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NEW DELHI: Commemorating Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen's historic expedition to South Pole, India's first scientific overland expedition to South Pole in Antarctica successfully completed its mission this past month.
Led by National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research director Rasik Ravindra, the eight-member team took off from Maitri, India's research base in Antarctica, on November 13. Traversing all the way to South Pole and back to the research base was fraught with difficulties like inhospitable weather conditions and rugged terrain. But the team rose to the occasion and completed its mission. It also collected data and snow and ice core samples and explored how mini-organisms survive there.
More than a century ago British explorer Robert Scott made the first attempt to find a route to the South Pole from the Antarctic coastline but was unsuccessful. “In fact, Scott and his four companions perished on their return trip from South Pole in their second expedition. The first humans to conquer the South Pole were Amundsen and his party on December 14, 1911. With so much history to South Pole, all of us were intrigued by the awesome, inaccessible and inhospitable icy continent,” said Dr. Ravindra addressing a press conference here on Tuesday.
Stating that four specialised customised vehicles Arctic Trucks were procured from Iceland for the rugged and crevassed terrain, the scientific expedition leader said each sturdy Hilux built like SUV carried a mechanic-cum-driver and a scientist, along with emergency medical kit, navigational and scientific instruments, special gears and frozen food.
“All vehicles were fitted with a radio and it helped us to communicate with each other. As the terrain is full of crevasses, we had to be careful. An entire vehicle can be lost. While the minimum distance we travelled was 150 km, the maximum was 600 km. We had to make our own roads, and in case of breakdown had to replace the wheels. After a tough and adventure-filled 10-day journey over ice, we reached the South Pole on November 22. It was indeed a proud moment to hoist our national Tricolour. We returned to the base camp on December 1.” According to scientist Javed Beg, the expedition was a gratifying experience and a once-in-a-life opportunity for him and other members. “After the expedition, we have realised what difficulties must have been faced by Scott. With scientific technology, the expedition these days is much easier. However, despite technological advancements we still had to make our own water.”
Despite the frosty cold weather conditions, the expedition members did not touch alcohol. “It is a misconceived notion that booze keeps people warm in cold weather conditions. Though we carried some drinks with us, our doctors forbade us from consuming them. In fact, we drank warm water and milk. We ate only once a day by pouring an MTR packet in hot water,” said scientist Pradip Malhotra.
Other expedition members included scientist Thamban Meloth, scientist Ajay Dhar, geologist Ashit Swain and mechanics K. Krishnamoorthi and Surat Singh.
The team was jointly flagged off from Delhi by the then Union Science, Technology and Earth Sciences Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Goa Governor S. S. Sidhu on November 2. The total expenditure on the expedition borne by the Government amounted to Rs.1.60 crore.
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