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Now, Indian blogs live from Antarctica

On the icy barrenness of Antarctica, the Indian research station of Maitri has a new voice - the first ever blog by an Indian from the seventh continent.

entertainment Updated: Jan 18, 2008 13:59 IST

On the icy barrenness of Antarctica, the Indian research station of Maitri has a new voice - the first ever blog by an Indian from the seventh continent.

A member of the 27th Indian Scientific Antarctica Expedition, 56-year-old Sudhir Khandelwal, has typed, so far, 39 posts and nearly 15,000 words, with another one and a half months of his stay to go.

A consultant psychiatrist at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Khandelwal records fascinating vignettes of daily life at himalayanadventurer.blogspot.com. He writes about the effects of static electricity that result in 'powerful' handshakes, eccentric food habits, hikes on the ice shelf and the saga of a Skua bird family nesting near the station.

Khandelwal is in Antarctica for four summer months to conduct a study of short and long-term effects of extreme isolation and climatic conditions on the general and mental health on expedition members.

India's second research base in Antarctica, Maitri, is located on the rocky mountain area in the eastern part of the continent called Schirmacher Oasis, where the average annual temperature is minus 10 degrees Celsius.

Naturally, maintaining a blog is not an easy task from Maitri station, which has no direct access to the Internet. Electronic communication is limited to a single shared e-mail address, with the mails uploaded and downloaded once a day by connecting to the Amos server in the Netherlands.

So, almost every other day, Khandewal writes and mails his musings to his elder son, a computer professional in San Francisco who uploads and maintains the website.

"It's been a hobby to write my interesting experiences and travelogues to share with family and friends over email. When I was discussing with my son, Kushagra, how to reach the mailing list for sharing my experiences, he suggested the idea of starting a blog," Khandelwal told IANS in an email interview.

With telephone calls being rather expensive, his family in India and the US find the blog the best way to ensure his well-being.

"I am usually looking at the clock when I am on the phone. His blog helps me visualise his stay in those conditions and keeps me assured of his welfare," said his wife Chitra Khandelwal, who lives in New Delhi.

Khandelwal's travel from India to Antarctica took about three days and four flights - from Goa to Mumbai, Mumbai to Johannesburg, then to Cape Town, and finally the last leg on a chartered Il-76 aircraft to a landing on the ice field at Novo air base, nine kilometres from Maitri on Nov 15, 2007.

"It looked like a huge white ocean with a tinge of blue here and there, then it looked like a white sand desert with patches of mirage appearing here and there," Khandelwal said.

As part of the summer team, Khandelwal lives in a pre-fabricated cabin with four bunker beds outside the main building. It is a rather comfortable stay with round-the-clock open pantry, a recreation room and a gymnasium.

Not surprisingly, one of the important members of the team is the station cook, Ram Das from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).

"Everybody tries to keep him in good humour because their health and mood depend on him," Khandewal writes, tongue-in-cheek.

From fresh fruits and vegetables at the start of the residency period, the menu moves on to food items that are frozen, tinned or powdered.

"Current fads among many of the 26th (expedition) team members are Maggie noodles and eggs. They are now sick of eating frozen vegetables and daal (lentils) for the last many months," he said.

Therefore, when visitors from the neighbouring Novolazarevskaja Russian station came to Maitri for Christmas, they brought a much-appreciated gift - fresh vegetables.

The evening hours in Maitri are often the period to hone latent talent, with the station now boasting an in-house chorus, a trio of enthusiastic party dancers, Urdu poetry aficionados, wood artists, aspiring chefs and even an amateur hair stylist. The night usually wraps up with a movie from the well-stocked DVD library.

The avenues for entertainment, however, will become wide open once the under-construction Earth Station becomes functional in March, allowing 24-hour Internet access and even beaming Indian TV channels.

"I am persuading two members who will be wintering here (spending nearly 15 months) to also start writing a blog once they start enjoying full internet connectivity and web browsing," Khandelwal told IANS.

Meanwhile, with summer nights in Antarctica always aglow with dull sunlight, a full moon night evokes a nostalgic post.

"But the full moon won't shine as it would in Delhi. It will be there in the sky but with no moonlight at all. The bright full moon from the confines of the home makes all the troubles of living in Delhi worthwhile," he said.