15th Jun 2019

The Polar North - 80 Degrees North 

Photo of JOURNEY TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD - ARCTIC #MemoryLane #Lockdown by Krutika Jain

Today, I am going to share with you my journey into the land of polar bears —The Arctic. It was indeed a journey to the northern edge of our planet which is not only extremely important for the world but also absolutely stunning.

On the morning of June 18, 2019, we took a 3-hour chartered flight to Svalbard located in northernmost Norway. The following day we went to see this beautiful place in Longyearbyen and played with some cute husky dogs. We boarded our mighty vessel- NatGeo Explorer and set sail. We were quite lucky to spot the beautiful beluga whales the following evening. It was arguably the best sight ever and we already had a feeling that our expedition was off to a great start!

On day 2 of our journey on the ship, our breakfast was interrupted by the sighting of a humpback whale. Our morning was spent cruising below the peaks and impressive glacial fronts of Hornsund while we prepared for the expedition ahead.


Photo of Svalbard by Krutika Jain

Setting anchor off the at Gnalodden, we geared up after lunch for our first walk on the shore. Navigating through the bits of glacier ice, our zodiacs heading to shore were greeted by the sounds of thousands of sea birds nesting in the cliffs above that give the site its name. Kittiwakes and Bruinich’s Guillemots filled our skies. While going back we explored this famous female trapper Wanny Volstad's hut who used to trap foxes and polar bears. Mesmerized by the beautiful setting we ended our day learning more about the flora and fauna of the Arctic.

Photo of Hornsund, Svalbard and Jan Mayen by Krutika Jain


Photo of Hornsund, Svalbard and Jan Mayen by Krutika Jain
Day 3

Just as exciting, it began with amazing lessons on climate change by Shell’s chief Climate Change advisor- David Hone. A couple of other fellow batchmates gave talks on their research projects and sustainability etc. We explored Storfjorden and went to explore the tundra and watch the scenery up close. It was so exciting to first spot a reindeer miles away and then move closer to it ..just a few feet away. Watching these amazing creatures graze on land made me feel calm. We saw these coolest birds - red phalaropes feeding in the lakes.

We went back to ship for lunch and post-lunch we explored Kapp Lee on the island of Edgeoya. We were in for a beautiful surprise when we saw some 20-30 walruses just a few feet away basking in the sun after their meal. Walruses are beautiful to watch - they are lazy and cute.


Photo of JOURNEY TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD - ARCTIC #MemoryLane #Lockdown by Krutika Jain
Day 4

This was a super adventurous day. We landed ashore for kayaking. A kayak is this small boat with two people rowing. It was amazing to go near the glaciers and watch the ice crackling. We did the famous polar plunge for which we were all waiting eagerly. Jumping into the ice-cold water at zero degrees Celsius felt so refreshing. We ended our day with an amazing yoga session as it was also international Yoga Day and the Summer Solstice (longest day on Earth). We enjoyed a Swedish menu and danced to the traditional songs till 03:00 am. It was beautiful to be in the Land of Midnight Sun on this important day. By now we were used to experiencing sun 24x7 and felt like we were on this ship for days.

Kayaking in the Arctic Waters

Photo of JOURNEY TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD - ARCTIC #MemoryLane #Lockdown by Krutika Jain
Day 5

This was a difficult day. The weather got tricky and there was fog all over. This obstructed the view and the captain could not land our ship due to which we could not go ashore.

But we were lucky to spot a few humpback whales piercing through the clouds. We learned about the traditional whaling culture of the Arctic and the current impacts of climate change on ocean life. Interactive sessions with the people on board made the whole trip even more exciting. But day 5 was also a lucky day as we spotted a polar bear, watching it through binoculars and everyone was pretty excited to have sighted their first bear.

Humpback Whales!!

Photo of JOURNEY TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD - ARCTIC #MemoryLane #Lockdown by Krutika Jain
Day 6

Unfortunately, now we were closer to the end of this beautiful voyage. We woke up to the fog slowly disappearing and the morning began as usual with sessions on climate change and leadership. In the afternoon, after lunch, we went ashore on zodiacs to hike at Bellsund on our nature trek. We saw reindeers up close and some Arctic Fox footmarks on our hike. We were slowly falling in love with the beautiful Arctic landscape and also becoming aware of our mission to protect this wilderness.

The Arctic Reindeer!!

Photo of Bellsund, Svalbard and Jan Mayen by Krutika Jain
Day 7

This was our last day on the ship, but a very special day in terms of wildlife. We decided to go ashore in zodiacs and went cruising into Magdalena Bay. Here, we saw walruses sitting quietly on sea ice and also some ringed seals. The animals were very close and the sight was breathtaking. While returning back, we were super lucky to spot a polar bear (female) and her two small cubs. The polar bears were around 400 meters away on the hill and the closest encounter we had ever had. After hearing stories on wildlife, we went back to our ship for some farewell dinner and very special group presentations on how countries can take up steps in combating climate change.

Photo of Magdalena Road, Flagstaff, AZ, USA by Krutika Jain
Day 8

We landed back in Longyearbyen, had a good breakfast and left to see the Museum. The museum was filled with the history and science of the Arctic and it was amazing to learn about the Svalbard life from our tour guide for the day. Longyearbyen, in Svalbard is a small town, northernmost in the world having a population of just 2300. The temperature increase in Svalbard is six times higher than the global temperature increase. A changing climate is already increasing challenges for those living there. Overwhelmed with the entire expedition it was time to say goodbye. We took our flight back to Oslo today and ended our day with team dinner and exchanged numbers and emails.

Photo of Longyearbyen, Svalbard and Jan Mayen by Krutika Jain

A Message for Everyone

The high Arctic is a beautiful place and going up to 80 degrees north gives you a sense of joy and purpose. The purpose is to protect this beautiful place and ensure that future generations are able to witness this beautiful piece of land. It is no joke that sea ice is melting. Polar bears are dying due to malnutrition and starvation, the permafrost in the Arctic is melting. The Arctic is seeing changes it has never seen before.

The Arctic is like the air conditioner of our Earth. What happens up there affects us here in our world. Some say the time is over while some are still positive and hopeful. I would like to stay hopeful because I feel that together we can change the world by taking small green steps every day and adopting technologies that will provide solutions in the long run.

I would like to end with this famous quote by Barack Obama - " We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it".

Share your thoughts about it in the comments below.

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