The First Indian to Winter over the South Pole: Reflections


This book is specially dedicated to my parents, viz., my father Shri Mohinder Singh Sehra, and my mother Shrimati Satwinder Kaur, whom I wholeheartedly regard as next to God and who always induced into me a constant inspiration and cultivated a keen and everlasting interest for scientific adventures and exploratory work, which took me right upto the South Pole to explore the Antarctic continent at the risk of my life and put India on the world map of Antarctica.

In Memoriam

All our ancestors, and my late grandfather, S. Bir Singh Sehra ( 1890-1985), who lived a simple farmer’s life, and my late younger brother, Dr. Saranjit Singh Rana (1956-1996), Medical Doctor, for their great service to humanity
All Polar explorers who sacrificed themselves in the harshest and the most hostile Polar regions with a self denial of comfort in search of new scientific knowledge for the common good of all mankind.


I am very thankful to Prof. P.R. Pisharoty for his kind guidance in my Ph.D. work on Antarctic Explorations and the Members of the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition for their scientific collaboration and kind cooperation extended to me as a project Scientist during their Antarctic Expedition from 1971-1973.
I am also greatly indebted to all my family members, viz., my parents Sardar Mohinder Singh Sehra and Shrimati Satwinder Kaur, my wife Dr. (Mrs.) Bupinder Sehra, MBBS, MD, Gynaecologist, our son Mr. Gaurav Singh Sehra, our daughter Miss Pamela Sehra, elder brother Dr. Manjit Singh, Ph.D., younger brother Mr. Amarjit Singh Sehra and younger sister Rani Parminder Kuar for thier ever helpful altitude and constant encouragement in writing this book.
I also thank all our other relatives, colleagues and friends and everyone else who helped me directly or indirectly in this work and in all other matters enabling me to bring out this historical book.

The Tribune, Thursday, April 26, 1973

Sehra Was Ist Indian
Scientist To Visit Antarctica
NEW DELHI, April 25 (PTI) :- The Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, told the Lok Sabha today that on the basis of information available to the Department of Space, Mr. Parmjit Singh Sehra was the first Indian scientist to have visited Antarctica.
She told Mr. Indrajit Gupta in a written anster that Mr. Sehra, a Research Scientist at the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, had accompanied a Soviet Scientific Expedition to Antarctica in 1972.
Mrs. Gandhi said Mr. Sehra, who returned to India in 1973, was engaged in Research work in upper atmosphere physcis for which he was utilising the data collected during the expedition. The question of any recognition could arise only after the research work was completed.

Indian Express Sunday, January 17, 1982
Ice Desert & the Nostalgic Tale
By our Staff Reporter

AHMEDABAD, Jan 16- For Dr. Parmjit Singh Sehra, 31-year-old scientist of the Indian Space Research Organisation here, the news of the Indian expedition to the Antarctica early this week stirred up nostalgic memories of his own visit to that cold continent way back in 1972.
The first Indian to be on the South Pole, Dr. Sehra spent 18 months on the ice desert where the temperature in winter goes down to minus 88.3 degrees centigrade and nights and days are each six months long.
Dr. Sehra, then working with the Physical Research Laboratory here, had gone to the South Pole as a member of the Russain Antarctic Expedition under an Indo-Soviet agreement. On return here, he wrote a thesis entitled “Atmospheric Structure: Exploration over Antarctica and Interhemispheirc Comparison” and earned his Doctorate from the Gujarat University. Dr. Sehra, who has sent his congratulations to the current expedition teams has advocated that India should have a permanent Scientific station on the South Pole to carry out a study of the region.
Recalling his visit to the South Pole Dr. Sehra said the most spectacular periods in the Antarctic, were winter from June to August and spring from September to November. These periods were marked by sudden warming and cooling, strong wind reversals and dispapperance of the tropopause.
Dr. Sehra suggests that a study of the atmospheric changes in the Antarctic continent can possibly provide clues to understanding the phenomenon of the Indian monsoon.
An AMS Extract about Dr. Parmjit Singh Sehra from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 45 Beacon Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02108-3693, U.S.A.

About Our Members
Dr. Parmjit Singh Sehra joined the World Meteorologi“Hazardous Pollution Problem over Ludhana, Punjab, India”.cal Organization (WMO) as a WMO/UN Expert for conducting an advanced WMO Class-II, class-I Training Programme at the Department of Meteorological Services in Harare, Zimbabwe. The project is sponsored by the Finnish International Development Agency (FINNIDA), the Southern African Transport and Communication Commission (SATCC), and the WMO. Dr. Sehra's responsibilities in this advanced WMO Training Program include teaching physics, mathematics, and data processing to participants, followed by instructing meteorological theory. After trainees complete their studies they will also be given the necessary of on-the-job training.
Dr. Sehra's participation with the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition from 1971 to 1973 led him to the distinction of being the first person from India ever to winter over the South Pole and circumnavigate and explore Antarctic continent. For his accomplishment, Dr. Sehra was awarded the prestigious Soviet Antarctic Medal, Ribbon and Polar Watch. His expedition to Antarctica sparked lot of interest in India for further exploration of Antarctica, including opening Indian research bases in Antarctica.
Dr. Sehra is a member of the AMS and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society in 1991. He plans to continue working with the WMO to further the advancement of atmospheric sciences.

(Vol. 74, No. 1, January 1993
Bulletin American Meteorological Society)

Foreword :
Indian Scientist Worked at Soviet Antarctic station
by J.M. Caffin, Editor, ‘Antarctic’- A Scientific Journal of the New Zealand Antarctic Society, Christchurch, New Zealand, September, 1975 :

“India has become involved in scientific research in Antarctica as the result of an agreement with the Soviet Union for joint meteorological exploration of the upper atmosphere. Under this agreement an Indian scientist worked with the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition in 1971-73, and became the first Indian ever to winter on the continent.
Since the Indian Department of Atomic Energy and the Soviet Hydrometeorological Service signed the agreement in 1970, there have been regular weekly soundings with M-100 meteorological rockets from the main Soviet station, Molodezhnaya, and Thumba, India. Mr. Parmjit Singh Sehra, of the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, was sent to the Antarctic by the Indian Space Research Organisation.
Mr. Sehra spent 18 months in the Antarctic, and participated in the meteorological rocket soundings of the upper atmosphere at Molodezhnaya. He also visited all the other Soviet stations, viz., Bellingshausen, new station Ruskaya’s site, Leningradskaya, Mirny, inland station Vostok at the Pole of cold & Geomagnetic South Pole, and Novolazarev-skaya as well as many other Antarctic stations including the american Amundsen-Scott South Pole station located at the Geographic South Pole. For his work with the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition he was awarded the prestigious Soviet Antarctic Medal, Soviet Antarctic Ribbon and the Soviet Polar Watch.
While Mr. Sehra was in Antarctica, 60 M-100 meteorological rockets were launched from Molodezhnaya. Sixteen of these carried an additional wind sensor “chaff” for determining the mesospheric winds. Most of the flights were successful, and the average rocket apogee reached was 86.95 km. This was the first meteorological study of the upper mesospheric winds made in Antarctica.
The “chaff” used in this study consisted of cylindrical aluminium-coated glass fibre. It was carried in a special container, and ejected at rocket apogee. A high sensitivity Meteor-2 radar checked the descending chaff cloud, and the data on the drift of its trajectory were used to measure the wind speed and direction in the mesospheric region under study.
Results of this investigation of the Antarctic upper atmosphere indicate that the most active period in South Polar regions is the winter and early spring; it is marked by large distruptions in the wind and thermal structure. In scientific papers printed in ‘Nature’, (Vol. 252, No. 5485 pp. 683-686, December 20/27, 1974 & Vol. 254, No. 5499, pp. 401-404, April 3, 1975), Mr. Sehra says that the rapid shifts in both zonal and meridional components of the upper atmospheric winds, particularly during the winter period May to July, are accompanied by sudden changes in the teperature distribution.
Stratospheric warming and cooling lead to the inituitive conclusion that the polar winter warmings may be caused both by an increase in the supply of energy in the form of a vertical flux of geopotential energy consisting of very long waves, and by radioactive and photochemical processes taking place in the upper atmosphere.
During September, when the winter westerlics change to the summer easterlies the upper atmosphere is again disrupted with a warming of 39*C at 40 km which is attributed to the increase in available heat brought about by the return of sunlight. It is thus concluded that sizeable perturbations may occur in the upper atmosphere over Antarctica during the winter regime.
Mr. Sehra is not only the first Indian Scientist to work in the Antarctic; he is also the first man in Enderby Land to join the New Zealand Antarctic Society, and the only member to wait nearly two years for his copies of ‘Antarctic’.
In 1972, Mr. Sehra relayed a request by radio from Molodezhnaya through McMurdo Station and Scott Base in Antarctica to join the New Zealand Antarctic Society. He asked also that all available issues of ‘Antarctic’ be sent from New Zeland to Moscow by air freight, and then by sea from Leningrad, USSR to Molodezhnaya in Antarctica.
Sixty copies of the bulletin were dispatched to Moscow by registered mail. But the parcel missed the ‘Professor Zubov’, the first ship to reach Molodezhnaya in Antarctica. It was believed to have been carried to Molodezhnaya, Antarctica by the supply ship ‘Ob’, which arrived there when Mr. Sehra had left, and then was trapped in heavy pack ice for 90 days off King George V Land.
Eventually, after an exchange of correspondence, the parcel reached Mr. Sehra in India in 1974, and payment for the 60 issues of the bulletin was received in October.
Mr. Sehra is still a subscriber to ‘Antarctic’. And he hopes to assiciate himself with the New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme at a later date”.

A Visit to South Pole & Explore the Antarctic Continent: Daring Adventures of the First Indian Ever to Winter over the South Pole and Circumnavigate and Explore the Antarctic Continent

This book entitled “A Visit to South Pole & Explore the Antarctic Continent: Daring Adventures of the First Indian Ever to Winter over the South Pole and Circumnavigate and Explore the Antarctic Continent” is the first to describe the my participation in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition during the period from 1971 to 1973 under a joint Indo-Soviet agreement between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Hydrometerorological Service (HMS) of the erstwhile USSR. This participation led me to the unique distinction of being the first Indian ever to winter over the South Pole and circumnavigate and explore the Antarctic continent for which I was awarded the prestigious Soviet Antarctic Medal, Ribbon and Polar Watch.
I was also awarded Ph. D. Degree in Science by the Gujarat University, Ahmedabad, India, for my Antarctic explorations described in my Ph. D. Thesis entitled “Atmospheric Structure: Exploration Over Antarctica and Interhemispheric Comparison”, carried out at the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad, India under the kind guidance of Prof. P.R.Pisharoty for which I am greatly undebted to him.
My active participation in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition from 1971-1973 also sparked lot of interest in India for further exploration of the Antarctic continent including opening of some Indian Research Bases in Antarctica such as “Dakshin Gangotri” and “Maitri” based upon such proposals made by me earlier which was really like a dream come true for me. This book thus gives a brief account of my Antarctic odyssey and the Antarctic dreams cherished by me which finally turned out to be true, and this in itself is a valuable reward for me.
However, the Government of India has yet to fulfill its promises made in the Parliament vide its unstarred Question No. 8177 dated 25th April 1973, as I have already completed all my Antarctic research work and Antarctic explorations which led me to the award of the Ph. D. (Science) Degree and so many other international recognitions such as the Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society (F.R. Met. S.) of UK; the Member of the American Meteorological Society (MAMS) of USA; the Member of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (MCMOS); Consultant at GISS/NASA, USA and the WMO/UN Expert of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), United Nations Organization (UNO), Geneva, Switzerland, etc. I have also made a very large number of scientific, technical and popular scientific contributions on Antarctic explorations which are published in several reputed international scientific journals with lot of media coverage all over the world.
The Antarctic continent is the last great wilderness, a hostile continent of snow and ice and treacherous weather. Yet, it is also a place of great beauty, a land of breathtaking panoramas, wide sweeping glaciers, turbulent ice-falls and vast, majestic snow-covered landscapes. In summer, these are seen under a permanent sun and in winter continuous darkness obscures every thing. Encircling this remote continent is the southern ocean, stormy, violent and isolating and a major barrier even now to those who want to visit this hostile land.
This book spans years of my Antarctic exploration, and it is the work of the lone Indian participant in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition who has lived and worked at the South Polar Ice Cap in Antarctica for a very long period from 1972 to 1973 and thus knows it in all its moods and landscapes. During the early Antarctic explorations, very little was known about this continent as only some of its fringes had been seen. Many Antarctic Expeditions then went South in sailing ships under various national flags and dogs were the main means of overland transport. Nowadays, huskies have been replaced by tracked vehicles and skidoos, ships are purpose-built, reliable and powerful and Expeditions can make use of a variety of scientific aids.
Yet, although techniques and equipment have changed, the Antarctic itself has not. As this book so vividly portrays, those who go south still have to live in extreme conditions where small mistakes can have tragic consequences. This book gives a dramatic picture of day-to-day life in the most hostile place in the world including some details and insights that can only come from my first-hand experience.
Actually, Antarctica is so far away from our daily lives, so unlikely ever to impinge on our existence, that most of us are unconcerned that we know very little about this ice-covered continent which is bigger than China and our country India taken together and yet where, in any given winter, only about 2000 people live and work of whom there is hardly any woman. The history of man’s activities on the Antarctic continent is less than a hundred years old and the Indian involvement in the Antarctic explorations is relatively quite recent with my participation in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition from 1971 to 1973 as the first Indian to do so, as described by Sir J.M. Caffin in the “Antarctic,” used as forward to this book being so relevant. What I have accomplished in the deep South in Antarctica during this period is condensed here to produce an interesting glimpse of what life is like in Antarctica for the people who work there, and it also gives some other general information on Antarctic explorations and my Proposals for opening some Indian Research Bases in Antarctic. The attitude to life of all the Polar Explorers is clearly one of self-reliance and optimism, despite often difficult circumstances and unforeseen setbacks.
Despite tremendous scientific and technical advancement made in the modern world, Antarctica as yet unspoiled by man and holding many secrets from him still remains the least known continent. I with my modest contributions in the Antarctic explorations have nothing but the greatest admiration for the kind of adventuring spirit that prompts men to explore this vast and unforgiving Antarctic continent which was personally induced into me by my parents Sardar Mohinder Singh Sehra (father) and Shrimati Satwinder Kaur (mother) and my late grandfather Sardar Bir Singh Sehra for which I is greatly indebted to them. This book is thus specially dedicated to them as well as to my late younger brother Dr. Saranjit Singh Rana Medical Docor for great service to humanity.
In fact those who know the Antarctic continent by actually exploring it are enriched and humbled by their thrilling experiences there. And how important it is for our general sanity to be made to feel small by the grandeur and elemental power of Mother Nature which I have personally experienced while wintering over the South Pole in Antarctica during the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition from 1971 to 1973. If we ourselves cannot reach Antarctica, at least we can be enthralled by its spell through the observations and experiences of others. This book is thus written in a popular style so that a common person could visit and winter over the South Pole and could also circumnavigate and explore the Antarctic continent alongwith me without actually undergoing its extreme hardships, and finally may also know how our country could launch Indian Antarctic Expeditions and open some Indian Research Bases in Antarctica.
It is a matter of great personal satisfaction and reward that the my most cherished dream of launching Indian Antarctic Expeditions and opening some Indian Research Bases in Antarctica is already fulfilled by the Government of India based upon his Antarctic explorations and such proposals sent from Antarctica including a telegraphic message to the then Prime Minister of India and an open letter to the nation, etc., with a constant follow-up action by my father Sardar Mohinder Singh Sehra on this matter. However, the Government’s promise of giving me some suitable national recognition for my Antarctic explorations is still due despite the fact that many international recognitions have already been given to me. I have actually opened a Gateway of India to Antarctica with my modest Antarctic explorations and proposals as is briefly presented in this book. Any suggetstions for the improvement of this book will be most welcome.
(Dr. Parmjit Singh Sehra)

CHAPTER 1: Come with Me to the South Pole

Come with Me to the South Pole
Title :
A Visit to South Pole
& Explore the Antarctic Continent :
Daring Adventures of the First Indian Ever to Winter
Over the South Pole and Circumnavigate and Explore
the Antarctic Continent
1.1 Joint Indo-Soviet Agreement
Under a joint Indo-Soviet agreement, a young Indian scientist Dr. Parmjit Singh Sehra of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) participated in a Soviet Antarctic Scientific Expedition to the South Pole and became the first Indian ever to spend a harsh winter there and circumnavigate and explore the Antarctic continent. The USSR has honored him with the prestigious Soviet Antarctic Medal, Ribbon and Polar Watch. A key figure in the Polar history, Dr. Sehra who has recently worked in the United Nations as a WMO/UN Expert gives a brief account of his most venturesome South Pole odyssey in this book.
1.2 Adaptability Certificate
Adaptability Certificate! Thinking that the Russian doctor on board the ship ‘Professor Viese’ sailing to Antarctica might be asking for my International Health Certificate, I promptly gave him that. But he smiled and remarked, "Wintering over the South Polar Ice-Cap where the temperatures range from -40 to -90*C and the winds blow with speeds exceeding 200-300 km per hour is not a joke, my friend. Your certificate is meant only for the posh cities of the world. Antarctica demands from an individual the utmost in physical stamina and mental soundness with mature judgment so that a man working there may act quickly and positively in order to survive. Prior to selection for Antarctica, we conduct a thorough medical check-up and a tough physiological and psychological screening of our expedition members and also impart them a special training. Only after qualifying all these tests and training they are given ‘Adaptability Certificate’ and taken to the harshest continent Antarctica".
I did not undergo any special acclimatisation programme or training before setting foot at the South Pole. I had no ‘Adaptability Certificate’ and the Soviets allowed me to participate in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition at my own personal risk. My long Antarctic ordeal includes many unforgettable scary moments in the ice, yet I accomplished this feat with flying colours.

1.3 What is Antarctica?
In Greek, Antarctica means ‘Anti-Arctic’, i.e., the opposite of the Arctic. Including its permanently attached ice shelves, Antarctica covers about 5.5 million square miles surrounding the South Pole, and has 18500 miles of coastline. It is as big as the United States and Mexico combined. About 95 percent of the world's permanent ice is in the Antarctic, 7 million cubic miles of it. This great mass has made Antarctica the highest of all continents, its average elevation is about 7500 feet. The world's lowest temperature, about -90 degrees C was recorded in Antarctica and violent snowstorms with winds of over 250 km per hour speed are very frequent in this icy desert. It is the coldest and the windiest continent.
Although there is so much ice in Antarctica, there is almost no fresh water there. Such a cold dry area cannot support much life of any kind. On land, only 4.5 percent of which is bare, a few primitive plants exist, and there are bacteria and some insects and similar small animals. The Antarctic waters, however, abound in sea life ranging from microscopic plants, plankton, to giant whales.
The best known birds in Antarctica are the flightless penguins which walk erect and waddle along like a cartoonist's version of a man returning from a formal dinner! Wandering through the ice pack, penguins frequently encounter seals, six species of which breed in the Antarctic. There are also colonies of some flying birds such as the polar skuas and snow petrels. To the present knowledge, Antarctica has never had any native human population. Men now go to Antarctica primarily to study the earth, the space around it and the life upon it.
1.4 At the Geographic South Pole
The climax of our Antarctic Expedition came in when we reached the Geographic South Pole. I got lost in my deep thoughts while standing at the bottom of the world (90* South) on a high ice-covered plateau more than 9000 feet above sea level. The temperature at that time was -60* C and the pressure much below the normal. It was the place first reached by the great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen about 60 years ago. On January 17, 1912 about a month after Amundsen, Captain Scott and four other Englishmen stood on the same spot who were later trapped by a blizzard and never returned home.
At this historical place there is an American station called Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station which is in operation since 1957, the International Geophysical Year. The sun sets here for the winter on March 22, not to rise again until September 21. A full year consists of only one day and one night, each of six months duration! On June 21, the sun begins its ascent marking Midwinter Day. As at all stations this turning point of the winter was celebrated with gusto. With the day marked by holiday routine, practically everyone of us slept late. The only exception was our cook who was busy preparing a lavish meal for that evening.
1.5 At the Geomagnetic South Pole
Now a desperate struggle of two months to reach the Soviet Antarctic Station ‘Vostok’, the pole of inaccessibility and extreme cold which has recorded the world’s lowest temperature of about minus 90*C. During our 1500 km trekking from Mirny station to Vostok located at the Geomagnetic South Pole, we had plenty of difficulties, we sometimes failed and we sometimes won but we always faced them and made all possible scientific observations.
Our trekking expedition comprising of heavy machines ‘towmobiles’ and dog sledges carrying about 30 tons of equipment for Vostak roared into action and slowly pulled out of Mirny during the summer. After two weeks, a heavy snowstorm began reducing the visibility to zero. Most of the route was 3000 metres above sea level with constantly low temperatures, about - 70* C, due to which our snow tractors could not move. Many of our huskies pulling our sledges died on the way and we had to eat their meat in order to survive. Snowstorms and poor visibility continued to hinder our progress. One of our comrades who became ill with acute appendicitis died on the way and yet another fell into a deep crevasse and buried alive. Despite all these difficulties, we traversed 1500 km in two months and conquered the pole of inaccessibility. I can forget anything in my life but not these tough experiences. I must add here that one who has not travelled deep into the South Polar Ice-Cap cannot know Antarctica!
The coldest place in the world ‘Vostok’ at 78.45* South and 106.8* East lies at an altitude of 3488 metres on approximately 3700 metres of ice. The air is perpetually drier then in the world’s worst deserts. During the polar night, temperatures drop so low that they would normally freeze carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere which condenses at -78.5* C. The altitude starves lungs of oxygen, and the normal rate of heartbeats nearly doubles. Here 15 of us wintered over, isolated from contact with the outside world for more than one year, half of this time in utter darkness. I must say that six months of continuous darkness followed by six months of daylight at the South Pole were the extremely boring phenomena of nature I experienced there. When I returned home, I found that a 12-hour day followed by a 12-hour night were, indeed, a great blessing.
During our 1500 km sledge odyssey between Mirny and Vostok, we made snow measuring observations and set up new automatic stations for the continuous recording of magnetic variations and meteorological data in addition to our other field work on geodesy, glaciology, and so on.
1.6 Circumnavigation of Antarctica
A complete circumnavigation and exploration of the Antarctic continent by an Indian ! Yes, I am fortunate to have done it by sailing on board the icebreaker ships ‘Navarin’ and ‘Ob’ during the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition. Circumnavigating all around the Antarctic continent and its complete exploration was the most thrilling voyage of my life which recalls me of Captain James Cook who between 1772 to 1775 first sailed around Antarctica and brought to an end the dream of an inhabited southern continent.
During the Antarctic circumnavigation and exploration, our ships re-supplied all the Soviet coastal stations, viz., Mirny, Leningradskaya, Bellingshausen, Novolazarevskaya, Amery and Molodezhnaya, and relieved the old staff with the new expedition members. We sailed all along the Antarctic Circle and chose the site of a new Soviet station ‘Russkaya’ on the shore of the Amundsen sea. We took fuel and fresh food provisions for our ships and for the Soviet Antarctic stations from the port of Punta Arenas, Chile. But, unfortunately, the station Molodezhnaya could not be given sufficient food supply due to which we had to face a number of problems there. I visited several other stations operated by the Antarctic Treaty member-nations in order to collect maximum possible scientific data.
1.7 Wintering over the South Polar Ice Cap
I worked for more than a year at the station ‘Molodezhnaya’ which is the continental headquarters for the Soviet Antarctic Expeditions. During the harsh winter, an emergency was declared at our station due to the acute shortage of food stuff and other essential provisions. Both the quality and quantity of food were utterly poor. Our tinned food also got exhausted during the extremely cold and stormy polar night. As a consequence, we had to live on the Antarctic seals, penguins and fish. I still remember my days in Antarctica when we also had to eat the meat of our favorite huskies in order to survive. Smokers at the station were often found searching for the used cigarette butts. When the ‘Vodka’ liquor was also finished, many of us started drinking pure spirit mixed with tea-water, called ‘Antarctic whisky’ !
Besides this, we faced innumerable number of other difficulties while wintering in Antarctica. Comrade Evanov developed appendicitis trouble and had to be operated. Two of our expedition members became mentally ill due to long isolation and had to be closed indoors. During the winter, we encountered several violent blizzards with speeds exceeding 200 km per hour. Some of our houses were blown off alongwith the inmates and our unfortunate comrades died for the cause of science.
1.8 Rebirth in Antarctica
Rebirth ! Yes, in a way I was reborn when I fell into a deep crevasse in Antarctica on 14th March. I was hardly an inch away from my death when I was pulled out of the ‘death pit’ with long ropes by a timely rescue party. In another accident, I fell down from a 200 metre ridge due to a helpless blind-walk in a violent snowstorm and lost few teeth and suffered a fracture in my legs. In November, I undertook an independent trekking to a distant iceberg which was about 150 km far and named it as ‘Indian Elephant Iceberg’. On my return journey from there, misfortune followed my footsteps.Growing weaker each day from the exertion and the lack of food, I also encountered violent storms and blizzards and lost my way. I met with several hair-raising accidents during my South Pole odyssey, but fortune ever smiled on me and I always had a narrow escape. God always saves me ! Thanks to the Almighty God.
1.9 Antarctic Project Scientist
In Antarctica, I was the Project Scientist for carrying out the upper atmospheric meteorological rocket soundings from the main Soviet station Molodezhnaya by using M-100 rockets which could carry 67 kg payload upto about 100 km altitude and were launched twice in a week. My research and investigations showed for the first time that sizeable perturbations occur in the South Polar atmospheric structure during the winter. The findings of my work have been published in many international scientific journals of repute, and the Gujarat University has awarded me the Doctorate degree ‘Ph.D. (Science)’ for my research work discussed in my Ph.D. thesis entitled “Atmospheric Structure: Exploration over Antarctica and Interhemispheric Comparison”.
1.10 Inspiration for participating in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition
My participation in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition from 1971 to 1973 was made possible through the efforts of Prof. P.R. Pisharoty, Prof. P.D. Bhavsar and the late Prof. Vikram A. Sarabhai under an agreement between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Hydrometerorological Service (HMS) of the USSR. My parents Sardar Mohinder Singh Sehra and Shrimati Satwinder Kaur right form the beginning induced into me a great inspiration and cultivated a keen interest for scientific adventures and exploratory work which took me to the South Pole at the risk of my life.
1.11 Recognition and Awards
I accomplished the most venturesome odyssey to the South Pole during my participation in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition and became the first Indian ever to spend the harshest winter over the South pole and circumnavigate and explore the Antarctic continent. The USSR has awarded me the prestigious Soviet Antarctic Medal, Soviet Antarctic Ribbon and Soviet Polar Watch in recognition of my Antarctic explorations. The New Zealand Antarctic Society has also honoured me. Based upon my excellent achievements and Antarctic explorations, I have also been elected as a Member of the American Meteorological Society(MAMS) and a Fellow of the Royal meteorological Society (F.R.Met.S.) and a member of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (MCMOS) which are highly learned International Scientific Societies of the U.S.A., U.K., and Canada, respectively.
Great God ! My daring South Pole odyssey was an awful experience and terrible enough for me to have laboured to it without any national reward. However, it sparked tremendous interest in India for further exploration of Antarctica, including opening of Indian Research Bases in Antarctica, e.g., ‘Dakshin Gangotri’ and ‘Maitri’, with the launching of regular Indian Antarctic Expeditions since 1982, which is in itself a great reward for me as it was my most cherished dream coming true!

CHAPTER - 2: General Survey Of Antarctica

2.1 Introduction
Antarctica is the last terra incognita on the Earth, covered with snow and ice that surrounds the South Pole. Men's minds were haunted by the idea of a great southern continent for many centuries before Antarctica was discovered. Earlier, the ancient Greeks believed that a great southern continent must exist in order to balance the land masses of the Northern Hemisphere. The name of the region has come form the Greek ‘Antarktikos’ which means ‘Opposite the Bear’, the northern constellation, i.e., the ‘Opposite of the Arctic’.
2.2 Famous Voyages
Many famous voyages were made to discover the fabled continent because men imagined it to be populated and to contain great riches. It was on January 17, 1773 that Captain James Cook of the British Navy became the first man to cross the Antarctic Circle, and brought to an end the dream of an inhabited southern continent. In 1820, Captain Nathaniel Plamer of Stonington, Connecticut, and Commander Thaddeus Bellingshausen, an officer in the Russian Navy, sighted the continent near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The real proof that Antarctica was continent came form the adventurous voyages of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes of the United States Navy, Captain Dumont d`Urville of the French Navy, and James Clark Ross of the British Navy in 1838-1841.
After Wilkes, d' Urville, and Ross returned to their homelands, men lost interest in Antarctic exploration. For nearly 50 years, only sporadic endeavours were made to learn more about the mysterious white continent, although sealers and whalers continued their operations to the far south for hunting whales and seals.
Shortly after 1890, interest in the Antarctic revived, to continue for ever, because the scientists were then convinced that more must be learnt about the South Polar region if we are to understand the world and the Universe better. Moreover, new methods of whaling made it possible to catch and use Antarctic whales for the prospect of riches from fur and blubber oil.
2.3 Scientific Expeditions to Antarctica
In 1901, German, Swedish, and British Expeditions took to the field. All had their thrilling times. Their experiences proved that men could live in the Antarctic from what they could find there, although a diet of seal and penguin was somewhat monotonous. In 1901, Captain Falcon Scott of the Royal Navy lead the British National Antarctic Expedition (1901-1904). It could be said to be the first Expedition to Antarctica, which had very strong scientific interests. Enough scientific information was then collected to put Antarctic studies and research on a sound basis. From 1901-1912, Scottish, French, Japanese, German, and Norwegian Expeditions were active in the area.
2.4 Conquering of the South Pole
The climax of the heroic period came in 1911 and 1912 when the South Pole was reached. First to arrive there was the great Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen with his four companions, on December 14, 1911. On January 17, 1912, about a month after Amundsen, Captain Scott and four other Englishmen stood on the same spot. On their return from the South Pole, misfortune followed their footsteps. Captain Scott and his party were trapped by a blizzard and never returned home. Captain Scott had collected 30 pounds of rocks for scientific interests. This was really a triumph for science.
A distinguished Australian scientist, Mawson was one of the truly great Antarctic explorers, who in 1911-1914 set up a camp there, at what is perhaps the windiest place in the world. Winds of over 100-200 miles an hour are very frequent there. A young British naval officer, Lieutenant Earnest Shackleton took his first Expedition to the Antarctic in 1907. The Antarctic entered his heart never to be absent until his death. In one of the greatest adventures, Shackleton and his men spent over six months in tents on drifting ice. He lies buried in South Georgia, the gateway to Antarctica and his grave is a shrine to all who pass that way.
2.5 Heroic age of Antarctic Exploration with Technological Advancement
The period from 1895 to 1915 has sometimes been referred to as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. The period following World War I can be thought of as the beginning of Mechanical Age. The urgent demands of the War speeded the development of the airplane, the aerial camera, radio and motorized transport and all of these devices were introduced into Antarctic Exploration before 1930. Sir Hubert Wilkin, Australian leader of the American financed Wilkins-Hearst Antarctic Expedition made the first airplane flight in Antarctic history on November 26, 1928. In fact, it was Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd who proved the usefulness of the airplane in Antarctica and brought modern machines and methods of communications to the area.
Some Expeditions dug trenches in which buildings were placed with the hope that snow would blow across the covered trench with minimum accumulation. Prefabricated buildings were commonly used in Antarctica and for small stations, vans called wanigans have often been used. Looking like house trailers on skis, they were pulled into place by tracked vehicles. Because the wanigans can be moved, it is possible to relocate them on the surface as snow piles up. It was not until the advent of new technical advances such as aircraft, radios and aerial photography that the bulk of the Antarctic coastlines and interior were first crudely mapped in the late pre-World War II period. Afterwards much improved technical development further stimulated interest in exploring the continent.
2.6 International Geophysical Year (IGY)
The first big step toward a long-range scientific effort was taken in 1956-57. To continue the international scientific co-operation that was so important a feature of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) established a Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). The Committee develops broad programmes in which it identifies subjects for investigation, and the ICSU establishes goals to be achieved and describes uniform methods for collecting and presenting information.
2.7 Antarctic Treaty
Permanent occupation also made it desirable to regulate political relationships in the Antarctic because prior to the IGY, seven Governments had laid claim to portions of Antarctica while three of the claims overlapped one another. In 1959, an Antarctic Treaty extending for 30 years was signed by 12 nations then actively exploring Antarctica. They were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The Antarctic Treaty was signed on December 1, 1959 and became effective on June 23, 1961 when the last ratification was received. Since 1959, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, and the Netherlands have also joined. Signing of the Treaty opened Antarctica to unrestricted scientific exploration in a true spirit of international co-operation. With the advent of the Treaty, the Antarctic continent developed into a scientific laboratory of the first order where extensive research is being continued since the IGY.
2.8 Involvement of India in Scientific Exploration of Antarctica
India became involved in scientific research in Antarctica as a result of an agreement between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Hydrometerorological Service (HMS) of the earstwhile USSR for joint meteorological exploration of the upper atmosphere. Under this agreement, the author Dr. Parmjit Singh Sehra was the Project Scientist with the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition and became the first Indian ever to winter over the South Pole and circumnavigate and explore the Antarctic continent. A brief account of the author’s participation in the Expedition is given separately in this book.
The great bulk of knowledge about Antarctica has been accumulated since the mid 1950s. Before that, information was acquired slowly because Antarctica is not only remote but its access is too limited and difficult. In only a few places does this continent extend north of the Antarctic Circle, an imaginary line around the Earth at about 66* 33' South latitude. Including its permanently attached ice shelves, Antarctica covers about 14 million square km, an area about the size of the United States and Mexico combined.
Over countless years, snow and ice have built up on the land burying all but 4.5 percent of it. It is the fifth largest continent and has the highest average elevation of about 2.5 km and is overlain by a continental ice sheet containing more than 90% of the world’s ice. If this ice were to melt, sea level would rise at least 75 metres. Antarctica has about 29600 km of coastline and off the shore there are many islands which are also ice-covered. They too are considered to be part of the South Polar region usually called the Antarctic.
2.9 Antarctic Convergence
Surrounding the Antarctic are the confluent portions of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. These waters are notoriously the stormiest in the world because there is nothing to break the force of the persistent winds. Warmer tropical waters meet with cold Antarctic waters in a remarkable discernible climatic and oceanic boundary ranging to the 50th parallel known as the Antarctic Convergence.
This circumpolar line which varies considerably with longitude but generally within and not more than a degree or two of latitude per year establishes a boundary between sub-temperate and sub-Antarctic zones. South of the Antarctic Convergence the waters are characteristically ice-laden and abound with sub-polar aquatic life. It is a feeding region for myriad’s of pelagic sea birds, the world's largest population of seals and of whales. Sealing and whaling have provided Antarctica with its only economic activity, the former was conducted principally in the sub-Antarctic islands and the latter on the high seas.
2.10 Antarctic Landscape
Along the coast piedmont glaciers, ice tongues and ice shelves discharge flat-topped icebergs into the sea. Tabular icebergs are unique to Antarctica and in some cases may be hundreds of square km in area. Where glaciers have receded along the periphery of the continent, there occasionally occur cold, arid deserts described as ‘dry valleys’ or ‘Oases’, their total area constitutes 5600 square km. Farther inland, the gentle rolling surfaces of the ice-cover and creased regions in places reflect the hidden topography, and the nature of the sub-ice relief is also plainly apparent from the rugged mountains and nunataks which dominate the interior landscape.
Seismic and gravity exploration also indicates vast low lands, some depressed below sea level beneath the existing ice sheet. The Antarctic continent has a diameter of about 4500 km and is asymmetrically divided by the Trans-Antarctic Mountains into two sub-continents, East and West Antarctica. Extensive low-quality bituminous coal outcrops to within 320-480 km of the South Pole yield plant fossils which portray an earlier age when the land was forested. About 640 km from the South Pole were found some fossil remains of primitive fresh water amphibia and reptiles known as labyrinthodonts and the codonts. A reptilian skull identified as Lystrosaurus establishes the former existence of the great southern continent Gondwanaland.
2.11 East and West Antarctica
About three-quarters of Antarctica lies in East Antarctica which appears to be more contiguously a continental mass. The sub-surface beneath the ice is extremely rugged except west of Victoria land where it appears to be an extensive plain close to sea level; the maximum elevation (more than 4000 metres) occurs slightly east of the pole of inaccessibility. Almost all and certainly the most extensive ‘oases’ occur in East Antarctica. Mount Melbourne and Mount Erebus, both active volcanoes in the McMurdo Sound region are in the East and West Antarctica, respectively.
West Antarctica which includes Marie Byrod Land, Ellsworth Land and the Antarctic Peninsula is the smaller sub-division and generally lower in elevation. Ice soundings have shown this region to be largely in ice-covered archipelago; much of the central area is occupied by the Byrd sub-glacial basin with a depth as much as 2500 metres below sea level. Ice thickness between the islands ranges to 4270 metres with elevations 1200-1800 metres above sea level. Volcanic activity in historic times is identified with Deception Island.
2.12 Antarctic Life
In sharp contrast to the lushness of sea life, the continent is virtually lifeless and devoid of the familiar vegetation features seen on other land masses. It is without forests, brush or grass lands and lacks river, estuaries and marshes. Antarctica has no native land vertebrates and its fresh water fauna consists of microscopic forms. The major vegetation of lichens, bryophytes and algae rarely rises over 5 cm above the ground. The dominant land organisms are arthropods, mites, springtails and a wingless midge. However, during the short austral summer millions of sea birds, penguins and seals migrate to Antarctica, competing for space on ancestral breeding grounds and bringing to the silent continent the noise and activity of life.
2.13 Antarctica - Least known continent
Even with the tremendous effort since 1955 to unlock its secrets, Antarctica remains the least known of continents. This fact alone should ensure that explorer-scientists will be going south for a long time. Even now, scientists are developing techniques which will broaden their horizons and suggest to their imaginations new subjects for Antarctic research.

There are, for example, data recording machines powered by radioactive isotopes. Thus far they have been used primarily as automatic weather stations and some difficulties have been encountered in getting them to operate properly in the Antarctic environment. These problems, however, can be solved allowing expanded use of such devices. A network of automatic stations would offer the meteorologist a many fold increase in the number of observations available for both forecasting and the study of climate. Similar data-recording machines can be used in other studies.
2.14 Use of Satellites in Antarctic Research
Satellites in polar orbit offer other possibilities. By radios, satellites could receive information from automatic observatories in Antarctica and retransmit it to laboratories and weather centres around the world. Satellites may also help to solve one of the great problems in Antarctic operations which is the loss of communications. Satellites already have their place in Antarctic meteorology, and geophysical satellites passing over the area have obtained information unavailable to observers on the ground.
Satellites carrying different sensing equipment appear to have numberless uses in the Antarctic. Very little is known about the ice-pack, the floating belt of sea ice that surrounds the continent. Although satellites orbiting a hundred or more miles up can play a part here, a closer look will also be necessary. Small submersibles carried by an icebreaker will be undoubtedly useful in the Antarctic waters.
2.15 Economic Prospects of Antarctica
The future of the Antarctic as a scientific laboratory seems assured but its natural resources are not much. The most easily reached are those of the sea. Since the 1890s, the whales of the southern oceans have been hunted for their oil and meat. International agreement, however, has failed to adequately protect the stocks, and whaling is a declining industry - perhaps a dying one. There are, though, the vast quantities of plankton on which most Antarctic life is based, and the Japanese and the Soviets have been investigating whether plankton can be used for human nourishment. The abundant life of the southern seas may contribute notably to the future of mankind.
Development of Antarctica's mineral resources is a remote event. At present both the nature of these resources and their extent are imperfectly known. Even if the mineral resources prove to be valuable, the techniques for exploitation do not now exist. It would be, however, unwise to say that the necessary techniques cannot be developed. The Antarctic has modest prospects for tourism and its seas have real possibilities as source of food.
2.16 Antarctica as a Scientific Laboratory
The pursuit of scientific knowledge will long be the main attraction of Antarctica. Scientific data will remain the chief export and the men who obtain it will continue to be the principal inhabitants. No monetary values can be placed on scientific discoveries but anything which expands man's understanding of his environment will help him improve his condition. In 1966, Peter Scott, son of the famous Captain Scott visited the Antarctic and he pointed out that half the scientific research now drawing the explorer-scientists to the area is on topics not even guessed at in his father’s days. It is predicted that new fields requiring polar research will continue to appear because the future of Antarctica is strongly linked to the future of science itself.
2.17 Streching of the Antarctic Ozone Hole
The hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica has stretched over a populated city of Punta Areuas in Chile for the first time in the year 2000, after ballooning to a new record size. Previously, the hole had only opened over Antarctica and the surrounding ocean. Citing data from the US Space Agency NASA, atomospheric scientists have found that the hole covered 29.3 million sq km which is an area more than three times the size of the United States.
For two days between September 9 and 10 in the year 2000, the hole extended over the world’s southernmost city of Punta Areans in Chile, exposing its residents to very high levels of ultra violet (UV) radiation. Too much UV radiation can cause skin cancer and destroy small plants. The above findings have shown for the first time a city being exposed by the Ozone hole. The longer it gets, the greater the chances of populated areas being hit by low ozone levels according to the latest scientific research in this field.

CHAPTER 3: Odyssey Circumnavigation of Antarctica.

Odyssey Circumnavigation
of Antarctica.
3.1 Introduction
An agreement between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Hydrometerorological Services (HMS) of the earstwhile USSR, for conducting a series of Meteorological Rocket Soundings of the Upper Atmosphere at Thumb Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) in India, was signed in the year 1970. Professor P.R. Pisharoty, my Research Adviser, became the Project Scientist of this programme. Under this joint Indo-Soviet Meteorological Rocket Sounding Programme, a team of 10 Russian specialists headed by Dr. A.V. Fedynski arrived Thumba in South India in the second half of 1970 and set up all the essential equipment by the end of November 1970.
Regular flights of the standard M-100 Meteorological rockets from Thumba, consequently, commenced on 9th December 1970. Professor P.R. Pisharoty sent me to Thumba to learn a general know-how of the M-100 Meteorological Rocket Soundings independently. In its second phase, the Indian specialists took over this charge from the Soviet team and started accomplishing the task of weekly firings of the meteorological M-100 Rockets independently. After getting essential training in the M-100 rocket system, I returned to Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India as the first stock of the M-100 Rockets got exhausted.
Under this joint Indo-Soviet Meteorological Rocket Sounding Programme, there was commitment that the Hydrometerorological Services (HMS) of the USSR would provide an opportunity to one or two Indians to work at the Soviet Rocket Launching Stations, and to participate in the Indian Ocean Expedition of the Soviet Scientific Research Vessels, and also to carry out a long-term work at the Soviet Antarctic station ‘Molodezhnaya’ in Antarctica. In the beginning, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) committed itself to send its personnel to work at the Russian Bases in Antarctica and participate in the Scientific Expeditions, but at the nick of time the IMD withdrew from its former commitment mainly due to the harsh difficulties involved in this challenging task.
3.2 Solitary Volunteer
Dr. Vikram A. Sarabhai, the then Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Director of the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), had a keen desire of sending someone from India to the Soviet Rocket Launching Stations, especially the one in Antarctica, so as to avail of the rare opportunity provided by the Hydrometerorological Services (HMS) of the USSR. But none was ready for this venture because it involved great dangers and risk of life. The IMD had already withdrawn itself from their earlier commitment. Prof. P.D. Bhavsar, Scientific Co-ordinator of the ISRO, sent a telegram from Moscow to Professor P.R. Pisharoty suggesting him my name for participation in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition. On the suggestion of Professor P.R. Pisharoty, Professor K.R. Ramanathan and Prof. P.D. Bhavsar, I immediately volunteered for this venturesome assignment in order to respect the wish of Prof. Vikram A. Sarabhai and to bring credit to the PRL and ISRO and to our country ‘India’ as a whole.
3.3 An Extract from an Indian newspaper ‘The Tribune’
It may be befitting to insert herein an extract from the column news of a standard Indian newspaper, viz., ‘The Tribune’ whose Head Office is in Chandigarh. This extract is as below:
USSR attempt to get scientific data about the
South Polar Ice-Cap
Moscow, November 7,1971 (AP)
"The Soviet Union yesterday launched its most ambitious attempt to gather scientific data about the South Polar Ice-Cap. The Soviet news agency Tass reported from Leningrad that the diesel-electric ship Navarin set out from the Finnish Gulf port yesterday carrying equipment and foodstuffs to be used by members of the expedition. Some team members, Tass said, would set out, leaving Leningrad aboard several ships.”
“Another part of the research team will fly from Moscow to the port of Fremantle in South-western Australia and then will sail to Antarctica. The programme of the expedition, the biggest ever in the history of Soviet research in the Antarctic, envisages a large volume of observations started in previous years”, Tass said.
“Personnel of the Meteorological centre ‘Molodezhnaya’, the observatory ‘Mirny’ and the ‘Vostok’ station in the Pole of Cold will implement a broad range of scientific research”, Tass said.
The agency said, “the expedition would choose the site of a new Soviet station on the shore of the Amundsen sea. The station would then dispatch tractor-driven sledge trains deep into the icy continent”.
3.4 Preparing for the Antarctic Expedition
The aforesaid newspaper extract provided us with some relevant information about the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition in which I was going to participate. I was supposed to work at the Soviet Antarctic Meteorological Centre ‘Molodezhnaya’. Accordingly, I was to join that part of the research team which would fly from Moscow to the port of Fremantle in South-western Australia and then would sail to Antarctica.
I had to get prepared, for participation in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition, at a very short notice. Moreover, there was panic, due to the Indo-Pak conflict for the liberation of Bangladesh. For those reasons, I could not buy many of the essential things needed for our Antarctic Expedition. Under great difficulties, when I went home (Village & P.O. Bhana, District Hoshiapur, via Dasuya-144205, Punjab, India) to take the consent and the blessings of my parents, I was welcomed by a perfect black-out and the danger signals of the sirens.
My condition may be described like the one who had to fight not at the Indo-Pak border but at the South Polar Ice-Cap against the awful blizzards and the cryogenic environs of Antarctica where no Indian had ever wintered over earlier. Inspite of the fact that the Indo-Pak war of 1971 was going on and my mother was in the bed being extremely sick, my parents Sardar Mohinder Singh Sehra and Shrimati Satwinder Kaur did not stop me from going to Antarctica. They rather encouraged me to go ahead with the Antarctic Expedition and explore the South Pole.
3.5 Aboard the ship ‘Professor Viese’
With the blessings of my respected parents, Sardar Mohinder Singh Sehra and Shrimati Satwinder Kaur and my Research Advisers Professor Vikram A. Sarabhai and Professor P.R. Pisharoty, I left for Antarctica and boarded the Russian ship ‘Professor Viese’ from the port of Fremantle, Perth, Australia. The Scientific Research vessel ‘Professor Viese’ belongs to the Arctic and Antarctic Scientific Research Institute, Leningrad, earstwhile USSR, decorated with the honour of Order of Lenin. The Vessel constructed in 1967, has been specially designed for polar operations.
The vessel ‘Professor Viese’ is a floating Institute, carrying on the investigations of seas and oceans. The vessel has 29 well-equipped scientific research laboratories, a photo-laboratory, and an experimental workshop. The up-to-date instrumentation of the laboratories enables a wide range of investigations in air and water spaces to be carried out by the expedition members to and from Antarctica. Oceanographic projects are carried out primarily while in the Antarctic and near the Antarctic waters. Meteorological work is carried out throughout the voyage. During my stay aboard this vessel, I spent most of my time in visiting its various scientific laboratories and collecting useful scientific data.
Although it was my very first sea voyage, yet I never felt any sort of sea sickness. I really enjoyed my Journey to Antarctica to my fill and also collected a lot of useful scientific data. The ship ‘Professor Viese’ had a displacement of 6934 tons, overall length 124 metres, maximum width 17.5 metres, depth of beam 11 metres, maximum speed 18.6 knots, service speed 16.5 knots and a range of 15,000 miles. There were 29 scientific laboratories with an area of 620 square metres and scientific staff of 80 persons. The ships crew had a strength of 86 persons. The up-to-date instrumentation of the vessel ‘Professor Viese’ permits the navigation in different conditions. The rolling dampers reduce rolling during the storm to the minimum. The strengthened hull of the vessel permits it to move in hard ice conditions. The air conditioners provide a good micro-climate in every part of the vessel.
The Deputy High Commissioner of Australia in Bombay, Mr. T.V. Holland, had granted me Australian visa subject to my personal meeting with him. As prescheduled, I called at his residence. He told me a lot about the horrors of working in Antarctica and said that before a man is finally selected for participation in an Antarctic Expedition, he is thoroughly medically and psychologically screened in order to determine his adaptability to the extreme climate of Antarctica and after having passed all such tests, he is imparted a special training on how to survive in Antarctica in difficult times. He advised me that I should have also undergone all such tests and training in my own interest lest an adventure should become a misadventure. I did not realize the depth of his advice till I boarded the scientific research vessel ‘Professor Viese’.
On board the ship ‘Professor Viese’, I suffered from mild giddiness for a day or so. On this, the expedition group leader Dr. Ananjev called in the Doctor who asked me to name and count all the diseases I had suffered from since my birth. I told the Doctor, I never had any disease, whatsoever, till the ship started rolling due to stormy weather. He gave me some tablets and I thought that the Doctor would go after that. To my great surprise, he insisted me to produce my ‘Adaptability Certificate’, the very name of which I had heard for the first time. He explained me all that whatever the Australian High Commissioner had told me in Bombay regarding thorough medical screening and special training.
When I showed the Russian Doctor my International Health Certificate, he smiled and remarked, “Wintering in Antarctica is not a joke, my friend. This certificate is meant for posh cities of the world and not for Antarctica which demands from an individual utmost in physical and mental stamina with mature judgment so that the man may act quickly in order to survive there. You are, therefore, advised in your own interest not to participate in this Expedition because you run a great risk of life without having undergone the compulsory medical tests and special training”. I, then, requested the Doctor to let me go ahead with the Expedition at my own risk, may be at the cost of my life. I was then asked to sign a document that in case of some mis-happening in the Antarctic, I and only I will be fully responsible and none from the Soviet side. This is how I was permitted to take part in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition.
3.6 The Antarctic Arrives
It was summer time when we reached Antarctica but the air temperature was always below the freezing point. Also, it was that period when one could not make out whether it was morning, noon, afternoon, evening or the night unless one consulted one's wrist watch. "It is really that fairyland where even the fairies do not dare dwelling" were my remarks at the first sight of that place. In fact, in Antacrtica, the mother nature presents itself in the most beautiful form and it looks like a fairyland, indeed. The first thing which I saw on reaching Antarctica was a series of huge ice masses standing in the frozen ocean commonly known as ‘Icebergs’.
3.7 At the Antarctic Observatory ‘Mirny’
We stayed for quite some time at the Soviet Antarctic observatory ‘Mirny’. Here, I learnt a great deal about the Soviet Antarctic exploration and research. During the second International Polar Year, 1932-33, a modest Soviet Antarctic Expedition was planned, but it never materialised. It was as late as February 13, 1956 that the Soviet flag was first hoisted over Mirny station located at 66* 33' 05'' South latitude and 93* 00' 58'' East longitude, its height above the sea level being 35 metres. The scientific work being done at the observatory ‘Mirny’ included meteorological, aerological, actinometrical, ozonometrical, synoptic weather service, geomagnetic, seismic, ionospheric, cosmic rays, aurora, earth currents, glaciological testing of a thermobore, submarine biological, and medicine observations, etc.
It was in January 1956 that the first Soviet Antarctic Expedition led by Mikhail Somovoi approached the Antarctic coast near Haswell Island to establish a base for scientific investigation and build an observatory. This observatory was named ‘Mirny’ after one of the ships of von Bellingshausen and Lazarev, the early explorers of the Antarctic (1820-21). In 1956-57, this settlement consisted of some 20, well-appointed huts, supplied with light and heat by a central power plant. A powerful radio station guaranteed communications with other stations in the Antarctic and with Moscow.
Strong and continuous winds together with the character of the terrain on the minute section of rocky shore jutting out from the glacier caused all the huts to be covered by a thick layer of snow after several years. Now, one has to descend two or three flights of steep stairs before entering a hut. Not a sound reaches down there from the surface, when it thaws, streams flow from the ceilings of the rooms. They are diverted by various, clever devices under the floor, where a lake forms beneath each hut.
3.8 At ‘Vostok’, the Pole of Cold
The annual resupply tractor train from Mirny to Vostok, a distance of about 1500 km, starts around 10th January and arrives Vostok around 20th February every year. This tractor train is the primary means of resupply for the inland station ‘Vostok’. However, there are small sledge-fitted aircrafts which carry all expedition members who have to work at Vostok. On 12th January, I accompanied Dr. Ananjev, the station Director, aboard an 11-14 small aircraft to Vostok. It took us about 14 hours flight time from Mirny to Vostok with some trekking on the way. Flying in an 11-14 small aircraft on the route of the annual resupply tractor train, easily visible on the ground, was followed as a road from Mirny. I stayed at Vostok for quite some time and then returned to Mirny by the 11-14 small aircraft fitted with sledges instead of the wheels, for going to the station ‘Molodezhnaya’ in Antarctica where I was to work for the whole year.
Vostok Station located at the Geomagnetic South Pole in Antarctica is the coldest place on earth inhabited by man, at one time having recorded a temperature of about - 90°C. The smallest and the most remote station in Antarctica, ‘Vostok’ is located on the earth’s Geomagnetic South Pole at 78 0 27' S, 1060 48' E at an altitude of 3488 metres on approximately 3700 metres of ice. The air is perpetually drier than in the world's worst deserts. During the polar night, the temperatures drop so low that they would normally freeze carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere which condenses at -78.5°C. The altitude starves lungs of oxygen and the normal rate of heartbeats nearly doubles. Here, about 15 men winter over each year, isolated from contact with the outside world for more than nine months, half of this time in utter darkness.
The Soviets maintain here active meteorological, ionospheric and geomagnetism measurements and also conduct cosmic ray studies with neutron monitor and auroral observations during the polar night which runs from April 23 to August 18. Glaciological work is also carried out. The medical research programme at ‘Vostok’ is extensive with studies of the physiological adaptation to isolation and climate. While at ‘Vostok’, I felt that man kindles his warmest international relations in the coldest regions of the earth.
3.9 At the Antarctic Station Leningradskaya and the New Station Site ‘Ruskaya’
From the observatory Mirny, some of the expedition members, especially those who had to go to the other Antarctic stations such as Leningradskaya, Bellingshausen, Molodezhnaya, Novolazarevskaya, etc., including myself, changed over from the scientific research vessel ‘Professor Viese’ to the freighter ‘Navarin’ which sailed to ‘Punta Arenas, Chile’ in order to take some fresh food provisions, etc., and to refill fuel and fresh water. The icebreaker ‘Navarin’ sailed along the Antarctic circle through Ross sea and Amundsen sea, in order to resupply the station Leningradskaya (69* 30'S, 154* 23'E), and also chose the site of a new Soviet station ‘Ruskaya’ on the shore of the Amundsen sea. From the new site, tractor-driven sledge trains were dispatched deep into the icy continent for research and investigation of the surrounding area.
As the very name of an expedition, especially that of an Antarctic expedition implies, every member is always very active and is kept too busy even when one is aboard a supply ship. To keep me busy aboard the ship ‘Navarin’, I was taught helmsmanship and, therefore, steering the course of the ship for about 4-6 hours daily became one of my jobs. In the rest of the time, I would study the Russian language and assist the staff members in other miscellaneous jobs. The ship ‘Navarin’ called at the station Leningradskaya and also at the site of the new station Ruskaya where we stayed for quite some time.
3.10 At Puerto Percy and Punta Arenas, Chile
The supply ship ‘Navarin’ first reached Puerto Percy, Chile which is a small island with a small number of government quarters and provisions for the ships to refill fuel. Here the empty tanks of ‘Navarin’ were refilled with the requisite fuel and then the ship called at the free port of Punta Arenas, Chile which is said to be the southernmost city of the world.
Punta Arenas, Chile, being a free port nearest to the Antarctic, is in fact, the centre of operation of the Antarctic expeditions of many nations. Expedition vessels under various national flags, often, call at this port. When I visited the city in order to post some letters and reports, to my great surprise, I met some Indian businessmen there. I was told that there was a Sindhi colony in the city where more than 20 Indians were dwelling. After refilling fresh water and loading fresh food supply, etc., ‘Navarin’ sailed back to Antarctica.
I still remember a very interesting anecdote which happened with me while I was walking in the world’s southernmost city in Punta Arenas, Chile, where our ship Navarin had gone to take a stock of fresh food provisions, water and fuel, etc. On seeing Sri Guru Nanak Devji’s picture in a shop, I just suddenly stopped outside there guessing that this shop must be belonging to some Indian businessman. My guess was right because promptly came a voice from inside the shop saying, “Sardarji, Andar Aa Jao! (Please, come inside)”.
I entered the shop and was given a very warm welcome by the Sindhi busnessman who was owning that shop. He gave me a high tea party inside his shop and talked to me a lot in our mother tongue ‘Punjabi’. On a question asked by him as to how I was there and where I was going, I told him that I was a lone Indian participant in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition which was, in fact, a scientific Expedition to the South Pole, and that the Russians have told me that I would be the first Indian ever to winter over the South Pole and circumnavigate and explore the Antarctic continent with my participation in this Expedition. I also told him that our ship “Navarin” had called at the free port of Punta Arenas in Chile there to take fresh water, all the food provisions, and fuel, etc., for its expedition members.
He could not understand about this scientific Expedition very much and he remarked, “Isda matlav aih hoya ke hun Punjabi lok South Pole ate Antarctica vich bhi ja ke rahen lag pai han. Ih daso ke othe ja ke tusin kadha business karoge, ate isda kee faida hovega! (Does it mean that now the Punjabis have started settling at the South Pole in Antarctica also. Please tell me as to what business you will be doing there and what would be the anticipated profit from that business).” I just could not help laughing, Ah-h-h-h…..!
I then again explained to him that it was only a scientific mission and that there was no monetary benefit involved in this scientific Expedition except that I will be able to use the scientific data collected from the South Pole and the Antarctic continent for my Ph.D. work and that our country ‘India’ will be benefited from my Antarctic explorations by sending some regular Indian scientific Expeditions to Antarctica in furture for which my work would provide the necessary inputs and inspiration. He was happy to learn it and remarked, “Iston pahlan tan asin koi bhi Bharti othe janda nahin dekhiya. Ate tuhanu hi pahli var South Pole te jande dekh rahe han! (We have not seen any other Indian going there before this, and obviously you are now the first Indian going to the South Pole to winter over there)”.
3.11 At the Soviet Antarctic Station ‘Bellingshausen’
Russian Antarctic exploration dates back to the expedition of Admirals Bellingshausen and Lazarev in their notable circumnavigation of the continent in 1820-21, which greatly supplemented the delineation of the probable coast drawn by Captain Cook on the basis of his voyages of 1772-1785. Fabian von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev sighted the continent of Antarctica while sailing around the world on a research mission in their small ships, ‘Vostok’ and ‘Mirny’ in January 1820.
The Soviets have now honoured their pioneer Antarctic explorers by establishing four Antarctic stations after their names and those of their ships, viz., ‘Bellingshausen’ at 62* 12'S, 58* 56' W, opened on February 22, 1968; ‘Novolazarevskaya’ at 70* 46' S, 11* 50' E, opened on February 18, 1961; ‘Vostok’ located on the earth's Geomagnetic South Pole at 78* 27' 48" S, 106o 48' 24" E, at an altitude of 3488 metres on approximately 3700 metres of ice, opened on December 16, 1957 and closed temporarily from January 21, 1962 to January 23, 1963; and ‘Mirny’ at 66* 33' 05" S, 93* 00' 58" E, opened on February 13, 1956. Each of these stations is a wintering station.
At the beginning of 1968, Soviet polar explorers built their Antarctic station called ‘Bellingshausen’ on Waterloo, a small island near the Drake strait which separates Antarctica from South America. It is just next door, about 100 metres from the Chilean station ‘President Frie’ built later.
The freighter ‘Navarin’ called at the station ‘Bellingshausen’ which was resupplied with the fresh food stuffs, fuel and all other requisites, and the wintered-over staff was replaced by the new staff members. The old staff members saw some new faces after a lapse of about a year. By way of welcome, a sort of Diwali was celebrated there. All that was observed is difficult to be expressed in mere words here.
Besides meteorology, geophysics, geology, and medicine, oceanography is also a subject of scientific research at the Soviet Antarctic station ‘Bellingshausen’. Some biological work is also going on. It is a wintering station for about 20 persons. There are about 6-8 well appointed huts and a diesel-electric generator for producing electricity. The station stands on a bed of bare rocks ending in monotonous ridges. I collected some rock samples from the station campus and also saw some fur-seals, weddel seals, penguins, polar skuas and petrels at the nearby open sea coast.
3.12 At the Chilean Antarctic Station ‘Presidente Frei’
Afterwards, I visited the Chilean Antarctic station ‘Presidente Frie’ situated in the immediate vicinity of Soviet Antarctic station ‘Bellingshausen’ and I was told that at ‘Presidente Frei’ also, about 20-25 persons winter over every year. Most of the scientific work being done at the station ‘Presidente Frei’ comprised meteorological investigations. This Chilean station consists of quite a few huts interconnected to one another which gives a general view of a single well appointed house incorporating a diesel-electric power plant as well. The ship then called at the station Novolazarevskaya located at 70o 46' S, 11o 50' E in order to relieve the previous wintering team and also give fresh food provisions to the station. The ice-breaker ‘Navarin’ was also assisted by her sister ship ‘Ob’ in various relief operations.
After completely circumnavigating the Antarctic continent, the diesel-electric freighter ‘Navarin’ reached the main Soviet Antarctic station Molodezhnaya which being the headquarters is known as the Soviet Antarctic Meteorological Centre. This was the station where I was the Project Scientist during my participation in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition, and where I carried out meteorological rocket soundings of the upper atmosphere during all the period I worked there.

CHAPTER 4: My Antarctic Interviews

My Antarctic Interviews
4.1 Introduction
While aboard the vessel ‘Navarin’, I was twice officially interviewed, one was my Radio Interview conducted by the Captain of the ship, Comerade U.K. Karlov and the other one was my TV Interview conducted by the Special Correspondent of the ship, Comerade M.I. Delshdov. Both the interviews were broadcast and telecast from the Radio and TV Stations in Moscow and the texts of the Interviews also appeared in all the leading Soviet newspapers. The English version of the texts is given below.
4.2 The Radio Interview Text
"I, Captain U.K. Karlov of the diesel-electric ship Navarin, interviewed Mr. Parmjit Singh Sehra, Indian participant in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition, as desired by the Radio Moscow. The text of this interview is as given below:
Mr. Parmjit Singh Sehra did his Master of Science (M.Sc.) degree in Physics from the University of Allahabad in 1969. Now, he is specialising in Upper Atmosphere Physics at the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India under the guidance of Professor P.R. Pisharoty.
He has come to Antarctica principally to study the Upper Atmosphere Physics by sounding Meteorological rockets. He would be working in collaboration with the Soviet team at the Soviet Antarctic station Molodezhnaya all the year round. Calibration of M-100 Meteorological rocket payload sensors, data processing, data reduction, and data analysis would be his main jobs at the station Molodezhnaya, Antarctica. After collecting the meteorological data such as atmospheric temperature, pressure, density and the winds up to about 100 km altitude, he would compare these data with those of the other stations such as Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) in India and other meteorological rocket network stations in the northern and the sothern hemispheres .
He will be the first Indian explorer-scientist ever to participate in any Soviet Antarctic Expedition, and also the first Indian ever to winter over the South Pole and circumnavigate and explore the Antarctic continent with his participation in our Expidition.
He will be working throughout the year at the Soviet Antarctic Meteorological Centre ‘Molodezhnaya’ and has a desire of working at the inland Antarctic station ‘Vostok’ situated at the Pole of Cold and also at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station located at the Geographic South Pole which is operated by the USA.. He also plans to visit all the Soviet Antarctic stations before returning home. Now he has correspondence with Dr. Alexandrov, Chief of the Hydrometeorological Services (HMS) of the USSR, Moscow. He hopes to have more contacts with the Russian scientists in the near future.
On board our ship ‘Navarin’, he cannot work on his scheduled programme because there are no such facilities here. However, we keep him quite busy, e.g., he gladly works as a helmsman and thus helps us in steering the course of our ship. He is also learning the Russian language in which he has made quite a good progress, especially in reading it. However, he faces some difficulties while conversing in Russian. All our crew and staff members address him by the nickname ‘Pasha’ which he also likes.
He feels himself excellent in Antarctica, although some Soviet people frightened him about the hardships of living in Antarctica and also doubted his adaptability to the extreme hard climatic conditions of this icy continent on simple reasons that he comes from a hot and sunny country, India, and that he did not undergo any special physiological and psychological tests before coming here. He is very confident of wintering in the Antarctic quite trouble-free because he is already used to live in the extreme climate of his native place ‘Punjab’, where the temperature varies from below the freezing point to above 45°C.
Moreover, leading a life full of ventures and adventures is his personal hobby, and he has already undertaken adventurous trips to far off places under various missions such as moon-lit-night cycling and skating etc. He thinks that not only he but also every individual of his country could very easily live and work in Antarctica.
On board our ship ‘Navarin’, he feels quite well and never feels lonely. He is friendly with all our crew and staff members and, especially, very friendly with the Chief-mate, Vitaly Evanovich Pashenichney who helps him in learning the Russian language. He finds very many things common in his native food and our Russian food, especially in the vegetables. Specifically, he likes our stewed-fruit ‘Compote’ very much. He hopes that his work in Antarctica would be quite useful to him for his Ph.D. Degree for which he is already working at the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India under the guidance of Professor P.R. Pisharoty, a world renowned scientist of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
From my own behalf, I will add that he is really very well prepared for wintering in the deep freeze of Antarctica. He will be the first Indian ever to do so. Now he is dressing very lightly and while walking on the deck and the bridge of our ship, he wears only the open shoes (chappals) and also does not wear the special warm clothing, the Antarctic suit. He has a good personality and makes a very good impression. Above all, he is very sociable, honest and sincere and is liked by all of us.
Captain U.K. Karlov, diesel-electric ship Navarin.”
4.3 The Television Interview Text
Mr. Parmjit Singh Sehra is a lone Indian participant in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition. He will be the first Indian ever to winter over the South Pole and circumnavigate and explore the Antarctic continent and also the first scientist from India ever to work at the South Polar Ice Cap with the Soviets. He is a resident of village ‘Bhana’ situated in the Hoshiapur District of Punjab, India. He graduated himself from the Panjab University in 1967 and later had his M.Sc. (Master of Science) degree in Physics from the University of Allahabad in 1969. Now he is a Research Scientist at the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad and is specialising in the ‘Upper Atmospheric Physics’ for his Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) degree under the guidance of Professor P.R. Pisharoty. He will be working at the Soviet Antarctic Station ‘Molodezhnaya’ all the year round and also at our other Antarctic Stations including some more Antarctic stations belonging to some other countries such as the McMurdo Sound and the Ammdsen-Scott South Pole stations of the USA, etc., during his participation in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition.
Meet Mr. Singh :
I am very happy that I could get an opportunity to meet all of you. On my own behalf and on behalf of all our countrymen, I send our heartiest best wishes and compliments to all of you (Spoken in Hindi).
Question : Being a member of the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition, you had a voyage of more than two months on board our diesel-electric ship ‘Navarin’. Naturally, during this period we could come closer and know one another in a better way. The seamen say that the sea brings the people closer. Do you agree with this opinion ?
Answer : Yes, I do agree. Because in the sea the home of the people is the ship itself due to which they are tied together by a sort of family love and affection.
Question : Could you now answer some of our questions ?
Answer : Yes, certainly.
Question : Have you ever met any Russian People, especially the seamen beforehand ?
Answer : Yes, I have met and worked with the Russian people when a team of ten Soviet specialists led by Dr. A.V. Fedinsky visited our Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) situated in southern India in late 1970. However, it is only due to this Expedition that I could meet the Russian seamen for the first time when I had my very first sea voyage by the ship ‘Professor Viese’ and sailed from the port of Fremantle, Australia to Antarctica.
Answer : No, not at all. I never felt lonely but always felt at home because all the people were very friendly to me. They never treated me as a stranger. In fact, they always regarded me as one of them and addressed me as ‘Pasha’. The Chief Mate Vitaly Evanovich Pashenichney who always gave me a deep friendly love and brotherly affection taught me the fundamentals of the Russian language and also introduced me to the helmsmanship. Although, I was far away from my parents, Sardar Mohinder Singh Sehra (father) and Shrimati Satwinder Kaur (mother) to whom I owe my whole life and whom I regard as next to God only, I never felt myself devoid of their parental love because of the very nice and very kind nature of all the Soviet people on board the Soviet ships and, especially, that of Alexandra Mikhailovna who always gave me motherly love and affection and cared too much for me and for my food. I am deeply indebted and extremely thankful to Captain Ury Konstantinovich Karlov and all the staff members who created all this friendly and home-like environment in which I never felt lonely.
Question : Not knowing the Russian language, did you feel yourself lonely?
Question : Being an inhabitant of hot and sunny India, you have spent all this time amongst our Arctic and Antarctic seamen and the icebergs of Antarctica. Did you not feel too cold in such icy surroundings?
Answer : Well, I think that calling India as only hot and sunny would not be very true because it is a country of boundless skies and endless diversity, lofty mountains and peaceful valleys, big rivers and tilled fields stretching far beyond the horizon. India is very colourful and has a highly diversified climate where a season changes over almost every three months. For example, the hot and sunny summer with monsoon rains is followed by a beautiful autumn, a chilly winter and a lovely spring.
Well, I doubt very much if your Arctic and Antarctic seamen are really cold. In fact, they should be warm because they are very warm-hearted due to which I never felt any cold while living among them. I knew it beforehand that the icebergs of Antarctica would be very cold but the thanks are due to my parents, Sardar Mohinder Singh Sehra (father) and Shrimati Satwinder Kaur (mother), who induced into me a deep love for adventures and made me fearless owing to which I will always enjoy taking part in adventurous expeditions, howsoever difficult they may be. The cold of the Antarctic icebergs did not bother me at all because I was already used to living in cold weather at my native place ‘Punjab’ in India . I remember that in my childhood, by seeing the frost and ice-cold freezing water of my village-ponds, I often used to dream of running and playing on the frozen seas among the icebergs of Antarctica. I am now very happy since my age-old dream is being fulfilled here.
Question: What, especially, distinctive can you remember about the days you have spent on board the ship ‘Navarin’?

Answer: I would always remember myself as ‘Pasha’ - a name which the ship's staff gave me out of the deep friendly love and home-like affection. I would always remember the Chief Mate Vitaly Evanovich Pashenichney as my friendly teacher. I would always remember that the Russian ladies are very kind hearted and are extremely polite, and that the Soviets are very sociable people.
Question: Do you wish to visit the Soviet Union in future?
Answer: Yes, I do hope that at the end of the Expedition, I would be sailing from Antarctica to Leningrad where I may stay for some time. Also I have a plan to work at the Central Aerological Observatory (CAO), Moscow for some time before my return to India.
Question: Our Radio listeners and Television viewers are mostly seamen, what would you like to wish them before saying ‘goodbye’.
Answer: Well, I think that the plight of the wives of the seamen is really very miserable. Their abode is the land whereas the abode of their husbands is the endless sea. The seamen have to be away from their wives, their children, their parents and all other relatives for long periods. I wish them a bon voyage, a happy and an early return to their homes and a very cheerful meeting with their families. I wish them a very happy, healthy, prosperous, progressive and very brilliant marine career. I wish them the most favourable climatic conditions and a very smooth sailing.
"We thank you very much for the interview. On behalf of all our Radio listeners and Television viewers and ship's crew, we wish you good health, happiness and complete success in all your expeditations and scientific work. We and all the people are greeting and congratulating you as the first Indian ever to winter over the South Pole and circumnavigate and explore the Antarctic continent.”
"Thank you very much."
“Dasvedania” !

Chapter 5: From My South Pole Diary

Chapter 5
From My South Pole Diary
17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition (1971-73)
Punta Arenas (Chile)
6th February 1972
(21 15 hours, local time)
My Most Respected Bauji and Bibiji,
Kindly accept my heartfelt regards. Just now we have reached the port of Punta Arenas (a city of Chile) from the nearby island Puerto Percy which is a small place where there is a provision for the ships to have the fuel supply. Punta Arenas is free port of Chile. Both Puerto Percy (an Island) and Punta Arena (Port) belong to Chile which is situated in the extreme South near Argentina. Now since our ship ‘Navarin’ got exhausted from the fuel and fresh water and many other accesseries and to get itself fully equipped with all such provisions it had to come to this port. We are still standing in the sea and our ship has not yet been brought to the main port, perhaps it is waiting for all the formalities to be completed before it may set itself at the main port which is hardly one furlong from here (the place where the ship is standing still). The city Punta Arenas can clearly be seen from here and looks to be a very beautiful city. The language spoken here is Spanish and not English. Our ship is expected to have a halt of about 2 days at this port, and tomorrow (7.2.1972) we may visit this city after which I would write you a few words about the city itself.
5.1 Now let me come back to the beginning of the story of this scientific Expedition, and narrate you all that I have noticed and felt so far. Upto the 27th December 1971 everything is in your knowledge as I had written you all about that from the Hotel Taj in Bombay, India before flying to Perth, Australia and had dropped you that leter just 20 minutes before the take-off.
I boarded the Air India’s Jumbo-Jet ‘747’ (world’s biggest Aircraft) on the 27th December 1971 and the plane took off at the scheduled time around 12.30 p.m. The plane journey was in no way new for me as I had already travelled by the Indian Airlines Boing 737, but flying over some foreign land was definitely new for me. Our first stoppage was Madras and the next stoppage was Singapore where our ‘Jumbo’ reached after about 4 ½ hours. I wanted to purchase a photo camera at Singapore airport but the transit passengers were not allowed to move out of the aircraft at Singapore, so I kept sitting in my window-seat in the front row. After a halt of about an hour the plane took off for Perth, Australia. I could have only a bird’s eye view of Singapore and to me it appeared as a city of colourful lights and as a very beautiful and magnifiscent city. A Similar scene was that of Perth when I looked at it through the aircraft window. We landed at the Perth airport at the scheduled time around 3.20 a.m local time. Here I faced a small problem. Prof. P. R. Pisharoty had given a cablegram beforehand requesting Dr. Ananjev, the leader of the Expedition Soviet Group coming from Moscow to leave a message with the Malaysian Airlines as to where he may be contacted and perhpas he forgot to leave such a message. I hired a taxi and went straight to the port of Fremantle which is some 20-25 miles from the airport and was glad to find the Soviet ship Professor Viese standing at this Port.
5.2 Just now (2255 hours, local time) our ship Navarin is ported and some Punta Arenas personnel have entered our ship for clearing it in and doing the other necessary formalities. As soon as the fresh water supply to the ship is completed, it would sail away and the expected period for the same is two days or may be even three. From Antarctica there is no provision for sending letters, only short telegrams can be transmitted. This is the only place from where I can send you letters. However, I have requested Prof. P. R. Pisharoty to keep you in touch with me and also convey to me the important and urgent news concerning our domestic affairs. You please keep giving some important and urgent domestic news in short to Prof. P. R. Pisharoty who in turn would arrange to wire the same to me at my Antarctic station of work “Molodezhnaya”. Also I have requested him to wire Bibiji’s welfare once every month as per news received by him from you regarding Bibiji’s health improvements. I would be giving telegrams from Molodezhnaya almost every fortnightly regarding my progress and welfare. Prof. Pisharoty has been requested to send you a copy of such telegrams along with a covering letter from his own side. I cannot give such telegrams to you directly as they are very much expensive and, therefore, Prof. P. R. Pisharoty would keep us in touch with each other through the Laboratory. You should give him only those news for transmission to me which you yourself would feel as very important and very urgent. I would post you this letter tomorrow on 7th February 1972 from Punta Arenas city.
5.3. Now coming back to the ship Professor Viese. Well, from the Perth airport I reached the Port of Fremantle (Western Austrailia) at 4.30 a.m. local time and entered the Soviet ship I received a warm welcome of strange looks. Probably many of the Russians aboard this ship had seen for the first time in their life a typical Punjabi Sikh from Indian wearing a red turban, and therefore, they were a bit surprised by seeing me. I must mention here that the Soviets are very polite people and they always give me a special respect everywhere may be due to the recent friendship between India and USSR. I was immediately allotted a beautiful room furnished with all the modern ameneties. As I was fully fatigued, I therefore, went to sleep at 5 a.m. and got up only at the lunch time. Now it was the 28th December 1971.
Just after the lunch at about 1.00 p.m. we had an excursion to the city of Perth. Two special buses were arranged for that. The Perth city is quite beautiful, the roads are wide and very fine just like Chandigarh and have many ups and downs. The houses are mainly tyled-ones, not very high, as one can often find in Massorrie or any other hill station in India. However, there were quite a few very high and magnificent buildings of Bombay type as well. The city is situated on the bank of the sea and the land is mainly desert. The city is quite neat and clean. We visited the two big City Memorials where the names of all those who had sacrificed themselves in the World Wars were carved. Then we came to the zoo where I could find nothing new except a white bear, otherwise this zoo was like an ordinary Indian zoo. However, I couldn’t appreciate the open sex at the beaches, city parks, gardens etc., and didn’t like it at all but anyway this is something very common in the west. We returned to our ship ‘Professor Viese’ after spending some 5-6 hours in the city. I was not having any camera due to which I couldn’t have any photographs of the important city sites.
After the dinner, at about 10.30 p.m., our slip ‘Professor Viese’ started sailing for Antarctica on the 28th December 1971 itself. Thus we couldn’t have much holiday at Fremantle and Perth. The Russian food is not very much different from that of ours and, therefore, I don’t have much food-problem. In the breakfast at 8 O’clock there would be coffee or black tea, cheese, bread, butter and some special preparation out of meat and sewian (which we also prepare at home, made from the wheat/maida) and so on. Russians prefer to take black tea without milk and also black bread but I am always provided with milk the Russian black tea. After a break of 4 hours there would be lunch (at 12 noon) comprising of soup, bread (white&black both) and meat and rice or fish and rice or chicken and rice and so on. At 4 p.m. there is evening tea. A special compound mixture is usually taken (in place of water) etc., But, sometimes there are some other dishes which I don’t like much. To sum up the food being served is quite O.K.
I forgot to make a mention of a special incident in front of the Perth-zoo at Perth. As soon as I came out of the bus, some children of 12-14 years age. gathered around me and started staring till one of them picked up courage and asked me, “Excuse me, Sir!, Are you a king?” “No I am not a king”, “Are you then a wrestler, “No”. Just to satisfy him I remarked, “I am neither a king nor a Weather but I am a singh. Actually, I am from India and hail from Punjab where people often wear the turbans of the type I have.” He got satisfied and after that took the leave. After this incident all the time I kept smiling and now also when I recall it, I have to smile without any reason.
5.4 While aboard the ship Viese I had some sea-sickness for the first one or two days as the ship was, rolling too much, and also it was my first sea-voyage, But after about two days I was alright. Now I am very much used to the ship’s rolling and when it rolls and dances terribly due to the severe storms, I don’t feel any sickness and instead enjoy this rolling because of getting accustomed to this. It was on the 6th of January 1972 (one month back) when we reached Antarctica at 11 p.m. at the Soviet Antarctic station ‘Mirny’. Our ship ‘Viese’ stopped at a spot from where this Mirny Observatory was about 10 km, but my place of work was ‘Molodezhnaya’ about 2000 km hrs. from Mirny. It is 1 a.m., so please allow me to sleep now. Good Night!
5.5. February 7, 1972 (0820 hours, local time)
Good Morning Bauji and Bibiji,
This is my first morning at the port of Punt Arenas in Chile. The city is looking quite beautiful as viewed from here. May be after a couple of hours we shall go to the city. The Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) had given me one hundred dollars as my pocket money and about ninety five dollars are still in my pocket. Here from this city I am planning to buy a photo-camera and some other accessories which I may need in Antarctica. I have written a detailed report of my Journey to Antarctica and would dispatch the same today to Prof. P.R.Pisharoty. I have requested him to send one copy, of this Report to you at Jalandhar and one copy to Manjit Bhaji at Vallabh Vidyanagar in Gujarat.
This Report, however, may not be differing much from my this letter to you except a few official matters regarding the financial commitments, next year’s programme and the like as the Government of USSR is giving to the Soviet participants a huze lump sum of money whereas in my case nothing is known. It is, therefore, that in my Report to him I have mentioned the various risks involved in working in Antarctica to emphasise that I should as well get all allowances which the Soviets would be getting. Therefore, if you get a copy of my Report from Prof. Pisharoty, please don’t get frightened by reading such lines.
Excuse me as I am not writing this letter all at same time as in between I have to do so many other jobs. Just about an hour back I went to take bath and get ready because at any time we may visit the city. Now it is the lunch time and after taking the lunch I would resume writing this letter.
5.6. February 8, 1972 (0920 hours, local time)
Respected Bauji and Bibiji,
Sat Sri Akal,
I am sorry as I couldn’t complete this letter yesterday as we went to visit the city just after the lunch and in the late evening we went for a movie. The currency of this country ‘Chile’ is esquidos and one dollar is 28 esquidos. The city is quite expensive as most of the things come here from its northern part. Just while roaming about in the city, I stopped at a shop and started looking the show-case. The owner of the shop called me in and talked to me in “Hindi”- He was an Indian and hailed from Bombay. He is here in this city for the last 10 years. He also told me that there are about 25 Indians here who own very-big shops. As many customers were in his small stall, so I bid good bye to him. I would buy from here only the most urgent material I need. Here in this city also, I was a centre of attraction as a foreigner for everyone and many girls just stopped near me to observe my strange looks. I saw that some people were looking out of their windows to see me. I however, enjoyed it very much, because for the city people I was probably the first Indian Sikh here, although there are about 25 Indians already settled here and run a good business.
Let us come back to the story of my Antarctic Journey. On 6th January 1972 around 11 p.m. we reached the Soviet Antarctic Observatory ‘mirny’ and stayed here for 10-12 days upto the 18th of the January 1972. In my childhood I used to dream of running and playing on the water surface and it is here that my age old dream got fulfilled as all around the sea was completely frozen and all around there was ice and ice with frequent snowing and nothing else except the penguins, weddell seals, sea-birds and the other sea-animals. On the 7th January 1972, I put on my special dress and went far away from my ship and walked, run and played with the penguins till I was completely exhausted. On the ice I carved the name of our country ‘INDIA’ and enjoyed doing so. The sun rises here in the midnight in a nightless sky and sets after 23 hours with the result that there is practically no night. This is only our watches which tell us that now it is the night time (but outside the ship there is only day with a strong reflection from the ice) and this is how we assume it to be night and go to sleep.
5.8. The 17th January 1972 was a historical day for me as after taking the lunch I set out for a nearby island and at 12.50 p.m. (Moscow time) I placed my footing on this island and perhaps it was the footing of the first Indian ever to winter on the Antarctic mainland. I climbed this Mountaeous island and wrote with a stone again the name of Motherland “India” and named it for my own reference as ‘Indian Antarctic Island’ on which the penguins had laid lot many eggs. The penguins are special Antarctic birds which can not fly but can walk just like a man, can run faster than anyone, can sail on the ice and swim in the sea water with frequent jumping therein.
Bauji you will be very glad to know that I would be probably the first Indian to visit Antarctica and the first Indian ever to winter on the Antarctic mainland and thus my name is likely to appear in the recent History.
On the Republic Day, 26th January 1972, I sent from here a telegram to the Prime Minister of India, Shrimati Indira Gandhi, congratulating her on our victorious Republic Day. As you know that I am very much ambitious of taking up adventurous expeditions and I am, therefore, enjoying this 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition (1971-73) very much which is the biggest one. In Antarctica, there is of course very cold but the special warm clothing saves us from the extreme climate. Our Antarctic stations are very nicely equipped with all the modern amenities and are centrally heated and, therefore, inside the rooms and the laboratories, the temperature is always kept comfortable whereas outside it is –50 to –80o C, so there is nothing to worry. There are about six Soviet stations in Antarctica out of which Molodezhnaya where I would work is the biggest one and about 120 people work here. I may mention that my work in Antarctica would prove very useful for my Ph.D. thesis and for my future career. So you must feel happy at this golden rare opportunity which I have got. You may be anxious to know how Antarctica looks. Actually, it look is like some mountains without trees and vegetation and the big ice glaciers form these mountains. The mainland would seldom be seen and would always remain covered with snow except some very big mountainous islands on which the ice melts away in the summer. Antarctica has a short summer of about three months which is, however, colder than the coldest places of India and there is a winter of about 9 months. So far no Indian has ever spent a winter here and I would be the first to do so.
Let me add here that I won’t cut my hair, come what may, even under the extreme conditions. I am not going to follow the practice of many of our Sikh young people who go abroad, fall in love with some girls and on the demand of their girl friends get their hair cut or some people just to escape from the welcome of strange looks get themselves clean shaven but for me I aways enjoy such a welcome. I want to show to the people of my own community that a Sikh once visited and wintered on Antarctica but never changed his original shape. On board the ship there are some Russian girls who do sometimes ask me, “Parmjit, what is this, why don’t you become clean-shaven!” and in turn I never talk to such girls. Also at the Soviet Antarctic station Molodezhnaya there are all provisions for taking a bath and also hair bath even in the coldest weather and I would, therefore, fulfill my promise at all costs.
Well, I had no camera with me and I, therefore, requested Dr. P.R.Pisharoty for the same. He has made arrangements through Dr. Alexandrov, the Chief of Hydromet Services (USSR), to provide the same to me at my station of work Molodezhnaya at the PRL cost. I am, therefore, not thinking of buying any camera now from Punta Arenas (Chile) as it is very expensive here.
5.10 On the 16th of January 1972, I changed over from the ship “ Professor Viese” to the ship “Navarin” as the ship “Viese” was going back to Leningrad. The ship “Navarin” is expected to reach Molodezhnaya in the February end and tomorrow on 9th February or day after tomorrow it would sail from here (Punta Arenas, Chile) to the Soviet Antarctic Meteorological Rocket Launching Station “Molodezhnaya” where I would be working for the whole year upto 1973 I would then be visiting all the other Soviet Antactic stations after which I would sail to Leningrad where I may stay for sometime and then from Leningrad I would fly to Moscow where I have to do some official work for sometime before my return home. You can expect me in India after July 1973.
On board the ship “Navarin” I have found a very good Russian friend, Vataley Evanovich Pashnichney, the chief Navigator of this ship who knows English fairly well and besides being a very good officer, he is a man of pleasing personality. He is my best friend and teaches me the Russian language. He also trained me how to steer the course of a ship and, therefore, for my own interest I drive the ship Navarin for 1-2 hours daily in the evening, and in the mean time he gives me a practice of speaking the Russian language. I have noticed that the Soviets are very good people and they are also very polite and very friendly. I am always given a special attention and respect.
I have written to Prof. P.R. Pisharoty a brief account of all our domestic affairs and have requested him to wire me the important and most urgent news from home. So you should keep giving him such news in short which he would wire to me at Molodezhnaya in Antarctica. He would also keep you informed about my progress and welfare by sending you a copy of each telegram which he receives from me once or twice in a month regularly.
I am sending an authority letter in your mame to get any sum of money in full or part from my salary from the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad as and when demanded by you at your own discretion subject to a thorough identification of your signatures, to Prof. P.R. Pisharoty who would arrange to dispatch the same by Registered post for your specimen signatures on this authority letter; and in case you need some money you can get it from the PRL. You have to see that everything goes well lest this authority letter should go in the hands of someone else who may start misusing it, like my University certificates incident happened at Allahabad which I think you very well know. This authority letter is very important and if someone else gets it, he can misuse the same by giving false specimen signatures from your side. This authority letter is being separately sent to Prof. P.R. Pisharoty along with my latest Report to him. In turn the PRL office would dispatch it to you at the village address (or may be at Jalandhar address) by a Registered post. You can keep this authority letter with you with a great care and if and when needed please use it, although I know that you may not need it at all. It is only a redundancy.
I may once again emphasise that there is no danger of any type in Antarctica and all the stations are well equipped and are centrally heated and are comfortable from inside. So, please don’t worry at all. I would take full care of my health and as well of our Sikh religious practices. I have written to PRL emphasising on the daily allowances which I should as well get similar to the Soviets and I hope that PRL would agree to that.
I must finish this letter now as otherwise I may not be able to post it. After the lunch I would go to the city (Punta Arenas, Chile) to drop it. Please convey my sincerest regards to Bibiji (mother) and Bhayiaji (grandfather) and love to Rana and Ambi (younger brothers) and Rani (younger sister) and Sat Sri Akal to Manjit Bhaji (elder Brother) and all other dear & near ones. The photographs of all of you are with me and whenever I want to talk to you, I talk through these photos I keep your photos always in my pocket so as to have your as well as God’s blessings every moment. I am extremely sorry for not being present at the marriage of my only sister Rani. I also send my best Regards to all our colleagues, friends and well-wishers. Although, I don’t wish to stop writing this letter through which I am talking to you, yet I would have to stop because time never waits for anybody and it is we and only we who have to make best use of it. Now I know a Russian word “Dasveydaniya” which means “Good Bye” – “Phir Milange” and I, therefore, now with your kind permission, would use this word for you all. Before this let me tell you about the covering map given on the envelope. It is the map of Antarctica –South Polar Ice Cap and shows the following Soviet stations at various spots:
i) MO - “Molodezhnaya” Meteorological Centre
ii) Mi - “Mirny” Observatory
iii) L - Leningradskaya
iv) B - Belingshausen
v) N - Novolozarevaskaya
vi) V -Vostok.
There is one American station right at the South Pole which I may visit in the near future during my present sojourn in the Antarctic continent. Rest in all fine. Hoping to meet you all next year in 1973.
With best regards to everyone.
Yours Lovingly – Pammi
(Parmjit Singh Sehra)
(First Indian ever to winter over the South Pole and circumnavigate and explore the Antarctic continent)
(Project Scientist, 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition, 1971-1973).