Today the three northern Swedish provinces of Jamtland, Norrbotten and Lapland are the settled territory of the Lapps. The term is considered degrading; they call themselves “Sami” (People of the Swamp). The origins of this ethnic group are obscure. The Sami probably migrated from the east around the beginning of the Christian era, in any case long before the arrival of the Vikings, and settled throughout all of northern Scandinavia. With the growing interest of the Germanic tribes for the northernmost parts of Scandinavia, the Sami were forced farther and farther from the coast lands, and ever deeper into the inhospitable central regions. They yielded to the pressure of the invaders, thus suffering the loss of their fishing and hunting grounds and their farmlands until, finally, only the nomadic life of the reindeer herder was left to them.
Today, the Sami are only a minority in the land which was once theirs – from a total of 45,000, only 10,000 of them live in Sweden. The Sami population is concentrated in a north-south orientation; the farther north you go, the more plentiful the Sami settlements.
After hundreds of years of enduring the exploitation of their rich northern territory, of being judged as annoying troublemakers, and later being forced to accept Christianity and to become tax-paying citizens, only recently have the Sami and their traditions undergone a new assessment – slowly but surely the world has accepted them as being worthy of preservation. Museums, libraries and schools have been established to ensure the survival of this ancient culture. Moreover, since 1996, all of Lapland enjoys UNESCO protection as a cultural and natural heritage site.
To artificially protect the lifestyle of the Sami has proved problematic; one needs only to look at reindeer herding to see how fundamental are the changes in the life of this people. In the past, the entire family clan followed the herds to summer grazing areas in the north and then, in the colder season, returned to winter quarters. Today, only a handful of specialists follow the herds, using fourwheel drive vehicles and even helicopters, while keeping contact with each other over radio phones.
Materials for Sami arts and crafts include the few things available to the craftsman: wood, moss and every conceivable part of the reindeer. Today, production is almost exclusively aimed at the tourist consumer.
The language of the Sami, which belongs to the Finno-Ugric family, is nature-oriented and rich in vocabulary; over 100 different words exist just for the term “snow,” for example. However, the countless dialects, sometimes only spoken by a handful of families, complicate communication so drastically, that often the Scandinavian languages are used instead.
An Untouched Paradise
The southernmost population of Sami can be found in Jamtland. In this last European natural region south of the Polar Circle, not even two percent of the land is cultivated. The eastern area is blanketed by forests – in the west, mountains reaching heights of up to 1,800 meters present an almost Alpine character.
Two important travel routes cross Jamtland: Route 45, the so-called Inlandsvagen that runs from Halmstad in southern Sweden through Karesuando and on to the Finnish border, and the E14 between Sundsvall and Trondheim, following the ancient pilgrimage route of Saint Olav (see p. 195). Route 45 is paralleled during the 1,060-kilometer stretch between Mora and Gallivare by the Inlandsbana. It took 40 years for this railway to be driven through the wilderness; it finally opened in 1936. The railway’s original purpose, to transport ore from Kiruna to southern Sweden during the winter months, could not be realized, since foundations and bridges were too weak to accommodate the weight, and transportation via Narvik on the Norwegian coast proved more cost-effective.
Today, from Midsummer to the middle of August, the Inlandsbana accommodates tourists with regular passenger trains or nostalgic trains pulled by steam locomotives. The Wilderness Express can also be chartered. The tour from Mora to Gallivare takes two days, including even unscheduled stops at tourist sites. While train, engineer and tour guide spend a night in Ostersund, passengers have to decide whether to pitch their tents on a favorable spot near the tracks, or to search for a room for the night.
The main routes from Jamtland intersect Ostersund near Lake Storsjiin. The lake covers 450 kilometers and marks the geographical center of the province. Northbound on the Inlandsvagen and before reaching the lake by Asarna, you cross over the Ljungan River, loved by hiker and canoeist alike. At this point, the river creates a waterfall. Cross-country skiers will enjoy the meticulously prepared trails in the winter months.
In Svenstavik, Route 321 follows the western shore of the lake to a view of Mount Hoverberget (548 meters) with its 170-meter-long cave.
In Marby, the cafe in Gammelgarden, next to the ruins of a 14thcentury church, offers a welcome break. From the village of Hallen, a byroad ascends to Bydalsfjall, and then to Bydalen. Long-distance hikes can be undertaken from here, passing through Oviksfjall and Anarisfjall and reaching even the Sylarna Mountains.
The most famous winter sport resort of Jamtlands is Are, which is located directly on the E 14, halfway between the western rim of Lake Storsjon and the Norwegian border. The quaint wooden hotels built during the last century endow the village with a special charm. From the center of town the old mountain railway, built in 1906, can be taken up to the Areskutan, Ares’ local peak which reaches a height of 1,420 meters.
Visitors who are pressed for time can take the more modern cable car, built in 1979. The old church is also worth a visit, one of the stations on St. Olav’s pilgrimage route. The church contains a medieval statue of St. Olav, whose lost crown was replaced by a three-cornered hat in the 18th century.
Near Duved, nine kilometers west, the Tlinnfors crashes into the valley below. The waterfall, 60 meters wide and 32 meters high, is impressive enough in summer, but in winter the frozen cascade formations are truly breathtaking.
Trekkers heading for the Sylarna Mountains or Anarisfjall start hiking south of Handol at the Storulvans Fjallstation.