Home > News > Travel: Forest bathing in an enchanting Finnish fell

Travel: Forest bathing in an enchanting Finnish fell

In the picturesque wilderness of Iso-Syote, Finland’s southernmost fell, mindfulness comes unbidden and naturally

Iso-Syote, Finland’s southern-most fell, is a a natural palette of colours.(Anita Rao Kashi)

By Anita Rao Kashi

LAST PUBLISHED 22.02.2024  |  06:00 AM IST

The air is chilly and a mild breeze that sweeps through occasionally carries tingling whiffs of the forest—pine cones, dried leaves, foliage crushed underfoot. Green is the predominant colour but there are plenty of shades ranging from pale yellow to mild orange, while gigantic pine trees rise up like sentinels all around, forming a beautiful pattern against the blue sky, unblemished by clouds. Many of the trunks and rocks are covered in moss and lichen, a natural palette of colours.

Also read: Chasing the Northern Lights in Finland

A narrow creaking boardwalk, scattered with fallen pine cones, skirts a pond, Hanhilampi, which means goose pond in Finnish, but neither goose nor any other creature is anywhere in sight. Instead, the surface is glassy and motionless, except for occasional ripples caused by a falling leaf or pine cone. Surrounded by the tall trees, the pond feels like an unexpected secret. It is so quiet, it feels unreal. Walking amidst the soaring tree trunks, the feet landing noiselessly on the floor carpeted with fallen leaves, pine needles, twigs, pine cones and seeds is satisfying. In this patch of picturesque wilderness in Iso-Syote, Finland’s southern-most fell, mindfulness comes unbidden and naturally.

Iso-Syote is a fell; the word is drawn from the Norse word ‘fjall,’ meaning a landscape of gently rising and falling terrain, covered in meadows and grasslands. From my vantage point, I have an almost 360-degree panoramic view ofwooded hills, ravines and valleys, small bogs and water bodies, stretching out into the distance.

Somewhere in this sweeping terrain is the Syote National Park, a 300 sqkm protected area of ancient spruce forests, owls, reindeer, wolverine and moose. The park allows a variety of activities such as hiking, fatbiking, cycling, canoeing, rivertubing, fishing and camping in summer andskiing and snowshoeing in winter when it is covered in snow. Since there is almost no light pollution, the park is also a great place for spotting the Northern Lights. The previous night, I had driven out to the edge of the park and had my fill of the stunning night sky packed with stars and had spent time playing spot-the-constellation.

In the morning light, the park blends seamlessly with its surroundings. As the sun rises, a cold wind picks up and I abandon my vantage point to wander around the hillock. Some of the trails are signposted but there are many other paths that lead off into thick clusters of tall trees or round corners and hold the promise of adventure. The early morning sunlight is incredibly sharp, throwing everything into ultra-focus. I pick one path because it appears to be winding and mysterious and start with anticipation of the unknown.

On either side are not just towering trees but a thick carpet of tall grass and small plants with pretty yellow and white flowers. The air is crisp and invigorating, that indescribable feel of unpolluted mountain air. The gaining sunlight brings out colourful butterflies. I spot an occasional magpie hopping on the ground, in search of the proverbial worm. It has been silent to begin with, but the more I push into the trail, the quieter it gets. I can hear the crackle of dry leaves underneath my shoes, the faint rustle of my sleeves brushing against my sides, my breathing.

I pause now and then to touch the bark of a tree, a smooth leaf, a blade of grass, a lovely flower, crumbling moss, and revel in the different textures. Suddenly, I truly understand the meaning of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, the Japanese practice of immersing oneself in nature to relax deeply. The path meanders through dense trees, patches of flatland and small mounds. Once in a while it suddenly goes past an opening to reveal a sliver of a panoramic view of the fell, but just as quickly darts back into wilderness. I see an occasional log hut, weathered with time, standing as silently as everything around it. Less than an hour later, the path unexpectedly ends at a narrow road that takes me back to the hotel.

The paths in Iso-Syote, Finland, meander through dense trees, patches of flatland and small mounds.

As I stare into the waters of Hanhilampi, I notice that the edge of the boardwalk is covered with little plants bearing different kinds of berries, some black, others bright red. The latter, I am told, are lingonberries, their skin translucent and sheathing juicy flesh. I pick a few to pop into my mouth. The first one shocks the system – it has a mouth-puckering tart taste laced with a bit of sweetness and lingering bitterness at the end. I forage around me for more and eat them to the point of excess.

MORE FROM THIS SECTION

view all

My solitude is shattered, although gently, by a pair of cackling birds hidden high in the trees. I am also distracted by my growling stomach, lingonberries notwithstanding. From a little loghut nearby, the smell of bubbling pumpkin soup and barbecuing sausages wafts across, further complicating matters. I reluctantly head towards the smell, trying all I can to prolong the state of sublimity.

Anita Rao Kashi is an independent journalist based in Bengaluru.

Also read: How astrotourism is growing in India