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Travel
March 07, 2018

In Quest Of The Unusual: Alaska

Text and Photographs by Huzan Tata

Away from frequented haunts in popular countries lie fascinating havens that offer unparalleled experiences. Here, we walk across a glacier…

Juneau, Alaska

Docking in the capital city of USA’s 49th state one summer evening, we’re greeted by vibrant totem poles, verdant walkways and quaint houses. Whether it’s in water, air or on land, Juneau offers activities to satiate the appetite of every adventure fanatic. But what I’m most geared for is an experience that’s probably those once-in-a-lifetime things for an Indian leisure traveller — walking on a glacier that may or may not exist in a few years.

Dashing To The Ice
It’s our second day in Juneau, and all I’ve done the rainy night before is offer bribes to all the gods above for a clear, sunny day. And someone in the Alaskan heavens definitely loves me, because as we deboard the ship, I’m in immediate need of my sunglasses. We get onto the bus for the heliport, and the guide tells us that we’re extremely lucky, as they had to cancel the last two glacier rides due to extremely strong winds! A 30-minute ride through the green pastures, and we reach the base from where I will board a helicopter for the very first time, and I’m more nervous than all the other visitors there put together. A giant taxidermy bear greets us at the entrance to the heliport, and we spend time posing for photos with the furry creature. I listen in rapt attention as the guide teaches us how to use our life jackets — compulsory for all passengers — all the while hoping it’s never needed. Five of us — assigned seats according to our weight — walk towards the red-and-grey helicopter, the wind behind us adding a spring to our step. Seated next to the captain, I hold my mom’s hand tightly as we take off.

Two minutes later, we’re treated to aerial views of Alaska that get more breathtaking the higher we go. Butterflies play around in my tummy at each sharp turn our chopper takes, but wanting to capture every sight on my DSLR, I attempt to click as many photos as I can with my free hand (one still clutching onto my mother for dear life). Within 10 minutes of our ride, that passes over lush expanses of green, we spot a patch of pristine white — the Mendenhall Glacier. This is one of the 38 glaciers of the Juneau ice field, that stretches for a whopping 1,500 square miles, shaping the landscape as it moves.

A Walk In The Clouds
Alighting from the helicopter in our special ‘glacier shoes’, we take a minute to get used to their weight, having to put in extra effort to lift our feet with each step, stretching our arms out to balance ourselves. I feel like a one-year-old learning how to walk — I’m sure I look like it too! We’re told to tread carefully, not crossing the ropes kept at several points — heading into the ice caves or towards the edges could prove dangerous or even fatal. Encouraging us to feel the temperature of the water underneath the broken ice, the guide even tells us to break the frozen ground with a hard thump of the foot (my father throwing freezing cold water at me while I struggle to put my gloves back on is not appreciated in the least!). Want to beautify your skin too? Apply some mud from the glacier on your face and head home with a perfect glow.

Walking a little further, we come upon crystalline blue expanses of the ice that are so picturesque, it’s hard to look away. This colour is due to the absorption and reflection of light, we’re told, and the hue fades away when exposed to air. I’m in half a mind to pick off a piece of the glacier to take back as a keepsake, but knowing it will melt in seconds of our departure, decide otherwise — that I walked across a frozen land mass found in only a few pockets of the globe is memory enough to last a lifetime!

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