Thorir Ibsen, ambassador of Iceland to India, on his love for tandoori food, Shah Rukh Khan and the Himalayas
Two years ago, Thorir Ibsen was deputed as the ambassador of Iceland to India, but the traveller in him was more excited than the diplomat. Along with serving his official responsibilities, he enjoys travelling around India, and he plans to keep doing that. He talks to Shubh Yatra about his experiences in the country:
I could hardly contain my excitement when I was told I would be coming to India. The country is going through exciting times; economically, India has been doing very well. India has been making itself known in the world community and holds a strong position among BRICS countries. Now is the time to be here, and observe and engage with everything.
It was all the more exciting because my wife and I enjoy travelling, and neither of us had been to India. So it was a completely new experience.
Looking back at the past two years
For us, India was an exotic land. So after we arrived, we had to learn to adjust. Climate was a factor. I’ve experienced warm countries but it was the first time that I experienced 50°C. That was one thing we had to get used to.
We also had to come to terms with the diversity – we only realised its sheer magnitude when we started travelling in India.
We’ve been pretty much everywhere: Chennai, Puducherry, Kolkata, Mumbai, Udaipur, Varanasi and also the Northeast – Manipur, Assam (the Kaziranga National Park) and Sikkim. We did a six-day trek in the Ladakhi Himalayas. I don’t think I can go back to a place I’ve already been to because there is so much left to visit. I am yet to go to the other northeastern states as well as Goa and Rishikesh.
I’m a non-vegetarian and I love the tandoori and Punjabi food here. Indian cuisine is fragrant and colourful but can be a tad challenging for the expat’s palate. I love the spices, but in moderation. When my cook prepares Indian food for me, I ask him to make it mild. I find south Indian cuisine strong as well as interesting.
An Icelander’s to-do list in India
There are so many things I would ask an Icelander to do in India. First, I would suggest they explore Rajasthan – its art, colours, music and forts. Also the Taj Mahal in Agra. I think they would find South India interesting, especially Kochi.
They should explore both the eastern and the western coasts of India and cities such as Varanasi and Rishikesh, to see the mesmerising rituals around the Ganges. If they enjoy trekking and adventure, they should either go to Sikkim or Ladakh.
An Indian’s to-do list in Iceland
There are two things an Indian can do in Iceland. When I came here first, I highlighted summer Iceland, because we love that phase from June to August. That’s the best time to enjoy nature, the midnight sun, the glaciers and the huge lakes with their lava fields. But later I discovered that Indians were more eager to travel to Iceland in winter, from October to February, to see the northern lights also known as the Aurora Borealis.
If that is indeed what interests them, this year is set to offer an extremely good view. The strength of the northern lights is related to the constellations and the temperature, and the predictions for this year are quite spectacular. People would not need to go out of the city of Reykjavik to see it. So I would ask an Indian to visit Iceland twice a year – in summer and in winter – to experience the different sides of the beautiful country.
– As told to Shrabasti Mallik