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Showing posts from April, 2008

A Journey That Refuses to End

This mail was meant for April 11. However Gmail decided to place this in my Junk folder, as a result I didn't see Dad's email until yesterday. Apologies! This is a good post and his last from the ship.

Surprisingly and frustratingly the voyage is still continuing. But I refuse to title this entry in my diary at ‘ANTARCTICA ON 11.04.2008. I know Chitra will smile mischievously and say something deeply piercing, but I shall take the risk of subjecting myself to that. It is 11 in the morning, and I have just returned to my room from the deck, no land yet to be sighted. The voyage is still continuing! So annoying! For last few days when we all were playing the guessing game of when we would see the Goa shoreline, some more knowledgeable amongst us had confidently said that by 6 pm on the 10th April our mobiles would start getting the signals confirming that we were only two hours away from the Goa shoreline and by 6 am next morning we should be able to dock since the ship is not g…

Skua Family - About to Migrate

Guest Blog by V R Manchem

(V R Manchem was my partner during my long walks at Maitri. He too followed the story of Shiv and Uma and their family closely with me - Sudhir)

On the night of 13th March, the lake was frozen completely. One part of the frozen lake is like glass now, while the other is like waves frozen in motion. The young skua is now flying very well. It exhibits great patience, perseverance, and high spirit in following his lessons of flying. It spends most of its time on the frozen part of lake. The parent skuas sit on land watching it. They must be feeling proud of its getting ready for the long journey ahead. Even during high winds when the parents are under the shelter of the rocks, it is out in the open like a mischievous child. At the wind speed of 60 knots (100 kmph) per hour, it is not only out of the shelter, but defies the storm by flying against the wind direction. From the window of my lab, I would watch its concentration, devotion and interest to develop streng…

Back On Firm Ground

I am back on terra firm and have gone headlong into Delhi's life. It is a funny feeling coming after five months. A number of people have commented that I must be finding everything so different after spending a long time in a pristine environment. Somehow, it does not feel that way. I feel as if I was not away from it at all. In fact, Antarctica appears so far away now. However, when I am narrarating my experiences to people here, then everything come back so live and vivid.
Antarctica was a voyage that I enjoyed so much; every day, and every moment of it. Talking to you people through this blog and reading your comments was a very novel experience. I hope we shall continue to interact and be in touch. Meanwhile, if you have interesting experiences, do share with us all through this blog.

Last Post From The Emerald Sea

This is my last mail of this voyage on the m/v Emerald Sea of the Antarctic Expedition. This evening there will be last sending and receiving of mails. So I thought why to lose an opportunity, though I am most of times not good at exploiting a chance. This morning we were discussing recently concluded T-20 series (cricket series). I said two things I have regretted in life are: one, never trying to excel in any sports, and secondly not trying to learn a musical instrument. One member tried to comfort me, “But you sing quite well.” I told them: when I was in the early years of medical college, when many of us were trying to ‘patao’ girl-friends, one constant advice was that you should sing well. That motivation was also lost when I managed without singing or learning to sing.

By latitude, we have crossed Kanya Kumari, but can not see the shore line as we are quite deep into the Arabian Sea. Last night some ships were sighted.

I must do cleaning of the hard copies of lot of mails, then ge…

Another Story on the Equator

This morning’s latitude and longitude are at 7 and 51 respectively. We should be crossing Equator tomorrow late night or early morning next day. Gradually more and more flying fish are being sighted, but I haven’t been able to capture any on the camera. From today, another bird, Heron, is also being sighted in greater number. This evening a number of them were resting on the front mast. I did not know heron (Hindi name: Bagula) is found on ocean also; I had considered it a fresh water bird. It is seen abundantly around lakes and ponds in India, of the size of pigeon, and appears white in flight, while sitting totally motionless on the edge of pond, waiting for fish, it appears light brown. It waits so patiently and motionlessly that the term ‘bagula bhagat’ originated since fish, even if sees it, considers it a harmless object. In 1970s, Devanand was making a movie ‘Bagula Bhagat’. When its time for release came in 1974, Indira Gandhi had given a socialist and populist slogan – garibi…

Ab Goa Door Nahin!

In one week’s time we shall be reaching Goa. The stores are still full, so the mess secretary in consultation with the management has been quite liberal now in bringing goodies to the dinning table. So now we have dry fruits, fresh fruit and vegetables, honey, ice cream now available all the time with no restrictions. People are also not behaving now in gluttonous manner. I am all for the fresh vegetables. I feel on reaching Delhi, for a few days I will not like to have any cooked daal or vegetables.

The Story of El Dorado: the Golden One

The tales of Equator often seem to involve obsessive quests. One of the most amazing has been the South American saga for the kingdom of El Dorado, the Golden One, who was said to live in a city of gold set on a lake that glowed each morning in a second sunrise that rivaled the real sunrise in glory and intensity. One after another great explorers of 16th and early 17th centuries chased after El Dorado, a name that has become synonymous with vast and i…

Duty Free Goods

There is lot excitement in the dinning hall since morning. The notice board has displayed an announcement by the ship Captain that the duty free items will be available at 12:30 pm. Of course, it is only alcohol and cigarettes. If there were chocolates, I’d be interested. I neither smoke nor offer to guests at home. There is sufficient alcohol lying at home, and I have discovered Goa to be an exciting place to buy liquor at half of the Delhi rates. The quality and variety of IMFL (India Made Foreign Liquor, which is the term that British gave to alcohol industry in pre-independence era and is still sticking) are fast improving. The Indian beer, Cobra, seems to be a popular brand in English restaurants and pubs. The India made ‘single malt whiskey’ that I bought (Rs 450/-) while coming to this Expedition is still lying intact. I seem to be more knowledgeable about Goa prices of various Indian premium brands of whiskey and wine and am advising people on comparative rates. But I am sure …

Latitude Zero

We are now cruising in the Tropic of Capricorn which has started from the Latitude of 22.5 degrees South to last till Equator at latitude zero; then would start Tropic of Cancer for another 22.5 degrees North. Between these two Tropics lie the hottest areas of the world. Goa is at latitude of 18 degrees North.

LATITUDE ZERO – Tales of the Equator
Gianni Guadalupi and Antony Shugaar
Stories of great explorers and eccentrics who braved the exotic equatorial regions of the Earth

The history of the world has almost always been written from a point of view situated around forty-five degrees north latitude. Consider a territory bounded on the south by Cairo (thirty nine degrees north latitude) and on the north by Saint Petersburg (sixty degrees north latitude), we are looking at the stage on which Western civilization has developed. London lies just above fifty-one degrees, Paris is around forty-nine degrees and Rome stands at forty-two degrees north latitude.…

A Russian Barbeque

This evening we all were invited at a barbeque on the open deck by the Russians at 6 pm. At that time only they had laid food on the table and were serving wine to people who cared to drink. There were soft drinks too. The Russian crew is 30 in number; however, there were only ten of them. The officers including the Captains were missing. For vegetarians there was enough salad, boiled potatoes, bread etc. I liked the water melon best, fresh and sweet. Suddenly a bird of the size of crow came fluttering and entered a stair case going into the engine room. I think it got blinded by the strong sodium lights on the deck. Only some people showed interest to see it. I too went there and found it hiding in a corner. If it went further down, it would surely die due to the heat of the engine room. So I caught it and released it back into the air. By 7:15 pm the party was winding up. The hosts were not bringing more alcohol and were not filling up the food trays. I returned along with some othe…

Cricket on Board!

The Sea Lions were convincingly beaten by the Sea Tigers. Yes, they were beaten 2 – 1 in a Fifteen-15 three match series today in a show of convincing performance put up by the Sea Tigers.

Emerald Sea has a huge hold (basement storage) of 30 by 15 meters which has been vacant now after the containers were removed at the Maitri. The wind has been very behaving very well since we left Cape Town and there was no pitching or rolling. However, a sea swell coming from some distance away would occasionally make it mildly roll and pitch. With a cricket bat and a tennis ball being handy, the members climbed down the ladder into the hold for Fifteen-15 matches. The rules were framed, but the application of rules being dynamic, they kept on changing. I was member of the Sea Lion team. We narrowly lost the first match. After lunch break, we were soundly thrashed in the second match. However, we could narrow the gap in the third match. Players complained of poor lights many a time when they missed…

Casting Away from Cape Town

As I had feared the ship did not lift its anchor at 7 am. The revised time was 2 pm. Mr Dhar allowed people to go out to the market. The Water Front shopping area and mall were at the walking distance. I was on galley duty along with Saini. Though there was nothing I wanted to buy, but was keen to go out of the ship and walk and walk. He suggested to make only veg pulao for lunch. Surjeet, the cook, was not interested to go out, and he offered to prepare the entire lunch by himself. Half-heartedly I protested, but was happy when he did not relent. Nice munda! Back in the market I again wanted to buy that book: Diamonds, Gold and War: the making of South Africa by Martin Meredith, but then realized that I was not carrying my credit card. Just loitered around aimlessly and came back at 12:30. Surjeet had prepared all lunch by himself; I only helped in preparing salad from fresh vegetables bought yesterday. At 1:45 pm, when I saw Javed Saab still on the ship, I asked if there was further…

Sunsets at Sea

Photos from Visit to Zong Shan (Chinese Station)

Even More Photos - Antarctic Wildlife


The Antarctic coast as well as pack ice of the Antarctic Ocean is home to five species of seals. Seals are mammals and do not have external ears. There are five species of seals found in Antarctica: Weddell, Ross, leopard, crab-eater and elephant seals. Though the seals spend most of their lives in water and collect their food from water, they are not entirely aquatic animals like whales. From the surface of water, they mostly collect planktons, fish, squids, and birds including penguins.
Weddell seals were the most common variety that I encountered in my sea voyage towards the Larsemann Hills lying mostly singly on the pack ice. They must be hunting penguins there as I saw many times marks of blood all over a piece of pack ice.
Seals appear clumsy and lazy on ice or land, but are extremely active and agile in water, swimming, diving, rolling, and turning with ease. In winter, they live below the frozen surface under water, and breathe…

More Photos - Holi Celebrations at Sea

Photo Treat!!

Hi, I just received a CD of photos that Dr Khandelwal mailed from Cape Town when the ship was docked. You are in for a treat. Here's a sample of the stunning imagery that he captured during the ship's journey thus far.

Against a moonlit night at sea.
A beautiful moon.
A shooting star. The Emerald Sea While at Larsemann Hills

The frozen surface of the sea

Docked at Cape Town - South Africa

The ship entered the Cape Town harbour and got the berth at Fruit Port Terminal (FPT). It looks like South Africa is a major fruit exporting nation, that is why a separate terminal for fruits. The ship was anchored by 7 am. We were divided into four teams to go to the town for sightseeing and shopping. There were four vans hired for the purpose. Mr Javed Beg, Director (Logistics) at NCAOR, has flown from Goa to supervise all arrangements for our arrival and stay. We could all go out by 11 am only as some formalities were to be completed. We headed for a nearby huge shopping mall, Canal Walk. I had not planned for much shopping. Coming back into the city, I totally forgot all about Antarctica, ship journey, or all the rolling and pitching. It was a strange feeling when I deliberately wanted to reminisce about last four months: every thing looked so distant. When I enter the city life back home, I suspect all about Antarctica would get hazy like a dream.

At a superstore, Pick & Pay, …

Farewell to NZ Heli Pilots

Originally meant for posting on March 23rd:

We all decide to host a farewell party to the crew of the ‘Helicopter New Zealand’, Lee, Phil and Jim. They have been very friendly with all the team members and have done excellent job in ferrying load and people at Maitri as well as Larsemann Hills. They all have developed taste for Indian food and dessert. Earlier India perhaps did not figure in their scheme of places to visit, but now they think seriously about it.

The party is fixed at 6 pm on 23rd March on the open deck. Russians are also invited. Though a number of snacks are being prepared, emphasis is on the drinks. Whiskey, beer, wine are being brought out from the stores, and of course, there are fruit juice and other soft beverages. I go out in knickers and t-shirt. Some people are in their formal attire with tie on. I know for sure that the guests will come in shorts. After some time I find the wind getting colder and realize that I shall feel uncomfortable for next 3 hours in my …

Time Capsule

The Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica (IAE) started in 1981 and established its first station, Dakshin Gangotri, in 1983 and then became member of the Antarctic Teay Consultative Meeting. Since then India has been sending scientific expeditions every year. In 1989, India established its second station, Maitri, in Schirmacher Oasis.

India is now establishing its third station at Larsemann Hills. The present expedition, 27th IAE, was flagged off from Goa in December 2007 and reached Larsemann Hills on 24th February, 2008 after spending 6 weeks at Maitri where it established India’s first Earth station.
The leader of the wintering team at Maitri of the 27th IAE is Mr Arun Chaturvedi, while the leader of the Indian expedition to Larsemann Hills is Mr Ajay Dhar. Both the leaders are veterans of many expeditions to Antarctica. The current objective of the Expedition to Larsemann Hills was to carry out a detailed survey of the area for establishing its station, Bharti, on coordinates …

Belated Holi Greetings!


This morning we celebrated Holi with much gusto. The day was ideal for playing Holi on the open deck. It was bright and sunny day with comfortable wind and calm sea. For last two days a few people were busy making dishes to be served: baalu-shahi, shakkar-para, masala-daal, masala-chane, gunjiya etc. In absence of bhang, rum was liberally added to the fruit-punch. And one member showed ingenuity in making colours in absence of abir-gulal. With the help of turmeric powder and food colors, two colours were prepared. One went a step further. He emptied a few ball pens and added another colour to the bright yellow and bright red. People enjoyed putting colour on my beard and getting photographed with me. So it was a fun party on the deck with the Russian crew watching from the safe distance, though they were invited to join. The NZ pilots came very briefly with the condition that no colour would be put on them. All the three have grown quite fond of Indian sweets, esp, gulab-…

Young Indian Scientists in Antarctica

Originally meant for posting on March 23rd:

The 27th Indian Antarctic Expedition will have many achievements to its credit, for example, installation of Earth Station, detailed survey of Larsemann Hills in record time, and others. However, one of the major highlights of the 27th Indian Antarctica Expedition is the inclusion of number of young scientists in its summer as well as winter teams. Out of a total of 50 scientists (in summer and winter teams combined) in the 27th IAE, 8 scientists are 32 years or younger. The youngest is just 23 years in age. Many of them are still at the universities engaged in their doctoral research programme.

Geological Survey of India (GSI) is one of the oldest organizations in India engaged in surveys. It is doing pioneering work in Antarctica since the inception of India’s Antarctic programme and has given many distinguished scientists and expedition leaders to Antarctic expeditions. The present 27th IAE is fortunate in having Mr Arun Chaturvedi as its l…


I am sure Ishu will smile and have a laugh of the day when I write about people’s non-veg eating habits. We have had intense debate on this topic earlier. I concede that I stand corrected. I believed that in India the practice of eating non-veg meal even in non-veg eating families is only once or twice a week. However, it does not seem to be true if we consider the people currently on the ship. Though they are not true representatives of Indian population, yet it indicates a trend. Out of 33 Indian members on the ship, only 5 are vegetarians, and of these 5 four take eggs. So only one out of 33 is true vegetarian. Non-veg dish is served every day here in both the meals and, of course, people consume it. Even on Tuesday, which is considered a taboo for consumption of liquor and non-veg food by most Hindus in India, more than half consume it here. I think the frequency of non-veg food consumption depends, perhaps, on affordability, accessibility and feasibility. The recent dietary surve…

4 Months 60 Degrees South

Originally meant for posting March 17th

On 14th March I completed four months in Antarctica below 60 degrees South. Once we cross this latitude we are no longer in Antarctica.

How should I look at the last four months: an achievement, a dream fulfilled, another name on the list of places that I have visited, or an adventure?

To be honest, coming to Antarctica is no longer an adventure, not the way I have come here. Adventure it was when great explorers like Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen came here taking all the risks, ready to save lives and willing to sacrifice own life. However, since then the world has changed far too much. Earlier, coming to Antarctica was itself an adventure. Now people have to devise means to discover adventure and set records in Antarctica by doing things no one has done before. For example, skiing all the way to the South Pole, or using kites to reach South Pole, or being the youngest to reach there, or to be the first to cross the Trans-Antarctic Mountains. Cur…

More on Seasickness

Originally meant for posting on March 15th

The ship is moving forward at snail’s speed with its rolling and pitching. In the morning the sea had become very rough with very high wind speed. A number of people are obviously seasick but trying to keep a brave front. For breakfast not more than 20 came; for lunch the attendance was a little better. However, for dinner again the attendance was thin. Consumption of diet has also decreased. People try to hide their being seasick when they know it fully well that it is natural to have seasickness. You meet them in the corridors and they look as if they have just seen a ghost. When you ask them their welfare, you can easily see their brave effort in smiling and hiding their unpleasantness. They may be feeling suicidal or wishing for making a euthanasia plea, but still they would respond that they are feeling on top of world. There is no foolproof mantra to combat the seasickness. At very rough sea, everyone would experience it till one gets ac…

What the Great Explorers Said on Reaching South Pole

People do not head off to Antarctica to avoid risk; they go there because risk is exactly what they seek.
In last 100 years, Antarctica has not changed much; our own world has advanced at a frightening pace. Technological developments in air travel and computers have compacted everything, diminishing the last great wildernesses. Suddenly, the planet Earth is a much smaller place. For good or bad, this fact enables people like me, who are fragile and unadventurous in comparison, to follow in the footsteps of great explorers and reach for the same goal. We are product of that advance and piggyback off it to our advantage.
Patrick Woodhead; British explorer and author of ‘Misadventures at South Pole’

“…but all in not the Pole. Man can only do his best…Better to be a live donkey than a dead lion.”
Shackleton in a letter to his wife on turning back his Nimrod Expedition 93 miles short of 90 degree South

“It is the sad part of expedition of this kind that one systematically kills all better fee…

On Our Way Back

Originally meant for posting on March 11th

The ship started sailing on midnight of 9th and 10th March. Earlier the plan was to follow the Chinese ship, an icebreaker, which was starting today at 10 am. She would have helped our ship in negotiating the pack ice. However the crew decided to go ahead and take advantage of starting 12 hours ahead of her. After 6 hrs, we started having sea freezing in different stages of ice formation. By noon time, the pack ice was getting thicker and closer. At 2 pm she was crawling at 2-3 km per hour. And then, at 2:30 pm, it just stopped! The pack ice was 1-2 meter thick above sea surface, it must have been thicker below. She must have been stranded like this for 30 min, and just when I was getting ready in my mind for another story that she started inching forward.
So now we have started from LatLong of 69 degrees South, 76 degrees East and we are heading towards 23 degrees North (Tropic of Cancer) and 80 degrees East. In the evening at 7 pm local time,…

Insects in Antarctica

First apologies for the hiatus in posts over the last 2 weeks. Dr Khandelwal has been writing just as regularly, however it was I who for personal reasons was not able to post as his usual proxy. Please expect some accumulate writings to follow. - Kush

Originally meant to be posted March 9th:

Can you imagine a life of four months without having seen any ant, insect, fly or mosquito? Well, that’s what it was like till a couple of days ago for me in Antarctica. I had not seen any such creature since I put my feet on this continent on the 15th November, 2007. It was a funny and pleasant feeling living at Maitri where I could leave any food item or my cup of tea uncovered without the fear of flies swarming over it. Whenever and wherever I was wandering during my stay at Maitri and saw a lake or a puddle, I usually thought of seeing larvae, insects or fish well aware that I would not see any such thing.

Finally, I saw my first insect in Antarctica, the only arthropod (insects are called arth…