India Diaspora
First Indian children to visit Antartica see amazing temple
Mar 4, 2007 - 12:00:02 PM

New Delhi, March 4 - The first two Indian children to make it to Antartica and survive hair-raising episodes have come out with a fascinating account of their trip to the planet's last frontier besides a remote Indian temple.

Suravi Thomas and Rishi Thomas uncover in their 'Adventures in Antartica' - an eye-catching shrine with Hindu idols in the southernmost tip of Chile from where expeditions to Antartica sail out.

'This is the southernmost temple in the world,' say the young authors, children of a top Indian diplomat and business executive who were 15 and 12 when they made the trip. Both are studying in Chile. Proceeds from the book go to a charity in India.

'The interior of the temple was richly decorated with mirror-work mosaics, beads, crystals, electric lights and other ornaments. Inside, on display were idols and symbols of all the different religions of India including Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity and Buddhism.'

The builder of the temple, the book says, is Dwarkadas, son of Bhai Bhojrajmal Hotchand Nandwani, who came to own a chain of stores in Chile, Argentina and Falkland Islands where he was once an employee.

Suravi and Rishi Thomas sailed to Antartica in February 2005 along with a group of international adult travellers including their parents, all proceeding to the Chilean station in the icy continent.

The young authors, who have peppered the book with amazing colour photographs they took, sailed through Cape Horn, a sheer 400-odd metre high promontory where the Pacific and Atlantic oceans merge violently to create a single sea and where many ships have found a watery grave.

As the ship with the authors entered the Drake Passage, it lurched alarmingly, hit by icy waves 32 to 50 feet high. 'Not one of us had expected the full gale of 90 knots that hit us around two in the morning,' Suravi and Rishi Thomas say. 'The ship rocked so violently that not one of us felt inclined to make it for breakfast. We clung to our berths.

'The next morning, we learned that the ship had rolled over by 35 degrees during the night. The crossing of the Drake was a nail-biting, hair-yanking experience - howling winds, zero-visibility mist and fog, no sun, and enormous waves tossing and spinning the ship around like clothes in a washing machine.'

At the Antartica's King George Island, where the ship halted, were the bases of many countries, 'like a bustling miniature enclave of embassies'. Also existing was a Russian Orthodox Church, built in Siberia and transported to the Antartica!

Near the O'Higgins Base in Covadonga Bay, a zodiac that took the authors and some others out in the water got struck between two icebergs.

'The icebergs had moved together and our little zodiac was tilting as it was squeezed between them,' the authors recall. 'The wind blew strongly, the cold was intense and we, the passengers, were wild with panic.

'In Antartic waters it takes hypothermia three minutes flat to set in, despite protective clothing. Our chests tightened with fear. We felt that even our thudding heartbeats would rock the boat. The zodiac driver paged for emergency help from our ship.

'Within minutes our zodiac was punctured by the heavy pressure of the icebergs. Just as we were sure we were going to sink into a frigid oblivion, a flatboat saw our predicament and came to our rescue, in the nick of time!

Shaken and scared, we had to jump from the zodiac into the flatboat.' Later, a huge iceberg jolted the ship.

'In a few minutes, the entire boat rocked. We heard a giant boom and were knocked sideways in our seats. We struggled to our feet and peered out of the window. A gigantic iceberg had indeed hit the side of our ship.'

In Chile, the children saw a unique signpost giving distances from the southern town of Punta Arenas to many cities around the globe. 'There is a sign pointing to Agra too, with the Taj Mahal painted on it.'

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