Fjord Norway: A journey though breathtaking beauty

By Jeevananda S. Kaviratne

Norway has a diversity of scenic attractions such as landscapes of lofty mountains, wild stretches of coast with deep fjords and huge alluvial plains of snow and ice. The Fjord scenery is the first thing that springs to mind when one thinks of Norway.

In 2004, both Geirangefjord and Naerofjord of Norway were crowned as the World’s Top Unspoiled Travel Destination by National Geographic Magazine. But long before that for well over 150 years, both of these fjords had been sought after tourist destinations.

Again in 2005 the UNESCO included both Geirangefjord in More og Romsdal and the Naeroyfjord in Sogn og Fjordane in its World Cultural and Natural Heritage List under the name West Norwegian Fjord Landscape. Edward Greig, the famous Norwegian musician who composed a great part of his works in a solitary house in the outskirts of Bergen used to say the fjords are a wonderful symphony made of two topics - sea and mountain.

Whoever visits Norwegian fjords would agree with Greig. During the Ice Age, about three million years ago, the whole of Scandinavia was covered by ice according to geologists. Slowly, the ice moved out to the sea and on its journey dug out the existing mountain valleys which then filled with sea- water. The pressure from the vast quantities of ice inland pressed the fjords below the level of the bottom of the sea.

During successive Ice Ages this geological process of glacial retreat created fjords all over Norway as nature’s own work of art. Glaciers slowly carved the fjords of Norway out of hard rock coastal mountain ranges. The resulting narrow fjords are walled by incredibly steep and snow capped mountains.
As a result of the warming of the Gulf Stream the Norwegian fjords have a mild climate and are virtually ice-free. The Gulf Stream from the west provided life-giving temperate water from the Caribbean which keeps the fjords free of ice.

Of all the fjords that came into existence during the last Ice Age in Norway , Geirangerfjord, Sognefjord, Hardangerfjord and Lysefjord are considered the most beautiful. The northern part of the west coast is the home to the fjords which were formed during the last Ice Age. Each fjord has its own unique characteristics and attractions. Nearly 100 fjords are found in the whole of Norway .

Geiranger Fjord, formed of the lateral arm of Stortfjorden is considered to have the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Cascading waterfalls known as The Bride’s Veil and The Seven Sisters tumble down from the sheer cliffs. In addition to these breathtaking waterfalls, numerous rivers originate from the glaciers and jagged mountains flow into these fjords further enhancing their beauty.
Realising these factors, UNESCO is of the opinion that not only the fjords but even the surrounding landscape deserves to be protected.

Sognefjord is the world’s second largest fjord and stretches 204 kilometres into the country from the North Sea towards Jotunheimen National Park with its majestic mountain peaks. The maximum depth of Sognefjord is 1308 metres below sea- level. Sognefjord branches off into 8 fjords Esefjorden, Fjaerlandsfjord, Sogndalsfjord, Lustrafjord, Ardalsfjord, Laerdalsfjord, Aurlandesfjord and Naeroyfjord.
Jostedal Glacier which is about 60 km long and covers an area of 487 square kilometers is the largest glacier of Europe and both Geirangefjord and Naereoyfjord are situated on either side of it. In addition, the biggest mountain plateau of Europe known as Hardanger Plateau is also located along this fjord landscape.

Sognefjord landscape is dotted with Stave Churches of religious, cultural and historical significance. The Urnes Stave Church built around 1130 B.C. in Luster is the oldest Stave church in Norway and is also included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Pulpit Rock is another attraction hanging over 600 metres above Lysefjord. It can be reached by a two hour hike through Norwegian wilderness, though the terrain is rough.

During my stay in Norway, I had the opportunity to see the country both by Flam Railway and the cruise ship. This tour takes you on a journey through some of the most beautiful scenery in Fjord Norway and includes breathtaking experiences on the Bergen Railway, the Flam Railway the Aurlandsfjord, the Naeroyfjord and the steep Stalhimskleiva road. The Flam Railway is one of the world’s most spectacular and steepest standard-gauge railways and is a must for anyone visiting Norway.

Starting from the fjord, the Flam Railway slowly winds its way up the narrow Flamsdalen valley to the snowy mountain plateau, through spiralling tunnels and past cascades of foaming waterfalls, narrow gorges and stunning Norwegian landscapes.

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