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Greenland: Ilulissat, Kangerlussuaq, Nuuk, Sisimiut
Kangerlussuaq, Greenland: International gateway town
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Kangerlussuaq is a small town in western Greenland. It's at the eastern end of a deep fjord. The town is known for its airport, which is Greenlandís major international transport hub. A road runs northeast from town to the vast Greenland Ice Sheet. This 35 km long road will be the longest highway in whole of Greenland!
Kangerlussuaq began as an important stopover point for aircraft between North America and Europe during World War II. During the Cold War the airfield served as a U.S. early warning facility before being decommissioned in 1992.
Today, the airfield is one of the largest in Greenland and still serves as the main staging area for scientific personnel manning Greenland's many research facilities and base camps. An area to the east of town was the launch site for several sounding rockets used in upper atmospheric studies in the 1970s and 1980s. A radar facility used for ionospheric studies is operated by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Danish Meteorological Institute to the west of town at Kellyville.
The town itself is roughly divided into two halves, the original settlement itself and the former military area on the opposite side of the airfield. With the closure of the military base many of the former barracks are slowly being converted for civilian use. The town has a population of 540 inhabitants, most of whom work for the airport!
I was leading a group of 20 friends to explore Greenland. We took a flight from Copenhagen, Denmark. The flying time was about 4 hours and because of the time difference of 4 hours between Greenland and Denmark, we landed at the same time that we took off. We were at the Kangerlussuaq airport at about 11:30 AM.
For our Greenland trip, we availed the services of Greenland Travel who have their headquarters in Copenhagen. It's indeed a tough job to manage groups to Greenland. Weather vagaries, limited transportation and handful of hotels must surely challenge tour operators. Greenland Travel did a good job. Things moved like clockwork. The company has my recommendation.
For our night's stay we were booked at Hotel Kangerlussuaq. This is the town's only hotel and is situated in the airport building. It's a good idea to travel light in this country. With lack of escalators, lifts and porters be prepared to haul your own bags. There's nothing luxurious but you do have all the basic amenities to spend the night in comfort. From your room window you see the runway and parked airplanes with mountains in the background.
Since we had our lunch on flight, we were soon ready to explore the ice sheet. A 4 x 4 bus was ready at 2 PM to pick us up, along with few other guests. It would be a 5-hour trip to the ice sheet and back with a few photo stops enroute.
The Greenland ice sheet begins at the upper end of the valley to the east of town and is a spectacular sight to behold. The ice sheet can be reached at the end of the gravel road which leads out of town from near the east end of the runway. The nearest point of ice is Russel's Glacier, about 20 km from town. The drive takes through beautiful landscapes through mountains, plains, semi-desert valleys and lakes. We were lucky to spot a few reindeers and wild hares but missed on seeing the musk oxen. Yes, we also saw the remains of a fighter plane that had crashed during the good old days.
Our bus stopped near the edge of the ice sheet. It was a small hike from there to reach the ice sheet. We were allocated an hour to explore the massive expanse. The Greenland ice sheet is a vast body of ice covering 1,710,000 square kilometres, roughly 80% of the surface of Greenland. It is the second largest ice body in the world, after the Antarctic ice sheet.
Whilst walking, I slipped and hurt my palm by a sharp piece of ice. It was bleeding profusely, but thankfully, stopped after a while. Despite having shoes with a good grip, the mishap occurred. Probably, I did not balance myself well while taking the pictures. Take this as a little warning! So be it. All's well that ends well.
Dinner that evening was at Restaurant Roklubben overlooking Lake Ferguson. It was a challenge for vegetarians, but since the booking was made in advance it was not much of an issue. For meat eaters, the local fare would be a delight with oxen and reindeers on the menu.
By the time our dinner was over, it began to rain. We drove back safely to our hotel. It snowed all night long. When we woke up in the morning, it was white all around. We were worried that our flight to Nuuk won't take off. But that was not to be.
The flight would depart at 8:45 AM. We were advised to check-in, get our boarding cards and then have our breakfast back at our hotel's restaurant. The sequence is possible only when the hotel is the airport or vice-versa if I may!
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