“It must be a fairy tale” I thought, when our Geography teacher in school said “North Pole and South Pole have 6 months day light and are dark for 6 months. I wanted to experience it before I believed it.
I planned my first overseas vacation with my wife in 1983, when I was in Dubai. First thing which came to mind was to visit the Arctic region in North Pole where the sun shines at midnight.
There was no internet and WWWs at that time. None of the travel agents, either in Dubai or India, had any clue as to where and how to reach the place. I decided to plan my trip by myself. I was reasonably sure that the midnight sun could be experienced from one of the locations in the northern part of the Arctic region.
By the time I reached Oslo on 23 July 1983, I was pretty sure that my best shot was from a place called North Cape in Norway. It was the northern most tip of Norway, a distance of about 2,000 kms to the North of Oslo. Out of this, a distance of 1,200 kms up to Narvik was accessible by train. The rest had to be covered by road.
We hired a car to start our journey from Narvik to North Cape. I guessed, at the average European highway speed, it would take about 7-8 hours to cover the distance of 800 km. I was shocked and was not prepared to believe when the rental car agent said it would take us 2-3 days to reach. I was determined to visit North Cape to fulfill my childhood ambition.
The road was very narrow, just about 7-8 feet wide for two way traffic. If there was even a small car approaching from the opposite side, one of the cars had to back up to a point where overtaking was possible. The winter snow fall made the road rough and worn out. The drive had to be as slow as 10-20 kms per hour most of the time compared to the average 160 in Europe
There were innumerable large lakes on the way. Since there were no bridges, at times, we had to drive around the lake for a long distance of about 20-25 km – a distance which would otherwise have been just half a km if there was an accessible road/bridge.
The drive though had a unique scenic beauty about it. It ran along the coast of the Norwegian Sea. On one side, just at the edge of the road, the land had suddenly sliced down, at timed as deep as 200ft. At the bottom of the sliced land, there was frozen seashore and then a vast view of the sea and horizon with a rare view of ice slates at the sea shore. On the very edge of the top of the sliced land, was the narrow road we were driving on. On the other side of the road there were a series of high mountains or valleys with unique views at every turn. A drive of a lifetime, indeed.
To save time, we had pre-packed lunch and dinner in the car itself, instead of taking stops. A cup of coffee with khakras, chips and similar snacks kept us going. We had tea/coffee at the gas stations whenever we stopped for gas.
We finally reached North Cape on the afternoon of 25 July 1983. That was my life’s longest continuous drive, a non-stop drive of 46 hours without rest or sleep.
We spent watching the sun through the night. The temperature was around freezing point
North Cape was a totally isolated place. We could see the sun moving from one place to another in a circle, all the time right on our head. It was a slightly hazy day, but we were lucky to have occasional clear sky. It was bright white till the evening. In the evening it started turning a little yellow. At midnight, it was bright orange with multi-coloured clouds – a mesmerizing view.
Midnight Sun at North Cape 11 pm to 1 am
At the observation point, there was a post office and 3 telephone booths. We purchased a few post cards from the post office and posted them to the dear ones. They had a machine which stamped our passport “North Cape – July 26, 1983 00:55”.
We were quite excited and thought of calling dear ones from there. The tariff was very high and there were no cell phones at that time. We decided to restrict calls to our parents and children to inform them that we have ultimately reached the place where we planned to be.
We inserted Kroner in the first booth, but the credit failed to appear on the screen. We realised it was not working. We tried at the second booth. This machine also swallowed a Kroner without giving any service. Unfortunate.
We still tried phone at the third and last of the booths. As we inserted a Kroner, there was no response. Disappointed, I banged the box. Surprise! I saw quite a few Kroners coming out of the machine! I collected all of them, and dialed our landline in Dubai. As it was ringing, I inserted a coin, the coin came out but I could here the voice on the other side. Eureka!
We took complete undue advantage of the free calls. Hoping for further gain, I banged the first two machines, they were dead. They did not throw out any coins like the third darling.
Overall, we were richer by a few Kroners by the time we forced ourselves to leave the place! It is true the sun shines at midnight!
Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa
Edited By : Meeta Kabra