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Antarctica: Exploring the edge of the world

For most travellers, an escorted tour/cruise from South America is the way to visit the continent. You can travel to Antarctica to explore the icy wilderness, see penguins and maybe plan an expedition to the South Pole.

travel Updated: Sep 11, 2012 16:51 IST
Urmi Popat

An unending expanse of snow, bitingly cold weather and penguins — these are the images you’d associate with Antarctica. This icy continent was a source of curiosity, and for years, my father had longed to visit. He kept enquiring if there was a way he could be part of an expedition to Antarctica, but to no avail. Then, finally, we got an answer.

The preparation for our once-in-a-lifetime journey began several months prior to our travel date. We had to send our medical reports to our expedition operators in the US. This Antarctic expedition would take us far from the nearest fully-equipped medical facility, so good health was of utmost importance, especially for the excursion activities, which would require moderate exertion.

There is no visa required to visit Antarctica. To be well-prepared for the expedition, our cruise counsellor had sent us a list of recommended items to pack that included 14’’-16’’ high rubber boots, sturdy hiking boots, waterproof gloves or mittens, inner thermal garments and woolen jackets and dark glasses to avoid the glare.

Tours to Antarctica take place in the ‘Austral Summer’ (from November to February, with temperatures ranging from 0 to -15 degrees C), when the sun finally emerges after the long winter night. For most travellers, an escorted tour/cruise from South America is the way to visit the continent. Large ships cruise around the Antarctic Peninsula, after crossing the dreaded Drake Passage (with waves as high as 30m causing the ship to roll and pitch and many guests to queue up at the ship’s hospital), sometimes employing helicopters or rubber Zodiac boats to take passengers ashore.

As the ship progressed towards Antarctica, we had unforgettable encounters with huge icebergs. The turquoise colour of the ice glimmers in the sun and welcomes you to the last wilderness. You take time to adjust to the sharp contrast between the hustle of cities to the empty monochrome white here.

Once ashore, passengers were divided into groups and then, along with the escort, we set off to explore the islands. There are no inhabitants here, so from March to November, Antarctica is left to scientific bases and their crews.

On our first landing, we saw hundreds of penguins. The sound of over 50,000 penguins created a unique cacophony. Being the first Indian family of tourists to unfurl the flag on the continent was a moment of great joy and pride for us.

As environmental concerns reach international summits, Antarctica is one of the world’s most discussed places. Contributions made by Indian scientists in various disciplines of Antarctic science have been phenomenal. We were thrilled to listen to the motivating and even hilarious stories of the various Indian Antarctic expeditions and see some of the rare photographs, as we were given the opportunity by the National Centre For Antarctic And Ocean Research (NCAOR) to recreate 30 years of India’s historic journey, for our recently released coffee table book: 90° South — India’s Journey to Antarctica.

More about the book
Follow India’s trail-blazing path as the coffee table book 90° South — India’s Journey to Antarctica — takes you on a voyage from India to Antarctica, crossing the Equator, with beautiful, pictures of penguins, seals and natural wonders like mirages, icebergs and more.

Also be part of India’s international centenary celebration of humans reaching South Pole, by one of the fastest overland travels in the white desert of the world, where eyelashes seal together with frost and temperatures dip to as low -50 degrees.

For more details about the book, log on to www. manaspublication.com