Hers is a travelogue enlivened by the freshness of youthful spirit, a casual anecdotal style and a geographical range that spans the far corners of the globe.
ARCTIC AND ANTARCTIC Journeys to the Extremities of the Earth: Urmi Popat; Manas Publications, Off Devidayal Road, Mulund (W), Mumbai-400080. Rs.1,100.
The epic expeditions of Amundsen, Peary and other explorers to the poles continue to stoke the spirit of intrepid souls who are in pursuit of science, economic wealth or simply an extraordinary experience. Modern journeys are much more predictable, though, supported as they are by the power of advanced technologies for safety and comfort.
The tribe of polar tourists is growing, making it viable to operate organised tours to Antarctica and the Arctic region. These dream visits are extreme adventure packages put together by specialists affiliated to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators and by Arctic tour experts.
The only major requirement, other than the expense, is that the tourist must possess a robust constitution to be able to endure the rigours of the ice-breaking sub-zero voyages.
Urmi Popat belongs to this legion of polar explorers and her long illustrated essay forms the narrative of this book. There could not be a better time for such a book, given the emergence of new evidence in recent months of the way human activity is influencing polar climate and life, in ways that were not imagined even a few years ago.
While the Antarctic is located away from the giant clouds of greenhouse gases being pumped into the northern hemisphere and hence apparently less at risk in the immediate future, the Arctic climate is changing inexorably here and now proof of which is available in the form of the eight-nation Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) report.
The author recognises the threat not just to the North, but to Antarctica, which she records in passing: if people decide to target Antarctic coal reserves to fuel their steadily increasing needs, it could lead to environmental disaster.
These concerns are important, though not central to Popat's narrative of remote and cold landscape, one that is teeming with life and delightfully challenging to visitors. Hers is a travelogue enlivened by the freshness of youthful spirit, a casual anecdotal style and a geographical range that spans the far corners of the globe.
It is the story of her itinerant family the author and her parents in pursuit of an uncommon joy, of celebrating a birthday in the remotest of places, of displaying the Indian national flag against a backdrop of icy vistas of the South Pole. The book makes interesting reading as a travelogue, while the photography is a colourful commemoration of some unique landscapes and wildlife that usually grace the pages of venerable journals of geographic societies.
It would of course serve the purpose of the book even more in future editions, if expanded descriptions of these rarely visited spots are available, going beyond the immediate surprise that the scenery evokes. The author's achievement in the book is to bring to cold continents and countries a warm personal narrative.
It attempts to go beyond the tourist's perspective by giving some importance to India's great expeditions to the Antarctic and the scientific uniqueness of the poles, the natural riches and the flora and fauna, all of which go to make an interesting collection of facts and trivia.
The stories of the Scandinavian Arctic with the unbelievable hotel of ice at Jukkasjarvi, right down to its frozen dining tables, plates and glasses holding drinks will enthral many.
The lasting value of such a book does not come from the record of exotica presented in a handsome large format, but the underlying message that there are still places on the planet that have not been subjected to total and unrelenting exploitation in the pursuit of ephemeral material progress.
With luck, the Arctic and the Antarctic might win enough supporters internationally to be left alone.
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