Tuesday, January 29, 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 chartered) and 50 hunting boats. Goring, chief of the Luftwaffe, was asked to grant the use of aeroplanes to a proposed Antarctic expedition.

Hitler's Germany never had recognized the 'sector theory' of Antarctica. Under this theory, the southernmost nations of the world, and those conducting active research in the south Polar Regions, could lay claim to certain parts of the Antarctic continent.

The Germans lawyers, however, had another theory. German experts in international law considered that to lay claim to new territory one had to do it physically, by occupation, or at least symbolically, for example by staking it out as gold diggers had done in the old American West. So one of the first things, the expedition did, was to prepare aluminium darts each one and a half metres (5 ft) long, their tails engraved with the national flag, the swastika. It was intended to drop these darts every 20 to 30 km along the flight paths. Tests on alpine glaciers had shown that when thrown from a plane the darts penetrated at least 30 cm even into solid ice. The shaft stuck out as a marker.

Lufthansa agreed to lend the expedition its ship Schwabenland, and the ship's two hydroplanes Boreas and Passat, 10-tonne Dornier Super Wals. They were pusher propeller aircraft, and each carried a pilot, a navigator, mechanic and photographer. The captains, Rudolf Wahr and Richardheinrich Schirmacher, were also on loan from Lufthansa. The Schwabenland's main feature was a powerful catapult which was used to launch the aeroplane. It could accelerate a load of up to 14 tonnes to a take off speed of 150 kmph.

On 17th December 1938 the Schwabenland left the port of Hamburg and on 20 January 1939, near the edge of the Antarctic pack ice, the Schwabenland dropped anchor at 69°14´S, 4°30´W. The Lufthansa crew took a great number of colour photographs. After seven long-distance missions the flying ended on 23 January when they recorded six reels of film with 1800 frames. They showed an area of 250,000 sq km. Most of the photographs covered land between 11°W and 19°E, the borders 'staked out' by aluminium darts thrown from the planes.

Later, in Germany, some detailed maps were produced based on the Schwabenland photographs. The surveyed area was called the New Schwabenland and the important peaks and areas were named after German explorers such as Alexander von Humboldt, Georg von Neumayer, Erich von Drygalski, Wilhelm Filchner, and the pilots named above. World War II prevented further German expeditions. The next German station called Neumayer, from West Germany, came only in 1981.

That is the story of Schirmacher Oasis.

(Reference: Antarctica: Reader's Digest, 1985)

My note: For becoming multimillionaire overnight, find one of those aluminium darts.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

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 institutions involved in Antarctica expedition. There are messages from the Secretary as well as Minister of Ministry of Earth Sciences (Shri Kapil Sibal) too. All have applauded our courage etc and how proud they all have been of us.

The weather continues to be inclement; our international guests did not arrive. Even for snow vehicles the tracks are not too good. There are wide gaps in the snow cover due to rising of temperature in last few weeks. With so much of wind, the visibility can go down any time due to snow drift. Some of our team members, who had gone to the Novo airbase two days ago for extending invitation, had to spend the night there only. I am sure they did not have with change of scene and food.

Since early morning in Maitri lounge the music system was dishing out all patriotic songs from early 1950s to the latest Bollywood hits. It reminded me of All India Radio in the era of no FM and satellite TV. The flag hoisting had its lighter moments too when the Tricolour refused to oblige in the first attempt. It unfurled only in the second attempt. Blame it on Antarctica.

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 guests as usual from the Russian station, Novo air base and the couple from the White Desert Safari tourist agency. Camera operations with thick gloves become a difficult task and without gloves the hands get painful within a minute. Normally the transfer of command between the two leaders takes place on the Republic Day. But now his tenure gets extended.

Friday, January 25, 2008

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 restless to my presence which I try to keep bare minimum. I wish that it remains hostile to my presence and grows up with its all natural and wild instincts intact enabling it to survive and thrive in this hostile world.

Shiva and Uma, past entries-
  1. A Bird's Nest http://himalayanadventurer.blogspot.com/2007/12/birds-nest.html

  2. A Bird Attack http://himalayanadventurer.blogspot.com/2007/12/bird-attack.html

  3. Shiv and Uma Blessed with Baby http://himalayanadventurer.blogspot.com/2007/12/shiv-uma-blessed-with-baby.html

  4. Shiv and Uma's Family http://himalayanadventurer.blogspot.com/2008/01/shiva-and-umas-family.html

  5. Update on Shiv and Uma's Family http://himalayanadventurer.blogspot.com/2008/01/update-on-shiv-and-umas-family.html

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.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

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. Yesterday water was freezing cold and after filling the bottle I had to rush to the bathroom to put my hand in the hot water, though it took no more than a minute or two for my bottle to fill up.

The supply of honey has exhausted and new supply is yet to be offloaded. However, my 'sattu and gur' in the morning is regular. Members view it as a weird, fascinating or healthy habit, but no one has taken a fancy to it in spite of my offering to prepare a drink for them.

If I return home with some weight gain, it will not be because of consumption of butter, juices, or ice creams. It will be because of having tea full of milk and sugar. People here are used to take tea much much sweeter than the tea available at road side stalls on highways. You must take it as a sign of my popularity that when I visit Annapurna hut (our 24 hour pantry), someone is always willing to make a cup of tea for me. I do not refuse them and in the process I have to take tea syrup in spite of my telling them to put less sugar and milk. I have decided to switch over to coffee since not being used to taking coffee they listen to my instructions for making it. In any case I take coffee without sugar.

In keeping up with my storytelling from 'Chanda Mama', sometimes on Tuesday evenings at the Maitri temple after bhajans and aarati, I sometimes tell the attendees a fable from my childhood. This evening I told them the story of a boy and his step-mother where the mother prays to the God to make her son like an ant, grass and dust and also that he should always have too much hunger and sleep. I must have told you people at least on more than one occasion.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

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

Monday, January 21, 2008

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 himself or other producers have already exhausted known locations, he hits upon an idea of having a film shot in Antarctica after watching 'March of Penguins' in a TV programme. He looks, as always, for a new face which he gets dime a dozen. However, he must give this time a sure winner, so he has to rely on old wine too. No one would fit the bill other than our dream girl, Hema. Does not she look glamorous in a recent tear jerker Bagbaan? She agrees in spite of Dharam forbidding her. He is still smarting with the success of Amitabh-Hema having wonderful onscreen chemistry. Dev Sahib wants a multi-starrer this time. After short listing many of the yesteryears' sure winners, he zeroes on to Raj Kumar. Raj Kumar agrees for a price not in terms of money but in terms of footage and camera angle. He also wants generous supply of scarves. Dev Sahib has no choice but to agree; after all, HE IS RAJ KUMAR. He also approaches Rajani Kant who agrees too charging nothing keeping his image of a large hearted person and winning many more fan following. After signing other supporting staff, Dev hires a ship and the unit sails towards Antarctica. They reach Cape Town where they have good time since there is still some fan following left there for Dev Sahib. So far so good. The Unit slowly marches forward and reaches latitude of 40 degrees little realizing the risks of 'roaring forties'. The ship rolls and pitches, and the entire staff is rolling on the floor. Everything is tipsy turvy. The Unit revolts against Dev Sahib in not being transparent and not providing enough information on the risks and dangers of such a journey to Antarctica, and not providing with enough insurance cover. Dev Sahib is also miserable having lost many of his implants in rolling and pitching of the ship. With a broken heart he agrees to return. He reaches Goa and waits for the return of the members of Indian Antarctic Expedition. He salutes them and acknowledges that the scientists and logistic staff of the IAE are the real heroes of India while Bollywood has only celluloid heroes.

Chitra adds: Your bollywood story didn’t have an end; it has to be 'all's well in the end'. Some hero has to do the rescue act and save the ship and win the heroine, Hritik Roshan or Akshay Kumar will fit the bill.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

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 have a Yule Bryner or Amrish Puri look or to have an alphabet (usually the first letter of their name) designed on their head. During 18th expedition, Mr SSN did not cut hair or shave for entire 15 months. When he reached India with a free flowing hair everywhere his young son, who had come all the way from Delhi to Bombay to receive his dad, refused to recognize him when Mr SSN came out of the airport. Though I am here only for summer period, this year many members of the 27th team would be completing four a half months before they reach Indian shores. I am one such person and hence I am utilizing this opportunity to grow my scalp hair. I am sporting French cut beard, while my scalp hair would grow enough for a pony tail by the time I reach Delhi.

Friday, January 18, 2008

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 in the morning. The evening function started at 7 pm where four Russians from their Novo station were the guests. Since I was participating in the evening programme and rehearsal was scheduled for the afternoon, I missed the chance for chopper flight. Currently both the choppers are parked at Maitri with their two pilots and one engineer. They are living in the summer camp and use the same facility of toilet and bath as us. It is quite praiseworthy of them to agree to this arrangement. They take the same food as all of us; make no extra or special demand. It is very unlike the earlier times when NCAOR was resourcing its chopper requirement from within the country. A team of 14 people would come with two choppers. I am not sure if they ever lived in the Maitri station. By having these choppers here with the crew offers an advantage for the scientists who have to go to field some distance away for collection of their samples; notably scientists from the fields of Geology, Limnology, Paleo-botany, Environmental Sciences, Survey of India, etc. They are dropped and picked up by the chopper with the help of GPS and walkie-talkie. They leave soon after breakfast with packed lunch and can return by late evening.

The usual pattern of evening function at Maitri is music and singing and later dancing. Alcohol is on the house, usually whisky and rum. Yesterday there was beer too gifted by Russian guests. Of course, the toast for the Army Day was proposed over champagne. I had participated in singing 3 songs, two solo and one chorus. I was given the chance to start the evening with song, 'ae mere pyare watan, ae mere bichhure chaman, tujh pe dil kurbaan'. This remains one of my most favourite patriotic songs, not because that was the first such song that I learnt as a school student but for many other reasons. Manna Dey sang it in his soul touching voice for a movie "Kabuli-wala" based on a story by Rabindra Nath Tagore. After this I joined in a chorus for a song from 'Border', "sandese aate hain, humein tadpaate hain, likho ki ghar kab aaoge, ki tum bin ye ghar suna suna hai". Finally, I sang a Hemant Kumar number, "naa yeh chaand hoga, naa taare rahenge, magar hum hamesha tumahre rahenge". The Russians had brought some fresh green cucumbers from their green house and I got two pieces this morning as 'prasad'.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

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 computer or internet facility, their letters written in long hand are scanned and sent to NCAOR at Goa which then posts a printout of the same to the family of the member.

One wise thing that I did was to bring my laptop here. I can work on it as much as I want at any time of the day without depending upon the availability of desktop. However I have to submit my emails to the telecom room for dispatch.

I must tell you about a development that is taking place right now at Maitri. The Ministry of Earth Sciences has approved a plan to install an Earth Station at Maitri. The equipment has arrived and so have the technicians and the scientists from ISRO and ECIL to install and make it functional. The work has begun and by March this year it will become functional after up linking it with a satellite. It means that the station will enjoy round the clock internet connectivity and members will be able to browse internet, access their own email accounts and the limitation on the size of the email or attachments will cease to exist. It will be a major help to the scientists who will be able to send their data back to their labs and departments in India on regular basis for further analysis and uploading. The station will also be able to receive direct telecast from India of at least of a few channels. Right now we have no telecast here. TV watching is essentially watching bollywood or Hollywood movies on the DVD. There are regional movies too. The library has a good stock of movies which is replenished every year with new releases.

Monday, January 14, 2008

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 younger chick out of the nest on a tree, or kills the smaller one to finish competition for food. After all the animal kingdom strictly follows survival of the fittest.

By the way, any suggestions for names for the chicks?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

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, "Dhritrashtra aalingan". You know the famous hug of King Dhritrashtra in the epic 'Mahabharat' who wishes to crush Bhim (he had killed King's all hundred sons) by his hug but because of wily and timely intervention of Lord Krishna crushes an iron statue instead.

Friday, January 11, 2008

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....

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

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 have a one or two pieces of garments that generate more charge than others; esp., my favourite front open black sweater. I am sure to get these shocks many times a day. So on days when I am wearing it, I keep on touching metallic surface periodically so as not to allow more charge to accumulate. I have to be careful when working with my laptop.

Monday, January 7, 2008

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 countdown for departing to India. How soon man starts claiming rights over anything which is not his even by any stretch of imagination.

Last night there was a movie, 'Bhul-Bhulaiyyan' starring Vidya Balan, Akshay Kumar and Shiney Ahuja. It is a remake of a Malayalam/Tamil movie of Priyadarshan. It is about multiple personality and Akshay Kumar plays a psychiatrist. Hence I stayed back for watching the movie. This evening I held an informal and small discussion group on Bollywood and multiple personality. People want me to hold such discussion groups regularly. I am not sure; I may ruffle some feathers.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

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 their assignment, that is, after more than a year. At individual levels, people will be able to enjoy web browsing and personal internet connectivity 24×7 from their own computers. There may be a possibility of cheaper telephonic connectivity also.

There are number of people now here with whom I spent time at Auli. They will be with me now till we reach Goa towards the end of March. They are mostly young people, and there are at least 5 of them who have only recently finished their postgraduate studies and are carrying out the project work on behalf of their professors or senior scientists. I shall be recording their interviews about their projects on camcorder. I have also recorded interviews of other scientists also.

I got back the suitcase that I had left at Goa. Every thing in it has been intact. Or rather, the three wine bottles have come unbroken. You know my weakness for buying wine; it was so cheap in Goa at less than half the Delhi price. So I bought 3 bottles of wine and one bottle of single malt whisky. I did not know India produces single malt. All came in about Rs 800/-. Manju Mehta, who was with me when I did this shopping, was surprised. The single malt whisky had come with me. Now I wondering all the time to bring all this back to India, or treat people with it. I don't drink alone, don't drink much, and can't offer to people easily. But people here mostly love Rum (regular use medicine) here or inexpensive brands of whisky. Army and ex-Army men have brought trunk (the real tin trunk) loads to last the entire winter. However, I was waiting for my suitcase eagerly not for wine, but for my towel. The first was lost during my shifting of hut on the 1st Jan.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

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 27th IAE who have arrived here just six weeks ago. As per their own confessions, some had put on as much as 5 kg within a month.

Current fads among many members of 26 Team are maggie noodles and eggs. They are now sick of eating frozen vegetables and daal (lentils) for last many months. So you frequently see them boiling maggie noodles or frying eggs. Packaged fruit juices still remain popular with most of the members. They all believe it provides quality vitamins. So they consume it 3-5 times a day. They are oblivious of the effects of preservatives, chemicals or sugar in it. Most of them have a habit of drying their paratha or poori with tissue before consuming; it is another matter that they would later put pure ghee on their chapaati or in daal.

Many members of the 27th team help themselves with large helpings of butter, ghee, fruit juices and ice cream. They are also quite fond of non-veg preparations. I am a bit surprised that out of 25 members of 27th Team, only 2 of us are vegetarians.

What are my food habits here? Well, when I landed here in mid-November, I thought that I am in an extremely difficult area and I should remain healthy and not fall ill. My body resistance should be at its optimum level and to achieve that I should not lack in any essential nutrients. So I also started consuming things that I normally would not consume in Delhi, e.g., bourn vita, complan, maltova, packaged fruit juices etc. Fortunately, good sense prevailed and I have given up on these already. My fad for honey remains which I take every morning and sometimes in the afternoon too with yoghurt. We have plenty of roasted black grams (chick peas) here. I have managed Ram Das to grind it for me to make sattu powder out of it to which recently I have started adding gur. I take it with my breakfast. And of course I remain steadfast on my taking haldi-milk post dinner.

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 example, take bath once in 5 days, use washing machine in economy mode and only when there is a full load, wipe your dinner plate and other crockery with a tissue before cleaning with detergent and water etc. But when you use tissue to wipe the crockery, glassware etc, aren't you putting pressure on another precious source, that is, wood? For my love of Himalayas, I find use of unnecessary tissue papers as being a direct assault on the trees.

In Antarctica, I have perfected the art of washing my share of crockery and utensils with minimum of water and detergent. Rajasthan where there is perpetual scarcity of water, people use sand to clean utensils. I remember whenever we visited our maternal grandfather's place in Indore (Madhya Pradesh), the utensils were cleaned with fine ash. It was before the era of cooking gas and ash would be produced in abundance since food was cooked on traditional burners using wood or coke. New generation does not understand what ash is, they only know a certain Bollywood actress called Ash. During my Kailash Mansarovar expedition last year, I had perfected the art of taking bath with 2 mugs of cold water in freezing temperatures. Hot water was always in short supply. Antarctica is a luxury where we get 24-hour electricity and running hot water.

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 bottom line of the art of survival is to follow the instructions strictly and by the letter without applying your mind as it is done in the Army.

In the Army they are advised, "Never ask how and why, always be ready to do or die".

A Colonel once asked his soldier to buy 10 stamps from the post office. When the soldier did not return for next 2 hours, Colonel sent another soldier to investigate. The first soldier was sitting in the post office. Colonel asked him to be produced in front of him and asked him why he did not return after buying the stamps. The soldier replied that his only order was to buy the stamps; there was no order to return. The soldier's name was recommended for out of turn promotion.


Once a welder in the Army while on a welding job said to his Commanding Officer, "Sir, I think.", the C.O. interrupted him immediately. He said, "Don't think, you continue working, you are paid for working. I get paid for thinking, hence I shall think".


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