April 11, 2020

Nuuk, Greenland

May 2017

Nuuk is the capital of Greenland.

Greenland is unique in two respects.
1.  Greenland belongs geographically to North America and politically to Europe.
2.  Greenland is a self governing country under Denmark.

Greenland is large.  About the size of Western Europe. 

The central area of Greenland (about 80% of all Greenland) is blanketed by an Ice field that is second largest in the world (about 12% of the size of Antarctic Ice field).  The Ice field holds 7% of world's fresh water.  If it melts, sea level everywhere would go up by 7 metres (two floors of properties in Chennai would go under water!).  The weight of the Ice field suppresses central Greenland to a basin 300 m below sea level while the surrounding coastal strip has steep tall mountains full of fjords.

People live in the thin coastal strip all around the Ice field.  In about ten towns.   The thin strip itself is ten times the size of Denmark.

There are no inter city roads in Greenland.  You can reach the towns only by aircrafts or boats.  One of the five provinces in Greenland is so remote and unreachable, it is administered by US Air Force.

Greenland is more white (snow), blue (water), and black (rock) than green.  In 982 AD, a Norse convict was exiled to this land.  He set up a small community here and hoped to attract people from Norway and Denmark to grow the community.  He called the place Greenland, as a marketing ploy.  (Quite comparable to residential buildings being named Sunnyvale, or River valley in Chennai).  It did not work.  After ten centuries, Greenland has a population of just 56,000 (about 80% Intuits).  Despite its natural beauty, Greenland receives just 100,000 visitors a year.

The economy is small, $ 2.2 b a year.  Mostly commercial fishing, and extraction and sale of minerals to China.  Per capita income is quite good; about thrice that of India.

Arriving into Greenland can be scary.  You see nothing but snow all around and an occasional glimpse of rock underneath.  And glacial rivers full of ice bergs.

First glimpse of Greenland from Aircraft

First glimpse of Greenland from aircraft

Nuuk (pronounced Nyoouuk) is located on the South West Coast of Greenland at the mouth of River Nuup Kangerlua; about 240 km south of Arctic Circle.

Nuuk is the northern most capital in the world (slightly north of Reykjavik, the next contender).  Nuuk is 690 square km large (1.61 times Chennai) and a population of about 20,000 (0.3% of Chennai).

Nuuk Skyline

A Danish priest, Hans Egede, came to Greenland to propagate his faith.  The Intuits liked his message.  In a few years, the Intuits got the Bible from the priest.  And the priest got the land from the Intuits (which he took on behalf of the Danish King).  After seventeen years of lording over the land, he retired to Denmark leaving local affairs at the hands of his son perpetuating Danish control over the new settlement.

Later the Danes moved the settlement from its first location the more attractive place at the mouth of Godthabsfjord ("Good Hope Fjord") and called it Godthab.  The Intuits renamed it as Nuuk (meaning "Cape").

Nuuk celebrates Egede with two iconic symbols:  a statue of Egede that can be seen from anywhere downtown, and a cathedral.

Egede House (left), Egede statue (on top of hillock), and Cathedral (right)

Egede house and Fjord's shoreline

Fjord's shoreline

Wherever the landscape is a monochrome, the houses and the dresses tend to be colorful.  Nuuk is no exception.  The white landscape is dotted with very colourful houses.  Initially the town mandated the colours: blue for telecom, yellow for hospitals, green for private homes etc.  Later this rigidity was abandoned and architects given freedom to do what they like.  End result: a colourful town.

Colorful Buildings

Colorful Buildings

Colorful Buildings

The eastern end of Nuuk has modern residential developments.  And living rooms with an awesome view of the fjord and downtown across the fjord.  (Nuuk has the shape of an inverted horse shoe).

New residences in Qinngorput area

The most famous attraction in Nuuk is the Katuaq Cultural Center, a building to host conferences, and performances.  The building's facade has the shape of Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), another star attraction of Nuuk - seen in the night sky with brilliant clarity during winter months.  The restaurants at Katuaq have local fare: reindeer meat, musk ox meat etc.  If you are not adventurous (just as we are not), of course, you can dine on delicious Arctic cod, trout etc.

Katuaq Cultural Center

The Greenland National Museum and the Arctic Winter Games Stadium are quite close by on the coastal street.

Greenland National Museum

Arctic Winter Olympics Stadium

The Nuuk Center is the only multi storey structure.  It has a mall with several brand stores.

Nuuk Center

Nuuk Center Shops

When your country and city routinely have subzero temperature, a warm swimming pool is an awesome luxury.  Residents of Nuuk enjoy this public pool.

Malik Swimming Pool

Now for the best experience at Nuuk.

Imagine.  A glacier melts and feeds into a 160 km river that flows into the ocean at the mouth of a fjord.  The temperature is cold and there is no time to melt fully; the river and the fjord are full of ice bergs, small and big, scattered all around.  Cruising upstream and downstream, carefully navigating through the fjord and the river is an exciting and refreshing experience.

The Godthabsfjord river (renamed Nuup Kangerlua Fjord, and popularly nicknamed as Icefjord) offers a day long (7 hrs, 200 km up and down) cruise from Nuuk.

The owner of the boat company captained our trip.  Small boat.  Fully packed.  But awesome experience.

Low rise mountains on either side.  Clean glacial river making its short journey from the glacier to the Arctic Ocean.  Thousands of ice bergs (some small, some big, and some very big) scattered all around and moving with ice cold wind.  It was an awesome experience.

Navigating through the waters is not easy.  The boat has to avoid the ice bergs (remember Titanic?). And the ice bergs keep changing location; so GPS is of no help.  The only way is for a young lad to stand atop the upper deck, look at the way ahead, mentally chart a path through the maze and direct the captain below.  At times, the maze has a dead end.  One has to retreat and trace a new path.  But, the scenic beauty is spectacular.

Tip:  Wear a sweater.  And that Chicago style overcoat.  And gloves.  And headgear.  You would need all of that.  When the deckhand comes around with periodic offers of bubbling hot chocolate, do not decline.  Grab and keep it.  Your insides would need it.

Icefjord Cruise:  Water, ice, rock, and cloud

Icefjord Cruise

Icefjord Cruise:  Spectacular view, but navigation not easy

Icefjord Cruise:  Spectacular view, but navigation not easy

Icefjord Cruise

And a video of our cruise.

On the way back we saw several sea gulls perched on a rock in various states of courting, embrace, and happiness.

Seagulls on a rock

Next, the Captain pointed to a ghost town on an ice sheet.  The town has summer homes of the rich in Nuuk that are left empty for eight months a year.  The houses use solar power (on days when one can see the Sun); draft water from the icebergs and need to bring everything else from the far away town.  Despite these challenges, the solitude around natural beauty at its best can be inspiring.

Ghost town of summer residences

Ever wondered what happens to waterfalls in the fjord area in winter time?  They freeze until summer.  Seeing a frozen waterfall (with a tiny trickle of water refusing to freeze and oozing down with persistence) is the best memory of our cruise on the Icefjord.

Frozen waterfall.  Can you spot the tiny trickle?

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