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Travelogues

Norwegian New Year


Mahavir Prasad spends the New Year with Norwegian friends near Oslo, and discovers that "The best travel is about people, and if you travel well it is people that you are going to remember most."

Before I start with the narration, let me introduce the main characters and a little background. Per is a friend of mine; Brita is his live-in girlfriend. I've known them for about a year. Siv is their friend whom I'd met a couple of times.

Around mid-November Per invited me to dinner, the first time after Brita had moved in with him. Siv and Siv's seven year old son Sigurd were also present. I tried teaching Sigurd a couple of tricks, and I think that despite the language problem, we hit it off well with each other. It was there that Siv invited me to spend the new year weekend at her family's cottage. Per and Brita had already been invited, and they threw in an offer I couldn't resist: to teach me how to ski.

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The cottage turned out to be about 270 km north of Oslo, up in the mountains. We left on Thursday, 31st December. The journey was by Siv's car. Per pointed out some places of tourist interest along the way :Eidsvoll, where the Norwegian constitution was drafted, and freedom declared in 1814, after nearly 400 years of union with Denmark. Unfortunately, the independence didn't last long ; Sweden forced another union the same year, and the Norwegians had to wait till 1905 to be on an equal footing. These unions could partly account for why Norwegians are so fiercely independent, and their refusal to join the EU. When I asked them, all three told me that they'd voted 'no' in the last referendum.

 

Mahavir's first skiing lesson lasted not more than five minutes; it looked so hopeless!
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Lillehammer Eidsvoll was followed by Lillehammer, the host to 1994 winter olympics. Norway has consistently been among the top three medal winners in the winter games....a wonderful achievement considering that they are so few....less than four and a half million! Along the way we also passed the Viking Ship, an indoor all-wooden skating ring....the name comes from the shape....an inverted viking boat! (Norway was a land of Vikings at the end of last millenium). And then we drove along Mj°sa, the largest lake in Norway. The refreshment stop was at Hammer....fruit tea, cheese sandwich and hot chocolate milk....for a princely sum of 50 kroners! Most of the people like us, were out holidaying and skiing, and the ambience was good.

It was almost dark - as dark as it can get with all that snow around - when we reached the parking place. That was where I put the skiis on for the first time. I needed Per's help just to latch them on to the special ski shoes, and it was almost impossible to walk except in straight line! The lesson lasted not more than five minutes; it looked hopeless, so I walked with the other three taking turn in keeping me company. It took an hour and half to reach Siv's hut. Brita set about preparing the dinner, a mixture of vegetables and rajmah. Around midnight, Per, Brita and I went out, stood in the snow gulping in the fresh cold air, as we wished each other a happy new year! There are some moments that get etched in one's memory; this was surely one of those!

The next morning after a hearty brunch, my skiing training started in earnest. Per was my guru for the day. He showed me how to wax the underside of the skiis, how to latch the special shoes on to the skiis, and how to hold the sticks. I walked about a hundred metres before reaching a prepared track; fell once, twice....and then stopped keeping count. Per demonstrated how to bend the body and gain momentum on a small, not-so-steep downhill slope. I was successful on my fifth attempt. How happy I felt!! Almost like a child. The guru encouraged me to do it again....and needless to say....I repeated the performance! Other lessons followed....how to spread my feet and the attached skiis outwards while walking up the slope....and how to walk sideways when it gets too steep uphill. Managing to turn while skiing was a disaster. I managed about a couple of kms over three hours - hard work indeed.

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We returned to the hut around 3. I was cook for the evening while the rest of them took off for another round of skiing. I prepared chick-peas (cholle), mixed vegetable, and rice which they appreciated. I learnt a new game called 'The Transformation Game'....with the potential to transform!!

My focus : how should I
know what are the important things in life....in my life? How can I be sure about them?
Was my present life....way of living....ok? Or did I need to make changes?....which ones?....to make life fuller, richer, more enjoyable, and helpful for those I love.
Siv introduced the rules of the game....Per, Brita and I were playing it for the first time. But before we started, everybody needed a focus....something currently important in life that we wished to delve into deeper. My focus : how should I know what are the important things in life....in my life? How can I be sure about them? Was my present life....way of living....ok? Or did I need to make changes?....which ones?....to make life fuller, richer, more enjoyable, and helpful for those I love. Siv vetoes it....the focus has to be more precise. The shorter version is....what am I looking for?
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Brita's focus is job related, Per wants to be less inhibitive, and Siv needs to know how to take better care of herself.

We decided on the time that we were going to spend playing....and then, thinking of our focus we rolled the dice....we take birth....and then move along small squares on the board....everytime drawing a card depending upon the icon that we reach. The different cards are....life angels, awareness, insight, setbacks....the words on the card strike a chord relevant to the focus....it's amazing how often this happened....the game has been cleverly designed....we shared our thoughts and memories....everybody else is free to offer his or her opinion or to probe further....but we can always draw the line. The game is played at four levels....physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

My guardian angel turned out to be 'Flexibility'....a caricature with its body twisted in an almost impossible way. The other angels I got were play, freedom and adventure! What a synergy....almost uncanny. The first awareness I drew was 'touch'....my immediate feeling being that I can do with a little more touch at the physical level....and I mumbled it. Siv offered her hand and asked if I would like to hold it....I did....for a few seconds....and I felt touched!! Some of my other awarenesses were discipline, individuality, energy, family, efficiency at physical level....play, cheerfulness, exuberance, confronting, acceptance at emotional level....and simplicity, visulaization, inventiveness at mental level. I did not manage to reach the spiritual level. At times there is the option to gift some of the postive cards. Brita gifts me one, I make a gift to Per, and he gifts some to Brita as well as Siv. It's a thoroughly absorbing game....we play for about three hours....I would have continued for a few more but for sheer physical exhaustion....my skiing adventure during the day had finally started taking its toll....and we bid one another goodnight!

Thus ended the first day of this year....filled with more charm and fun than any other new year day that I can remember....greeting the new year standing in snow outside a hut on the mountains more than 6,000 km away from my home....the luxury of carefree sleep....learning to light a fire....the successful attempt at skiing....vegetarian dinner prepared the Indian way....a game that has the power to transform....and the company of three people I'd not known a year back but two of whom are almost friends now!

Thus ended the first day
of this year....filled with more charm and fun than any other new year day that I can remember....greeting the
new year standing in snow outside a hut on the mountains more than 6,000 km away from my home....
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Norway Another night of luxurious sleep....the norwegian breakfast of wholemeal bread, butter and about three or four types of cheese. The next day our destination was the local store....'butikken' as norwegians call it. Brita was the guru, and she refined my technique of holding the sticks. I made it to butikken....about eight kilometres.... surprisingly with very few falls. The restaurant adjoining the store was almost full with holiday skiers of all ages. Brita, and later Siv, told me that they didn't think I would make it....or perhaps they were trying to keep me motivated. Siv made an interesting observation....the contrast between Per and me; Per is 196, fair, blonde, well-built and, needless to say, good at skiing....I guess, I must have made a pitiable sight....wiping away my nose too frequently!!

We had an invitation from the adjoining hut....an old couple who had taken a break because their dog didn't like the customary new-year-eve fireworks in the city! I must confess that it struck me as rather strange....maybe I could not appreciate the dog's feelings since I don't have one. The couple showed us their hyttebok which had snaps from the time they had personally constructed the house with an account of all their stays since. It was obvious that they took lot of pride in it. Siv told me that every hut has this sort of log book. A wonderful idea indeed! In the hutbook, I wrote something to the effect that I would always cherish the memories of my stay, their company and the skiing lessons.

Yesterday, I came across a good site on art of travel....artoftravel.com. Taste this: 'The best travel is not about seeing a list of monuments, museums and landscapes. The best travel is about people, and if you travel well it is people that you are going to remember most. People that are strange, unique, foreign, similar, friendly, nice, hospitable, loving, kind, rude, outrageous, and normal. These will be the memories and experiences that stay with you forever, that no postcard can ever reproduce.' How true.


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