Europe The sights offered by Iceland, Hemamalini Sukumar realises, are not Photoshopped as she had believed
With iridescent moss on inky black craters, liquid lava snaking through deep valleys and white speckled mountains shaped like mammoth gothic structures, the landscape of this country looks quite surreal and lunar, almost as if you have chanced upon a little piece of the moon, here, down on Earth. Despite the freezing weather and seemingly inhospitable terrain, this country makes you feel like you have reached the edge of the world and beyond, in a way that no other country possibly could.
Elves, caves and waterfalls
For the uninitiated, elves live in caves and trolls live in the mountains. This kind of statement that most of us would dismiss as a myth or as a statement from a Tolkien novel is an everyday belief for most Icelanders. As our local caving guide took us deep into the bellies of a dark, musty, cold cave, he narrated stories of caves and elves that seemed so real in the darkness that I half expected a tiny man in a conical hat to invite me for a tea party inside its igneous interiors.
As part of the Golden Circle route that stretches from Reykjavik and into central Iceland, we stopped by at Thingvellir National Park, where autumn had given it an entire golden glow of yellow leaves. A rather interesting experience that you can have here is to snorkel or dive through the cracks between the Eurasian and American continents beneath the melting glacier at the Silfra fissure.
This route touches the geothermal valley called Haukadalur, filled with liquid turquoise pools and steaming geysers. The star attraction of them all is Strokkur which erupts into a gushing fountain of steam that goes up to around 30m.
On the way back to the city is Gulfoss, which literally translates to Golden waterfalls. When looking at the in-flight magazine on the flight, there was a description of this waterfall that came with a picture where a rainbow was strategically placed at the centre of the falls. I remembered rolling my eyes at my friend and mumbling something about Photoshop when looking at it. In a funny twist of events, we managed to catch the falls on a sunny autumn day when there really was a rainbow that made the waterfalls look quite like a picture-postcard from Iceland.
Climbing a volcano
A winding river of lava cuts through the base of a mountain, behind which lies the much-talked about, unpronounceable peak of Eyjafjallajökull. We started the hike by clambering the rugged tiers that form the base of the mountain. It is pretty hard work; holding on to ropes at certain places to balance slippery slopes where the path is unforgiving and steep. Not being used to climbing with crampons on ice, I must admit I was walking quite gingerly over the fresh, pure snow that seemed to pile on really quickly, much to the consternation of my hiking guide. But the views, throughout the climb are unbelievably drool-worthy. Rolling green plains cut with fuming lava in the lower hills and as you climb higher, cascades of crisp whiteness that sparkle under the winter sun. The summit, at a cool minus fifteen, also had an incredibly cool view of the volcano enjoying a morning smoke. A view, I later heard, many have given their lives for.
The Cloud Dance
Words really don't do enough justice to describe the phenomenon of the aurora borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights. Iceland, is one of the few places on earth where the sightings are most common and more often than not, predictable during winter. As I looked up at the sky, the lights magically descended as a shiny green miracle and slowly danced their way across the horizon, sending its spectators into a hushed silence of respect. It was beautiful. More than anything I can ever remember seeing.
I could also say the same thing about this far-flung little country where the mountains cry hot tears and where the sky dances at night.