Chasing Nature’s painting in the sky

James Kon

After reading about the Northern Lights or aurora, public servant and avid traveller Azimah Salleh made a promise to herself that she would witness with her very own eyes the hypnotically beautiful natural light display in the sky at least once in her life.

Speaking to the Bulletin, she recalled, “I was a student at Universiti Brunei Darussalam when I first read about the Northern Lights. I was drawn by how pretty and mesmerising they were. Then, I told myself that I must see them for myself in the future.”

Two years ago, she began planning for her trip to Tromso, Norway, one of the high-latitude regions where this natural phenomenon can be observed.

“I was looking for the most affordable way to reach Norway, and planning early helped me to accomplish that,” she said.

One of the first things she did was to join “a Facebook travel group to gather information and look for others who were interested in joining up for the trip. The first person I found was an Indonesian couch surfer, whom I met here in Brunei. Then I advertised my route in the group and another traveller joined us. And then another. Two years later, there were six of us, assembling in Kiruna, Sweden before we began our journey up north”.

Azimah Salleh (L) with her travel partner. PHOTO: GUIDE GUNNAR

With Tromso being the final destination, she would also make a stop at Finnish town of Rovaniemi and Swedish town of Abisko.

Prior to her departure on February 10, the news broke out that there was a spread of a novel coronavirus around the world.

“I almost cancelled my trip,” she said. “Then I found out that there weren’t many cases in Scandinavia yet. So I went ahead with my plan.”

Azimah set out for Rovaniemi, Finland via Changi Airport, Singapore. From the Finnish town, she took the VR Train to Kemi on February 13 before proceeding to Haparanda Tornio. She then made her way to Kiruna, Sweden on a coach on February 14.

“I had no idea how cold it was until I arrived in Finland. At the coach station in Haparanda Tornio, the temperature was minus 24 degrees Celsius. The fleece and thermal pants that I brought with me weren’t warm enough, so I had to buy a pair of snow pants for the remaining trip,” she said.

At Kiruna, she met with her group of travellers and headed to the Swedish town of Abisko by train. “In Abisko, we stayed at a guesthouse and joined an aurora photo tour. The guide handed us cameras and showed us how to capture Northern Lights on camera.”

Meanwhile, she was suffering from jetlag. And then, there was the limited availability of Halal products in the region. Thankfully, having spent two years researching and planning her trip, her meticulous nature paid off; she knew food would be an issue and made sure she packed enough microwave and instant food items.

After the stopover, it was time to head to the final destination of Tromso, bypassing Norwegian town of Narvik.

“At Tromso, the Northern Lights were spectacular. I knew I had to capture them on camera, so I took off my gloves despite the biting cold,” she said.

She added, “It was a dream come true. I got to see Northern Lights and it was an amazing experience.”

On advice for others who would like to do the same, she said, “Find an experienced guide. Choose one that offers warm clothing and boots; this is very important, especially in open areas. Join a small group of people.”

And most importantly, she said, “don’t focus solely on chasing the Northern Lights. Enjoy the whole experience of travel, the company you’re with and the other activities available. That way, if you don’t see the aurora, there are still plenty of good memories”.