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Showing posts from February, 2008

Reached Larsemann Hills

We reached the Latitude of 69 degree South and Longitude of 76 degree East this morning. This is where Larsemann Hill is.

When I had boarded the ship on the 13th February from Maitri, I thought my days of daily new experiences and excitements were over. I could not have been more wrong. Till our journey so far, the ship has opened new vistas of excitements never experienced before. The ship will not anchor on the coast line of Larsemann Hill. It will continue to move in circles at speed of half or less knot. The scene around us is mind boggling. So many icebergs, all of different shapes and sizes, and each different from the other! I wish I could send you the photographs right away, though the photographs, how vivid they may be, will never be able to capture the awe of these icebergs. And since the ship is circling, each iceberg is presenting its different shape and design with each turn. Any one specializing in the study of ocean (Oceanography) and glaciers (Glaciology) will be delig…

100 Days in Antarctica

Today I complete 100 days in Antarctica. Not many summer members achieve this feat. Five of us have achieved this distinction. In the morning I was wondering what story I should write to you people on this occasion. Lot of my experiences I have already shared with you. However, the day itself brought lot of excitement.

Just before noon time, the ship had slowed down quite a bit; she was just crawling. I went to the bridge to investigate. And lo and behold, she had entered zone of pack ice. The ocean was full of only ice and ice till the horizon. I could see white and white only all around me or rather around the ship. The ice was in pieces of size varying from a dinning table to a swimming pool. Pack ice is a stage during the freezing of ocean at the beginning of winter. First there is grease ice, and then it thickens resulting into pancake ice which coalesces to form pack ice. All these pieces of pack ice join together to form an unending sheet, the fast ice; this fast ice is frozen s…

Seasickness Is No Fun

The sea continues to play truant. It was relatively calm this morning, but again since the afternoon the wave seem to have the grade of Force 8 at least with wind speed going around 35 knots, waves moderately high above 5 m and foam everywhere. There has been considerable rolling and pitching now, more pitching. So far I have felt OK for the entire day, but now I am doubtful if it remains like this for some more time.

This morning no breakfast was prepared. Yesterday lot of food was wasted. Even eggs and fried fish which are favourite items with the members had to be trashed. Hence this morning breakfast was done away with. The hardier ones were requested to help themselves with toast, cereals and whatever hot or cold beverage of their choice.

The ship is literally in the eye of the storm. The storm is building up not so much due to the wind but by three or four systems of sea swells. I am learning new terminology used on the ship. I have already explained the port side and starboard s…

Some Facts on M.V. Emerald Sea

I got up much better this morning having slept better and getting accustomed to the ship movements. This morning too, the wind speed had remained near 40 knots, considered moderately high, causing lot of currents in the sea and making the ship pitch. I have remained much comfortable.
I gave a big load of laundry for wash to the stewardess against the advice of others. They have complained about their garments getting discolored in the heavy duty washing machine. After trying once and having suffered, they now wash their own clothes in the washing machines meant for the guests. But then, there are no fully automatic washing machines in the wash room meant for the guests. It means to handle three stage operation of washing, rinsing and drying. After being used to the full automatic machine I do not want to spend so much time on three machines. So I am ready to take the risk. In any case, most of my garments are the ones that I use on my treks etc. They have remained faithful to me all …

Getting Used To the Ship

It is nearly 24 hours now on the ship; I am getting used to the geography of the ship. Zero floor is the engine room, a small gym with swimming pool, and stores; first floor is our kitchen and the dinning hall; on second floor we have our lounge and living rooms; third floor has the washing machines and living rooms; fourth floor is entirely for living rooms of the Russian crew; fifth floor has some living rooms and some restricted area; on top of this are the radio room, navigation hall and observation deck. Hence the radio room (where we make our tele calls) and the observation deck (also called bridge) are very near to my room. By the way, this room has been finally allotted to me for sole occupancy till we reach Goa. Sorry, I got my fact wrong yesterday saying it was on starboard side. No, my room is on the port side meaning that when ship is sailing it is on the left side facing the port. Though there is an elevator, I use stairs for my climbing up and down.

This morning the wind …

On Emerald Sea Starboard

Finally, finally, I have landed on the ship. The weather opened up only late evening yesterday when I saw my first star of Antarctica. And only one the most shining one; I am not good at star gazing, so could not identify. But surprisingly even veterans of 2 or 3 winters here could not make a guess what star it could be. I at least suggested venus since it is the most bright star on Indian sky and among the first one to become visible on an evening.

Since the morning it was becoming evident with all the bright sun that choppers would be making a landing. Most of us have shifted on the ship. I am on the 5th floor (top floor) in room 504 right now. In a day or two it will be clear whether I stay in this room and also if I remain the only occupant. Otherwise it has two bunker beds. The room is of OK size with a 6 ft long sofa, study table and chair. There is a small attached toilet cum bath. Once it becomes clear that I would remain the sole occupant then I shall clean it to my satisfact…

The Waiting Game

Weather has shown some sign of improvement, though it is still not a clear sky. In the morning the wind speed was at 50 knots, not conducive for a chopper flight. Let us see how it turns out tomorrow morning. Waiting like this is very unproductive. No one is doing anything worthwhile. The scientists are having a field day busy in playing cards, game of chess or carom, sipping innumerable cups of tea and coffee. Only people involved in logistics are having a fixed daily schedule. They have to managed generators, boilers, power supply, water supply, heating, sewage, telecommunications, weather monitoring, and cooking every single day throughout the year. And of course, people on galley duty.

Two new wintering members have started sporting a French cut. They might have done for whatever reasons, but I like to think it is their trying to identify with me. There is nothing more flattering than another person trying to imitate you.

Lord Ganesh Around the Universe

I recently finished reading the book, "Misadventure in a White Desert" by Patrick Woodhead. His team was the youngest and fastest to reach South Pole in 45 days skiing 1100 km in formidable Antarctica interior. On reaching South Pole 90 degrees, he writes, "Just by taking a couple of paces, a person could walk round the world. They would cross every time zone on the planet, traverse every line of longitude. This was the end point, the place where everything converged." That reminded me the story of Lord Ganesha circumambulating the Universe.
We all know Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati have two sons, Karthik and Ganesha. Karthik is agile and powerful, and has a peacock to ride or fly on. Ganesha is obese and comical with a head of an elephant but very intelligent and full of wisdom. During those times too and inspite of being Gods' children they had a sibling rivalry between them. Once they fought over some issue and could not resolve it themselves. They appr…

India and the Antarctic Treaty

The Antarctic Treaty has some very interesting history in its signing in 1959. India's role in the Antarctica is also interesting since 1957 though its expeditions to Antarctica began only in 1981, and it became its voting or consultative member only in 1983.

The Antarctic Treaty was signed on December 1, 1959, and took effect on June 23, 1961.
Twelve nations signed the historic Antarctic Treaty in 1959 soon after the Inernational Geographical Year (IGY): Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Soviet Union, United Kingdom and United States. Germany and Poland attained voting, or consultative status under the treaty from 1961. India and Brazil became the fifteenth and sixteenth nations with full voting treaty parties in September, 1983.
Antarctica had become a zone of conflicts in 1920s only when many countries began to claim large areas of Antarctica as their own. There were instances of armed conflict. Some stations were also burnt d…

A 'Nail Biting' Farewell

I am not lucky even the fourth time. Today I was to have my maiden flight in chopper for going to the ship. The wind speed is not less than 50 knot judging by the jerks my hut is receiving. Weather is worse around the ship. So may be another couple of days here; Maitri ka daana-paani khatam nahin hua hai. Some of the younger lot of the team are quite resentful in not being able to go over the ship. "Why weren't we sent when weather was so clear and we had finished our work here?" they ask indignantly. I am angry on myself. I did not take bath or wash my clothes for last two days leaving it for the ship. I should not have done it believing in Murphy's law. In keeping with this law, may be I shall be able to go tomorrow as I shall bathe today as well as wash some clothes. But it is Antarctica, you never know. One major problem with the delayed departure, if it happens, would be less time for people from Survey of India who were to do detailed study of the topography of…

The Unsung Spouses: The 'Real' Expeditioners

I talked to the members of the 26th IAE individually to know how they prepared themselves, physically, mentally or otherwise, before coming here in November, 2006. I was very keen to know how they prepared their families to weather their absence from home for next 15 months. How did they convince their wives to let them go and not see them for another 15 months? Chitra, please, do not read in between the lines.

I got very interesting answers, so different from my own imagination or expectations.
Most the members I talked to are from the logistic team which is the backbone of the expedition. They are from the Indian Army or the Border Roads Organization serving as technical staff. They are usually posted in difficult remote areas and their families are used to their absence extending for up to 6 months at a stretch. However, expedition to Antarctica was a different ballgame.

The objections of the families were at two levels: family management and personal safety of the expeditioners. Most…

Of Subhash and Venu - Two Of My Mates

Subhash is a mason from the Border Road Organization and has been to all difficult terrain and areas of Indian border, for example, J & K, Leh, Siachen, and North Eastern states of India. He is a resident of a small town, Rewari (Haryana) about 50 km from Delhi, on Jaipur Road. Many times he entertains us with interesting stories and anecdotes from his posting to different areas. In Annapurna hut, he would always insist to make tea for me reassuring me that he would put less sugar. He is also a regular member at the Dooda Beta Film Club. While coming back when both of us were talking together ahead of others, I asked him about his family back home. He was willing to talk and I was a patient listener. He comes from a family with modest means. As the only son of his father he inherited only one acre of land and a dilapidated family house. He worked hard and saved hard. He gave good education to his two daughters. The elder one is graduate (B.A.) and is married. And having a graduate…

Chandigarh to Delhi - Commute of 'Antarctic' Proportions

I may have taken 18 hours in air to reach Antarctica traveling more than 12,000 km. But can you believe this that Chitra (my wife) took the same amount of time on roads only two days ago to travel from Chandigarh to Delhi, a distance of only 250 km with finest of the roads! We may not tire ourselves in shouting at the top of our voice that India is the largest democracy in the world, but when it comes to settling grievances we adopt most undemocratic means. To lodge their protests, some people descended on the highway and blocked the traffic forgetting the miseries of the commuters. And as luck would have it, Chitra, who was otherwise booked to travel in the evening by a fast train, decided to return by a luxury coach when she finished her work at Chandigarh in the morning itself. When she was less than 100 km away from Delhi, the block was thrust upon the usually heavy traffic between Chandigarh and Delhi. She was caught in between - to wait and move forward when embargo lifts up or …

Adieu Friends

The scene at Maitri today was of excitement and hectic activity. It almost bordered towards commotion though not in any negative sense. Since they are returning all the way by air to India, they were anxious about the weight of their luggage. They have collected a few things here: souvenirs in form of Antarctica stones, their own pyrographical work on wood, water from the lakes etc. They are discarding now things they had kept with them but find no use for them. I received a bag full of goodies: sweets, namkeen, chocolates, and a bottle of premium brand whiskey. Last night the Maitri lounge was alive till the wee hours of this morning. I had asked some of the departing members how many hours of sleep they had planned for the night. And they had very confidently and nonchalantly assured me of usual seven hours. They were walking like zombie with swollen eyes when I met them this morning at the breakfast. This morning some of them reminisced with me about their time in Antarctica. They …

BREAKING NEWS: Indian Earth Station at Maitri

The Indian Earth Station at Maitri in Antarctica has been made functional this morning. The to and fro signals between Maitri and the satellite have been established and tested. The strength of the signals is excellent. We had video conference with people at ISRO in India where I also participated. The installation of the Earth Station was a major task for the 27th IAE and I am proud to be a member of this expedition. The logistics of installation were mind boggling. Construction of platform for putting the antenna to track the satellite was a tricky affair given the topography of Schirmacher Oasis. More tricky and risky was transporting the components of platform and the antenna itself from the ship. Since crevasses, deep and shallow, have now appeared in the otherwise frozen blue ice sheet during the ongoing summer season, it is not feasible to run snow vehicles to the coast at a distance of 125 km. The entire equipments and components have been transported by the two helicopters. H…

Hike to 'Trisuli'

This afternoon I led a party of 5 members to a peak named 'Trishuli', Lord Shiv's trident. It has been given this name by India and is recognized as such by the Antarctica Gazette. At 1000 ft it is the highest peak in the Schirmacher Oasis. Of these other 4 members, three are new entrances to Maitri, while the fourth, Subhash, came with me from Goa. He has not gone much beyond the Maitri area, so I asked him to come along. Today was a perfect day for an outing with no appreciable wind or clouds and day time temperature at 4 C.. Trishuli is a comfortable walk of one hour and I have been there earlier on 2-3 occasions. It is a beautiful area from where you get to see the Shivling, the big lake, the continental ice sheet (if you walk or ski on it southwards for 2500 km, you shall reach South Pole creating a world record) and sastrugi formation. I gave a brief history to the 'tourists' of Schirmacher Oasis and Indian initiatives on Antarctica expedition. When people vi…

Break in Weather

The weather has improved quite remarkably, both at Maitri as well as around the ship which is parked near the Indian bay. It has not anchored yet since the pack ice around the ice shelf (coast) has not yet broken; it has been in that area for four weeks now. It is 7:30 pm now and I can hear the sound of the chopper from my room. It is the first sortie it has made in 9 days. People have been eagerly and anxiously waiting for it for various reasons. First, the four members of the 26th Team who had left on 21st January for an overnight stay on the ship to experience it, since they had arrived in Antarctica all the way by air in November of 2006, and hence wanted a familiarity with it. They must have been anxious to return because they are going back to India all the way by air and their IL flight to Cape Town is on the 5th February. Each extra day on the ship must have increased their anxiety as they must have kept a few things to be done during these days, for example, some photographic…

A Well Earned Return

It is activity time at the Maitri. The first batch of the 26th Indian Antarctic Expedition is getting ready to leave for India on the 6th February, 2008. It's a batch of 10 people from the Corps of Engineers and Corps of Electronic and Mechanical Equipment of the Indian Army. They had come to Antarctica in November, 2006 by air all the way from Goa. They looked after the logistics of the station, namely, maintaining all the snow vehicles and organizing convoys to bring supplies from the sea coast (ice shelf) about 120 km from Maitri, looking after generators, boiler, water and electricity supply, sewage, and all maintenance jobs. The transfer of charge (jobs and responsibilities) has been completed. The inventories have been verified and papers signed. Books and music and film CDs and DVDs are being returned. The polar wears are being deposited back. Coordinates (emails, addresses, telephone numbers) are being exchanged. Last minute photographic sessions are taking place. The tele…


Couple of days ago, one medical officer here took an evening lecture on 'Alcoholism'. He showed some very morbid slides of the consequences of alcohol on various body organs. It has scared some regular users of alcohol and they have been coming to me in private looking for some reassurances. But then, I am also assessing them on the alcohol and tobacco use. That is another matter that most of the regular users do not give correct responses on these self-administered questionnaires.

I am reproducing below one story that was narrated by one member here. I hope I have not already told you.
Many many years ago during the times when boys went to the teacher's (sage) hut for education and learning, one sage wished to test his pupil before he was allowed to return to village. The sage made three cabins and asked his pupil to go into each one by one. The pupil went into the cabins one by one there and was aghast to see what was put into each cabin. In the first there was liquor, se…

Blowing away (in the wind)!

There is a kind of general alert at Maitri prohibiting lightweight members to venture outside by themselves. They must be accompanied with an escort. With maximum wind gust going above 60 knots (one knot = 2 km approx), there may be a risk of their flying outside the Schirmacher Oasis. Fortunately, I am a well fed person, so no real risk. However, even better well fed persons will have difficulty in walking in straight line at this wind speed giving them a tipsy gait.