Skip to main content

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, I was called to make a presentation, and to my extreme joy I was informed in August, 2007 to get ready for joining the Pre-Antarctica Induction Training programme of two weeks starting mid-September at Auli in Garhwal Himalayas under the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.

Auli at the height of approx 8,000 feet is a popular centre for winter sports. ITBP has it Mountaineering and Skiing Institute at Auli to train defense personnel in mountaineering, rock climbing and skiing, and conducts rescue operations in the high altitude areas. It does not cater to the civilians with the Antarctic scientific expeditions being the only exception.

I joined a group of 25 young scientists to travel from Delhi to Auli via Hardwar and Joshimath covering a total distance of 500 km more than half of which was uphill drive. I was going to the holy city of Hardwar for the fifth time this year. The beginning was made in April when I went there with Bikash and Dottie. It is ritual with them to visit Hardwar whenever they are in India on short visits from Delaware, US. Dottie often remarks that in last more than 20 years of her association with India, the only city other than Delhi she has visited is Hardwar. Hardwar is the first city in plains where the holiest of the Indian rivers, Ganga, makes it entry after traversing an incredible journey in the mighty Himalayas.
Soon after Hardwar, hills begin and you see Ganga all the way up to Joshimath when the road bifurcates for Badrinath, a holy shrine, and Auli. The journey is incredible with its landscape of mountains, water-falls, pines, oaks and at times providing thrills with hairpin road bends and deep gorges. The Ganga, during this leg of her journey, is joined by its seven major tributaries, and its each such confluence has developed as a holy town.

Auli is the place to see some of the magnificent peaks of this side of Himalaya: the most famous being Nanda Devi. Others are Neel Kantha, Nar, Narayan, and many others. The beauty of Nanda Devi changes as the day progresses. The views at sunrise and sunset are just breathtaking. It is photographer’s delight.

The ITBP instructors did their job of physically training us and giving us theoretical and practical demonstrations on hills and glacier with their customary sincerity and zeal. I have earlier experience ITBP personnel’s devotion and dedication in ample measures during my expedition to Kailash Mansarovar. They not only provided security and helping hand during some difficult treks and while crossing fast flowing river streams, but their presence alone was a big comfort.
I had a great time with young scientists of the group. They represented different fields about which I knew very little. But it was heartening to listen to their animated discussion on subjects like astrophysics, space physics, troposphere, ionosphere, geomagnetism etc. It appeared India’s future was secure in their hands. Some terms sounded familiar, but I was totally dumbfounded by a specialty called Limnology. I had not heard of it before. Want to hazard a guess what it is about? Well, it is the physical, chemical and biological study of water.


ani said…
All the best.Through you we will be a
part of the trip.Keep in touch regularly.
Anirudh and Ravinder
Mainak said…
Congratulations and all the best indeed! Please keep us posted. Dr. Mukherjee.
Prof. said…
Great!we'll be with yooou thru this travelogue.. I did'nt know that you had such variety of interests.. &that already you have visited Kailash..itself an experience ..!will be reading this site periodically..v.much interested but alas my age now wont permit..Satish Malik
Nadz said…
Wonderful, if this is the "aaghaaz", (beginning), then what will be the anjaam!!!

Wish you all the very best. i shall be looking forward to reading your adventures.
Zia Nadeem
Niraj said…
Fantastic! This is an opportunity of a life time. I look forward to reading your travelogue. I wish you all the very best.
Niraj Ahuja
Hemang said…
Thanx for starting blog. I will travell antartic with u by this blog. U make us proud, buddy!!

Best wishes

Popular posts from this blog

Chopta - Tungnath - Chandrashila Trek

Five days of holidays in the beginning of October was god-sent for many people to make a beeline into their favourite destinations; we too planned to make best of this golden opportunity, since it does not happen very often that one gets constellation of holidays falling together. If I have to plan, what better place than go for a quick visit to the Himalayas in Uttarakhand. Chopta and Tungnath had been in my mind for a long time. I made enquiries and found this was a doable trip in five days. Vasu, after some hesitation, agreed to accompany me, and then I asked Shariff, who approved the plan (of course, after consulting Malini) without hestitation. What bothered me was the road condition. After last year’s devastation due to fury of floods in Uttarakhand, esp, in the region of Kedarnath, I was a little wary, since Chopta and Tungnath fall in the close vicinity of Kedarnath; afterall, Tungnath is one of five Kedar temples. I contacted GMVN’s offices in Rishikesh and other places to ge…


When I told my family and friends that I wanted to trek to Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib this August, everyone thought I was just crazy. Besides Delhi, the rain gods had been relentless over Uttarakhand too causing road breaches at multiple sites in various hill towns. There were landslides everywhere and traffic to all the well known pilgrimage centres of Badri Nath, Kedar Nath, Gangotri and Yamunotri were getting cut off from rest of the country every now and then. The group I was trying to assemble had fallen through. But to do justice to the Valley of Flowers, one has to trek there in the month of August only when the entire valley is at its best bloom. So finally, I enquired at the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd ( if they had any vacancy for its weekly tour to Valley of Flowers – Hemkund Sahib – Badri Nath. Of course, they did not have any for the month of August. However, I was banking on some cancellations hoping some people might not like to venture on this…

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…