The Land Of Fire And Ice

Iceland isn’t foreign, it’s extraterrestrial! Suspended in mid-Atlantic at the very fringe of the Arctic Circle, it was for centuries the ultimate Thule of the known world. For many of us, it is a place visited but never seen, a mythical place where one refuelled on the way to somewhere else.

It is a country of sharp contrasts. A place where fire and ice co-exist. Where dark winters are offset by the summer’s midnight sun. A country where insular existence has spurred a rich and vibrant culture.

Iceland makes large demands on the imagination. There is a remarkably rich history and culture here, but material evidence is in short supply. There are no chateaus or pyramids, no Louvre, no Westminster Abbey. What Iceland has in great abundance is stories. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that there is hardly a hill or farmstead that is without the imprint of heroes and happenings, elves or trolls.

Conventional standards of beauty don’t apply here: one has to learn to see the landscape on its own terms. There are, first of all, almost no trees. But the starkness of Iceland’s wide expanses throws colours and shapes into strong relief — the intense green of the grass, strange rock formations, black volcanic beaches, crevassed icecaps, clouds scudding at almost supernatural velocity across the sky.

Hail falls into boiling craters of mud; glaciers sit atop volcanoes, melting into eerie patterns or releasing sudden floods when the energy from deep below erupts. In summer it is light nearly all the time, and in winter the night seems to last forever.

Rain can fall in any direction (even horizontally), and it can snow in the middle of the summer. But because Iceland is brushed by the warm Gulf Stream, the winters are surprisingly mild. Bengaluru’s Seema Jaisingh visits this enchanting land and allows Ritz a view of its stunning landscape through her camera’s lens.

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A visit to the man-made ice tunnel in Glacier Langjokull is a unique glacier encounter. It is a journey that starts at the roots of Europe’s second largest glacier, and takes you on a guided tour in monster trucks to the entrance of the ice tunnel, 1200 meters above sea level.

Langjökull, “The Long Glacier” (1,360 m, 4,460 ft.) is the second largest in Iceland. It has an area of about 950 km² and most of it rises between 1,200 and 1,300 m above sea level. It rests on a massif of hyaloclastite mountains. They rise highest under Langjokull’s southern and northern parts, but have not yet been researched thoroughly.

Four counties meet in Langjokull area: Árnessýsla (Arnessysla), Borgarfjarðarsýsla (Borgarfjardarsysla), Mýrarsýsla (Myrarsysla) and Húnavatnssýsla (Hunavatnssysla).

The Iceland Glaciological Society owns a hut at the foot of the nunatak Fjallkirkjan (1,228 m). Many glacier snouts crawl down to the lower lying areas and each of them has a name.

There are three smaller glaciers around the big one:  to the northwest is Eiríksjökull (Eiriksjokull), to the south is Þórisjökull (Thorisjokull) and to the east is Hrútfell (Hrutfell).

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About 11% of the land area of Iceland is covered by glaciers. Iceland has 269 named glaciers of almost all types: ice caps, outlet glaciers, mountain glaciers, alpine, piedmont and cirque glaciers, ice streams …

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More than 70 bird species breed in Iceland, and Iceland is a major stopping ground for north-south and east-west migrating birds. Seabirds, such as puffins, can be seen in many places around Iceland.

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Mýrdalsjökull is the southernmost glacier in Iceland, the fourth largest glacier, with an area of about 596 sq. km. It is located to the north of Vík í Mýrdal (Vik i Myrdal) and to the east of Eyjafjallajökull (Eyjafjallajokull). The popular walking route, Fimmvörðuháls (Fimmvorduhals) Pass, lies between these two glaciers.

The Myrdalsjokull ice cap conceals the upper part of a large volcano, the Katla caldera. Katla is estimated to be around 30 km in diameter, and the caldera itself is estimated to have a diameter of about 10 km. Katla is oval in shape with the longest axis NW-SE and covers an area of 110 sq. km. The highest points of the ice cap lie on the caldera rim and include Goðabunga, Háabunga, Austmannsbunga, Enta and Entukollar. Within the caldera, the ice is hundreds of meters thick. Eruptions can start in many places outside or within the caldera and cause great glacial outburst floods. Quite a few glacier snouts flow down onto the lower lying areas and discharge a great volume of water.

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This is Seljalandsfoss, arguably Iceland’s most famous waterfall. In a boundless green field, the cascade drops a whopping 200 feet from rocks above into a serene little pool below. The most insane part of Seljalandsfoss, though, is that you can hike through the back of the falls and view them from the inside out. This means you can stand alone in a glowing cavern while the sunset shines through the waterfall stream.

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Power Plant Earth is an exhibition located in Reykjanesvirkjun, a geothermal power plant owned by HS. Orka hf. The power plant is not far from the edge of Reykjanes, the Reykjanes lighthouse and Bridge between two Continents.The location is in one of the most beautiful lava fields in Iceland and its natural surroundings make it an extraordinary place to visit.

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Grindavik and the surrounding area are a must see on your visit to Iceland. Life in the town of Grindavík is colourful and energetic.

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The Blue Lagoon was formed in 1976 during operation at the nearby geothermal power plant. In the years that followed, people began to bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud to their skin. Those with psoriasis noticed an incredible improvement in their condition. Over the years, Blue Lagoon has been innovative in harnessing this gift of nature to develop different spa services and products. Today, Blue Lagoon is recognised as one of the wonders of the world.

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Iceland’s long isolation from the rest of the world produced a society that seems to revel in anomaly. Icelanders still speak Old Norse; they are listed in the telephone book by their first names; their alphabet has two characters that survive nowhere else.

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Brought to Iceland by the Vikings in the ninth century, the Icelandic horse evolved in splendid isolation from other breeds, adapting to the extremes of climate. Although small (technically they aren’t ponies, but are often so called because of their diminutive size, generally about 13 hands high), the horses are sturdy and swift, spirited but not skittish, affectionate and curious.

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Although Iceland’s food is unlikely to be the highlight of your trip, things have improved from the early 1980s, when beer was illegal and canned soup supplemented dreary daily doses of plain-cooked lamb or fish. The country’s low industrial output and high environmental consciousness means that its meat, fish and seafood are some of the healthiest in Europe, with hothouses providing a fair range of vegetables.