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Members of the 26th Indian Antarctic Expedition

You already know that I am member of the 27th IAE. However, the previous batch, 26th, is also here and is on the verge of finishing its winter period. It, 24 of them, came here exactly 390 days ago and still has 75 more days to go. Its leader and Station Commander is Mr. D Jaypaul, Director, Geological Survey of India, Logistics leader is Col Suresh Kumar of Corps of Engineers, Indian Army, and it has 2 doctors, namely, Dr Ganesh Chaudhry and Dr Udaya Uthappa. There are 4 scientists (one each from GSI, IIG, NGRI, SASE), 2 doctors as above (one surgeon and one anaesthetist), two experts from the Indian Meteorological Deptt (to record weather related data and make forecasts on weather esp. on low pressure, wind speed, and possibility of a blizzard), 2 communication experts, and 16 members of the logistics team. What an important and crucial role the Logistics Team plays in the success of the Expedition and the Station, I shall tell you some other day. Cook is Mr. Ram Das from Indo-Tibet…

Dessert, Trading, and Pranayama

Dessert in White Desert

With every evening meal there is dessert. There is more variety than the choice of vegetables. Of course, the most favourite remains the ice cream. People fill their bowl from party pack till it starts spilling over. It is, Frosty, some brand from Goa. I am usually cautious in taking ice cream from unheard brands, but more than that it is the flavours that are available here. There is vanilla, which I can take only if it has been tempered by Chitra with chocolate sauce and caramelized walnuts. The other brand, strawberry, I do not like. Then there is some orange looking flavour called malta-orange which I find quite unappealing. Fresh hot gulab-jamun (made from Gits) is another favourite dessert, and I know at least one whose appetite for it is not less than15-20. My favourite desserts here remain very traditional ones, daal-halwa, besan-ki-burfi or laddoo, and chikki. Of course, the most favourite for me remains jalebi which a Bihari babu has convinced me to ta…

Christmas Celebrations

Of course it is X-mas and first of all I must wish you a very Merry Christmas. I hope you all had a good time. I have just come back to my hut after the Christmas celebrations in the Maitri lounge.

The Maitri Lounge was decorated with posters, star, Christmas trees (of course, artificial), lights and small figurines of Virgin Mary and Christ. Ten people came from the Russian station bringing a boxful of fresh vegetables (valuable gift), and a Canadian couple also joined. This couple runs the tourist agency, White Desert, and has just entertained a group of 10 tourists. Another 2 groups are awaited. We began the programme with the prayer, "ae maalik tere bande hum" and since I had suggested and given the lyric I was asked to lead it. And then I also became the MC by default. I also read out the Christmas message from Bible in Hindi and English. We sang 4 carols: Joy to the World; Sing Nowell, Nowell; We Long to See the so; and finally, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, when Santa Cl…

Shiv & Uma blessed with a baby

Yes, that is how I have named the skua pair. One egg has hatched; the other is still under Uma's warmth waiting to hatch. News came a couple of days ago, but I could manage to go to that area yesterday only. Once I was in that area Shiv made a few sorties in the air to investigate and warn me. I normally keep away so as to not disturb them, particularly Uma whose body warmth is so essential for the nest. From a distance without alarming them I could manage to see white head of the newly born chick with black bill and eyes protruding underneath Uma's belly. Since I have now a powerful zoom, I could manage some good shots. Shiv was in the background making noises all this while. Suddenly I saw that Uma also stood up on her legs exposing the chick and making shrill calls, and before I could realize what was happening she was airborne. I realized it soon enough when I saw Shiv and Uma chasing another pair of skua which had intruded into their airspace posing a threat to their nest…

Solstice

Today is 23rd December. This day carries the same significance in Antarctica as elsewhere. That is, the Sun now will travel from East to West northwards. Practically this means that in the northern hemisphere the days will start getting longer, while in Antarctica, the days will start getting shorter. Though there will still be 24-hour day, but one may look forward to nights, stars and moon in days to come. The Sun will set completely towards the end of January to have night for 4 minutes only.

The northbound Sun, Uttarayan, has other significance too in India. People attain 'nirvana' if they leave this world during this period of 6 months. In the great Indian epic, Mahabharat, the great warrior, Bhishm, was gifted in postponing death till the time of his choice. During the final battle when he falls down with Arjun's arrows all over his body, he keeps away death since he wished to leave for his heavenly abode only after the start of Uttarayan to achieve nirvana or moksha.

I…

Some photographs

Please enjoy the following photographs. I'm not very good with my new camera as yet, however hope this gives you some idea of my journey, and the Antarctica landscape.





Antarctica - the India connection

In all our great epics like various Puranas (Vishnu Puran, Shiv Puran) or Shri Mad-Bhagwat or Vedas written 3000-5000 years ago, there is uniform mention of seven continents in this universe. During my schooling days 45 years ago, our books and teachers taught us the Earth consisting of five continents only, while at home mother read the stories from these epics telling us of seven continents. Finally now the world recognizes the Earth to have seven continents with America now divided into two continents, South and North, and Antarctica being recognized as the seventh. So, Indian sages recognized Antarctica even in the ancient times! You all have read the story of Kumbh Karan, the younger brother of demon king Ravan in the famous India epic Ramayan. Kumbh Karan was known for many things, the most important being his sleep pattern of sleeping for 6 months and remaining awake for the next 6 months. Was he living or ruling over Antarctica?

Antarctica has many kinds of snow and ice. Only s…

Difficulties of Day Excursion

Though the day excursions are always welcome and I am always looking for an opportunity to tag along with any party going for field work, there are many inconveniences one has to face and handled. First is putting on a few layers of clothing. Then one has to wear thick polar gloves which make handling cameras or any other activity difficult. Then there is balaclava and the snow glasses (like the one used in skiing) etc. And then I carry two cameras. They also prove heavy if you are negotiating a glacier or walking on a frozen lake or descending or ascending through big uneven boulders. I have to carry cameras in thick protective cases so that the battery compartment remains warm enough to prevent malfunctioning and early discharge. In midst of all this it is very easy to lose any article. I have to take off gloves or snow glasses repeatedly to handle camera, or remove balaclava when it gets too warm. I have already lost a pair of gloves but for no fault of mine.

Though my constant wear…

A Bird Attack!

It had remained quite windy yesterday, but today late morning it started getting better, and now at 7 pm there is no wind. I went out for a walk with NK (a colleague) and then a skua tried attacking us. Perhaps we had gone very near its nest. I had seen its shadow hovering over us, but suddenly I realized this shadow was right near my feet, small and dark. I realized immediately it was right over my head. I saw it just 1 ft away from my head with menacing eyes and open claws. Its beak is like that of eagle or kite since it is a hunter and scavenger. Its pet birds for hunting are snow petrel and young Adelie penguins. I tried to shoo it away by sound and moving my hand. But it was not to be scared. I had my camera with me and I started rotating it above my head vigorously since I did not want to be attacked on my face. I was not wearing big snow glasses. NK tried to protect himself with a screw-driver that he was carrying. It attacked the screw-driver a few times, and then flew away. B…

Visit to a Russian Station

ANTARCTICA ON 05.12.2007:

Today six of us walked to the Russian station, Novo. It is about 5 km away surrounded on 3 sides by ice-shelf, so the minimum temperature goes much below as compared to the Indian station. As per protocol, our leader, Mr. D. Jay Paul, had informed telephonically the leader of the Russian station about our arrival. Today there has been no sun, it is cloudy all over and has been snowing intermittently. So walk of one and a half hour was not exhausting at all. On the way we met a penguin, Adelie, who was on the frozen part of the lake and swam across on seeing us to welcome us. Since they are not used to human presence, they are not shy of us humans.
We were received by the Russian leader, Mr. Eugene Savchenko, an oenologist. Basically he is a veteran of Arctic for last 30 years. This is his first time in Antarctica and has joined the team as its leader since February, 2007 and will depart only in March, 2008 taking 45 days to reach St Petersburg. He himself is no…

A Bird's Nest

A pair of skua has built a nest in the vicinity. To call it a nest would be a joke. When people told me about it, I thought it would be under some rocks or boulders. But no, it is right there in the open ground with no shade or cushion. Many birds that we know of back home, also make nests in the ground but use grass and twigs for cushioning. Of course, there is no grass or any twig in Antarctica. It would be fascinating to follow the hatching and growing of chicks. Before the winter sets in March, they will fly away to warmer islands.

By Antarctican standards, it is all summer now. The max temp is hovering around 0 degree. The size of the frozen blue lakes is shrinking, I mean, the ice is fast melting into water. I also do not have to wear too many layers of clothing. Though balaclava and hand gloves are still needed when I go for walks. But for shorter walks of 10-15 min, just one jacket over normal clothing is OK.

Getting up in the middle of the night

I have already written about 24-hour day here that continues day after day, or month after month during summer time. This in itself is a very unique and strange experience initially. The funniest feeling I get when I get up in middle of the night at about 2 am to pee. The summer team lives in the 'living module' and toilets are situated outside. Expecting dead of the night, you feel very strange when you find bright sunshine outside. The first though that strikes you is that you are late for the day, but then you remind yourself that just now you saw the time as 2 am. The stranger feeling is when I compare it with my getting up in middle of the night while on treks in the Himalayas. On those treks we usually stay in the tents and for peeing we have to walk a little distance away from the living area. The darkness is at its maximum as there is no source of light near or far that could provide even some psychological satisfaction. The small torch lights up only a small area in f…

Wind Speed is Killer

The wind speed has remained very high since yesterday, nearly 120 kmph. Sitting in the lounge or in your own living area, you continuously hear the sound of a floor mill running without stop. This morning I took half the time for walking from Annapurna lounge to Maitri lounge since I was pushed from back all the time, but then it took me double the time to come back. I am wearing 3 layers since the minimum wind chill temp has dropped further. With three layers bathroom trips become the most cumbersome. If the wind speed increases further, the snow drift will start which, as the name implies, means that the snow will be lifted up from its original place to accumulate elsewhere. If it accumulates in front of the doors, we will have to shovel it away to gain access to our living area. Shovels are kept at strategic places for easy access. There is no sign of a blizzard developing yet since there is no fog around.

Last night 'Dil Chahta Hai' was screened at Maitri Lounge. Though nor…

The Rocks Speak

ANTARCTICA : 28.11.07

India is a country full of statues carved out of small and big rocks. They are as live as could be. They have been part of our culture and history from ancient times and give us a vivid account of life of people of a particular era and area. They are now major tourist attractions. The caves of Ajanta and Ellora are awe-inspiring, how in that era people went into those hills, discovered those caves, and just with chisel and hammer produced wonder to last till this planet lasts. Or for that the famous erotic sculptures at Khajuraho or Sun Temple at Konark only leave you spellbound. Similarly, the marvels of near Mysore are just breathtaking. Each and every piece of art is not only to admire but it gives living account of the history, culture of its people. That a piece of rock even without it being transformed into a piece of art could tell us about the evolution of world, I only recently learnt in Antarctica.

We have, in India, seen any number of movies where sculpt…

Tourism

Today we met a group of 4 people from a tourist agency who were setting camp to receive tourists from Europe for a white desert safari of 10 days. They had all state of the art equipment for this and will take 10 days to set up the camp for some rich tourists. Cost: Euro 25,000/- per person. These people were also associated with the making of a documentary for BBC: "Blizzard - the race for the pole". It is the story of famous polar explorers of 1900s, Edmondson and Scott. Ishu, I very often now remember the film in the Discovery Imax theatre on Shackleton in Charlotte many years ago that we saw together. I was filled with awe and had thought that such places were meant for exploration only by these great men of spirits and adventure. I had thought such places were not meant for me and had felt contented visiting Dodital and Har-ki-doon. Their feats of that time opened gates for persons like me to visit this continent with the help of all logistics and equipment. My salute t…

Shramdaan, and a Visit

Antarctica: 24.11.2007

This morning it was 'shramdaan'. We, all Maitrians, were divided into various teams for cleaning operations. Basically, it was dismantling of some disused structures, garbage segregation for burning, incinerating, and some for shipping back to India for final disposal. It was mind-boggling to see how much waste and garbage we produce. And how much garbage is collected over time to maintain us and this station. So many things could be very well reused, like wooden boxes of quality wood, but were all sent into burning container or incinerator. Transporting them back to India for reuse would be very very expensive. In the name of science and exploration, how much exploitation of Antarctic continent Man is causing is perhaps unbelievable.

Fortunately, there are only 27 nations and maximum of 800-900 people at given time staying in Antarctica, so damage right now is limited. But with increasing commercial and scientific interest in Antarctica, more facilities a…

Celebrations

ANTARCTICA ON 23.11.2007 :

Let me begin today's mail with the weather report: Max 0.6, Min -5.8, wind speed 30 knots (84 kmph) and Min wind chill temp -28. Today I witnessed my first snowfall of the Antarctica. It was for perhaps only for an hour with sparse and very small flakes. It is still a news. You already know that Antarctica is the most cold continent of this planet. During summer time, its average temperature at coastal areas is -5 to -10 C, while at the hills or plateau it is -25 to -30 C. During winter, the coastal areas experience temp of -40 C while on the plateau it goes down to -70 to -80 C. At the Russian station, Vostok, the minimum temp of the Earth was recorded at -89 C in 1983. The coastal area of Antarctica is less than 10 percent, while rest is a huge plateau with average height of more that 2 KM. No continent of the Earth can match this average height. However, the air at Antarctica is devoid of humidity. Whenever there is some moisture, it precipitates and f…

Art of Dosa Making

ANTARCTICA.22.11.2007:

There is a joke in Matri station that the only thing that is not available in its kitchen is perhaps penguin's milk. I maintain that if anyone has any complaints reg food here, then perhaps that person's must be his mom's nightmare in his food habits. The variety and quantity is unimaginable. What the camp lacks in facilities and conveniences of other nations' stations, it compensates in its kitchen.

This morning we had dosa, chutney and sambhar. And none from the ready-mix packets. There is a good-sized grinding machine to make the batter. After having satisfied my satiety centres, I tried my hand at dosa making. I had done earlier pooris, and had kind of obtained the cook's approval. I not only did the baking part but also did the pouring and spreading part too. And what shape it came out to be from the first dosa itself! I am not being narcissistic here, you can see the photos when I come back - taken spontaneously by other people.

A Day in the Life Of....

ANTARCTICA ON 21.11.2007

How do I spend my time in Antarctica?

This is my daily routine broadly.

I usually get up by 6 or 6:15 am (all timings in GMT)

Attend morning rituals. From today, I have joined a small group for pranayama classes (breathing exercises).

8 am : reach main station for breakfast. So far the breakfast has been like puri-bhaji, paratha-curd, Maggie, milk-wheat flakes, idli-sambhar, etc. Bread-butter, milk, juices, all brands of adds-on like bournvita, horlicks, maltova, complan etc are available all the time. Various kinds of namkeen also.

After breakfast, I just loiter around, talk to people, their work, their experiences etc. write my diary, postings etc. Read something. I now know all the members of our team (27th IAE) by their names, and also of many members of the 26th team. Creat opportunity for having 1-2 cups of tea/coffee before lunch.

Go to lunch at about 1 pm, and stay their by 2:30. come back to my cabin. It is a prefabricated living module with four bunker beds…

6 Month Long Day and 6 Month Long Time

We all know that at poles, the duration of a day or a night is not like rest of the world. Both the poles, South as well North, do not follow 24-hour cycle. The day continues for 6 long months and so is the night. When I was preparing myself (mentally), I somehow got a notion that the Sun will be at the top of the head and would remain like that for next 4 months, and then would start to descend towards west for its once a year sunset. After coming here I realized what a foolish notion I had. In fact, at Maitri (the Indian station) the sun sets every day in west to rise again from east. We follow GMT here which is five and a half hours behind the IST. At about 6 PM GMT the sun is seen to be setting in the west, and by 7 the sun disappears completely. However, there is no darkness, and for next 8-9 hours the light is like dusk as of 7-7:30 PM in Delhi summer. By about 2 AM, the sun becomes visible again with bright sunshine.

At the exact South Pole area, there is 4-month long night betw…

First Penguin Sighting

Sighted a penguin yesterday, the Adelie species. A loner had come near our station crossing the Priyadarshani lake. It came today also. Penguins are usually sighted in groups, I wonder if it has lost track or has been turned out of the group. In that event it may not survive. T

he lake which freezes during winter, is fast melting now. If you see carefully, the frozen part is shrinking fast, you can almost see a stream flowing. The temp has been ranging from max of plus 1 to minus 7.6, with wind speed of 26. This morning had a guided trip of workshop, and other logistics like generator sets, boilers, storage, deep freezers, cold rooms etc. The food supply is stored between minus 18 to 20 C. Besides scientific work, logistics has equally important role here in providing heat, light, water, toilets, sewage and garbage disposal, kitchen, living arrangements, vehicles, storage, getting supplies from ship or ice-shelf storage which is at about 125 KM away. There is a lot of variety of food. …

Acclimation

Maitri Station, Antarctica: 16.11.2007


This morning I feel more adapted and acclimatized. Yesterday I was feeling quite tied down with the polar suit overall and found it quite cumbersome to get in and out. Since all our rooms and dinning area are well heated, I could not sit there with this gown on and had to get out of it. The thought of going out and before that getting into it would dampen my enthusiasm to go outdoors. Without it I would feel the chill. It is simply a matter of practice since the winterers do not have any problems with it, and I am sure in a day or two I would overcome my resistance to it. I have requested for a two piece polar suit and this morning I have been assured of one this evening. In any case, this morning appears warmer, brighter and sunnier, though it may not be so temperature wise.



Yesterday I had rested for an hour, and then slept quite comfortably last night. The previous night of 14/15 Nov had gone in travel and so sleep had to oblige me. The bathroom…

Arrival!

Antarctica Diary (15.11.07)

We all have reached at Maitri station in Antarctica on time safe, sound, and comfortably. There were total of 54 passengers from countries like Norway, Belgium, Russia, Germany, and of course India with the largest contingent of 16 members. The Ilushin 76 came as a disappointment. I was expecting a huge air craft, larger than any of the Airbuses or jumbo jets in which I had traveled. It looked quite small but was much taller. Much of the space is reserved for transporting cargo, the passenger cabin had only 60 seats in rows of 3 by 3. I was allotted seat no. 8-A and was quite happy that I got a window seat. Another disappointment was in store when I found that there were no windows in the aircraft. I was hoping to see Antarctica from the top and see its landing on the frozen blue ice, but in vain. The interior of the aircraft had no trappings of the modern passenger aircraft. You could see the wires hanging around all over. In front of the cabin, there was a…

Antartica Diary (12.11.07) - On My Way

ANTARCTICA DIARY : 12.11.07
The last few days in Delhi : were quite anxiety filled with nervousness and apprehensions. I always had this nagging thoughts in my mind that there should be no major flaw in my preparations, esp., what all to pack. Somehow the guidelines from the Centre were not very explicit. I did not wish to carry unnecessarily too many things, but at the same time wanted to ensure that all necessary items were with me. In usual foreign visits, if you forgot something important, you could always buy there by paying some extra money. But one could not buy anything in Antarctica, though we are told the Indian station, Maitri, was well equipped in most of the things. I spent lot of time in researching for camera since I wanted to carry a good and versatile digital SLR camera. After lot of internet search and talking to my friends who are amateur and professional photographers, I zeroed on Canon 400D. I would some day write some tips on buying a camera, but I found the websi…

What I plan to do in Antarctica for next 4 months

Antarctica is a continent of extreme climatic conditions and isolation. To spend more than a few days under such conditions can prove to be a stressful experience. Different people use different strategies to cope with such a situation. It is extremely important that anyone in this kind of environment develops some healthy and meaningful strategies, and thus avoids boredom and resultant ill effects on physical and mental health. One thus can avoid any escalation in one’s tobacco and alcohol consumption also.

As I have said earlier, I shall be making regular structured assessment of team members’ general and psychological health alongwith assessment of their adaptive and coping behaviour and strategies.

What more I have planned for myself: I am carrying a good stock of books to read and music to listen. Maitri, the Indian station at Antarctica, has its own library stocking a large collection of books, music and movies. I have planned to be more regular with my physical exercises and lear…

Doing Research in Antarctica

Ever since man has stepped on the shores of Antarctica, it has opened a vast field of research in various scientific disciplines including health. Antarctica has been described to be a natural laboratory for studying the stresses on health and human performances associated with isolation in extreme conditions. Its environment is described as being extreme because survival is impossible for the unprotected and ill-provisioned individual. Its natural environment being dangerous and not easily accessible makes it stressful. However, physical characteristics of the polar-environment are not the strongest stressors that may be encountered by the individuals in Antarctica. Psychological aspects bring about varied kind of difficulties and reactions for people who stay there on short-term or long term basis : prolonged isolation or separation from family and friends; confinement in small groups restricting privacy; and occupation concerning group activities, restricted leisure activities and …

How to Reach Antarctica?

Traditionally, Indian Scientific Expeditions to Antarctica have been sailing by ship from Goa to reach Antarctica in 3-4 weeks time via Mauritius stopping there for 2-3 days. During its journey it would cross equator and have all the thrills and excitement of a ship cruise. There would be plethora of marine life to see including whales, dolphins, seals etc. The most thrilling, exciting and perhaps anxiety filled time would come when ship enters latitude of 40 degrees south till 55 degrees when it would go rocking and pitching. The ship takes 4-5 days to cross this ‘villainous and roaring forties’, and is very difficult time due to certain risks and severe sea sickness. It is the area of mixing of waters of Indian Ocean and Antarctica. After crossing this, the ship would enter cold water and then the frozen sea with icebergs, ice-sheath, fast ice, packed ice etc.
Lately, the Indian Expeditions have been doing the entire journey partly by air and ship. The team would fly to Johannesburg…

Auli - getting in shape for the big white island!

Antarctica….the seventh continent of the earth, is the most unique since it is a frozen continent with no known human habitation. It is ordinarily inaccessible, and conditions are so extreme that survival is impossible for unprepared and unequipped human beings.

I started thinking of Antarctica seriously after my expedition to Kailash-Mansarovar in the summer of 2006. It was Chitra, in fact, who perhaps jokingly asked me what next after Kailash Mansarovar! Antarctica? And then there were others who had visited Antarctica as members of the Indian Scientific Expedition encouraging me to submit a research proposal to the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research, under the Ministry of Earth Sciences. I proposed to study the longitudinal changes in the general and psychological health of expedition members who stay in Antarctica for short-term (3 months) and long-term (15 months) along with their coping strategies including tobacco and alcohol consumption. After being short-listed…