Young doctor set to become first foreign national of Indian origin to achieve the feat

A young doctor, son of Indian immigrants, is set to become the first foreigner of Indian origin to walk across Antarctica carrying the Indian Tricolour to what he ecstatically describes as “The uttermost end of the world” – the South Pole and back again.

Dr. Alexander Kumar told The Hindu from Antarctica where he has been living since January conducting research for the European Space Agency’s human spaceflight programme that he was “excited” and “proud to represent the best aspects of my British-Indian heritage”.

He said he had been inspired as much by the spirit of scientific inquiry as by Mahatma Gandhi in undertaking the expedition.

“I will never forget reading Gandhi’s autobiography and about his famous salt march. His life was so inspiring,” he said.

Dr. Kumar, who has been selected as the Chief Medic and Chief Scientist for the expedition, is among a team of six who will make the crossing  retracing the steps of two famous British explorers – Sir Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton.

They will spend nearly two years training for the expedition scheduled for 2014 with trips to Arctic Norway, Greenland and Canada.  

“It will take us nearly four months to march across Antarctica,” he said.  

Currently, he is based in Concordia Station – a French-Italian base in the interior of Antarctica – which he describes as “the most isolated and extreme research station in the world”. He and his crew live in complete isolation “with no chance of evacuation even in a medical emergency”.

Dr. Kumar said that he had lived and worked in some 60 countries but never before had he experienced such extreme conditions.

“Working in Antarctica is completely different…”This is world’s most extreme environment and it is the closest you can come to living, isolated on the surface of another planet or perhaps the dark side of the moon. Here your skills are really put to the test. Every day I learn more about the limits of human psychology and physiology, as I push my fellow crew members in experiments designed to help understand and prepare astronauts for a future manned Mission to Mars.  I am here for the science.”

Battling a lack of Oxygen had been a big challenge.

“We are living at around 4,000 metres altitude where we breathe one third less oxygen as is available at sea level, so you can imagine how difficult it can be,” he said.

Dr. Kumar (28) whose father came from Jammu said although he was born and brought up in Britain India was “home” to him. He had very fond memories of his time at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where he worked on placement while studying medical science at King’s College in London.

“I enjoyed working in India and it felt closer to me than working in any other country.  AIIMS is an incredible specialist hospital taking referrals from all over India and providing a high standard of care for free.  It is an example to the rest of the world,” he said.

But from where he is now, Delhi, indeed, looks “door–ast” – very far.