our Scandinavian tour.
We got our visa for Greenland from the Danish Embassy in Toronto, Canada. For Bangladeshi passport holders, Schengen visa request needs to be applied from the Danish Embassy. We travelled with Air Iceland and Air Greenland, as we found that the best way to go to Greenland is to catch a flight from Reykjavik, Iceland.
When we landed at Nuuk airport in Greenland, what we saw from the window was a sight indeed. White! White! Everywhere! Only the runway seemed spared – as snow was piled beside the stretch of the runway for flights to operate. It was minus 10 degree Celsius in early October, and it was autumn in Greenland.
Greenland is the largest island in the world. About 80% of its territory lies within the Arctic Circle, with most of the land under permanent ice sheet. It is said that the first settlers named it Greenland to attract the green-starved Icelandic people, to live in this area, though it was never a green area. It was not until the 10th Century (CE), that the Icelandic Vikings started to settle in the southwestern area of Greenland. In about 13th Century, Inuit (Eskimo) people migrated from North Greenland to the southwestern part. The Inuit survived what is called the little ice age (approx 16th century), but the Icelanders disappeared. Now about 88% of the population is Inuit.
The airport terminal in Nuuk , the capital city, is smaller than any of our Bangladeshi domestic airports. Reason being, only 30-seater or so small planes operate their flights to Greenland. Taxis are readily available from the airport. On our way to the city, we saw cars covered in six inches of snow. In Greenland, freezing winter starts from November. Autumn and spring seasons are very short, while summer is from June to mid-September. One thing that caught our eyes was colorful houses. We came to know that Greenlanders paint the walls and roof tops of their houses with different colors. This colorful decor gives them respite from the year round monochromatic white scenery.
For accommodation in Nuuk, there are hotels and furnished apartments. Prior to our journey, we booked a furnished apartment owned by an Inuit lady. All amenities were there along with the cooking facility. All vegetables and fruits that are available in Greenland comes from outside as nothing grows in Greenland! We enjoyed Greenlandic food at the restaurant, and we cooked in our kitchen as well. Greenlandic diet is seafood based and their choice of meat is Reindeer. The local supermarket remains well stocked with almost any food item. Fish and meat never dries out from super market showcases. Caribou/reindeer (one type of wild deer) meat is available in the wholesale meat shops and supermarket. We had packed some spices to Nuuk so that we could cook Caribou meat with a Bangladeshi twist. The texture of Caribou meat is like lean beef and it tasted delicious when we cooked using Bangladeshi spices.
The coast of Greenland, especially the west coast, is the place where all towns and settlements are located as the coastal area is ice free. There are few sheep farm too. There are many Danish citizens who work in technical and nontechnical areas. The local people, the Inuit, are friendly but they could only speak Greenlandic and some Danish. Very few people spoke English. We found that calling them ‘eskimo’ was derogatory and they preferred tourists calling them Inuit. Greenland has a national football team. The team is yet to be recognized by FIFA, as their football ground has no grass; they play on stone and pebble ground.
We met several American, Canadian and Danish tourists. Many of them were going to the northern part of the country to experience ‘tough’ weather. Though rental cars are available to move around, one doesn’t need to have a car to see Nuuk city. It is a small city with limited roads. In fact, one can see the whole city by walking. Outside the city, there are no roadways. Its towns are not connected by roads. Boats, helicopters and planes efficiently tie the country together. If any one wants to explore outside of the cities, dog sledge cart is the best option but it’s too risky due to unpredictable weather.
When we asked around where to go for watching Aurora, they said that we needn’t have to go anywhere. The lights can be seen from our apartment balcony! All it required was a dark night. Alas, we could not see the lights because our visit to Nuuk was during the moon’s waxing phase (moonlit nights). Maybe it’s a sign that we should keep chasing the Aurora!
Greenland’s main economic activity is fishing. 89% of its national income comes from fish and fish products. The country has many mineral deposits which account for 10% of the income. Tourism is also a part of income source.
There are plenty of small cruise vessel tours in Greenland waters for the tourists. We saw whales playing in the water, and large chunks of hill-like icebergs. We enjoyed a very novel way of catching fish in the crystal clear Greenland Bay. Fish is available everywhere so we just needed to put a colorful hook in the water without any bait to attract fish. We were not deprived of a good catch!
We visited the Nuuk Museum and had a great experience walking on the icy Nuuk city. We had a life time experience as we inhaled cleanest air on earth. One can shop for souvenirs made from fur, and handicrafts. However, they are very expensive. It is very difficult to understand how the people survived in such harsh climate year after year. A 2-3 days trip is ideal to extract the essence of Nuuk. Greenland was a different place than we had expected but it was like a dream. As we left Nuuk for our return journey, I thought of visiting Greenland again if I get an opportunity. I am yet to materialize my dream of watching the Aurora!
Engr. Abid Hassan Khan is a travel enthusiast, travel writer and industrialist. He has traveled to over 40 countries and published two books Bishmoykor Alaska and Peru– Bichitro Ek Desh .
All thoughts and opinions are the author’s own. The post has been modified to fit the blog format. – Sonia Kabir