A ride to remember
A train journey from Bergen to Oslo through changing weather, illuminates the countryside in otherworldy shades
Two evenings ago, when we were on top of Mt Fløyen, we could see the city of Bergen sprawled below us, houses in pink and yellow and russet brown and deep red shining in the clear light. Clouds occupied the sky, leaving no room for twilight, but the sun has its ways, and my son soon spotted a sharp red line on the horizon where the clouds ended and the sea began. We could see the sunlight piercing through that gap, its fading rays casting a long thin strip, as if setting the murmuring sea afire. Fishing boats returned to the pier with their catch.
The next day, it rained hard. We were in a restaurant where the rain falling on the tarp cover sounded like pebbles. We didn’t want the rain the following morning, when we were to leave for Oslo by train on a journey that many have called one of the 10 greatest in the world. Though I’ve been visiting Norway since 2000, my Norwegian friends have often told me that my travels in their beautiful country are incomplete without taking the train between Bergen and Oslo.
Our train left a minute before noon, and within moments, the large window showed the most majestic landscape—of tall green mountains and a shimmering body of water below. The limpid clouds had parted, and light rested on the water, making parts of it shine like a sheet of silver. The wind made the water tremble, and the surface looked dappled, as light skipped from one section of the lake to another.
As the sky darkened, the remaining light illuminated particular parts of the hills like spotlights. It was too early to call the season autumn, but the leaves on some trees seemed to be in a rush and had already turned yellow.
There were waterfalls on the mountains that looked like meandering trickles from our train. But we knew the water fell with great force for a thin mist rose where the cascading water met the lake. There were houses on the cliffs, and we could only imagine the exceptional views the inhabitants saw daily. These are weekend cabins, a railroad engineer told me—they have no water, no electricity, and people make do as they would in primitive times, he said.
The train went through many tunnels and each time it emerged, we were greeted by a spectacular view, as if to make up for the lost time. Soon we crossed Myrdal Station, one of the highest points on our journey. We were offered a breathtaking view of a lake covered with a film of haze, and just as we would try to train our cameras on the site, shrubs and trees marred the view or we’d enter a tunnel again. It was as if nature was laughing at us. But soon it rewarded us with an inspiring view of a glacier, with the light blinding and the scene primordial. And we learned that the best images are those that stay in our eyes after the scene has passed and we’ve forgotten to click.
As we travelled further, the lakes made way for streams. They moved swiftly, creating foamy patterns as they descended a slope. The water was clean and green, as if emeralds had melted, and we could clearly see the giant rocks lurking underneath, squatting like prehistoric trolls. Some mountain peaks were taller than clouds, emerging above the layer of clouds that were like garlands around their neck. Other clouds moved through tall coniferous trees. On the top of a mountain we saw patches of permanent snow that stubbornly refused to thaw.
The vegetation changed as we descended hundreds of feet. More leaves had changed colour here, turning yellow and orange. As the train moved on flat land, we saw farms with herds of sheep and an occasional tractor. Far on the horizon, we saw a glorious, wide arc in seven colours. A giant rainbow covered half the sky. The light had started to fade; we were nearing Oslo. Our journey was ending, as all journeys must. What lay at the end was the memory of a journey as vivid as the rainbow.
The most over-used metaphor for life is a journey. And this train journey was somewhat like that. It began with a promise of sights that we’d never forget. There were times when we went down dark tunnels and could see nothing, but emerged from that abyss to be struck by the brightness all around us. And, at the end, there was that rainbow.
Salil Tripathi writes the column Here, There, Everywhere for Mint.