Norway's Svalbard: A Trip to the North Pole
Shooting an ad film on tea in Norway made for an unparalleled experience – the blend of warm Assam Tea, snow-capped peaks and dazzling Northern Lights ushered both comfort and adventure
Norway, a country blessed with glaciers, magnificent fjords and majestic mountains has been on the radar of adventure tourists for a long time now. This part of the world has also been a much-preferred locale for shooting films, largely due to Norway's stupendous diversity of landscape and topography. The temptation of blissfully resting in the midst of the awesome Northern Lights for instance, has lured many a visitor to this fascinating country in Scandinavia. And the best part of visiting Norway is that it is unspoilt.
By the way, I have had a deep sentimental attachment with the world famous Assam Tea since my childhood, as I was born and brought up in Assam. In spite of relocating to Kolkata, I still make sure that my morning cuppa tea is from Assam's famed tea gardens. And the gentleman from Assam who supplies my annual quota of tea is a humble, publicity shy bloke, Pradip Chakraborty, who is based out of India's Tea Town – Dibrugarh.
Pradip has silently been working as a crusader of Assam's Tea Tourism for close to three decades now alongside promoting Assam Tea in metropolitan India – Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Vizag – through a word-of-the-mouth publicity via the burgeoning Bengali community domiciled in these cities. Today, the Bengali bhadralok's penchant for tea is well-known and this small town guy from one of the remotest corners of India's North-East has been promoting the finest variety of Assam Tea with literally no support from the government.
As if to prove a point to the mandarins of Assam's tea industry, he has successfully shipped a consignment of fine quality Assam Tea to faraway Papua New Guinea, a country located to the north of Australia, renowned for its pristine beaches, magnificent coral reefs and active volcano spots. Thanks to Pradip's awe-inspiring enterprise, today, Assam Tea has found its way into the living rooms of the upper-crust residences in Port Moresby.
These days, innovation is the buzzword and the moment I suggested Pradip to do an ad film on Assam Tea in the icy backdrop of Norway, he was quick to identify the tremendous impact that advertisement would generate in the burgeoning Indian marketplace. So off we went – Zip, Zap, Zoom! Norway.
We landed in Oslo, the capital of Norway, fatigued after our 14-hour flight. But, having done our pre-departure homework meticulously, the transition to Scandinavia was smooth. With hotel bookings in place, cruise ship holidays reserved, bespoke sightseeing itineraries and multiple vantage locations for ad films selected well in advance, we were assured of a rollercoaster Norway sojourn.
Hats off to the mandarins of Norway's Tourism Department – Visit Norway! They have a dedicated Media & Press Centre and the executives are knowledgeable with deep insight into Norwegian culture and lifestyle. Since we had come with the primary business of shooting an ad film on Assam Tea, the Media Centre was well-prepared with their plan of action, offering us with a multiplicity of suggestions to choose the most appropriate locale for shooting the documentary.
After more than five hours of audio-visual displays with supporting background information on each region, we were still nowhere near to finding the right setting for our ad film. Finally, thanks to the resourcefulness of the Media Centre professionals, we winded up to have an impromptu lunch that offered us with an escape route to refresh ourselves and think creatively in our post-lunch session.
Nowhere else have I seen such professionalism in media circles as with the ones that I met at Visit Norway. Post-lunch, a renowned Norwegian ad film expert was invited to join in the deliberations and he sought all kinds of information pertaining to Assam Tea – how the British East India Company first planted the tea saplings, how tea is manufactured, Assam's culture, lifestyle and geography. Once we finished our presentation, he insisted that we choose the Northern Lights as that would offer the most appropriate setting for the ad film on Assam Tea.
And, the affable Norwegian went that extra mile to choose the exact spot for our film – Svalbard. Why Svalbard? Because of its icy fjords, majestic glaciers and its proximity to the North Pole. Svalbard is not just wilderness; it is Arctic Wilderness personified and the terrain is rugged to say the least. Since we were travelling in December to our ad film location – Longyearbyen, we witnessed the truly ethereal Aurora Borealis. I would never ever forget that dramatic trip on board the charter flight from Oslo to Svalbard, which I was told, happens to be the world's last northern airport!
We checked into a rugged log hut and the media crew provided to us by Visit Norway worked round the clock to get things ready for the shoot. Apart from designer tea bags, we brought with us traditional Assamese Mekhla Chador, conical-shaped Japi hat and the symbolic Assamese bell metal, Xorai and Bota – all of which would add an incredible Assamese dimension to the ad film on the ethereal backdrop of icy Arctic wilderness.
We were shooting at a time when the Blue Hour was on – a period characterised by the sun going below the horizon, which offers a matchless natural ambience wherein this unusual light phenomenon creates a magical panoramic setting. This experience is mythical, stuff of legends and Svalbard is the only place in the world where the Northern Light is permanent.
Once the three-day long shooting stint at Longyearbyen was over, we had enough time to explore the town on our own. Since the Northern Lights were on, we found most residents huddled inside their pretty houses, merrymaking. One local lady, dressed in traditional Svalbard wintry costume, who was a part of the ad film, got very curious and wanted to know more about Assam Tea and India. We spent an hour at her logged hut and the entire family were very impressed by Assam's rich culture and biodiversity.
Tea is priceless in small-town Longyearbyen and we gifted a couple of packs of Assam Tea to our host. But, funnily they don't know the art of tea-making. So, I played the role of a tea-maker and trained them, offering tips on how Assam Tea can cheer you up and enliven you even in ice-cold Arctic conditions. Fulfilled by our tea-training session, the lady of the house extended her helping hand and took us on a leisurely sightseeing tour. Our first stop was the Svalbard Museum, which rather ingeniously depicts the cultural history of this amazing region of Norway.
As the town of Longyearbyen is located on the Bay of Adventfjorden, one can reach there by boat. Fortunate as we were to have a local lady guiding us on a strip of land in the Arctic, we ventured to a place called Isfjord Radio, which in the days of yore used to be a transmission hub with stupendous panoramic views of the Arctic Ocean.
Ny-Alesund is another interesting place to visit and you will be amazed by not just the stark icy landscape, but also its state-of-the-art Research Institutes where scientists from more than ten countries carry out cutting-edge research. Unbelievably, the town has a population of just 35 denizens, with a slightly higher number in the summer months. I just couldn't help marvel at the spirit of enterprise of the Norwegian government, who in spite of the hazardous topography, have managed to build an airport, a rocket range as well as a fully-operational port.
Not all visitors to Svalbard are adventure freaks. You can opt for less daunting but fun-filled trips like the 'Be like the Locals' – an initiative of Svalbard Tourism authority that allows visitors to have a firsthand feel of life in Planet Earth's northernmost inhabited place. You also have the option of choosing the Polar City Break, which offers visitors a chance to spend quality time with locals and experience the best of Nordic gastronomic delights.
What can be more astonishing than the fact that in Svalbard, the polar bear population outnumbers humans beings. In Svalbard, it is – Polar Bears: 3,000 and Humans: 2,400.
The polar bear, unique to the Arctic, thrives on the icy contours of this region. The best place to spot them is to the east of Spitsbergen, but its very likely that you might encounter them in Svalbard proper. The female conceives cubs in snow-covered caves, and its a sight to behold to see the mother tending to the cubs so lovingly. While in Svalbard, it is always wise to venture with a certified guide as these polar bears consider human beings as preys and they attack real quick. The adults weigh in sizes ranging from 250-800 kg and can be brutally strong when in attacking mode.
We had the privilege of meeting Lisa Djonee, who left the comfortable ambience of life in mainland Norway and decided to relocate to Svalbard in search of new meaning. Lisa has been living in the obscure town of Longyearbyen, teaching at the local school. In her spare time, she simply goes all out exploring the expedition-like environment in this part of the world. The majesty and grandeur of Norway's Svalbard region is best summed up by Lisa herself – "I have had the joy of experiencing every season and, if you're adventurous, there's always something exciting to do here."
Renowned Scandinavian author Knut Faldbakken, many decades back had coined the phrase – "The art of making things cosy is Norway's most important and representative contribution to world culture." And, may I add that the world famous Assam Tea has epitomised the spirit of cosiness and taken it to a new dimension of experience.
For further information on Norway, please feel free to get in touch with:
Visit Norway department
P.O. Box 448 Sentrum
N-0158 Oslo, Norway
Phone: +47 22 00 25 00
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