Visit Ice Hotel in North Sweden
February 4, 2018 | 1:30 PM
by Indranil Chowdhuri

Cinema as an entity has influenced many travel plans. Stunning locales not only mesmerise, but at times, stir up latent bucket lists. They transcend limits of imagination, weave alluring phantasmagorias, embed time and space in a world which seems surreal but again would pass all reality checks. One leaves the show with a possible wild wish to be in that space and feel it first hand.

Many of my personal trips have been influenced by the world of show blitz. As a Bond franchise fanatic, ever since I watched Die another Day I was spell bound by the Ice Hotel. Spending a night there became my life prerogative. Finally on a trip back from Greenland, a short detour, and I reached the Ice Hotel in Kiruna, North Sweden. Of course the actual shoot of the movie did not take place here, and it was constructed on the sets, but the accredited inspiration was the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden.Reaching Kiruna was a breeze. SAS Airlines had multiple connections from Stockholm, and then the drive to the hotel was just shy of an hour.

End February, early March is usually the ideal time to visit. The winter’s not blinding, the chill commences its long climb down, even though summer still remains at the far end of the tunnel. The entranceis nondescript, similar to any other hotel. A warm nice lobby, souvenir shops, the works. The registration over and the wrist bandtagged, one is led inside the courtyard and free to make merry. An igloo sort of entrance, but once inside, it’s “shock and awe”. There is nothing but ice, and everything is ice made. The rooms, the beds, the furniture, the floors, walls, you name it, and it is only ice. Apart from seal and reindeer skins, no other elements exist. The seal skin provides the insulation, and the reindeer skin is for natural warmth to sleep on a block of ice. A night in a morgue, anyone?

Blocks of ice crafted, to look like a small concierge desk, greets you. It is unmanned, and is more used as a photo opportunity. Behind stands a huge transparent block of ice running a few metres long, on which is engraved the names of the architects that have designed the rooms for the year running. The place is not a permanent one, and by mid-April it is vacated and left to melt away in the sun. Come August and enquiries are floated for each room. By September the collation is over, and a month thereafter the final shortlist is made.

November sees the artists and architects fly down to start giving shape to their visions.The Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvifollows the life of the Torne River next door.Post winter the river starts flowing and by mid-summer it’s a green river valley.

But by November, it is an enormous block of ice, from which evolves amazing art.The basic structure is made of interlocking ice blocks carved specially for it, and then rooms are chiselled out by the individual artists.Standard size blocks, are used as basic raw material, and then pneumatically or electrically saw cut to designs, and finally scalpel and precision chisels are used to hand craft them to a design.

Because of the latent heat of ice and the external ambience at well below zero, the ice remains solid, and holds itself in place. The mornings, the hotel becomes a museum and thrown open for the public. But a restriction on visitors is in place so that their combined body heat does not bring an imbalance.

For in-house guests, luggage is not allowed, which needs to be dumped in lockers and only one piece of night wear allowed, apart fromthe hotel provided sleeping bag.

But what is amazing is their bar. Starting from the bar counter, to the bar stools, to the sun decks, the glasses and tumbler are totally sculpted from ice. Before summer sets in, about 10,000 Mt ice is “harvested” and kept in cold storage for 6 months at minus 10 degrees C for the entire year to make the glasses and other light fittings, since they are time consuming. A glass once used, is crushed to flakes.

For those whose Sunday mass is a must, there is a chapel as well. Carved totally out of ice, the shrine and the pulpit as well. Reindeer skins are spread across long rows of ice for the faithful to hear the sermons.

By night the entire place is lit up with small electric lamps ensconced in fittings scalpelled out of ice. It looks like a dreamland, with the soft hues of lights getting dissipated by the ice all over. But then the extraordinary things keep happening. The Northern lights. More often than not, the sky turns into shades of green, as the Aurora Borealis streaks across the silent emptiness. Where would one get so much awesomeness as a single package at a single location? It is natural to feel apprehensive about a stay on a bed of solid ice, but it does not enervate in way. As a matter of fact the berry juice served early morning renews the fire to extend the stay by another day. Staying in the ice hotel is just not another stay. It escalates to an experience that remains permanently etched.

The Ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, is the only of the species. There are similar hotels as such across the Scandinavian peninsular. A couple of them in Norway, one in Finland, one each in Canada, US, Austria and Transylvania. But the one in Sweden is the oldest, aptly named Ice Hotel, and surely one of the best. —[email protected]

Indranil Chowdhuri is based in Oman and an avid traveller who has completed foot printing in more than 100 countries.

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