Manifesting Magic...A story of how we witnessed the Northern Lights on the cusp of the Pandemic

4th Mar 2020

Manifesting Magic

Photo of Manifesting Magic...A story of how we witnessed the Northern Lights on the cusp of the Pandemic by Manasi Mankatty

A frozen lake. A starry night. A cloudless sky. And a bunch of people hopeful of witnessing something that they had dreamt of for a few years now.

I came across the phenomenon of Northern Lights a few years ago and since then I was unable to get it out of my mind. I researched all about it. The reason behind the phenomenon, places from where they can be viewed, months that promised the best chance of occurrence.

My recent trip to Finland was largely driven by my urge to experience them. Northern Lights can be seen from many counties in the northern hemisphere such as Iceland, Norway, Russia, however, Finland had its own charm to me. It was an off beat destination, still uncommon amongst tourists, a country led by one of the youngest Prime Ministers in the world, ranked highest on the World Happiness Index and claims to be Santa Claus's official abode. And that's it, I was sold ! Moreover, I wanted to experience 'white wonderland' forever - so there I was...planning a trip to tick a pile of bucket list goals.

Once that was done, it was not difficult to find a perfect itinerary. A travel group with whom I had taken my first solo trip had one which completely suited my needs and even exceeded my expectations. While the itinerary covered cities like Helsinki, Tamepre and Tallinn (in Estonia), the one destination I was looking most forward to was Rovaniemi.

Post taking a train ride from Helsinki, we were in Rovaniemi, a small town which is practically less of a town and more of a forest is one of the most breath-taking places I have experienced. Even before we boarded our flight to Helsinki, most of us were equipped with things that would ensure maximum chances of seeing Northern Lights- apps tracking Aurora activity, following pages of Aurora Hunters, checking weather conditions on daily basis - we were as prepared as much as we could...this was a unique life opportunity and we were not going to let any stone unturned.

Our travel group had arranged a private aurora chase for the day that we reach Rovaniemi. We were visiting in March, which was one of the best times to view them, even then watching Auroras was always a game of fate, a game the Aurora Hunters played every night, not knowing 'when', 'where' or even 'if' they would be rewarded with the sighting. Northern light sighting was largely dependent on 3 variables; Kp Index which quantifies the geomagnetic field- higher the better, cloud coverage- ideally clear skies preferred and the location - farther away from city to reduce the light pollution

As we were layering up with thermal overalls at the adventure studio- Safartica (which has expertise in conducting all the adventure sports and tours) which was taking us for our Northern Lights tour, we got news of Rovaniemi experiencing high cloud coverage with low Kp index. However, we didn't let that piece of news dampen our spirits. On that bus ride from town to interiors we experienced tension and silence which none of us thought existed over the past few days. It was similar to which we feel before going for an important event...the life changing event...could be taking up an important test for few people, could be an event as big as someone's wedding or launch of a new venture. Point is, this was that event for me.....I had waited since eons for this. This trip had eluded me for almost two years now for various reasons...exhaustion of leaves, critical projects being on horizon, tonnes of weddings in the family to name a few. I had come so far, with one single motive- to see those green lights in the sky. And in the next few hours I would take that test and also know the result- only difference being that nature was going to write the test for us and also examine it. Apps or aurora hunter's expertise would be futile. It was the particles emitted by the sun thousands of light years away from us that would decide my fate.

A private northern lights chase has 2-3 pit stops, with the hunters checking the weather conditions at every location and then determining if the conditions were good enough to camp for the night or move on to the next location. So that's what we had - a total 3 chances to see them corresponding to each location. Our first stop was half an hour away from the city, and as soon as we got out of the bus, we knew this wasn't the spot for us. Clouds had taken over the sky. Forget the northern lights, we could barely see the moon under the thick cloud cover. With this failed attempt, we moved on to the next stop that turned out to be marginally better, the clouds were dispersing and we could spot the moon intermittently. With slight better spirits we left for our last stop, hoping that this would be it, lucky number three.

We got down near an open snow covered field. Clouds had cleared up giving us a wide view of the clear sky. While the hunters checked the Aurora activity, we waited with warm berry juice and cinnamon cookies to give us company. And then someone pointed at the sky. We saw a band of light grey, nothing even barely close to the kind of northern lights we had expected for, thanks to all those fancy Instagram posts. While the instruments with the hunters detected it to be aurora activity and pictures taken from those heavy duty cameras were enough proof that ideally a green band existed in the sky, we were not satisfied. We waited for the activity to get stronger, but all we could see was a faint greenish grey band over the sky. The Safartica people insisted that we took pictures while the activity lasted. What else could we do, it was our last spot and we were way past our tour timelines to wait any longer. So we did what any one would do in that situation - took pictures, ate away the cookies and accepted what was offered to us - a star filled sky instead of the glorious northern lights. But honestly, wasn't that also a rare experience - to witness a sky filled up to the brim with stars on a wide open field in subzero temperatures. Where else could I have experienced that! So for the time being- I forgot all about the aurora; rather the absence of aurora and made the best of what was offered.

Photo of Manifesting Magic...A story of how we witnessed the Northern Lights on the cusp of the Pandemic 1/1 by Manasi Mankatty
Northern Lights on our first tour

On the way back we experienced silence again, but this wasn't the silence of anticipation, it was the silence of loss. Nature had rolled its dice and decided against us seeing the lights. We blamed everything- from global warming to all those jealous pessimists who had laughed on our wish to see the northern lights, secretly wishing for us to never witnessing them - they had jinxed it and now I was going back to hotel with pictures which would convince any social media platform of me having seen them; the green band was evidently visible in the photo, but it was missing from the place that truly mattered - my soul. I missed that feeling of exhilaration that I thought I would experience. And that's when I realized, I could fool the world by showing them the pictures, but it was me whom I could never trick into believing the same.

For one entire day, I lost faith in nature. I thought it was all a farce, it was all a hype- a big photo shopped fraud which duped millions of us into believing that something as magnificent as Northern lights as seen in those Instagram posts actually existed.

I went through all the stages of grief- anger, denial, bargain, depression and acceptance - though not in that particular order. I had come so far to see them; how could I go without 'seeing' them. I felt cheated, disappointed and hopeless. What was anticipated to be the highlight of the trip, ceased to exist.

Some of my trip companions felt the same. And that's when we knew, we had to try again. We got in touch with Safartica again. There were many factors against us; their Northern lights tours were full for the day due to it being peak season, when we got a spot for the next night (and our last in Rovaniemi) they denied a private tour on account of there being less people. Moreover, this tour would only have two pit stops further slimming down our chances. We were falling short of a few people to reach the minimum limit for a private tour. The other option was a regular tour with one pit stop and without a professional photographer.

Yes, one more tour was going to pinch our pockets, but we hadn't come so far just to see stars in the sky. So, in our last desperate attempt to tick that box at the apex of our bucket list, we paid extra to ensure that the minimum amount for a private tour was gathered. And off we left - just the 7 of us, in a bus made to accommodate 20. Our guide Pierre, one of the most experienced hunter at Safartica informed us of less than average Kp, which didn't rule out the chance of sighting, but neither did it confirm it. Yet, we kept our spirits high, we stopped ourselves from thinking of an alternative where we would not see them. We wished, we hoped and we prayed that this would be the night. We even hijacked the aux from the Finnish bus driver to play hindi motivational war songs to keep our spirits high! We felt like going into a battle, against what we had no idea. We only knew that we had to emerge victorious.

We landed on our first spot, a small clearing near the woods. Thankfully the sky was cloudless. After a few minutes, our guide suggested moving to the next and the last location since conditions at this one were not conducive enough. And then we moved to our next stop. If we thought the sight of the open field the earlier night was beautiful, this was something beyond imagination. A small snow covered path led us to the opening of a frozen lake with a thick covering of birch trees arched around its perimeter. Behind us, we had the moon as bright as million MW bulb illuminating the entire span of the lake and in front of us was the wide canvas of sky dotted with sparkling stars waiting to be painted green. The beauty, the cold, the silence, took our breath away all at once.

We knew this was it...our last night, our last spot and our last chance to see what we had only dreamt about for years. Yes, we would get many chances in another time, in a new country with a different set of people. But all we cared was for 'Now'; what with Corona pandemic spreading its clasps around the world. Little did we know that global travel post the subsequent week would cease to remain the exciting adventure it always was and turn into a sinister gamble of contracting a disease.

We had some time on hand, so our guide asked us to take pictures- well the night was indeed beautiful. And amidst taking all those pictures, we looked at each other alternately, all of us silently asking the same question...'would this be our night?'

That's how we wasted almost an hour of the limited time which was given to us. All the while, waiting for a miracle to happen. And just when we were falling short on hope, our faith was restored. All of us a sudden we heard a scream, it came from east and it was one of our friends. Alarmed, our initial thought was she had fallen in snow, again! Then she pointed her hands towards it and there we saw the magnificent glimpse of what we had waited for since eons.. There was a faint green band, evidently visible to naked eyes in the sky. And before any of us could register what was happening, it turned to this bright neon green streak which spanned the sky before us. And that was the moment we cried, like children who had been given the biggest toy there was...children whose lifelong dream had just been fulfilled. We screamed, we jumped, we hugged each other and cried some more. Nature had finally granted our wish!

Photo of Rovaniemi, Finland by Manasi Mankatty

The spectacular show on our second tour

We took a few pictures while the battery lasted in that professional camera. Never had I ever heard so many people screaming 'Fuck' as many times as we did in that one hour. We were blessed to have seen it. And as we stared at the sky, the activity increased...the green streaks started moving....rather dancing. The moment we fixated on one spot, another streak appeared somewhere else in the sky. Our necks kept turning to capture all that brilliance that was taking place around us. And so it continued, till the entire sky was ablaze with green streaks and patches. You know seeing the flashy neon signs at some pubs, now imagine seeing them traversing across the sky, just with a larger magnitude. That was the scene we experienced.

All that hoping, wishing, praying and trying had finally given its fruit. We had wanted it so bad that nature finally had to give in. It had to reveal itself, we had come so far only to see Aurora to put on a magical sight. But it wasn't just a sight, it was a full blown theatrical show with auroras dancing their way across the sky. A show that lasted for more than an hour, while we feasted each moment to capture it with our eyes, for it to be ingrained in our memories for a lifetime. While we had anticipated seeing some green streaks, now we were seeing a dance. We forgot all about photos, our scarves, gloves, caps and danced along with them hardly believing our luck. We couldn't get those stupid smiles off our faces. We grinned, we laughed, we jumped and even fell flat in the knee deep snow. The otherwise silent night was filled with our screams. We kept shouting and pointing at new directions as soon as we spotted new aurora activity. How amazing was it to experience that magic...the term ecstatic was an understatement. Till now, the concept of northern lights only existed in our dreams, but now it got manifested in front of our eyes. We screamed till our voice became hoarse and drank on the warm berry juice with a dash of brandy; okay, with a lot of brandy! It was time to celebrate, we had emerged victorious.

Photo of Manifesting Magic...A story of how we witnessed the Northern Lights on the cusp of the Pandemic by Manasi Mankatty

When most things had gone against us, our collective belief had made this night come true, the most magical night of my life.

Many would think that seeing the northern lights was not a huge deal that I made out of it by writing multiple pages about it. And maybe even we would have gotten over the disappointment faced the prior night out of our minds, being happy to have at least witnessed them, though faintly. However, at that time, we didn't care. We were in a universe of our own, separated from the reality the world was facing and which we too would face soon. Our life in those 11 days was contained within Finland, with a bunch of strangers who soon turned friends. And most of us only had one goal in that lifespan- to see the Northern Lights, and that we did!

#northernlights #finland #travel #rovaniemi #auroraborealis