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Showing posts from January, 2008

Naming of Schirmacher Oasis

By now you know that the Indian station, Maitri, is situated in East Antarctica in an area called Schirmacher Oasis. Its coordinates are 70° 46´ South and 11° 44´ East. You can see it in Google Earth with these coordinates, though the image there is perhaps a couple of years old. There is an interesting story how this area was named 'Schirmacher'.

In the early 20th Century many countries, Britain, France, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile, were staking claims to different parts of Antarctica. However, the dispute arose how to divide the entire continent among these seven countries. It was proposed to divide it in sectors with South Pole as centre. Germany, under Hitler, too got interested in Antarctica for its commercial exploitation and whaling operation and decided to launch an expedition to map the area. The impetus for an expedition came ostensibly from Germany's growing desire to rebuild and enlarge the whaling fleet of seven whalers (mostly chartere…

Jay Hind !!

I live in a metropolis having population of approx 15 millions. I haven't exchanged so many "Happy Republic Day" there in a single day as I have within a couple of hours of this morning living with only 75 people at Maitri, Antarctica. How patriotic, nationalists and religious do we become! I realized it when I spent two years in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia during 1982-84. We attended so many religious events at other Indians' homes in two years as never before in our lives; it is another matter that each such event gave an ample opportunity to the host to display his / her culinary skills, her newly acquired cooking set, table ware, electronic gadget or the latest from Bollywood. Invariably the evening would end with a game of playing cards. It was same with the national functions when we went to the Indian Embassy when most of us usually experienced an indifferent welcome there.

At Maitri there have been messages a galore from various departments, centres, and institutio…

BRRR...Prepping For A Cold (Indian) Republic Day!

Tomorrow we celebrate the Republic Day in the morning with flag hoisting at 11.30 am. Our both the leaders (of the 26th and 27th expeditions) are stranded at the ship due to inclement weather which is worse around ship. The ship is in the grip of a blizzard. Here too, the weather is quite cold and windy with maximum wind gust crossing 50 knots and minimum wind chill at -30 C. Both the leaders had gone there to finalize arrangements for its sailing to Larsmann Hill. The leader of the 26th Team must be ruing his decision to go to the ship. He misses his chance to hoist the Tricolor on a Republic Day in Antarctica. Last year he set foot on Antarctica in February only. Though he has wintered here earlier but not as the leader. With this much cold, it will be quite difficult to file in outside for 15 minutes till the flag hoisting and photographic sessions. We all will have to muster all our courage and patriotic fervour in not looking distressed esp. in front of guests. We are getting gue…

Om, the Survivor

Unfortunately the chick did not survive. I myself discovered it under some stones away from the nesting area. I felt very sad and could not do anything. I just sat there on a stone praying. I had wished that both chicks should grow and fly away from here to their distant destination. I am not sure what caused its death. It could not have been due to lack of food or weather. There is evidence of availability of plenty of food; there are remnants of freshly killed snow petrels (skua's pet game bird) strewn all over. So far weather has also not been too inclement. I wonder whether its elimination was through the process of natural selection. It is known to occur in case of Adelie penguin when it lays two eggs. It selects the fitter chick to survive in a very practical but merciless manner. I shall tell you its story some time.
I have named the surviving chick 'Om'. Shiv and Uma are no longer hostile to my presence. They do not issue any threatening or alarming calls. Om gets …

Exiting Wintering IAE

I have begun on my interviewing the departing members of the 26th IAE (Indian Antarctic Expedition). I get along with almost all of them quite well who have shared their experiences with me. Now I am talking to them in a more structured and informal way. No, it is not to do with the psychological or psychiatric assessment. I am talking to them on their usual and unusual experiences here, their physical and mental preparations back home before departure, and how they prepared their families to live without them for next 15 months. It is giving me some new insights. Chitra, let me preempt you: I am not planning anything. I may be suggested, advised, tempted, offered, coaxed, requested or ordered, I do not think I can handle a long winter stay here. Many people think my temperament suits it; however, it will be a big let down.

Let it Snow, Let it Snow

The weather is just exhilarating, though most of members won't agree with me. Since evening 6 pm it is snowing. Now the time is 9.45 pm. The snow fall is not heavy but is continuous. And this snow fall is very different as compared to what I have seen elsewhere is India, England or America. We are usually used to snow falling as soft flakes; however, here it is like grains of salt. Outside my hut the foot mat is totally white now. The weather prediction is that it will continue like this for next 2-3 days. In Delhi, the Republic Day celebrations are on many occasions on a wet or windy day. Let us see if we get to celebrate here a white 26 January.

Fads and Fables

My current fad is now taking water directly from the lake. Normally, water is pumped from Priyadarshani Lake, stored in a huge tank to suffice for the Maitri station as well as summer camp. What we drink is a stored and filtered version. Normally I am not a great enthusiast of water filters at our homes too. Most of the homes do not service them properly and hence filters become a potential area and source of micro-organism breeding activity. Many of the wintering members of the 26th team also take water from the source. They were a step ahead. When snow was in abundance before the summer season set in, they would bring bucketful of white sparkling snow from glaciers around Maitri and let it melt in the warmth of their heated rooms. Now the lakes have been thawed and one could collect water itself. By the way, with temperature dropping now, some of the shallow ponds have started freezing once again. So I also go to a nearby lake and bring fresh water for my consumption in my hut. Yest…

Update on Shiv and Uma's Family

Progress on Shiv and Uma's family: I am getting a little concerned about the younger chick. It does not seem to thrive and grow (failure to thrive, in a paediatrician's language). Though it is only 2 days younger, it is only half its size. More alarming is its living away from the nesting area. It is a know behaviour even in the domestic hen that when a chick gets sick, it moves away from the group of other chicks to die a lonely death. This behaviour of isolating oneself while being sick or before death is also seen in wild animals living in group, herd, or pride.

Who are Shiv and Uma? http://himalayanadventurer.blogspot.com/2007/12/shiv-uma-blessed-with-baby.html

Bollywood Salutes Antarctica

No, no, no one from Bollywood has ever come to Antarctica. No feature film has ever been shot here from India. It is high time though with commercial flights now available, someone must think of Antarctica as a possible location for at least an item number or a chase on the snow scooter for the last scene. Bipasha, Shilpa or Rakhi will win many accolades doing an item number on the frozen ice in their glamorous lingerie. Salman can have exposure of his lifetime and can expose himself to his heart's content satisfying his exhibitionism for this life at least.

In a recent cultural evening, Casper Johnson penned and presented a skit when bollywood thinks of a movie in Antarctica. And who can be such adventurous hero-producer-director-storywriter (all combined) other than our evergreen Dev Sahib? So after numerous flops and on the verge of bankruptcy, Devanand is desperate to give a hit. We all know his penchant for weird story and locales for his films. Realizing that either he himsel…

Getting noticed

Turns out Dr Khandelwal's musings from the Ice Planet have been noticed and published by the media. Here's a link from the Hindustan Times titled "Indian blogs live from Antarctica for the first time"http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?id=df523fa9-e040-4d7e-be68-334720a59be1

I'd also like to thank all of you, old and new friends, who visit this blog and take the time to write. Because of lack of Internet connectivity, he cannot actually view the comments or see the site himself. However he sends you all a big THANK YOU!

Of hair and men....

Whenever I see Niyas, I find him looking at me with hungry eyes. You see, he is the designated hair designer for Maitri station. He grooms members on request and is always on demand. He advises people what hair style would suit their physique. Growing hair with weird hairdo is also a regular hobby with wintering members. Most members during some time in their 15-month long sojourn indulge in a hair style which they could not or would not do while at home. Most common is freestyle when you just let hair and beard grow with no attempt to stylize it. It lasts till the member has collected enough number of photographs and one particularly with a turban to get Sikh appearance. I think the idea comes from bollywood heroes who in their short or long career sport a Sikh appearance at least once in a film to affect a disguised look. Another common is to shave off hair from both sides leaving a 3 inch wide terrain in the middle. Other common styles are shaving off front half of the head or to h…

Festival Time!

Day 1....
Traditionally we should be celebrating Makar Sankranti, Pongal and Bihu today on the 14th Jan but when I wished some members from Tamilnadu for Pongal they reiterated that message has come from back home that it is being celebrating on the 15th. Someone here has looked at Panchaag to confirm that it also mentions 15th January for Makar Sankranti. So Maitri will celebrate these festivals tomorrow when we celebrate Army Day too.

Day 2....
Tomorrow Maitri station celebrates all the festivals as mentioned above as well as Army Day. There will be flag hoisting in the morning and a 20-20 cricket match between teams of 26th IAE and 27th IAE. In the evening there will be cultural evening. Of course, I am also practicing.

Day 3....
Yesterday we celebrated many things, however, the major function was the Army Day. The Indian Army celebrated perhaps its 268th anniversary. It takes into account the time when East India Company started recruiting Indian soldiers. It started with flag hoisting…

Accessing the Internet

A lot of you have asked me about how I connect to the Internet, access my email, and write this blog! Here goes....

Right now the Indian station, Maitri, does not enjoy the facility of 24×7 internet connectivity. Hence I do not enjoy the facility of browsing internet and access my own email accounts. We exchange emails through shared account. The station has installed desktop computers at many places for people to write their emails with the addresses on outlook express. Every morning, one of us downloads them on a floppy or CD to deliver it to the telecommunication room which once or twice a day connects to the 'Amos' server in Holland to send and receive all the emails. These are then uploaded into various desktops for people to read them. If we wish we also receive printouts too of our emails. Another limitation of this service is that we can not attach a file or photograph with our mails. Many members who either are not computer literate or whose families do not enjoy the c…

Shiva and Uma's Family

Shiv, Uma and family are doing well. (Who are Shiv and Uma?)






Now the chicks have grown in size and are changing their color from snow white to grey. Small wings are also now visible. Since there is an age difference of two days between them, the difference in their sizes is clearly apparent. They have already abandoned the nest and are seen roaming around in the area under the watchful eyes of their parents. Shiv and Uma no longer give us any threatening calls when I am in that area for my walks or photo shoots. They just issue a call perhaps to alert their young ones to camoflouage themselves with the landscape and lie motionless. What intrigues me is that both the chicks are never near each other. They are usually 50-100 meters apart from each other. Is it a safety device that in case of attack from a predatory skua at least one survives? However, I think it is to save the smaller chick from the bigger one. It is well known in many bird species that the elder chick throws away the y…

Dhritrashtra Aalingan

We have one Soma Ji (name changed) in 27th Team who will be spending winter here. He is very fond of shaking hands with foreign ladies and getting himself photographed with them. We witnessed it in Johannesburg itself when we were waiting in Q at the airport for our Cape Town flight. We were taken aback when we suddenly saw him breaking out of the Q and darting towards a small group of young women who were seeing off their friend. He also stood there waiting for his turn to hug her and wish her bon voyage. He had handed over his camera to Sundar with obvious instructions to click it when he was hugging her. His friend did not disappoint him. That will remain one of his most cherished photograph of Antarctic visit. This afternoon when some of us were recounting the incident and laughing over it, I remarked that this happened when he was not even away from home for one week. "What will happen in next January during his journey back" I wondered. Venu said immediately, "Dhr…

Visit to a Penguin Rookery - Quick note

Late yesterday evening I went with a team of about 15 people to see the area where Adelie penguins make their rookeries (reproductive areas) every year during the season. The group was led by Mr Arun Chaturvedi and it was very informative to go with someone who was willing to show and inform you about various things. It appeared as if the landscape, stones, boulders, and rocks came alive. Adelie lays one egg in the month of October and by this time the colony leaves for the sea coast. We saw one lone penguin in the ice sheet, which means it is doomed to die; it will go weaker and weaker till it is preyed upon by skua. So this means whatever penguins we are seeing now in this area face the same fate. More later....

Static Electricity

The static current is a funny problem here. I don't remember if I ever wrote you people about it. Being near the pole, our body develops static current due to movements in closed areas, working in labs with equipments having magnets or electro-magnets, or wearing clothes containing synthetic fibres like nylon etc. The problem gets worse during winter when members are confined indoors most of the time. All the labs containing computers, communication equipments etc have a warning at the door to discharge oneself of charge before entering the lab by touching a copper wire hanging outside. In spite of that the display function of all the phones here with caller ID has been damaged. People avoid a touching or handshake with certain members who are known to carry more charge because of their working with charge generating equipments. It gives a shock to the other people which is audible at a distance; while one is wincing with that momentary shock all other burst into laughter. I too h…

Just another blog entry

It remained cloudy throughout the day. It is Sunday and hence no routine work is planned except galley work which has to be done come what may. However, people were on duty for offloading the sorties. But till evening no sorties came this way since it was very cloudy and foggy at the sea shore where ship is parked. When we had given up at 6.30 pm, then announcement came about choppers landing with load. Now it is 11 pm and sorties are continuing. The last one is expected at mid night. That is the difference between foreign pilots and the local ones. Work is worship.

Lot of activities going on now in Maitri. All scientists who are only for summer period are setting up their instruments and planning field visits. Though I have spent 2 weeks with many of them during Auli trip, however, now I feel I am senior to them; I almost feel as if they are intruders on our premises and facilities. I wonder if 26th team also felt that way when we came. May be not, since we came heralding their countd…

Additions to Camp

It is excitement all over Maitri station with the arrival of ship yesterday and 2 choppers making sorties bringing people and personal baggage as well as equipment. Till this evening 20 members of the 27th expedition have arrived here from the ship. So right now there are 70 people here. A few more are on the ship but they will come much later when some of the members go from here to the ship for onward journey back home. The most important task right now is to offload the material and equipment for Earth Station. The construction of the platform for it and installation of equipment has to be done in next one month before the ISRO and Space Application Centre scientists leave for India next month. Then it will be made operational from centres in India by end March. It will be major milestone in the history of IAE. There will be 24 hour internet connectivity for scientists to send data every day back to their institutions in India. Currently, such data goes with them at the end of thei…

New Pictures!

Just uploaded some brand new pictures from Maitri and Antarctica. Using blogger's new slideshow feature, you can click on the link 'Slideshow' to the left. You can view the slideshow (in small size unfortunately) directly on this page. Better, clicking on the slideshow will take you to Vasu's Picasa web album where you can watch these pictures kingsize!

Food Fads

People coming here for summer or winter period develop all kinds of food fads in Antarctica. The Indian station, Maitri, has practically all varieties of food suiting every taste. I was surprised to find 'gur' (jaggery) here, though, it does not enjoy any popularity. I am its lone consumer. When ship comes here every December/January, it brings loads of food supplies to last till next one year. However, fresh fruits and vegetables last only for a few months and then it is all frozen stuff. Since the working area, living area, kitchen and dinning area, and lounge all are situated in proximity to one another, people help themselves any number of times with whatever they fancy to eat or drink. Most people go back with some gain in weight, some as much as 25 kg in one year. The members of 26th IAE, winterers, who are now waiting to return to India in mid-February, have not put any worthwhile weight. No one looks obese. However, weight gain is clearly apparent in the members of 27t…

Art of Saving Water

"Water water everywhere, not a drop to drink" is an oft-repeated quote whenever there is a person stranded in a life boat in an ocean. Sea-water is extremely salty. In Antarctica, the ice and snow are extremely pure, and tasteless, odourless and colorless unlike Delhi water. You can directly consume it without processing. However, to consume you have to first melt it into water. During 3-4 months of summer, things are easier since the frozen lakes melt into water when temperature tends to reach 0 degree C or above from an average of -15 or -20 C earlier. Even then it is not a mean task to transport or lift water from the lakes when you need bulk quantities for a group of 25-50 persons. We, at Maitri, have a pump station installed in the nearby lake to pump water inside the station. Hence water is a precious commodity. At each briefing whether in India or in Antarctica we are hammered repeatedly with the message of saving water and not wasting a precious commodity. For exampl…

Antarctica: Art of Survival

During our pre-induction training at Maitri we were given a series of lectures and demonstrations on how to avoid dangers while in Antarctica and also on rescue operations so as to increase our chances of survival. This applies more for the group which has to spend the winter here; however, for summer team also there are enough precautions to be kept in mind. One such is, for example, while walking on the frozen ice. The frozen blue ice has started melting now and crevasses have started appearing. Many times these crevasses are not visible since they are covered with a thin layer of ice and if you step on it, it will give way due to your weight making you go down. How much and how fast you disappear into it, depends upon how wide and deep it is. But there is no telling it till you yourself have not gone into it. So we have been instructed in not leaving the station alone, to carry a walkie-talkie, and to always inform the station about our destination and expected time of return.

The b…