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 screen with laptop and LCD projector on a table. The pre-flight announcements and the usual safety directions were communicated through this only, as there was no public address system. The height of the cabin must have been about 15 feet. The roar of the engine was deafening, much more than other aircraft. Many of my fellow Indian colleagues working in Border Roads Organization had traveled in Ilushin for going to Leh or Siachen. The take off was quite smooth like any other airplane. I was curious to experience its landing on the frozen blue ice. The LCD projector showed us its flight path continuously. We landed at the Novo airbase of the Antarctica at 3:30 hrs GMT. Outside it looked as if the day was breaking, the temp being minus 7 degree C. It took quite a while to offload the luggage, There were no porters, and all the expedition members were offloading with the help of one another and other compatriots who were already camping in Antarctica. There were snowmobils and other specialized transport vehicles. A team of about 10 from Maitri had come to receive us.
We all had changed into polar clothing inside the aircraft. It was quite cumbersome since it was like one piece track suit and I was not used to it. The first impression of the Antarctica : initially, it looked like a huge white ocean with tinge of blue here and there, then it looked like a white sand desert with patches of mirage appearing here and there. Emotionally I am feeling quite relieved having reached here without any hiccups. The feeling of reaching the seventh and the most unique continent of the Earth will gradually sink. On our way to Maitri station (9 KM from the Novo airbase), we sighted our first wild life of Antarctica, a bird called skua. Its arrival is eagerly awaited here since it heralds the onset of summer time, and it was evident at the base where the notice board depicting the important facts and milestones of the 26th Indian Expedition to Antarctica had mentioned the sighting of skua on the 29th October, 2007.