In a tete-a-tete with the Ambassador of Iceland, H.E. Mr. Guðmundur Árni Stefánsson, he tells us how, Iceland offers myriad attractions from lava, high mountains, clean rivers, hot springs and glaciers for an ocean of adventures and spectacles to take memories back home…
1. Tell us about Iceland and the Icelandic people. What does Iceland offer to its first-time visitors and how is it different from the rest of the European countries?
Iceland is a country with only 350 thousand inhabitants, located in the northwest of the Atlantic Ocean – more or less midway between mainland Europe and America. Geographically, Iceland is therefore, a perfect hub for travellers, either leaving for the US or Europe, or the other way around. Iceland is a welfare society with good social and health services along with a high standard of education. The language is Icelandic which is related to other Nordic languages, but nearly everyone speaks fluent English. Iceland is a unique place to visit. Its landscape, shaped from many volcanic eruptions and weather conditions, makes it different from anything else; lava, high mountains, clean rivers, hot springs, and glaciers makes contrasts and beauty – a feast for your eyes. Iceland has a pure and clean nature. Despite the cold name, the weather conditions are relatively mild, so it´s an ideal place to visit throughout the year. Iceland is the country of Ice and Fire.
Iceland is a dreamland for many adventure lovers throughout the year. Share your views on the adventure, the country offers.
Iceland is an adventure for visitors who have been coming to Iceland in growing numbers. Last year the number of tourists exceeded 2.2 million people which is really high when you look at the population, with only 350 thousand locals. Most of them are from the US, Britain and mainland Europe, but Asian tourists have been coming in bigger numbers for the last five years. We have as well, seen a growing interest among Indian travellers and there is a 50% increase every year for the last five years. Visitors seek nature, hot springs, the highland, the friendly atmosphere and attitude of the locals, the high standard of service with good hotels and restaurants. And Iceland is a safe place to visit – with a very low crime rate. It is a peaceful country with no army and a good relationship with the outer world. Active on the international arena, it is accessible to visit the most popular sites; many of them within an hour’s drive from the capital Reykjavík. In the summer time, the green colour is everywhere, with 24-hour daylight, which many golfers take advantage of and play midnight golf!! In the winter time, you can enjoy the northern lights where the skies are lit up, go skiing, or just take part in the lively nightlife of downtown Reykjavík. Icelanders know how to party and welcome foreign tourists to take part! And you can go hiking, travel to the northern part of Iceland or to remote places on the Vestfjords and see a different scenario from the Reykjavík area. I can promise you, that you won´t get bored in Iceland. Very many of them fall in love with the country and are regular visitors. That´s the best promotion for a country! We at the Embassy are promoting Iceland as an exotic filming location and Bollywood films play a major part in making a destination popular. The shooting of the song – ‘Gerua’ from the movie, Dilwale starring Sha Rukh Khan and Kajol tempted many tourists to travel to Iceland. There are almost two-three productions every year from India, that are shot in Iceland.
2. Which is your favourite place in Iceland and why?
My favourite place in Iceland! That´s a tough question. I myself was born and have been living in Hafnarfjordur, a fishery town of 30 thousand people just 10 km south of Reykjavík – located between the main international airport and the capital. It´s a friendly town, with beautiful cliffs, and lava and old houses. With thriving harbour activities, fine hotels and restaurants, I love this town. Perhaps I’m being a bit biased, having been the mayor of the town in earlier years, when I was active in politics. Yet I urge every visitor to take a look and enjoy the unique atmosphere. But there are many other places, just an hour’s drive from Reykjavík, such as Thingvellir, where our old parliament came together as early as Viking time, and nearby the waterfall of Gullfoss, the hot spring area of geysers where you can see active geysers spout water 30 meters into the air, every few minutes. Or you could experience our glaciers, taking a tour into a glacier by a man-made tunnel. There are countless spots in Iceland which are close to my heart and I visit frequently. But you can say the country by itself is my favourite place. Icelanders are proud of their country!!
3. What about gastronomical delights…
Like in most of Scandinavia, the cuisine is entirely inspired by the ingredients. Icelanders have around them, from the free-roaming sheep to the cod, herring and the char, that splash around the cold Arctic waters. Beyond its freshness, the food is pure and there are no artificial ingredients. In Iceland, you can find almost anything your culinary heart desires. Restaurants around the country offer a wide variety of both Icelandic dishes inspired by the ingredients found in nature, with the most popular dishes still being fish, lamb and the Icelandic skyr. Technological advancements and the utilisation of geothermal energy have now provided the possibility of utilising freshly grown, locally sourced ingredients, year-round.
4. Is Indian food easily available there?
There is no doubt that Indians have reached across wider spaces globally. Be it companies or hotels, Indian people are reaching every corner of the world. Not just the US or UK, one can even witness Indians with their business running in countries like Iceland. If you are planning to visit Iceland, you need not worry as you will not miss Indian food, there. There are quite a few Indian restaurants in Reykjavik where one can visit and experience dishes such as Mango Chutney, Raita, Pulao rice, Vegetarian thali, etc. The restaurants have been serving top class Indian cuisine and the entire ambience presents the Indian taste that gives a complete Indian feeling. One can also choose the preference of spices – mild or spicy and accordingly, the chefs can prepare the food. There are certain takeaway options as well for Indian cuisines with local street food options available, such as naan rolls, samosas, pakoras, etc. There are five Indian restaurants in Reykjavik which are not too far from each other!
5. What do you like the most about India?
I tried to prepare for India before I came here a year ago, by reading, speaking to people who had lived and worked here. But in reality, nothing can prepare you for India!! You have to live it, see it, smell it, feel it. And that I have done with open eyes and humility. I´m of course in the learning process and will for sure be, during my tenure here. The chaotic traffic, the noise, people everywhere, the pollution in the autumn, the heat in the summer; it´s a lot to take in. But the warmth of the people, the beauty of the country, the contrasts you experience is magnificent. India is not just a country – it is a continent with its 1350 million people. I love travelling in India and my favourite place is in no doubt, the Goa area, which I have visited several times. But I look forward to traveling more, but understanding that it will take a lifetime or more, to get to know India inside and out. But I´m in love with India. No doubt about that.
6. Travel to you in one word is…
7. Tell us three things you don’t travel without.
Can´t travel without: Passport money and travel documents.