A country of vivid natural contrasts and great beauty, Iceland is on every discerning traveller’s bucket list for more than just its famed Northern Lights. While it is a popular summer destination (think midnight sun and long days), the stunning landscape has a completely different beauty in the winter. It’s a country with slow-moving glaciers, sparkling streams, black sand beaches and giant waterfalls, combined with the fascinating culture of the ancient Vikings. I was fortunate to see the bedazzling Northern Lights during my recent winter visit, but several other adventurous activities kept me busy, too.
We were greeted by a volley of friendly barks from the huge but beautiful and intelligent Greenland huskies—it’s like they were waiting for us. As we were a dry-land sledding (sleds with wheels on), the ride was quite bumpy and we had to hang on tight, but it was fun, peppered with humorous asides from our friendly guide who knew each of the eight huskies by name. In summer (May-August), the husky teams go up to the glaciers and the sledding is on snow, and in winter (mid-August to December) the rides are from the farm in Holmasel (a 75-minute drive from Reykjavik).You can choose between one and three days of warm furry fun with these engaging animals. From Rs 8,997 onwards.
While slipping multiple layers over my warm jackets (balaclava, giant orange onesie snowsuit, three pairs of gloves, helmet, et al), I felt like an astronaut heading to a remote lunar system. But the hour-long trip by snowmobile up the Mýrdalsjökull glacier to the top of the volatile Katla volcano was such an adrenaline rush. Skip it at your own peril. After suiting up at the base camp, we were told the safety protocols and paired up: one of us would drive, while the other ride pillion through rugged white capped terrain. Even more exciting was the snowstorm and whiteout that happened as we took off. Riding the storm in your snowmobile is an exhilarating experience. Rs 13,230 per head. Details: arcanum.is
Yes, Iceland offers pristine clear waters for diving and snorkelling enthusiasts. Walking the stunning landscapes of the historic Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO heritage site (45 km north-east of Reykjavik), I found it hard to imagine that the clear blue Silfra fissure (glacial water from the nearby Langjökull, filtered through porous underground lava) lay some distance beneath my feet. The fissure is actually a crack between the North American and Eurasian continents, meaning that you dive or snorkel right where the continental plates meet and drift apart about two centimetres every year. The weirdly bright green ‘troll hair’ and multi-hued algae lends it an incredible palette of colours. The folks at Dive.Is, a diving and snorkelling school, operate a five-star PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) dive centre. From Rs 23,810 onwards for a day tour. Details: dive.is
Into the glacier
The ice caves of Langjökull, near Husafell, beckoned. Never having been in one, I quickly learnt that they can be man-made or natural—the latter are old and a trip there is weather-dependent in winter. We rode our super jeep to the base cabin and then moved into the noisy eight-wheel monster truck for a hang-on-to-your-seats exhilarating ride. At the glacier cave, we stepped into a wonderland of long blue-lit ice caves and tunnels, which included an ice chapel (for weddings with a difference) and even a banquet section where we lunched on chicken skewers and cold sandwiches washed down with wine. Over the base frame, the ice grows, and the stalactites and stalagmites are magnificent. Someone said they felt very Jules Verne-ish, and I must agree. From Rs 10,320 onwards. Details: intotheglacier.is
Need to know
Pick a reputed tour company that will organise everything—
including hotels, on-road meals and super jeep rides. Do your research well to wing it alone. Your travel can be planned from
simple and reasonable, to luxurious. And remember,
a Northern Lights sighting is not guaranteed.
Food: Though predominantly non-vegetarian, Reykjavik has a range of excellent restaurants—like Apotek, Dill and the gastropub, Public House—and getting vegetarian food (including Indian) is an option. Be sure to communicate your food
preferences to your tour company in advance.
Go equipped: In summer, and especially in winter, Iceland trips need sufficient warm clothes including waterproof clothing and sturdy hiking boots. Take plenty of sunblock, too.
On-flight reading: Iceland is famous for its sagas (historic narratives based on ancient events, like Egil’s Saga or The Saga of Erik the Red). So pick up one to understand the country’s rich history.