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Biking in Viking land

Hemamalini Sukumar
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Hemamalini Sukumar sets upon the trail that connects mountainous Finse, the highest point in the Norwegian railway line, with Myrdal.

“It’s a fairly easy biking trail, a little hilly in the beginning though,” said the gangly Norwegian guy in the bicycle hire shop, as I asked him about the biking route that we were going to start. I knew enough Norwegian to know that this statement, roughly translated into English, would read, “You are going to be knackered even before you get started. Better insure the bike, or better still, your life.” So with appropriate trepidation, we set upon the biking trail that connected mountainous Finse, the highest point in the Norwegian railway line to Myrdal, the gateway to the fjords.

It was a proper biking track, with a wide berth till the sloping edge, but it was one hell of a roller-coaster, going up and down and around the snow dazzled mountains. All around the track, the snow had melted to form lakes of milky blue. Twenty minutes into the ride, there was a narrow ledge that went over the beginning of a waterfall — on one side, you could see water thundering down from the top of a rock and on the other side, watch it crash over rocks into the arms of a waiting lake. It was surreal, almost like cycling through a water tunnel without getting completely wet.

This was soon followed by a section where the trail was almost vertical, like the rock-climbing wall in your gym. We decided that pushing the cycle while huffing was the most sensible thing to do in this circumstance when we saw a Norwegian 10-year-old in a tiny pink bicycle overtake us, whistling all the while. Nevertheless, there was plenty of visual beauty around us that made the trail feel quite forgiving. Autumn in this part of the world meant that Finse was showing off its last bits of colour, before freezing itself white for the winter. It had mossy lichen in rusty brown and neon green hues, in places where ice from the mountains had thawed into lakes. There were bunches of Arctic cotton-grass, which looked like fluffy white blobs of cotton, rolling around the mountain floor. The air felt crisp, like freshly baked cookies straight out of the oven. We thought that we had finally gotten into the rhythm of things when we realised that the track had actually straightened out and was now beginning to go downhill. The colors around us started changing from white to green as we descended in altitude.

The track was now through canopies of tall, mossy green ferns and giant lakes. We passed through brambles of edible berries that made for a convenient afternoon snack before reaching Myrdal just as the sun was beginning to call it a day.

Finse doesn’t really have buildings apart from a train station and two hostels, so we decided to stay overnight in Myrdal, which had one more hotel where we thankfully managed to find a bed. On first sight, my friend had remarked that the hotel gates and walls looked unusually iron-wrought considering its location in the middle of nowhere. We had dismissed this observation on account of the wilderness surrounding us. It turned out that these fences were not for preventing wild animals from getting in, but to prevent the inmates from going out. All this was cheerfully explained behind the dinner menu. The building was originally built to be a mental asylum and was now converted into a hotel — albeit a nice and quirky one at that. The hotel had a lovely, huge bookshelf from which I picked a book about Norse myths and settled comfortably into an oversized couch.

The first page of the book had a hand-drawn picture of the world according to Norse mythology. It had the sun, the earth and the sky enveloped by the roots of a large ash tree that is believed to safeguard living beings during the day and hum magic songs in the night.

I looked outside the window next to me and I could hear the faint sounds of a waterfall muffled by the thickness of the Norwegian woods. Sounded like music to my ears.


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