The recent eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland and the resultant disruption of air traffic made international headlines. But few outside Iceland know that Eyjafjallajökull is a minor blip compared to the cataclysmic event that took place not long ago. In 1783, over 130 craters opened up near Laki in a violent emetic fury that had geological, climatic, and human consequences extending well beyond Iceland, into regions as distant as Japan and India. Over a quarter of Iceland’s population was wiped out, and an estimated 6 million worldwide were killed. Read the details here.

Laki was the largest eruption since the settlement of Iceland. Even the casual visitor cannot fail to notice the grim sight of Eldhraun (“fire lava”), a vast swath of moss-covered lava bisected by the Ring Road west of the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. As the lava came cascading down towards the village, Reverend Jón Steingrímsson and his congregation gathered in the local church where he delivered what has come to be known as the “Fire Sermon.” His eye-witness account, Fires of the Earth, is now available in English translation.

From: http://www.glenreva.com/gen/e001/runolf1772.htm (link now defunct) –
One Sunday, as the eruption reached its peak, Father Jón Steingrímsson held a service in his church in the small town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. A month and a half had passed since the eruption had begun. Father Jón considered the eruption to be a punishment from God for debauchery, laziness, and sinful living. The lava flow was bearing down on the town at speed with thunderous rumblings and crashes. The terrified residents believed their only hope lay in the church. A service began and Father Jón called to God, promising that his congregation would repent their wicked and sinful ways. As the service continued, the lava-flow reached the course of the Skaftá river near an outcrop called Systrastapi, just outside the town. And there it stopped. This remarkable event was attributed to Father Jón’s compelling prayers and his address to the congregation is now known as the “Sermon of Fire”.
 

Visiting Lakagígar (“Laki craters”) takes some effort as there are no paved roads in the interior and there are potentially treacherous glacial rivers to ford. Specially fitted 4WD vehicles known as superjeeps are usually deployed to negotiate the rough terrain, and the site is a good couple of hours of bone-rattling ride away from the Ring Road (the main road in Iceland).

At Lakagígar you are met with, to put it mildly, an astonishing sight (the Sanskrit word adbhuta comes to mind). One senses a faint echo of the elemental forces of Nature, and for a few disorienting moments one wonders if one has been beamed to an alien world. A full appreciation of the crater row pattern can only be had from the air.

We went to Lakagígar with our personal guide Guðmundur Eyjólfsson, among the finest adventure professionals in Iceland.

 
Lakagígar

At the Laki craters
5D Mark II, TS-E 24L II

 
Tjarnargigur

Tjarnargigur, the crater lake
5D Mark II, TS-E 24L II

 
Lakagigar

Lava field at Lakagígar
5D Mark II, TS-E 24L II

 
Lambavatn at Laki

Lambavatn at Laki
5D Mark II, 24-105L

 
Eldhraun, west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur

Laki's aftermath: Eldhraun, the lava field near Kirkjubæjarklaustur
5D Mark II, TS-E 24L II

 
Our superjeep at Laki

Our superjeep in the volcanic sand of Laki
5D Mark II, 24-105L

 
Superjeep on the drive back from Laki via Kaldbakur

Negotiating the terrain near Laki
5D Mark II, 24-105L

 
Guðmundur Eyjólfsson with his superjeep

Guðmundur Eyjólfsson with his superjeep
5D Mark II, 24-105L

 
 
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  • Ro - March 27, 2011 - 11:07 am

    Amazing!!!
    By the way,
    How do you think the time to drive from Kirkubæjarklaustur to Laki?ReplyCancel

  • Magnus - July 13, 2010 - 4:47 pm

    These photos are amazing… allmost like they are not real

    Best

    MagnusReplyCancel

  • Sanjeev - July 12, 2010 - 9:49 pm

    S-U-R-R-E-A-L !!!ReplyCancel

  • BF - July 12, 2010 - 8:56 pm

    amazing snaps – and text – Rajan.

    truly a delight to follow your photo blog.

    Best wishes. BFReplyCancel

  • jc - July 12, 2010 - 9:47 am

    It cannot be just your high-end camera. It is also your eye and your passion for photography which results in the stunning shots you have cared to share with us.

    Once again …..Thank you

    jcReplyCancel

The Reykjanes Peninsula of Iceland is a place of haunting beauty. Descriptions of the region are usually dotted with clichés such as “stark,” “surreal,” “desolate.” That is because Reykjanes is, in fact, stark, surreal, and desolate.

Andrew Evans in Iceland, Bradt Travel Guide, 2008
p. 187

The southwest peninsula of Reykjanes or ‘smoky point’, is an utterly strange region of surreal landscapes and desolate volcanic fallout. There are only crumbled lava rocks carpeted in thick grey-green moss as far as the eye can see. There is no soil – only shifting, metallic-black sand. The low mountains on the horizon are sleeping volcanoes, the crusted spouts whence flowed all this lava. As an active geothermal hotspot, the broken ground exhales the wispy puffs of steam that gave the peninsula its name. The wind blows without cease and the frontal gusts of the Gulf Stream shoot out from across the ocean. The land is forever streaked with drizzle or sleet…Stark and almost uninhabitable, the Reykjanes Peninsula was overlooked as a fruitless wilderness until the American military thought it the perfect place for a top secret naval base….Reykjanes does not feel like planet earth. But then neither does much of Iceland.

…Reykjanes is a surface worth scratching beneath…There is great hiking to be done, a magnificent coastline to explore, and pure heat bubbling up from the depths.

 

Lake Kleifarvatn in Reykjanes is an atmospheric sight and not a little spooky, especially on days with low-hanging fog. We spent a good deal of time last month in the bowels of Reykjanes, and were unlucky to be spared the gale-force gusts and the punishing weather for which the area is renowned. I can well imagine what it must be like in those conditions, especially in Winter when howling winds are paired with painted heavens in the form of Northern Lights.

I was having some difficulty framing a composition of Kleifarvatn that would adequately convey a measure of the forbidding unease it evokes. On one of my last rounds, I finally ‘saw’ it and it registered in my mind’s eye right away as a monochrome image. Legends speak of a monster in the shape of a worm living in Kleifarvatn. I may well have captured the critter on camera here!

En passant – an earthquake in 2000 caused water levels in Kleifarvatn to drop which in turn inspired the macabre thriller, The Draining Lake.

 
Kleifarvatn

Lake Kleifarvatn in Reykjanes, Iceland
5D Mark II, 24-105L

 
Lake Kleifarvatn

Lake Kleifarvatn - colour rendition
5D Mark II, 24-105L

 
 
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  • Arun - July 10, 2010 - 6:54 am

    There is a lot of interesting color in the colour rendition and my eye keeps returning to it.ReplyCancel

  • anand virgincar - July 6, 2010 - 12:06 pm

    Dear r ,

    As you know , I look forward to every image you offer us. But I choose to comment on your blogsite for the first time because I
    thought the monochrome image above was the best one yet….apart perhaps from one of Goa in the rains you published a couple of years back.

    I know now ( after meeting you in the UK last week ), how much thought and effort goes behind every photo you capture.

    warm regards,
    avReplyCancel

Located in the Reykjanes peninsula close to an active geothermal area, Grænavatn (“Green Lake”) is of volcanic origin, its green colour a consequence of algae and minerals present in its water. Different hues of green are observed, a function of lighting conditions, character of the sky above, as well as viewing location and angle. The entire Reykjanes area has an eerie ambience which makes it all the more enchanting.

Grænavatn

Grænavatn in Reykjanes, Iceland
5D Mark II, 14L II

 
Grænavatn

Grænavatn
5D Mark II, 24-105L

 
Grænavatn

Candid shot of an Icelandic boy at Grænavatn
5D Mark II, 24-105L

 
 
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  • JoeGoaUk - July 2, 2010 - 2:41 am

    Thanks
    Very beautiful.

    I wonder if the lake has any fish in itReplyCancel

  • Samir Bhattacharya - July 1, 2010 - 8:46 pm

    Dear Rajan,

    Just want to thank you for enriching the internet in many ways–with your contributions on music, photographs, and in the early days of the “net,” as a conduit of writings of Ramesh Mahadevan (where is he now, by the way?).

    These are without parallel–many, many thanks.

    Samir BhattacharyaReplyCancel

A glorious day in Reykjavík concluded with the grand finale of the setting sun just before midnight. We got to the Sólfar sculpture in time for this shot.

Midnight in Reykjavik

Sunset around midnight in Reykjavík
5D Mark II, 24-105L, Singh-Ray Reverse GND filter

 

Hallgrímskirkja was draped in golden light.

 
Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja basks in golden light
5D Mark II, TS-E 17L

 

Earlier tonight we stopped by Bessastaðir again. This time I made bold to ring the bell at President Ólafur Grímsson‘s door. Nobody seemed to be in and there was no response. The mellow evening light offered another perspective on Bessastaðir.

Bessastaðir

Bessastaðir, late evening
5D Mark II, 24-105L

 
 
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  • Arun - July 2, 2010 - 1:14 am

    Bessastaðir disturbs me – treeless, shrubless – it seems very stark.ReplyCancel

  • Nachiketa Sharma - June 28, 2010 - 10:33 pm

    Incredible pictures, Rajan! They make me feel like taking off to visit Iceland right away. – NachiReplyCancel

  • Avelino - June 25, 2010 - 11:04 pm

    Patience & skills at an all time high – Well done!ReplyCancel

  • Mervyn Lobo - June 25, 2010 - 7:40 pm

    Picture number one is really good.
    Congrats!ReplyCancel

  • Shree Datye - June 25, 2010 - 9:33 am

    Excellent! A good combination of vision, gear and luck. Happy journey back home.ReplyCancel

  • Arun - June 25, 2010 - 4:06 am

    #1 is #1ReplyCancel

  • Sanjeev - June 24, 2010 - 10:27 pm

    Beautiful and dramatic – Solfar !ReplyCancel

Last week we drove to the remote village of Skagaströnd in north Iceland to meet Hallbjörn Hjartarson, famous all over Iceland as the “Icelandic Cowboy.” Now 76 years old, he showed me around his Kántrýbær and radio studio. He spoke in Icelandic and I in Konkani, and communication was flawless.

From Frommer’s:
The youngest of 16 children, Hallbjörn Hjartarson developed his mania for country music in the late 1950s, while working at the American military base in Keflavík. In 1963 he returned home to tiny Skagaströnd, and in 1983, after singing in various bands, founded Kántrýbær (Country Town), his restaurant, bar, radio studio, and all-around country-and-western shrine. (He lives across the street, and is rarely seen without a ten-gallon hat.) He has only visited the U.S. once — in 1988, to record an album in Nashville — but never ventured outside Tennessee. For several years he organized a C&W festival in Skagaströnd, complete with barn dancing, rodeo stunts, and can-shootin’ competitions, but unfortunately it’s been on hiatus since 2002. Hallbjörn’s 24-hour radio show, usually hosted live from 2 to 6pm and 8pm to midnight, airs on FM 96.7, 102.2, and 107.0; it can be heard from as far as Akureyri and the Strandir coast. On air he insists on thanking Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam, and other favorites each time their music is played. The request line is tel. 452-4774. To listen online, visit www.kantry.is and find the “Hérna getur ?ú smellt á á Kántrýútvarpið á Netinu” link.
 

Here’s a sample of Hallbjörn‘s music –

 
Hallbjörn Hjartarson

Hallbjörn Hjartarson of Skagaströnd, Iceland
5D Mark II, 70-200L f/2.8 IS L II

 
Presenting CD of Indian Music to Hallbjörn

Presenting a CD of Indian Music to Hallbjörn
5D Mark II, 24-105L

 
Hallbjörn in his radio studio

Hallbjörn in his radio studio
5D Mark II, 24-105L

 
 
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  • David R. Levine - May 14, 2011 - 2:55 pm

    Hi,
    Forgive the presumption, but my son, age 21, and I are traveling to Iceland this summer and wanted to meet Hallbjorn Hjartarson. Might you be willing to advise how to make contact? Also, do you know a B&B or hotel either in his town or nearby to stay overnight?
    Any help would be much appreciated. Beautiful photos, by the way.
    PS: Our interest is that both my son and I love music; I’m more involved in country, particularly alternative country, but my son loves it all.
    Dave

    David R. Levine, MD
    Rockford, IL 61103
    trabendikate@mac.com
    Ph: 815.965.3139ReplyCancel

  • Magnus - June 28, 2010 - 2:00 pm

    Hallo!
    The photos are amazing
    Hallbjorn is singing about, lonelyness after chasing away son and wife, and how much he misses them and how he wants to start all over again with them.
    All the best to you
    MagnusReplyCancel