Indian scientists have been going to Antarctica for four decades. What exactly do they do there?

White by Dilip D'Souza; Illustration by Akshaya Zachariah for FiftyTwo.in

Antarctica has tugged at my heartstrings forever. On our honeymoon in 1994, my wife and I were in Ushuaia in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego province. That town is a jump-off point for tourist excursions to the great mass of ice that blankets the southern reaches of our planet. Cruise ships cross the Drake Passage, sailing about 1000km to the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, a long crooked finger of land that reaches from the continent into the Southern Ocean.

I felt it: that crooked finger, it was summoning us.

We walked into a travel agency to inquire about getting onto such a cruise. Quickly, we walked out again. The price the lady quoted was a serious dampener, and in the years since, it has only gotten steeper: far too much to pay just to set foot on that finger. I can’t see us taking that particular tourist trip any time.

Vicarious, my own Antarctic experience will have to be. If I haven’t gotten close to answering those tugs at the heartstrings, other Indians have been making the trip there for nearly 40 years now—though I don’t mean tourist excursions. These are scientific expeditions, taking men and women to spend months at a time at Maitri or Bharati, the two Indian research stations in Antarctica.

This is how India has established a presence and stake in Antarctica. Indian scientists’ experiments have brought us new knowledge in fields ranging from microbial studies to radio astronomy, geology to climate science. There are Antarctica stories these scientists can tell. But theirs are also stories of that ancient human endeavour: scientific inquiry.


few billion years ago, the Earth’s land masses were all fused as one. Over hundreds of millions of years, they broke up, re-formed and broke up again. Think of the thin skin of cream that forms on the surface of freshly boiled milk. If the milk is undisturbed, the cream stays intact. But jiggle the vessel even a bit and the skin breaks.

The Earth’s innards—vast subterranean tectonic plates on which these land masses rest—jiggle too. Over many millions of years, fissures opened and broke up the land. Pieces floated this way and that, sometimes bumping up against others. India, for example, collided into Asia. This constantly evolving, forever unfinished “continental drift” produced “supercontinents” in different prehistoric epochs. Modern geologists call them Columbia, Rodinia, Gondwana and Pangaea.

Eventually, the land masses that are so familiar to us today were formed. In that familiarity itself are reminders of the ancient supercontinents. Why does the eastern thrust of South America seem to match the western shore of Africa? Does Japan's broad concave shape fit the convexity of south-eastern Russia? Is the southern concavity of Australia a good fit for the Antarctic coast, some 3000km further south?

Questions like these call to geologists, though it’s not that the idea of long-ago supercontinents relies solely on hours spent poring over a map, looking for matching shapes. That’s only a starting point. Geologists then seek evidence to confirm the supercontinent hypothesis in rocks along coasts that were once joined at the hip. They consider the close fit of South America and Africa as fascinating evidence of the long-ago breakup of Pangaea. Geological and fossil records of both continents confirm the hunch. [1]

This Pangaean jigsaw is the great geological attraction of Antarctica. One section of the jigsaw is particularly interesting to Indian geologists. There is a socket north of Nellore in Andhra Pradesh, where the Indian coast turns decisively northeast. Antarctica has a ball that fits that socket, to the west of Prydz Bay. Lay the Indian peninsula on its side there and the Godavari and Mahanadi valleys—“grabens” in geological terms— match features in the Antarctic land mass.



udipta Sengupta’s first love was physics. She confessed as much at a college entrance interview, at which she also spoke of her love for travel. A professor on the panel suggested she take up geology. She earned a PhD in the subject from Jadavpur University in 1972, and worked at the Geological Survey of India (GSI) for a few years, after which she did field work in Europe for a few more. The professor was right: her research has taken her to Scotland and Sweden, Switzerland and Spain, China and all across India.

In 1982, she returned to Jadavpur University as a lecturer. That year, she also applied to go to Antarctica with the second Indian Scientific Expedition. To her great dismay, she was turned down on account of her gender. But a year later, she got a telegram asking her to interview to join the 1983 Expedition, and was selected. To prepare for the journey, the Expedition members took training from the High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS), Sonmarg, on the Machoi glacier in Ladakh. After that, they shifted to Auli in Uttarakhand, for more training with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). The ITBP also imparted lessons on teamwork. Then, a month-long sea voyage on a chartered ship took Sengupta to Antarctica.

She was one of the first Indian women to set foot on the southern continent.

Those were early days for India in Antarctica. Sengupta spent much of her time living in a tent because India’s first station, Dakshin Gangotri, was still being built. Baths were only possible once a fortnight after a helicopter flight back to the ship.

For work, Sengupta had set herself the task of studying the rocks in the nearby Schirmacher Hills. In a 2003 paper, she wrote about these rocks: “This mafic unit, in turn, contains enclaves of melanocratic metagabbro, metapyroxenite, and spinelbearing and rarely, garnet-bearing metawebsterite.” If that’s opaque to all but seasoned geologists, there’s this sentence too: “From a comparison of ages and geological features, [it is evident] that Schirmacher Oasis is a possible segment of a klippen of the Lurio Belt of south-east Mozambique and a possible extension of the East African Orogen into Antarctica.” [2]

Never mind what klippens and orogens are. What the paper suggests is that part of Antarctica was once joined to what is now Mozambique. What’s more, this is the section of the Pangaean jigsaw from where Madagascar and India also emerged. It is the orogen that produced the Schirmacher Hills. (Alright: in simple terms, an orogen is a part of our planet’s crust that’s waiting to break free and form a mountain range.)

In effect, Sengupta’s research suggested that the Schirmacher Hills formed part of the fault line when the Indian subcontinent broke away and sailed north, a few millimetres each year, to smash into Asia millions of years later. “You know how India collided with Tibet to form the Himalayas?” Sengupta said in a recent profile on The Life of Science website. [3] “Now, you see that! In front of you! It’s an emotional thing!”

There were lows too. On her second trip, with the 1989-90 Expedition, three GSI colleagues and a young Navy man died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their tent. The tragedy cast a pall over the whole Expedition. Sengupta went out for research mostly on her own after that. This was something scientists normally didn't do—in fact, there was a strict rule against solo forays.

Ordinarily, one of those three GSI men would have been her “buddy” on her field work, each watching out for the other. Sengupta’s solitary research trips worried her teammates. On several evenings, she trudged back from the field and caught sight of an engineer friend, the late R.S. Gangadhar, silhouetted on a gentle rise. He had come out to watch for her safe return. [4]

“Rocks are a tape recorder of what happened in the past.”

Nilanjana Sorcar

There’s history in those rocks, uncovered for us by the hard work of geologists like Sengupta, dozens more from the GSI and others around the world. This is not a mere romantic formulation. One of Sengupta’s students, Nilanjana Sorcar, pithily explained why she calls herself a metamorphic petrologist, and what she does. “Rocks,” she said, “are a tape recorder of what happened in the past.”

Sorcar is with the National Centre for Earth Science Studies (NCESS) in Thiruvananthapuram. In late 2019, she visited Sengupta with a box of sweets and said: “Madam, when I was in class eight, I read your book and I promised myself I would go to Antarctica like you.” That childhood promise was about to be fulfilled: Sorcar was leaving for Antarctica with the 2019-20 Indian Expedition.

In January 2020, Sorcar was a convenor of the first International Conference on Antarctic Research (ICAR-2020), held at Bharati Station. Scientists from China, Russia and Australia participated. Sorcar had chosen to work in the Vestfold Hills, a range some 200km further east along the coast from Bharati, near the Australian base called Davis Station. Ranges like Vestfold and Schirmacher are more desirable places for an Antarctic geologist to work in, because they are so-called Antarctic oases, free of the ice that covers 98 percent of the continent.

Sorcar’s task was challenging—chiselling out samples and carrying back 20kg or more of the Earth’s undercrust daily. Some days were harder still. Her companions would bound ahead and she’d be left close to tears, wondering if those ITBP lessons on teamwork had had any effect. Some things had changed since her mentor’s stay three decades earlier, though. She could now have a bath at the station twice a week.

Because of logistical complications caused by the pandemic, it took a year for Sorcar’s rock samples to arrive in Thiruvananthapuram. She is analysing them now and cannot tell me more about her findings. She plans to publish some of them in a research paper by the end of this year. But she did tell me about the general thrust of her work. Her main objective was to investigate the “correlation of East Antarctica to the Eastern Ghats.” It is generally accepted that the rocks were part of the same landmass in the Proterozoic Era 2.5 billion years ago. Can she prove that they have an “affinity” to each other?



ndia’s Antarctica story goes back to the 1950s, a time when countries around the world started showing interest in the continent. As an acknowledged leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, India appealed in the United Nations for support for an emerging consensus on Antarctica. Broadly, that consensus was to treat Antarctica as the patrimony of all humanity. In other words, no country would claim any slice of the continent for itself. On 1 December 1959, 12 countries signed the Antarctic Treaty: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Britain, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Soviet Union, South Africa, and the US. As it turned out, the treaty neither denied nor granted claims of territorial sovereignty. Instead, the 12 signatories agreed to:

  •  recognise that it is in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purpose;
  • acknowledge the substantial contributions to scientific knowledge resulting from international cooperation in scientific investigation in Antarctica; 
  • prohibit any measures of a military nature; and 
  • promote freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica.

Over the next 20 years, India watched the scientific research coming out of Antarctica with interest, not least because of the geological link: if India and Antarctica were once joined, surely Antarctica must have some reserves of the minerals found on the subcontinent?

There’s a story told of a memo that landed on Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s desk in 1977, describing a meeting between an Indian diplomat and an Indian scientist based in the US. The scientist had seen a CIA report about Antarctica. Aware of its implications, he urged the prime minister to quickly establish an Indian foothold there. She quietly commissioned a study, Operation Gangotri, on what it would take to do just that. [5]

In the 1970s and 1980s, the UN formulated its Convention on the Laws of the Sea, laying out how nations should use the planet’s oceans. Plenty of the research that supported the UNCLOS came out of Antarctica. It showed, for instance, how the monsoon in India was affected by weather patterns in Antarctica.

There was also ongoing work on the Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities, part of the Antarctic Treaty system. India wasn’t the only state that saw this Convention as a sop to the more “advanced” countries that were already on Antarctica, which is why no country ever ratified it. More acceptable was the 1998 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (AEP). [6] The AEP prohibits the use of Antarctica for military reasons, dumping of waste, and more. It will be reviewed in 2048. India has signed and ratified the AEP. [7]

For all these reasons, Gandhi believed India belonged in Antarctica. Why should an Antarctic presence be the preserve of a small club of nations? If they ever resorted to commercial exploitation of the continent, should India stand and watch, or protest? Then, should India stake its claims as well? In any case, the country’s growing scientific expertise meant that it was no longer satisfied with being a bystander in polar exploration.

In July 1981, Gandhi set up the Department of Ocean Development directly under her charge. [8] Later that year, the department launched the first Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica. It was led by an eminent marine biologist, the late Dr. Syed Zahoor Qasim, who also served as an advisor for several subsequent Expeditions. There have been 40 Expeditions so far; the most recent left for the continent in January this year. They are now organised and controlled by the National Centre for Polar and Oceanic Research (NCPOR) in Goa.

Though the first two Expeditions had to live in tents, their members helped build the Dakshin Gangotri station. It became operational in early 1984. In about five years, Dakshin Gangotri was submerged by ice. In 1990, it was finally decommissioned, and is now used only as a supply base. After that, expeditions began using the Maitri station, built about 90km away. India’s third station, Bharati, some 3000km east of Maitri, was ready for use in 2012.

In August 1983, India received “consultative status” on the Antarctic Treaty, which confers the right to vote in the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM). 54 countries, including the original 12 signatories, are parties to the Treaty; 29 of those have consultative status. India was the fourth, and the quickest so far, to achieve this status. It recognises India’s “interest in Antarctica by conducting substantial research activity there.” [9]

This scientific commitment was further recognised in 2013, when India was granted observer status in the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum that addresses concerns of countries within the Arctic Circle. It is India’s demonstrated commitment to the southern continent that brought it to this particular table that focuses on the planet’s northernmost reaches.



ack on the southern continent: if there’s geological gold in them hills, there’s life in the Antarctic ice.

Antarctica is a good place to look for psychrophiles (literally, “cold-lovers”): forms of life that have adapted to life in very low temperatures. Psychrophiles are a subset of ‘extremophiles,’ creatures that can withstand extremes, whether of acidity, temperature, pressure, radiation or more. What makes them worth studying is that they form the most diverse group of organisms on the planet.

Some extremophiles are known for their biotechnological potential. Taq polymerase is an enzyme produced from a thermophile (“hot-lover”), for example. It is used in the branch of diagnostics based on polymerase chain reactions (PCR), like the now widely used RT-PCR test for the coronavirus. There are psychrophiles that are used in the production of anti-freezing glycoprotein for scar treatment. Others, from Antarctica, are used in the food, detergent and pharmaceutical industries.

Such organisms also play a starring role in biogeochemical cycling, which refers to the movement, through natural surroundings, of elements and chemicals essential to life. In this way, they help maintain an overall ecological balance that is so important to life. Think of the leaves that litter the ground after falling off trees. Over time, helped along by rainfall and temperature variations, microorganisms work on the leaves and decompose them. This process releases carbon dioxide, calcium, nitrogen and phosphorus into the soil, from where they are available to plants all over again: a biogeochemical cycle.

In Antarctica, the melting of permafrost [10] threatens psychrophiles that inhabit the ice sheets. We still don’t know everything about the behaviour of these microbes, but we do know that even a 1 degree Celsius change in the temperature, or increased ultraviolet radiation, can irrevocably change the environment they live in. We study them for these reasons. We study them to identify possible new pathogens that have been preserved in the ice for years; what if, when the ice melts and they are released, we are faced with diseases we’ve never known?

But we also study them, Avinash Sharma told me, because we want to “preserve microbial diversity.”


harma is a biotechnologist at the National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) in Pune. Extremophiles are his research interest. He started his career working with extremophilic organisms found in hot springs in the Himalayas. This was how he developed an “interest in microbial diversity and its role in extreme ecosystems.” Eventually, he got a doctorate from the G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development in Almora. He joined the 38th Expedition in 2019 so that he could find and study previously unknown psychrophiles.

To study microbes, you isolate them from collected soil samples and then place them in a medium where they can grow and form colonies. Observing them, you may find, for example, that this is a fast-growing variety, having little in common with other bacteria. Perhaps it is a novel strain? A conclusion like that can only be made after findings have been submitted to a scientific journal and peer-reviewed.

That’s what happened with Sharma. On 13 January 2021, the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology published a paper by Sharma and four colleagues. It was titled: “Marisediminicola senii sp. nov. isolated from Queen Maud Land, Antarctica.” [11] The paper begins thus: “A Gram-stain-variable, aerobic, orange pigmented, catalase-positive and oxidase-negative, cocci-shaped bacterium, designated SM7_A14, isolated from glacier-fed sediment sample collected from the Queen Maud Land, near India’s Maitri station in Antarctica.”

That opening line reminded me of Max, a character in Anna Quindlen’s novel Every Last One, who makes “baroque doodles” depicting “a microscopic organism found in the water on Mars.” Glacier-fed sediment in Antarctica is, after all, nearly as exotic an environment for life as water on Mars. So you can sense, shining out from behind that flamboyant string of scientific terms—his own baroque doodles, if you like—Sharma’s enthusiasm about the new microscopic organism. In unforgiving conditions, what must it be to find life like this? It keeps happening. In mid-February, a British team announced that they had found two types of unidentified “animals” lurking on a rock below 3000 feet of ice on the Filchner-Ronne ice shelf in Antarctica. Not microscopic, certainly, but in that frigid and light-deprived spot, alive.

The organism Sharma and colleagues studied was named Marisediminicola senii, as a tribute to Subhajit Sen. Sen was a student researcher from IIT Bhubaneswar who died in an accident near the Maitri station in 2018. That was a reminder of the 1989-90 tragedy, and of the dangers the inhospitable continent poses. Sharma went to Antarctica a year after Sen’s death. He and the Expedition’s entire team of scientists visited the spot where he died and offered a prayer.

KC’s Passage


t college in Pilani, my buddy K.C. Ramakrishnan was blessed with a genial sense of humour and an unbridled affection for his pals—and he had many pals. So, in the mid-1980s, a frisson of excitement shot through us all when we heard that KC was Antarctica-bound. Whatever we were all doing for a living at the time suddenly seemed mundane in comparison, maybe even trivial. (I was fixing software bugs: definitely trivial).

Thirty-five years on, KC remembers his time on the Fifth Expedition with wonder and excitement. The 25-day voyage started from Goa, on Thuleland, a 186m-long chartered Swedish ship. There were two Expedition members in each air-conditioned cabin. To prepare them for their time in Maitri, the voyagers were all put on rosters for various tasks on the ship. But these were just details, necessary for KC to mention, but no more. The journey itself was the charm. “Every day was a different experience,” he said, “something to look forward to.”

“Every latitude was a different experience.”

K. C. Ramakrishnan

The climate changed constantly. They chugged through at least two or three cyclones and waves like he had never seen. They marked crossing the Equator with a ceremony, and held a “massive celebration” for Navy Day, 4 December. They passed some uninhabited islands. Looking at a map, I figure these must have been some of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands—likely the Kerguelen Islands—which have no permanent population, though France maintains a small set of military and scientific personnel on them.

When not working, KC spent hours on deck watching marine life—whales, flying fish, dolphins and birds. Giant albatrosses gracefully circled the ship, as if escorting them south. Then came the Antarctic Convergence, an imaginary band that starts near the 60° South latitude, is about 40km wide, and encircles the continent. This is where cold waters flowing north meet generally warmer seas. South of the Convergence lies the Southern Ocean, which is where seafarers begin seeing ice. Sheet ice, just a few inches thick, then pack ice, tons at a time, and, finally, icebergs, “huge like mountains.” And on the ice, penguins and seals.

“Every latitude was a different experience,” KC told me.

KC is an alternative energy expert. His research in Antarctica had to do with solar and wind energy. On a second trip, with the Sixth Expedition, he installed a 2.5 kwh wind vane near Maitri station, to gauge wind potential. Wind in Antarctica doesn’t blow in gusts, he said. Instead, it blows steadily at a constant speed, which is good if you want to tap it for energy use.

As for the sun, it never really sets through the Antarctic summer. But it doesn’t rise higher than about 30° above the horizon either. This meant he had only about five or six hours daily during which to study the potential of solar photovoltaic energy. With no dust or pollution in Antarctica, there is plenty waiting to be tapped—no other spot on Earth gets as much unfiltered sunlight.

Some of KC’s fondest memories are of the “daredevil” but expert helicopter pilots whose work ethic in very difficult conditions greatly increased his respect for India’s Armed Forces. Military personnel have been an integral part of India’s Antarctica effort from the very beginning. They built the Dakshin Gangotri and Maitri stations. They provided logistical support and maintained equipment year-round, but especially through the long and dark Antarctic winters.

They were also the drivers and helicopter pilots who ferried scientists to and from the distant spots they had chosen for their research, often running ahead of or even through one of the continent’s sudden raging blizzards. “The forces,” the Antarctica veteran Dr. Rasik Ravindra told me, “were considered the backbone of Expeditions, and an Expedition without their participation was not considered possible.”

Bharati was an exception. To design and build India’s third Antarctic station, NCPOR held a global competition. It was won by a team of three German firms: bof architects, m+p consultants and engineers from IMS Ingenieurgesellschaft. Norway’s Leonhard Nilsen & sønner built its foundation, helipad and fuel farm in 2010-11. The station was pre-fabricated in Germany by Kaefer Construction GmbH from recycled shipping containers, shipped to Antarctica and assembled by 2012. Kaefer maintained Bharati for the next five years. For operation, repairs and maintenance of life-support systems, Bharati used Johnson Controls (India) for two years; since 2013, Techbean Systems, a private firm based in Pune, has been responsible.

But Bharati was long after KC’s trips to Antarctica. In his time there, he grew to admire the military personnel at Maitri for their unfailing good cheer, easy companionship and readiness to help. “At the back of your mind,” he said, “you know there’s some selfless person behind you, and that motivates you.”

The Centenary


n 14 December 1911, Roald Amundsen became the first person to reach the South Pole. A century later, the irony is that the man he beat to the Pole by a month is arguably better known. Robert Scott’s mission is remembered for its sheer heroism and the tragedy of its failure. One of the youngest members of Scott's team, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, wrote a captivating account of the expedition, The Worst Journey in the World. It says something about Antarctica that his title refers not to the race to the Pole, but to a six-week journey in the Antarctic winter of 1911—in total darkness and temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius—to find penguin eggs. Not for eating, but for research.

For his part, Amundsen set out on his final push for the Pole with 52 dogs. The dogs pulled the sleds but they were also food for Amundsen and his men: they returned with just 11 of the animals. It was traumatic to slaughter them, but that bloody-minded pursuit of efficiency is one reason Amundsen beat Scott. His focus was on being the first to the Pole; Scott, on the other hand, was also interested in science along the way.

In a heart-breaking essay, [12] the writer Anne Fadiman tells us what a search party found on Scott’s sled, seven months after his death:

“… thirty-five pounds of rocks containing late-Palaeozoic fossil leaves and stems of the genus Glassopteris, which the men had dragged 400 miles from the Beardmore Glacier. Scott had been so eager to travel light that he had weighed his party’s food rations to the last fraction of an ounce, but he didn’t dump the rocks. If he had, he and his men might have been able to walk the last eleven miles.”

Since I read Cherry-Garrard’s book, Scott’s effort has symbolised for me both the worth of scientific endeavour and the human spirit itself. On this ice-bound continent, it seems to me, you can’t dissociate one from the other.


o commemorate the centenary of those journeys, an Indian Antarctic team led by Dr. Rasik Ravindra proposed an Expedition to the Pole in late 2010. Among other things, Ravindra had headed the NCPOR for six years. [13] He has been on several of India’s expeditions to Antarctica, and led the ninth one in 1989-90. He also led the team that travelled 3000km clockwise along the coast to identify a location on Prydz Bay for Bharati.

Ravindra is considered an expert on cryospheric science—the study of snow, ice and permafrost. In a 2012 paper, for example, he wrote about his research on ‘ice cores’—cylindrical sections extracted from the ice cover by drilling down:

“The tephra analysis of this core revealed presence of a plethora of microbial cells adhered to the surfaces. These tiny living entities adhered on to particles in accreted ice appear to provide a hitherto unknown micro-niche. ... [The] core revealed a warming of 2.7°C for the past 470 years, especially during the last several decades.” [14]

Their cold-related injuries included chilblains, painful inflammation of the blood vessels. Even so, Ravindra said that the “vehicles suffered more than the men.”

Hints, even in these dry academic lines, of the presence of microorganisms and of the troubling reality of the climate emergency facing us.

Ninety-nine years after Amundsen and his dogs, Ravindra and seven colleagues set out for the Pole in four Toyota SUVs, specially modified in Iceland for the conditions. They carried instruments for scientific experiments, including for the collection of ice cores. They refuelled twice at a spot where a small plane had crashed. Barrels of the plane’s fuel had been left buried in the ice. They lived on pre-cooked foods: “pizza and things like that,” Ravindra said.

At times, the temperature dropped to minus 50 degrees Celsius, with wind chill. They all lost weight and some suffered from breathlessness. Their cold-related injuries included chilblains, painful inflammation of the blood vessels. Even so, Ravindra said that the “vehicles suffered more than the men.”

They reached the South Pole on 22 November 2010. It had taken them nine days to cover the 2500km from Maitri to the Pole. Remembering the legend of Ganesha, who walked around his parents and said he had circled the world, Ravindra and his colleagues got out of their cars and made a small circuit around the Pole. In a certain sense, they, too, had circled the world.

History is important,” Ravindra told me. Indeed, history may be particularly relevant in Antarctica. How do you work there without being aware of Amundsen’s singular focus? Of Scott’s tragic end? Of Ernest Shackleton’s feat of navigation and endurance in leading all of his men to safety after they lost their ship to the ice? Of, in fact, the far more ancient history of Pangaea and earlier supercontinents?

There are, of course, political reasons for India’s continued presence in Antarctica. We want to be seen as a responsible global power. We don’t want other countries to start making territorial claims there. If there are ever changes to the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, we want to have a say.

But the sense of wonder and romance expedition members take to the southern continent transcends any cynicism. I’d like to think that is the spirit underlying India’s—and the world’s—efforts in Antarctica. “Once you go,” Ravindra told me, “you can’t come back.”

That is the spirit that Deepak Gajbhiye, current Station Leader at Maitri, had in mind a few months ago. In a message that was read out after a lecture to commemorate Antarctic Day 2020, [15] Gajbhiye said: “I do not wish to underline the scientific research in Antarctica. I would rather highlight the hidden message for humanity in general. For many, the long dark winters have guided towards the light within. The vast plains, bone-stabbing cold and blizzards have made us humbler than ever, and the leaves taken from this book can still teach lessons to mankind.”

Dilip D'Souza used to be a computer scientist. Today, he writes for his suppers about politics, society, travel and mathematics. Dilip has won several awards for his writing. He is the author of eight books: most recently, with Joy Ma, The Deoliwallahs: The True Story of the 1962 Chinese-Indian Internment. He lives in Bombay with his wife, two children and cat. He misses his Rhodesian Ridgeback, Shaka.