adventure northern lights beautiful sky romantic nature
Take this as your sign: It’s time to explore The Northern Lights
The Scandinavians bring a distinctive element of flare to their pursuit of the Northern Lights, laying a trail of exploration through the Arctic Circle that runs from Luleå to Lofoten.  Fredrik Broman lives in Swedish Lapland, just below the Arctic Circle, on the edge of a frozen lake. His friends are scattered along the length of the lake and nearby rivers, easily accessed in winter by snowmobile or dog sleigh. On winter nights when the sky is clear, Fredrik and his friends keep an eye on the stars in anticipation of aurora activity.   The Aurora Safari Camp, run by Fredrik, offers a uniquely Laplandic experience. Instead of a cosy cabin with thick timber walls and Scandinavian decor, Fredrik’s guests are offered canvas tents equipped with a very efficient wood stove and enough firewood to last through the night. It can be minus 35 degrees celsius outside, but it’s a toasty 20 degrees inside. The dining options include Arctic char that have been caught beneath the ice, before being grilled on an open fire, or reindeer meat slowly smoked in the sub-zero temperatures before it’s thinly sliced and cooked with pasta. Hot coffee and cinnamon buns are always on offer. [caption id="attachment_35829" align="alignleft" width="1500"] The photogenic town of Reine (photo: Ewen Bell).[/caption] Set among the tall trees, Fredrik’s camp looks upwards at the night sky and out across the lake. A floating sauna, trapped in the winter ice, marks the entrance to the camp when you arrive on the snowmobile trail. The sauna turns out to be a great place to watch the aurora when it kicks off.   But knowing exactly when the Aurora Borealis is going to erupt into colour remains a minor mystery to science and a source of joy to the people of Swedish Lapland. There are dozens of apps that offer forecasts based on satellite measurements of solar activity, yet they cannot predict with any degree of precision where or when the sightings will happen.   Ideally you need a cloudless night, some active solar winds and a thermos full of hot chocolate. Standing out on a frozen lake at 20 below zero demands good clothing and something to warm your fingers. A low-level event will show up on a long exposure if you have a tripod for your camera, but a big event reveals the green and purple hues to the naked eye. On such nights, they can even be seen above the glow of a full moon, ribbons of light erupting in the atmosphere miles above your head. Sometimes they rain down like a shower, sometimes they dance on the horizon like a ripple of incandescent curtains. [caption id="attachment_35830" align="alignleft" width="667"] Capturing aurora borealis above Uttakleiv Beach, Lofoten Islands (photo: Ewen Bell).[/caption] You never know what will happen from one moment to the next, or if the show will suddenly come to an end leaving nothing but stars and darkness again. Even the nightly forecasts for auroras is not as useful as keeping an eye on twitter for real-time reports of solar activity.   Aurora events can be seen anywhere from Iceland, to Arctic Norway to the Bay of Finland; there’s a highway in Scandinavia called the E10 that runs from the city of Luleå in Sweden all the way to the very tip of the Lofoten Islands in Norway, and every kilometre of that route offers potential sightings of the Northern Lights. Fredrik’s camp is just one way to immerse yourself in the chase. [caption id="attachment_35831" align="alignleft" width="667"] Get warm at Aurora Safari Camp (photo: Ewen Bell).[/caption] Quirky but wonderful accommodation is a speciality of the Scandinavian Arctic. Heading west from the Aurora Safari Camp and entering the Arctic Circle, the highway passes the Treehotel and the original Ice Hotel, both of which offer richly artistic settings to spend the night and maybe catch a few auroras. The dedicated aurora chasers will keep heading west though until they reach a small national park called Abisko, and the clearest skies in all of Scandinavia.   Abisko sits along the frozen Lake Torne, roughly 60 kilometres long and not far from the border with Norway. Here the E10 highway heads into the mountain ranges before descending down into the fjords and the islands of Lofoten. It’s the mountains that provide a weather shadow that gives Abisko its amazing clear skies throughout the winter. The Swedes chose this modest patch of wilderness to construct a Turiststation, an elaborate lodge that offers warm rooms and excellent food. For decades the Abisko National Park was quiet through the depths of winter, only coming to life as the ski season took off in early spring. But the Aurora Borealis now brings people from all over the world here in the very coldest and darkest months, when the sky is like pitch and the auroras can best be seen.   As well as having great weather for aurora spotting, Abisko also boasts a dramatic chair lift that rises high above the landscape, with access offered to anyone who wants to brave 20 minutes dangling from a lift wearing a survival suit. [caption id="attachment_35832" align="alignleft" width="667"] Bed down at Treehotel (photo: Ewen Bell).[/caption] The highway continues on from Abisko into the fjord of Narvik. Possibly one of the least attractive towns in all of Scandinavia, Narvik is, however, the gateway to some of the most beautiful scenery: Lofoten is a series of small islands connected by bridges and tunnels, and until modern times was famous for the cod fishing industry. Little red cabins dot the rocky shores, tiny timber enclaves to keep the Arctic weather out and trap the heat of a fire within.   Fishing cabins were once the least desirable of all accommodation, fit only for the men who slept in them in bunks between trips to sea. But today they have been given modern comforts and a touch of Scandi-style, and are the most sought-after places to stay year round. In towns like Reine, perhaps the most photographed town in Norway, the familiar red and white paint of the rorbuer adorn the dramatic scenery like rubies on a necklace. The fishermen still catch their cod in these treacherous waters, but most have moved to larger homes away from the cliff edges. [caption id="attachment_35833" align="alignleft" width="667"] Sit by the fire and escape the cold (photo: Ewen Bell).[/caption] Lofoten draws waves of photographers during aurora season, when the nights are long and snowfall dusts the mountains; it’s not uncommon for fresh snow to cover the beaches here. On the right night the clear skies offer a view of one of the most elusive and wonderful light shows that Mother Nature has invented.   Back in Swedish Lapland it’s possible that Fredrik is also watching the very same solar activity with a bunch of amateur photographers determined to capture the spectacle for posterity. It’s possible they all have a mug of hot chocolate in common, but from a different vantage point each will have a unique view of the Northern Lights as though it was their very own. Planning a trip to the top of the globe? Check out: - 12 Tips and tricks to see the Northern Lights
Vietnam
A photo journey through Vietnam via the Mekong
Cruising down the Mekong is a journey into the old heart of Vietnam, its rich culture and arresting landscapes. Writes Elise Hassey
Nepal mustang history
The Kingdom of Mustang, Nepal: The Last Lost Kingdom
The once forbidden kingdom of Mustang in Nepal, with some of the last vestiges of traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture on Earth, is slowly revealing its dramatic beauty to intrepid explorers, writes Saransh Sehgal. Location So secluded is the ancient Himalayan kingdom of Mustang (or the Kingdom of Lo as it is also known) that those taking it on will need to calculate the journey in days rather than distance, and commit to a medieval-style caravan in order to get there.   Lying beyond the 8000-metre peaks of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri in the Himalayas, just inside Nepal’s border with Tibet, the region stretches far into the vast Tibetan plateau and its mystical wilderness, presenting an untrammelled paradise for travellers looking for that elusive ‘last great frontier’.   Although the landlocked sovereign state of Nepal has long offered a treasure-trove of epic trekking expeditions, the vastness of the Himalayan range has also aided in preserving hidden societies that maintain a level of ethnic diversity, adding more layers to the journey. The region and culture In Upper Mustang the Tibetan culture, religion and traditions are believed to be at their purest, harking back to a Tibet before the Chinese occupation in 1951. [caption id="attachment_31105" align="alignnone" width="584"] At Tangbe, A Nepali teacher from Lower Mustang teaches kids basic education in one of the only school in the village. A picture from their classroom[/caption] The Mustang region is made up of Upper Mustang and Lower Mustang, which occupies the far southern fringes of the Tibetan plateau and is more attached to Nepali tribes.   Upper Mustang is populated by the Loba tribe, the ethnic Tibetans who still believe that the world is flat. [caption id="attachment_31101" align="alignnone" width="1000"] A Loba man looks on to passing by tourists from this tourist guesthouse in Lo Manthang (photo: Saransh Sehgal).[/caption] The Loba are considered highly religious and prayers and festivals are an integral part of their daily lives. History By the time the first Western explorers became interested in Upper Mustang, they could only gain a peek into the kingdom due to restrictions in the region (imposed by both the Chinese and the Mustang people themselves, the latter in an effort to protect their ancient way of life). [caption id="attachment_31108" align="alignnone" width="584"] Traditionally dressed Loba woman poses for a photograph as she holds Yak's milk, Mustang, Nepal (photo: Saransh Sehgal).[/caption] The first official tourist groups didn’t gain access to Upper Mustang until 1992, and there are continued restrictions today: the Nepalese government in Kathmandu offers a special 10-day permit and it is mandatory for explorers to travel in groups (two people or more) with a guide.   This allows for a tantalising glimpse of Upper Mustang’s barren moonscape of eroded sandstone pillars and discontinuous moraine terraces, which together present a vibrant mosaic of earthen reds, yellows and brown, as well as its fascinating people. Getting there The journey into the lost kingdom begins with a 20-minute flight from Nepal’s second largest city Pokhara to Jomsom, where the restricted area of Upper Mustang starts.   The flight is an adventure in itself, flying through what’s considered to be the deepest gorge in the world between the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges. Getting started Once on the ground, my German friend and I are joined by our local guide and a porter, who navigate us straight from the airport past the dramatic cliffs of the high mountains.   We follow the famous Kali Gandaki River upstream, sometimes walking in the riverbed itself, to Kagbeni and the entrance to Upper Mustang. [caption id="attachment_31104" align="alignnone" width="1000"] As winter is soon approaching, a woman prepares stiching of winter clothes mostly made up of Yak wool at Kagbeni village in Upper Mustang, Nepal (photo: Saransh Sehgal).[/caption] The terrain is striking, a semi-arid desert with deep ravines and rock shelves, flanked by snowy peaks.   We hike along the mountains, through valleys and riverbed paths, passing villages of few inhabitants that offer a unique blend of culture, history and nature.   Each day we venture deeper into this mysterious land, marching across the high-altitude desert with its idyllic setting, ancient dwellings and rare wildlife.   I find tangled webs of Buddhist prayer flags, bleached by the sun and worn by the mountain winds, and stone-carved sacred text at every mountain pass, and encounter the smiling Loba people as they chant their prayers. [caption id="attachment_31098" align="alignnone" width="1000"] A glimpse in one the Buddhist temple during the Upper Mustang journey. Many of the old sculptures are well preversed by local people (photo: Saransh Shegal).[/caption] The richness of the kingdom dates back to the 15th century when the region was an important transit point on the salt trade route, between the dry saline lakes of Tibet and the large markets in the Indian subcontinent.   Mustang was once an independent kingdom in its own right, under the rule of Ame Pal, who founded the Kingdom of Lo in 1380.   Its kingdom status ended, however, in 2008 following the end of its suzerain with the Kingdom of Nepal.   (The Kingdom of Lo became a dependency of Nepal in the 18th century but was allowed to keep its hereditary rulers as long as Nepal also remained a kingdom; Nepal transitioned from a kingdom to a republic in 2008.)   It was from the walled city of Lo Manthang that the royal family, which could trace its history back 25 generations directly to Ame Pal, sat surveying a world that – even to this day – has much more ethnic proximity to Tibet’s capital Lhasa than to the bazaars and shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu. [caption id="attachment_31107" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Stupas, dome-shaped building erected as a Buddhist shrine are seen in Tangbe village during the trek Mustang, Nepal (photo: Saransh Sehgal).[/caption] In fact, Mustang makes few concessions to modern civilisation, with life proceeding at the same unhurried pace that it has for centuries.   The day-to-day here revolves around local trade, controlled tourism and animal husbandry. A partial road connecting Lo Manthang with Tibet has been constructed, but yaks or ponies are still the only way to transport goods between villages.   The ancient traditions and practices of Tibetan Buddhism also play an essential part in the daily existence of Upper Mustang’s people. Findings and learnings along the way Every village I encounter has its own monasteries cloaked in the smoke and aroma of butter lamps.   Some of the most mesmerising sights in the region are the hundreds of isolated cliff dwellings that are believed to date back to between 8 and 10,000 BC. [caption id="attachment_31109" align="alignnone" width="584"] Young monks walk back to the monastery for further prayers after their lunch in Lo Manthang, Mustang, Nepal (photo: Saransh Sehgal).[/caption] Recently, a team of mountaineers and archaeologists discovered more of these cliff-side caves, many of which were used by Buddhists as meditation chambers (others seem to have been used as storage units).   Some of them remain in use to this day; there are even a few families living in them permanently.   Crossing Lo-La, the final pass into Lo Manthang, I catch a glimpse of the remarkable 14th-century citadel, with its seven-metre-high boundary walls and square towers (dzongs).   The whitewashed palace at the heart of the walled city remained the hereditary royal residence of the last Mustang king, Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista, until he passed away on 16 December, 2016, at the age of 86. Lo Manthang Inside the citadel a settlement of no more than 200 households makes up the population of Lo Manthang. [caption id="attachment_31103" align="alignnone" width="1000"] A young monk walk passes through one of the tiny lanes of the Lo Manthang Village[/caption] The compact city offers up a unique walking experience, during which we explore mani walls, chortens, and monasteries that have housed veiled Buddhist texts and artwork for centuries.   Down narrow lanes I see local women sitting outside their houses spinning yak wool in preparation for the next winter.   The compelling mix of nature and culture that makes Lo Manthang such a wholly unique experience for outsiders is what has kept modern transformation from touching the lives of its people: there is no mains power or use of any technology, and the only traffic jams occur when local shepherds herd sheep through the streets. What I know now A highlight of a visit to Lo Manthang is the Tiji Festival, a three-day ritual known as the ‘chasing of the demons’, held here during the summer.   Centred on the Tiji myth, which tells the story of a deity named Dorje Jono who battles against his demon father to save the Kingdom of Mustang from destruction, Loba villagers converge on the capital to participate in masked dances, offering prayers and celebrating a new season. [caption id="attachment_31100" align="alignnone" width="1000"] A Loba is seen bringing food supplies on horses to the villages in Upper Mustang (photo: Saransh Shegal).[/caption] It is also possible to request a brief audience with the titular royal family, with guests welcomed with the Khata, the traditional Tibetan ceremonial scarves, and wishes and prayers for a safe return.   For an outsider, this unforgiving land is a sea of myths and mountains that shed light on a once great civilisation. [caption id="attachment_31106" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Buddhist prayers are written in stone across the region. Religion is central to every activity of the Loba tribe (photo: Saransh Sehgal).[/caption] While the hidden Himalayan outpost is slowly feeling the influence of the outside world, from China to the north and Nepal in the south, the Loba people remain wary of any change that may cause its centuries-old culture to vanish. [caption id="attachment_31102" align="alignnone" width="584"] A Loba woman holds her grandson on her back walks through the highly mountain region to meet other relatives in a nearby village (photo: Saransh Sehgal).[/caption] “We are trying to preserve our ethnicity and ancient culture,” a member of the royal family told me during my audience. “Even though we are slowly opening to the world.” IT   The Details:    Getting There Most trekkers fly from Pokhara to Jomsom, and enter Upper Mustang at the village of Kagbeni, a three-hour walk from the airport. The view from the plane, which passes between some of the world’s highest mountains, is mind-blowing. Walking There The trekking season takes place from April to July. The maximum altitude reached while trekking in Upper Mustang is 4230 metres, while the level of difficulty is moderate. Foreigners will need to arrange a special permit through trekking agencies; most Kathmandu- and Pokhara-based trekking agencies offer English- and Tibetan-speaking guides and local Sherpas. Staying There Every major village on the trekking trails in Upper Mustang offers homestays; experienced guides know the best ones.   Can't get enough of Nepal? Check out 20 things you didn’t know about Nepal
Sailing Greenland's west Coast
Greenland’s ‘other’ side: a photographic odyssey
Greenland is fast warming up as a tourist hot-spot. Glimpses of its eastern, European coastline have long been included in Arctic cruises focusing on Iceland or Svalbard. 
Mural by street artist Rone, in Christchurch, New Zealand.
THESE are the world’s best cities for street art
The artistic antidote to urban greyness, street art has become increasingly popular across the globe. But for the best cities to see colourful and clever murals, we asked street art expert and author of new book ‘Street Art: International’ International Traveller's pick: Los Angeles, USA It may not seem the most obvious pick, but as it turns out, Los Angeles is bursting at the seams with incredible street art from local artists who adopt an unofficial way of life, battling against their common enemy; the Graffti Abatement. Here we meet the heroes and villains of the street art world... London, England London is somewhat of an epicentre for street art; the streets of Camden and Shoreditch, especially Brick Lane, draw local and international artists as well as art-loving travellers.   Here you’ll find the unmissable portraits of David Walker, Stik's simple and stylised figures, Dan Kitchener's evocative and almost abstract images of lights on wet nights and of course, the odd Banksy. [caption id="attachment_24439" align="alignleft" width="1500"] Mural titled 'Burn' by UK street artist Irony, in Camden Market, London.[/caption] One of my favourite artworks here is Irony's aerosol can spraying flames, a clever reference to the fact that a masterpiece is known as a 'burner'. One great local experience is getting up close and personal with the mini artworks of Ben Wilson (aka Chewing Gum Man). The best way to do this is to walk across Millennium Bridge with your eyes glued to the treads. If you look closely you won't be disappointed. Paris, France Paris has a number of home-grown artists who create thought-provoking work on its streets.   Featuring the sensitively drawn paste ups of Levalet, clever works in response to France's cultural heritage by Pejac, and the intricate titled mosaics by Invader.   Street art hunters should explore the Parisian neighbourhood of Belleville and the thirteenth arrondissement, both promising some of the city’s most impressive murals.   A short trip to Vitry-sur-Seine on Paris's outskirts provides an opportunity to not only see an outdoor gallery of stenciled portraits by Christian Guemy (also known as C215), but also the work of his colleagues that were invited to add to the local walls. Berlin, Germany In Berlin, head straight for Schoneberg and Friedrichschain - the collection of art here is truly inspiring, especially on the Bülowstrasse. Here you will find the work of Brazilian twin brothers known as Os Gêmeos and Irish artist Fin DAC. [caption id="attachment_24438" align="alignleft" width="668"] 'Forget Me Not' mural by Fin DAC in Berlin, Germany.[/caption] The East Side Gallery is another site worth visiting in Berlin - a publicly accessible remnant of the Berlin Wall, now home to street art. Łódź, Poland The quantity and quality of the street art in Łódź, surprises many. Due to the hard work and organisation of the local Urban Forms Gallery, an amazing collection of art can be seen enlivening the walls of this austere town.   While the work is often serious, much of it also bears a fairytale-like quality.   Perfect examples of this are the stunning walls painted by Sainer and Bezt, a duo who met here while studying in art school and are now known as Etam Cru.   This city is not to be missed by the serious street art hunter. Valparaiso, Chile Valparaiso, a close neighbour of Santiago, is made up of a series of hillside communities locally-known as cerros.   Many of them have been enhanced by the joyous street art across this vibrant Chilean city. Home to many wonderful artists, you will see beautiful works by La Robot de Madera and Charquipunk, as well as Valparaiso-born and internationally-renowned artist, INTI.  One of the city’s greatest works is by INTI, encompassing an enormous wall he painted against the backdrop of the busy local harbour. New York City, USA Like London, New York City is a magnet for street artists. Everybody wants to paint here, although the mark they leave may not be long lasting.   Bushwick, Williamsburg and Welling Court are important centres, as is Little Italy in Manhattan with its LISA (Little Italy Street Art) Project.   The work here is enormously varied and rewards those who wander. It ranges from Olek's guerrilla knitting to Dain's paste ups, with everything imaginable in between.   There's also Kobra's iconic wall with its patterns and vibrant colours that can be seen from the High Line. Christchurch, New Zealand Christchurch has reinvented itself using street art, since earthquakes in 2011 devastated the city and much of its architecture. Now areas once cleared and sparse, are starting to come back to life with new buildings and newer street art providing a riot of colour to fill the space.   Much of the work is by local New Zealand artists such as Askew, Owen Dippie and Jacob Yikes, as well as some international artists including Melbourne's Rone and Adnate.   Some of the most entertaining murals are painted by BMD.   Buy the book For more on the world’s best street art destinations, Street Art: International by Lou Chamberlin is now available from $45 at exploreaustralia.net.au.