Here are some responses for your avalanche of questions on my trip to Antarctica. If some of you are heading there this December, here's all you need to know.
Why go to Antarctica?
Visitors make the expedition to see the spectacular, other-worldly landscapes and the Antarctic wildlife around the Antarctic Peninsula. Extreme adventurers have a completely different agenda -- they make the arduous trek to the South Pole in the heart of the continent, or climb Mount Vincon, the highest point. Yet others like the feeling of setting foot on the seventh continent.
How do you get there?
The Southern tips of New Zealand, Chile and Argentina are the launch pads for cruises to Antarctica. Most visitors board their ships at Ushuaia in Argentina.
How long is the trip?
The cruises tend to be two or three weeks long in the summer months -- Dec through Feb. In the shorter trip you head straight south to the Antarctic Peninsula, while the longer trip takes you there via Falkland Islands and South Georgia Island known for its Emperor penguin colonies.
Will the drake passage make me seasick?
A lack of land mass and strong currents make the waters between Ushuaia and the Peninsula known as the Drake Passage quite choppy. The journey can last from 2-4 days depending on the speed of the ship. Those who have made the journey scores of times joke that you could experience anything from a "Drake Lake to a Drake Shake". Most people on our trip used the effective sea sickness patches Scopoderm TTS (Scopolamine hyoscene)
What is the temperature like?
In the summer, the temperature is around zero degrees centigrade at the peninsula, which is at sea level. It felt cooler in windy and snowy conditions, but with multiple layers we were comfortable. The temperature at the South Pole (11,000 feet high) is dramatically colder, but we were miles away from there.
Where do you stay?
Antarctica is truly wild and untouched by humanity other than a few scientific research bases. Visitors eat and sleep on the ships, and venture to the continent and islands via the zodiac boats. While you can walk and climb, you must neither take a pebble nor leave anything behind.
What will I see there?
Besides experiencing the beautiful seascapes and landscapes, you'll have a chance to wander in the midst of enormous colonies of penguins. We saw emperor, Adelie, gentoo and chinstrap penguins. Seals loll on the rocky shores and ice floes. There were crabeater, leopard and Weddell seals about and we constantly spotted humpback and orka whales and plenty of dolphins as well as an impressive array of birds. A keen photographer friend once said, "After seeing Antarctica, no other place on earth quite compares."
Does any country have a claim on Antarctica?
According to the Antarctic Treaty of 1961, the continent is to be used for peaceful and scientific purposes only. It belongs to no one and any country is free to set up a research centre there. The Indian Antarctic Programme has had a base there since 1983.
What does a trip cost?
A two-week luxury cruise can cost around Rs 5lakh per person, however, people are known to hitch rides on Russian icebreakers and cargo ships. Others take research jobs with universities and scientific expeditions.
More about Antarctica
Antarctica is larger than Europe. It is the coldest, highest and driest continent with the lowest rainfall. There are no polar bears in the Antarctic, just as there are no penguins in the Arctic.
Antarctica has no permanent human residents, but every year 1,000 to 5,000 people reside there at different research stations.