Greenland! Ah ha! What a land! Greenland is planet earth’s largest island and the ultimate Arctic tourist destination. With an area encompassing all of 83,6330 Sq.miles, a population of just 55,877 as of 2018, GDP of $1.8 billion and above all blessed with an air quality which is amongst the best in the world, indeed makes for a great Arctic rendezvous.
No wonder, the irresistible urge to get up close with enormous glaciers, endangered Arctic flora and fauna (whale watching for instance) and a set of extremely hospitable people has meant that more and more visitors are heading to this dream Arctic holiday hotspot to unravel the mysterious Arctic phenomenon. While glaciers are common sight in Greenland, due largely to the gargantuan ice cover that kind of wraps most of this amazing land, one should also bear in mind that the number of glaciers that are positioned next to a town is limited.
Most visitors to Greenland opt to drive up to the glaciers in specially built vehicles at Kangerlussuaq and then fly to the glacial spots in helicopters. A small number of visitors also consider sailing on small mechanised boat-vessels to the glaciers from the nearest town. Places like Narsaqrsuaq also offers the possibility to walk up to the glaciers, although the terrain is difficult and may take several hours. Certainly not for the faint hearted. The vast majority of glaciers in Greenland are actually slow-moving rivers of ice. The icy Arctic phenomenon of “Iceberg” comes into the picture only when massive ice falls into the water. You just can’t help marvelling at the ethereal sight of glaciers delectably wrapped in castles of ice, and the sight of ice pounding everything that comes on its way along the mountainsides during its unhurried passage upfront.
Greenland has an Arctic climate with the average temperatures in Greenland doesn’t exceed 10° C (50° F) in the summer months. However, in the southern part Greenland and the deepest fjords, the temperature can hover in the vicinity 20° C (68° F) in June - August, and thanks to the superb air quality and low moisture levels, visitors to Greenland are assured of clear visibility that goes a long way in enhancing the joy of tourism.
Legend has it that Greenland owes its name to Erik The Red and its name dates back to 1,000 years that ushered in the first phase of the Viking era. Eirikr rauði Þorvaldsson (950-1003 AD) was named Erik the Red due largely to his red beard and hair, but he also was known for his fiery temper. If popular Greenlandic folklore is anything to go by, Erik The Red was exiled from both Norway and Iceland before finally settling in Greenland. Erik’s father, Þorvaldr Ásvaldsson, was exiled from Norway in 960 AD due to a number of murders he had committed and Erik’s family then choose to settle in Iceland. From Iceland too, they were exiled, this time due to Erik’s murder crimes and thus they found a safe passage to Greenland. The whole family decided to sail west and discovered a land blessed with mesmerising fjords and green undulating valleys. Erik was stupefied by the land of his dreams and went back again to Iceland to spread the news of his discovery - “The Green Land”.
Erik the Red set sail in 985 with a fleet of 25 ships to Greenland with around 500 people, domestic animals and all the nitty-gritty ingredients that might be required to carve out a new existence and survive in a country he wasn’t aware of before. Legend has it that 14 vessels were able to lay anchor at Greenland and Erik the Red set up his seat of power at Brattahlið, in Southern Greenland, while rest of the pack advanced further north to Nuuk. Thus, the two groups were referred to as the Eastern and Western settlements.
If early Nordic history is anything to go by, the first Christian Church in North America was built way back in the year 1000 at Brattahlio - Tjodhilde’s Church, which was later on rebuilt and renovated. This elegant Church today stands tall at Qassiarsuk. With the passage of time, the Viking Society grew up to a population of 3,000 residents by the year 1000 and endured the Arctic hardships for close to 500 years. Historians are still confused as to the exact reason of the Viking’s fading away, but agree that their disappearance must have been due largely to the extreme cold climate, frequent clashes and disagreements with the indigenous Inuit people, marauding European pirates and bouts of plague disease.
Now, history apart, Greenland is blessed with fascinating species of animals that are any wildlife enthusiast’s dream - from Polar Bears to Arctic Seals and Reindeers to Whales, this incredible nation offers the very best of Arctic wildlife. And what an adrenalin pumping wild extravaganza it is to embark on a guided safari tour of the hinterlands of Greenland! Indeed its one-of-a-kind experience to savour. The polar bear for instance is considered to be the biggest predator and the signature white polar bear is embellished in nation’s coat of arms. However, one must bear in mind that the endangered Polar Bear isn’t sighted that frequently and if you are still very enthusiastic to sight this wonder species, head for the secluded hunting grounds to the East and up North. The Reindeer and the Musk Ox although are commonly sighted by most visitors to Greenland and they thrive in the ideal habitats surrounding the neighbourhood of Kangerlussuaq.
While in Greenland, can Reindeers be far behind? Reindeer belongs to the deer family and happens to be the lone deer species in this amazing country. Reindeers are extensively found in the west coast and in the vicinity of places like Paamiut and Uummannaq. This shy animal is hyper reactive to unexpected sounds or activities and their sense of smell is awesome. Most visitors to Greenland are crazy about taking pictures of Reindeers and if you are passionate enough, the thumb rule is to take pictures when the herd is downwind. Bear in mind that Reindeers are extremely agile and can easily attain speeds of 70 Kms.an hour if provoked. Greenland is also a Mecca for bird watchers and around 60 species of birds are believed to breed in Greenland’s Arctic weather conditions, inclusive of the prized White-tailed Eagle, popularly referred to as the “Nattoralik”.
When it comes to Whale Watching, Greenland indeed is the best place on Planet Earth with a variety of Whales to be sighted, particularly during the summer season. Fin Whales, Humpback Whales and Minke Whales are the prized possessions of Greenland alongside the Bowhead Whales, Sperm Whales and Blue whales which are known to frequent Greenland’s icy watery contours. Here in Greenland, the relationship between man and animals is unlike any other nation - the mammalian species, like their human counterparts migrated thousands of years back from Alaska and Canada. Needless to say, these mammalian species have served as Greenland’s resource reserve and have played a pivotal role in shaping up the nation’s attitude and way of life.
The man - animal relationship is so intrinsic to Greenland’s philosophy that even today, hunting is by far the most important hobby for a vast majority of the people. Should you decide to embark on a trophy hunting spree, Greenland Tourism authorities have on their roster, a list of qualified hunting guides, who not only know the terrain well but also ensure that your hunting spree is 100% sustainable. Visitors to Greenland are fascinated by the unique tools used by the natives while hunting - Kayaks, Ulo (Women’s Knife), Harpoons, Spears and Soapstone Lamps for instance have mesmerized visitors for times immemorial. The manner in which Greenland natives manufacture avant-garde garments made out of animal hide and fur is in itself a marvel for the fashion connoisseurs.
Most visitors to Greenland come with the agenda of indulging in Greenland’s famed Hot Springs that are a natural phenomenon here and the island of Uunartoq is where most visitors are crazy about pitching tents. Here in the midst of rarefied arctic environs, the springs are warm enough and ideal rejuvenating ingredient for the body and soul. Time permitting, you would do well to venture to the uninhabited island of Alluitsup Paa and Nanortalik down south where there are three naturally heated springs to cater to your stressed out nervous system.The setting is picturesque - towering mountain peaks and itinerant icebergs are your companions as you lie in the soothing warm water - kind of natural Spa treatment. Other places frequented by travellers on the lookout for Hot Springs are known to head towards Disko Island and East Greenland where there are a multiplicity of springs. The temperatures can range anywhere between 50-60 degrees Celsius (122-140 degrees Fahrenheit).
In Greenland, the gastronomy scene is varied with an eclectic mix of time-honoured hunter’s food to contemporary international gastronomic delights. You can rest assured of quality - Meat is mostly sourced out of locally available marine mammals alongwith birds and fish which have been the cornerstone ingredients of Greenland for thousands of years. Given the fact that people of Greenland have to survive in harsh Arctic conditions, the meat content is pretty high as it provides the much required succour, energy wise to survive in such demanding conditions.
The culinary tradition of Greenland is a lesson for the contemporary world community and the manner in which they have proudly preserved this rich tradition in spite of the onslaught of modernity should be an eye-opener for modern day jet-setters. Yes, I am talking of Greenland’s strong social networking system by way of “community dining” and the “hunter’s catch being shared” concepts. Most restaurants in Greenland will have international menus but do give traditional Greenland cuisines a try as well since Greenlandic ingredients are in itself a great culinary experience. The essence is organic and one can rest assured - no artificial stuff here.
Greenland is Planet Earth’s hidden gem and it reminds me of Beatles’ great Ringo Star’s answer to the American media while on their first tour of US in the year 1964. When asked - How do you find America? Ringo’s curt reply was - “Turn Left at Greenland”.
Traveller’s Fact File
Greenland can be reached by air from airports in Denmark and Iceland. From Denmark, Air Greenland operates regular flights from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq and Narsarsuaq in the summer season. While in the winter months, Air Greenland operates just four flights to Kangerlussuaq every week. The journey time is approximately 4.5 hours. If you are travelling to Greenland from Iceland, Air Greenland operates two flights every week from Iceland’s Keflavik international airport. Air Iceland Connect too operates routine flights to Greenland’s East coast towns of Kulusuk and Nerlerit Inaat while Nuuk is well served by twice-a-week flights. Travellers who are destined to travel to Greenland’s West Coast can rely on helicopter rides and the frequency of flights being high, it is possible to reach West Coast on the day of your arrival to Greenland.
By Sea Route
Ferry services haven’t yet started that could link Greenland with countrys like Iceland, Denmark or even Canada. However, increasingly, cruise companies are including Greenland as a destination in their itineraries.
Greenland being an out and out adventure destination, Tourism authorities in Greenland have categorized accommodations to suit every budget that ranges from high-end hotels, B & B, Inns and hostels. As a traveller to Greenland, you should come with a sizeable budget and there isn’t much place for lavish or upscale indulgences. However, you can rest assured clean rooms, linen,s and toilets. What seems luxurious in Greenland isn’t even up to the mark on the luxury scale elsewhere. Most towns are blessed with a limited number of hotels and this is perhaps one of the reasons why you have to dish out a few pennies extra to book rooms that are at best basic in terms of visitor comforts. Be aware that there is no such thing as a 5 star hotel in Greenland and the closest in terms of star ratings is the Ilulissat’s Hotel Arctic - a landmark hotel for the fact that it the world’s most northerly hotel. Another hotel worth checking in is the Hans Edge that offers buffet breakfast and nicely renovated rooms right in the heart of Nuuk city.