It started with a birthday present my daughter gave me. Falling Off the Map by Pico Iyer.
I read about Iceland in this charming travelogue written about a whimsical gathering of those countries that are so isolated geographically that it creates a unique culture.
I had already read often enough about Iceland and its feminist culture (especially the day their women went on strike). Iceland’s new prime minister is a feminist and environmentalist who is among the youngest leaders in the world. She has a degree in literature with a special interest in Icelandic crime novels.
Then there is Jules Verne’s journey to the centre of the earth starting inside a volcano in that country. Add to that the fact that it is a country where almost everyone will write a book in a lifetime and where they hold an annual Book Flood.
So we went there in the warm summer with temperatures of 1 deg Celsius. That’s not a typo. It was One degree Celsius. We hired a car at the airport where they suggested we buy extra wind insurance since the wind could sometimes blow the car doors off. My family was giving me looks ranging from ‘Why? Why are we here?’ to ‘I don’t believe I agreed to this!’ to ‘Can we go home already??’ ‘Couldn’t you have read a book about Disneyworld instead?’
Anyway, my cheerfulness saw us through this unwarranted hysteria and we proceeded to have a wonderful holiday driving around the country.
It really is the land of fire and ice and the untouched landscape feels like it is the way our planet might have at the beginning of time, when the interior was still boiling hot and the snow was still pristine and the sulphur fumes filled the skies for millions of years before the primordial soup even started cooking.
There is a stark and primal beauty in the landscape. Not surprisingly it has provided many locations for the shooting of Game of Thrones.
Their architecture also reflects the aesthetics of nature, like this serene church seeming to just rise out of rock.
We did not have the courage to eat the fermented shark, sheep’s head nor ram testicles but we did eat delicious black bread baked in tins which are buried underground next to hot sulfur fumes. The food was excellent everywhere though expensive but we never really cared much for Skyr which is a kind of fermented yoghurt. We had the best carrot cake ever at a café which also housed a dairy with the most enormous cows.
We had showers using hot water from underground hot springs and we saw the original geyser after which all underground springs are named.
What was wonderful to see was that unlike in other countries the tourist spots were not barricaded and protected within an inch of their lives with turnstiles and gates and what- nots. The ticket cabins were discreetly placed at a quiet distance. Simple signboards said that this beauty was an inheritance of all humans and we should take care for our own safety and also to maintain the beauty and integrity of the wonders. Isn’t that truly civilized behaviour?
We saw gorgeous Icelandic horses, also in enclosures that were almost not visible. Just a rolling expanse of meadows and sky behind them.
Sadly we missed the aurora borealis but the most breath taking sight we were fortunate to witness was a glacier breaking up as it reached the sea. Its pristine blue was just so BLUE and the floating icebergs in the transparent water seemed so ethereal. The grey sky with the occasional seagull swooping past, the rumbling of the water as it melted into the sea. It was all just mesmerizing. Like the end of the world. Beautiful and sad at the same time.
The song Gerua from the SRK Kajol film Dilwale was shot on location in Iceland , resulting in a stampede of Indian tourists in the last few years. Shamefully this has resulted in such a trampling of the stretch of land where the shooting took place that it has now been closed to tourists.
Visiting a place like this is an out- of- the- world experience in a way, but I am always conflicted when urging others to visit it. More tourists to a place like this means more everything–from increased waste products to a bigger carbon footprint to more consumption ….but then we also did it….so…I don’t know.
Do visit it ? But be good 🙂