Friday, January 23, 2009


Guest column by Leela Latheef

(Leela read the "Nesting on no man's land", stories on Antarctica, in the New Indian Express and shared her following experience with me over email. I am reproducing her experience and photographs with her permission)

I am Leela Latheef from Trivandrum, Kerala. In ‘The Hindu’ dated 11-1-09 I read your article on extraordinary Antarctica, a place which has always fascinated me! And your article did quite fill up my never dying inquisitiveness on the South Pole. But more than other things, your story caught my attention because of Shiv and Uma who held your perpetual attention while you were there.
Not only because of your description of the South Polar Skua but also for the fact that on July 3rd 2007 I had received a call regarding a bird caught at the beach by some people when it was on its way to be killed and sold off by some fishermen. We run the Trivandrum Chapter of People For Animals [PFA] here and went in our ambulance and brought it home. It certainly looked a water bird but not like anything we had seen or known before. But nothing could stop us from admiring this strange guest who showed the least concern being in a new place amongst strangers! It even pecked at my dog when she went too close to it out of curiosity! I named the bird Vinny.
Vinny wanted to be in water, we felt. We provided her a large plastic basin first, in which she happily dipped though it was too small for her. So we quickly replaced it with this very large rubber tub meant for children. And the sight of Vinny making the best out of it was something to watch! She had a rollicking time! Again and again she would dip herself and then flap her wings and spread it and we marveled at her beauty! Meanwhile I started contacting bird experts to find out exactly where she belonged to as we still had no clue as to what kind of bird she was. Net surfing was also done at the same time. Soon things began to fit into place which was shockingly pleasant surprise news for us!
Suresh Elaman and Sushanth, known ornithologists, came over and took no time in educating us that Vinny was none other than The Brown Skua, and that she had come all the way from South Pole!!! And that, after flying a very long distance, non-stop, maybe it landed on as a stop gap on our beach; this also meant that it would resume its journey soon. It will be no exaggeration if I say that we were totally bowled over by this news. We felt privileged! We had a guest with us coming all the way from Antarctica! I almost felt connected to Antarctica. Vinny soon made into the Newspaper! It seems the last sighting of a Skua in Kerala was way back in the 1930s in Kozhikode. I do remember that Vinny was described as Katharacta Antarctica while you had described your skuas as Katharacta McCormick. I wonder if it is one and the same kind of bird.
On July 13th Vinny flew away. Though very sad we were relieved that it took to the blue sky once again. We hoped and prayed that Vinny reached her actual home. And we were left wondering whether she was bound to the South Pole! I am sending you the snaps taken when Vinny was with us. It would not explain much if I say that I still miss her. Sometimes I am still left wondering whether Vinny was a dream but then I chuckle at my own self when I realize that an extraordinary guest like Vinny happens just once in a person’s life time!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

nesting in no man’s land

The New Indian Express dated 11.01.2009 on Sunday carried some stories of Antarctica penned by ‘yours truly’ on its centre-spread with photographs. You may like to see the link at

Saturday, January 17, 2009


The Indian Antarctic Expedition celebrated its 27th birthday on 9th of January this year. It was on this day that M.V. Polar Circle brought the first ever Indian Antarctic Expedition to the shore of Antarctic continent. The Expedition comprised of 21 members, with 13 of them scientists and rest logistic staff. They all had undergone snow and ice training in the upper reaches of Himalayas. The Expedition was led by Dr S.Z. Qasim, the eminent scientist from the Deptt of Environment. The team had left Goa on the 6th December, 1981, after leasing Norwegian ice breaker, M.V. Polar Circle, and took 33 days to reach Antarctic ice shelf traversing 11, 000km. Its objectives were, establishment of an Indian base camp in Antarctica, initiation of scientific work in different disciplines of Antarctic science, and assessment of the logistics requirements for future Indian missions. After reaching there, it successfully established a base camp and hoisted the Indian flag. It initiated work on geology, geophysics, microbiology, meteorology and chemistry. It also established an unmanned Automatic Weather Station (AWS) in the Schirmacher Oasis region of Antarctica. After accomplishing its mission successfully, the first expedition returned to India on 21st February, 1982. India’s national pride was apparent in the statement that “the Indian success at the very first attempt is therefore recognized the world over as a remarkable achievement.”

It goes to the credit of Mrs Indira Gandhi who initiated the planning for Antarctic expedition. Indira Gandhi, despite her many domestic socio-political compulsions, wished a respectable status for India, not only in the developing world, but in the entire world. It is said that the entire planning for the first expedition was a closely guarded secret. It was only when Department of Ocean Development started looking for an ice-breaker for the launch of expedition that the world came to know of India’s ambition. Indira Gandhi had decided to send an expedition to Antarctica, hinting that India also might join the treaty. Although at the time it was not even an acceding party, India’s 1981 Antarctic expedition was the first sent by any nation entirely outside of the treaty framework. It scored points, however, with the treaty powers by stating that the expedition was “purely scientific”, that India had no territorial ambitions in Antarctica, and that India subscribed to the principles of the treaty. But before the expedition left, the Indian government notified other developing nations of its plan-in effect, testing the waters of developing world opinion. Consultative status in the treaty-and an accompanying scientific presence in the region-would have offered a great prestige value to a developing nation like India.

With the 3rd expedition in December, 1983, India established and successfully commissioned its first permanently manned station at Antarctica and named it Dakshin Gangotri on ice shelf; with this India obtained the membership of prestigious club, Antarctic Treaty. It however, started to sink in the ice and had to be abandoned. The work for India’s second station had begun at the Schimacher Oasis region in 1987-88, and the ninth expedition launched in November, 1989 successfully commissioned fully equipped winter station, Maitri. India is in the process of starting its third station, Bharti, at the Larsemann Hill area of Antarctica.

In last 27 years, India’s Antarctic programme has development successfully in initiating a number of major scientific work and in providing better facilities to the expedition members living in Antarctica for summer season or for wintering. It, of course, is fully centrally heated with 24-hour supply of power and cold and hot water. It has a number of scientific labs where work goes on throughout the year. Its telecommunication has improved tremendously over the time. Now through satellite facilities, one can communicate with Maitri any time of the day or night throughout the year.

One important mandate of the 27th IAE, of which I was a member, was to erect Earth Station so that Maitri gets full time internet connectivity. The construction part of the earth station was completed while I was there. We all had toiled in carrying heavy construction material for this purpose. Our hard work has paid off when the station has successfully established link with the satellite and Maitri now has full time internet connectivity as well as television link. So members now enjoy net surfing like you and myself, and watch daily news and soap operas of their choice on TV.
Antarctica is now not such a desolate place as it used to be. Besides, sea-route, which till recently provided the only access to Antarctica, now we have regular flights from Cape Town, Chile, or Argentina landing directly into Antarctica. Indian expeditions are also now using air route regularly. However, both these route operate only during Antarctic summer. There are attempts now by Americans to land their Hercules C-130 during nights of icy winter of Antarctica.
More and more people are now choosing Antarctica for their adventures, like reaching South Pole skiing all the way, or using huge kites. Cult swimmers or long distance swimmers are now swimming in the iceberg choked freezing waters of Antarctica. You are considered to have achieved the distinction of Antarctic swimmer if you manage to swim 1 mile (1.6 km). Many tourist agencies are now operating packaged tour to Antarctica regularly. People believe that in very near future Antarctica would soon be a popular holiday destination for people with all amenities.

Now Toyota has introduced modified cars which can negotiate Antarctic blue icy surface and its crests and troughs. These have very large sand-tyres (about one and half feet wide) and a huge ground clearance. The Arctic Company has been using these vehicles successfully for some time now in Arctic, and their introduction in Antarctica will change the face of travel within Antarctica.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I should have put this post quite some time ago. Was it my modesty that kept me away from putting this post, or just laziness, or was it because of inertia set in motion by Delhi’s cold wave? Mampi, the prolific blogger ( chose to bestow a ‘butterfly award to this blog. She cites the reason for giving away this award to Himalayan Adventurer for ‘bringing to us the cold of Antarctica first hand’. I really feel priviledged in receiving this award since it has come from none other than Mampi who herself is not only a brilliant blogger, but is recipient of many awards from other bloggers who are fans of her blog. Some such awards conferred on her are like butterfly award, certified honest blogger award, Proximidade award, million dollar friend award, Brilliante Weblog award, etc.
Why do bloggers give award to other bloggers? She offers reasons you can not disagree with. Well, let me quote from her only, “When these same friends remember you on their own blogs for a reason as good as an award, it is not flattery, it is not mere reciprocation. It is merely a way to remember each other on the blogs and to introduce new blogs through the various links that these awards ask you to put up. It is a validation of what you stand for in your blog-and a validation offered by your blog-mates who are the true judges of your words. Nor are the awards givers any celebrities in the regular sense of the term. They are celebrities in their own right. Some of them make us laugh, some make us empathize with them, some jolt us up to the realities of our day and some just share their day-to-day life with us. We know their babies, spouses, parents, friends, friends-of-friends, colleagues, neighbors from their writings. After all we are all just Six Degrees removed from each other.”
When I started Himalayan Adventurer, I did that for a limited purpose only to remain in touch with family and friends. Before going for Antarctic expedition I was in a fix as to how share my journal with others on regular basis, given the limited internet connectivity at Maitri at that time. I had been sharing my travelogues with others for quite some time. It was Kushagra who suggested the idea of starting a blog. He himself had discovered the joy of writing his rock-climbing thrills on his own blog,, and found it a great experience. He helped in setting up the blog and naming it also. When I was packing for leaving for Antarctica, it was a big problem to decide what was essential and what could be left behind. Once there, you could not buy anything, though we were assured that Maitri complex was well stocked for essential living. In my list of essentials, I included my cameras, spare batteries, blank CDs, pen-drives, and laptop. Carrying my own laptop was a very wise decision. I could practically write my experiences on daily basis on my laptop sitting in the comfort of my living module (heated and with 24-hour power supply) and give to radio room at Maitri for emailing these. All members would send and receive their emails by a common group email id through radio room. Kushagra, sitting in San Francisco, would properly edit my writings to post them on the blog. He did a magnificent job in being prompt and discerning. Ironically, I myself could not view my own blog for five months till the time I was away to Antarctica.
On coming back, I got introduced to other bloggers and was amazed by number of blogs coming from India only. I am also impressed by the range of their subjects and quality of writings on these blogs and learnt that bloggers’ is a dynamic and thriving community. They remain in touch with one another’s writings and offer their comments and suggestions. There is now an association or a directory of Indian bloggers which also holds regular meetings of the bloggers: So now we have a new term, blogosphere. Several blog search engines are now available to search blog contents, such as Bloglines, BlogScope, and Technorati. Wikipedia now has a lengthy post on ‘Blog’. It defines blog as (a contraction of the term "Web log") a Web site, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. "Blog" can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.
Why do people blog? There are many reasons you can find on Wikipedia or Google. However, let me again quote from Mampi’s blog for this answer: “When we lay our hearts bare before our readers, either as anonymous writers or with our names declared on our blogs, we do or do not crave appreciation. We yearn for sharing our joys and sorrows; we yearn to use the writing as a catharsis. To some, this becomes a compulsive activity, to others it is merely an extension of their personality. Through our blogs, we meet those who live a whole world afar and are yet just a step away from us. Through our blogs, we become the reason for many strangers to meet and talk on a common forum. If nothing else, I feel this is one valid reason for us all to come together through the words expressed on our respective pages.” I do not think I could improve on the reasons given by her.


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