Holiday in land of snow and silence

A date with penguins, sampling sushis, traipsing through knee-deep snow and a taste of the real big chill ' that sums up 40-year-old Sutapa Jyoti's adventure trip to Antarctica. The architect from Calcutta was the lone Indian to sail to the southern-most continent in November.

The part-time research student with Bengal Engineering and Science University and an employee of South-Eastern Railway shared her experience and some priceless pictures of the trip with a full house at a recent presentation at Bangla Akademi. Jyoti was bitten by the travel bug while in college. "I loved going to lesser-known destinations," she said.

Having trekked various hilly terrains and deserts, Jyoti decided on Antarctica after reading the accounts of professor Sudipta Sengupta who, along with Aditi Pant, were the first Indian women to go there. With her savings and a loan from her provident fund, she embarked on the trip from November 5 to 25. Her adventure cost her nearly Rs 5 lakh.

Jyoti boarded MS Expedition, from the Argentinean port city of Ushuaia. It took her 48 hours and three flight changes to land there on November 7. The next day, Jyoti joined a 130-member gang from all over the world to set sail to Antarctica. The ship had only 10 tourists from Asia.

"As we left the shores of Ushuaia, I felt a little nervous. It was like losing touch with the world and embracing the uncertain," said Jyoti.

As the ship crossed the Drake Passage, most of the passengers were overcome with sea-sickness. "I too was scared but all that changed when we saw bits of ice floating in the sea the next morning and we knew we were in Antarctica," said the die-hard traveller.

Jyoti got to explore islands like Danco, Neko Harbour, Peterman, Enterprise, Deception and Half Moon. "Our first shore landing was at Danco. A small rubber boat, Zodiac, armed with all kinds of safety gear negotiated a series of icebergs to take us to our destination. That's the first time I saw penguins in thousands, my most memorable experience of the tour," said Jyoti. Experiencing the silence of the icy Antarctica was yet another unforgettable moment for her.

The adventurer went on to feast her eyes on various types of exotic fauna like Gentoo, Adelie, Chinstrap and Macaroni penguins as well as blue-eyed shags, Weddell seals, skuas, Antarctic terns, Kelp Gulls and orcas (killer whales). Yet another unique sight was of tourists taking a plunge in the ice water.

"One of our halts was Deception Island, an active volcano off the Antarctic Peninsula. Here vessels can sail directly through the centre of a restless volcano. We found remains of a Norwegian whaling station and a British Antarctic Survey base evacuated in 1967 during a volcanic eruption," Jyoti said.

Her Atlantic experience was not restricted to the sights of snow-clad islands.

Life on board MS Expedition, including meeting different nationalities, sampling cuisine from all over the world, attending informative lectures and taking part in various fun activities and games, turned out to be as memorable.

"One night we had a surprise barbeque dinner on the freezing open deck. Though it was dinner time, there was light outside as the sun sets only for three to four hours during summer," said Jyoti.

All too soon it was time to return. "However, the return journey did not seem as frightening or dangerous," she said.

A DVD of Jyoti's Antarctica experience was released on the occasion. Poet and travel writer Amarendra Chakraborty and trekker Ratanlal Biswas attended the event.

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