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 website, http://www.cnet.com very useful.
Two more things preoccupied my mind : Chitra had organized a family dinner on the 4th November on the eve of Deewali (the great Indian festival of lights) and Bhai-dooj (the traditional Indian Sister's day), and as usual, the guest list which was 30 to begin with had swelled to 100. I too had taken up on myself to organize Prof V K Varma's book launch function at Delhi on 6th November, and had requested Dr Karan Singh to release the book. Finally, the Deewali being on the 9th November, just a day before my departure to Goa on the 10th, there were visits to be made, guests and telephone calls to be received, and festival related shopping list to be attended. Fortunately, all things went very satisfactorily with Chitra's detailed planning and efforts.
I left for Goa on the morning of 10th November to join my fellow team-members at the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean research for briefings and onward journey. For some reason, my most of anxieties and apprehensions disappreared on reaching Goa. Our batch of 16 was flying all the way to Antarctica which was a major event. Normally, the expeditions have taken sea route taking up to 4 weeks. We would reach our Maitri station at Antarctica on the third day after taking South African Airways flight to Cape Town from Mumbai on the early morning of 12th and then taking a chartered flight from Cape Town organized by a company, Antarctic Logistics Centre International (ALCI). This flight would be on IL 76, the well known Russian cargo plane, Ilushin. This flight would cover a total distance of 4200 KM in six hours. Thus it would take a total of 18-20 hours of flying time in contrast to 4 weeks by sea route. This was my first visit to South Africa, though I was returning to African continent second time after having worked in Ethiopia for two years, 1982-84. Though coming to South Africa or Cape Town should be exciting enough for me for a number of historical reasons, however, right now my mind is preoccupied with my onward travel to Antarctica. Some kind of apprehension is there at the back of my mind, and the excitement of visiting a new country or city is just not there. Though briefly, Cape Town looks like any European city with wide roads, cleanliness, lane driving etc. We have had a briefing at the ALCI centre : the weather at the airbase is fine, clear and warm. Last week the temperature at Maitri was recorded at +8 degree C. The flight would leave at 11:30 PM from Cape Town.