Ut på tur, aldri sur’ is Norwegian for ‘Out on a hike, never gripe’. In sync with the Norwegian spirit of getting adventurous with nature, we were scaling steep boulders and craggy rocks. Pausing for the occasional breath and turning back to take in the landscape of roads ribboning down beneath us, gushing streams, the fjord and lakes appearing as strips of hazy blue in the distance – we were out of breath but quite swept off our feet. No matter how slippery the rocks were or how challenging the massive boulders that we had to gingerly scale down on all fours.
Ahead of us a scene played out that would have made it to Fifty Ways to Kill Your Mammy (an adventure series on British television about the experiences of a 70-year-old Irish mother and her intrepid son). A portly British mum was toiling away while her teenage son kept up with her questions, which ran along the lines of “Where is the lift?” with a straight face and chiding tone, “Well, you asked for Norway. This is It, mum!”
All of us had that one prize waiting for us. Preikestolen. In the county of Rogaland in Western Norway is the famous Pulpit Rock, which gets about 200,000 visitors every year. Local lore says that Preikestolen shall decimate and fall off the mountain into Lysefjord that it towers above the day that seven brothers marry seven sisters from the area around the fjord. The improbability of it happening? As an English writer, Richard Dawkins, puts it: “By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.”
But if some day it does, it will be because of geological reasons. Along the plateau of the rocky outcrop is a deep crack that might lead it at some point to break off. Geologists assure us: Not in the immediate future.
After a couple of hours into the hike through the scenic Norwegian wilderness, we were in sight of the flat bit of rock jutting out about 600 meters above the fjord. If I had superhero powers of stretching myself like rubber, I would have hugged that 25x25m piece of rock out of sheer joy.
The occasion demanded a bit of daredevil stunt or an attempt at any rate.
Adrenalin pumping, I walked right up to the edge. Stopped. Sat down. Dangled one leg off the edge. Looked down at the sheer, vertical drop and the second leg refused to be dangled apropos the first. The heart thumped away but I was on the edge of Pulpit Rock above the Lysefjord shrouded in its smoky blue hues with the striking granite cliffs standing like silent witnesses to its beauty, large wads of white clouds rolling away into the horizon.
It is easy to be one with nature in Norway. Even with hordes of adrenalin junkies – mothers with toddlers strapped into the back, young children and old couples sporting trekking poles apart from the young and the fit – who sat around us quietly munching on their packed lunches or scampering to the edge of Preikestolen for photo ops, it was a singular experience.
The formation that was carved out naturally by frost during the Ice Ages, about 10,000 years ago, when a glacier rested next to the cliff, has been left in a pristine condition by the Norwegians. There are no fences and none of your average paranoia about safety hanging in the air.
If there is a perfect moment of peace, it exists up there, on Pulpit Rock.
We had teamed Pulpit Rock with a blustery cruise on the Lysefjord. The 42-km long Lysefjord has only two villages along its length, Forsand and Lysebotn, both of which are lightly populated. We had to get onto one of them, Forsand, for our trek, from the village of Oanes. The bomber jacket I had carried with me was one of the most sensible things I have ever done in my life. Even though my teeth chattered away on the sundeck as we made our way through the steep, lightly coloured granite cliffs that stood dramatically along the sides of Lysefjord (which gets its name meaning ‘light fjord’ from these cliffs).
To get to Pulpit Rock, the ideal place to stay is the oil-boom town of Stavanger. It is the fourth largest city in Norway, peppered with beautiful 18th and 19th century houses and a cheery harbour flanked by wooden warehouses that are now restaurants, watering holes and shops stuffed with trolls in all shapes and sizes.
Did I alarm you, dear reader? I meant papier mache trolls. I sheepishly admit that I was fascinated by this part of Scandinavian lore – the ugly, long-haired and abnormally long-nosed mythical creatures that fit right into the landscape of rocky, dense woods and mysterious fjords. My favourite Norwegian troll-ish reference is Trolltunga or Troll’s tongue, a long slab of rock jutting out 2,300 feet above a lake. Recently, and sadly enough, an Australian woman fell to her death from Trolltunga.
Stavanger’s most beautiful and oldest part is Gamle Stavanger, which is a residential area. Only a handful of tourists saunter through its cobbled alleys, so that nothing takes away from the beauty of the cutesy, white wooden cottages stringed together in a row. Rose-trellised doors, baskets of black petunias, vibrant hydrangeas and weeping willows add to the idyllic beauty of Gamle Stavanger where the 18th century cottages were conserved post WWII. The fishing heritage of the city is preserved in the canning museum that is tucked in quietly among the winding lanes of the old quarter.
Gamle Stavanger lies on the west side of Vågen, the harbour at the heart of Stavanger with its busy little sailing boats and ferries, where often a hunkering cruise ship rolls in. The day we were to leave Stavanger, the Caribbean Princess, a spectacular cruise ship came into Vågen, standing athwart the city’s skyline like a giant surveying its kingdom.
Meanwhile adding character to the eastern part of the harbour is a colourful street called Øvre Holmegate that was conceptualised by a hairdresser in consultation with an artist. They sure did a bang-up job. Buildings painted in fresh colours pop out all in a row, giving Stavanger that cutting-edge, bohemian touch.
With its small lake, Breiavatnet, the adjoining old cathedral and artistic iron sculptures, the waterfront bars and extremely well-dressed populace, Stavanger is a town that won our hearts. As we left town, a Belgian-chocolate coated waffle in one hand and coffee in the other, we contemplated how it had all come about.
My husband had first seen a shot of Preikestolen in a coffee table book in his teens. It had stuck itself firmly in his mind, and one evening sitting in a hotel room in Berlin, he could find tickets to nowhere for a bank holiday weekend, except to Stavanger.
That is how some trips are just meant to be, and the universe, once in a while, conspires to make them happen.
(A version of this story was published in The Telegraph, Calcutta, on October 4, 2015 and in Business Line on January 8, 2016)