All posts by Supriya Vohra

ANTARCTICA MATTERS—JOIN US ON OUR JOURNEY WITH A PURPOSE MARCH 2019

Antarctica has always been a land held with intrigue. The whitest, driest, coldest, windiest continent on earth was collectively decided to be preserved by twelve countries, including Russia, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Chile, Australia, and the United States.

The Antarctica Treaty System was signed in 1959, and an environmental protocol was added to it in 1998.  It states that Antarctica is to be a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science,” and prohibits all activities relating to Antarctic mineral resources, except as is necessary for scientific research. But the treaty is not set in stone. In 50 years’ time, 1948, the part of the treaty that prohibits mining and resource extraction could come under review.

Keeping the urgency to protect this pristine land in mind, we at Ibex Expeditions, in partnership with Polar Latitudes, will be taking our secondexpedition to Antarctica in March 2019. Led by artist and explorer Himali Singh Soin, this journey with a purpose is meant to turn all participants into Antarctica Ambassadors, pledging to support all causes related to preserving the big white continent.

Previously, our Antarctica journey has been supported by United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO), Ecotourism Society of India (ESOI), Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), Skal International, and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

Our journeys are never without their share of fun of course! You will witness wildlife you can perhaps only witness in Antarctica. There might be times when you feel like you are on another planet, as is beautifully explained by Himali Soin in this essay titled “Voyage to a White Mars”. There might be a moment when you feel an urgent need to take a dip into the icy cold water, as Himraj Soin had while on his journey described here. 

Join us in our mission to preserve Antarctica.

Details of the journey here: https://www.facebook.com/events/254332385079622/

Email us at ibex@ibexexpeditions.com for more details.

Travelling Home – When We Wander, Are We Lost?

Himali Singh Soin writes a meditative piece on the idea of home.

Originally written in August 2014 for Jetwings Magazine.

Newborn, I open my eyes to the bright light of the world, the ceiling split open and spilled the sky, then rivers, deserts, mountains, forests, whales, butterflies, cactus into my room. I looked around, and a map—like wallpaper—formed. I have lived on a
map since.

Where we live, there are lofts comprising suitcases, photo jackets and rope and lenses, telescopes and binoculars, hats and compasses, knives, swords, snow boots, fishing lines, journals, harnesses, collapsible chairs, postcards, big bags for an expedition, little bags for a day’s reconnaissance, pocket bags for nail clippers, mini soap bottles, disposable underwear, water sippers, jasmine oil, more rope, microfiber towels, a book on birds, Hillary’s advice, a book on trees, walkie-talkies and a phone number on the fridge with which to stop the newspaper periodically, because, lofts undone, maps plotted, we are (always) on our way and there would be no one to read the news, though the news—and the newspaper man and his eponymous thump—would undoubtedly continue to take their own course.

Round and around we go

As a family of explorers, we are perpetual peripatetics, scouring deep crevices and deceiving surfaces of the world. Our adventures—in the viscous olive pools of Mexico’s cenotes, along the clay licks of the inner Amazon, the dunes of Morocco, the expanse of the Gobi, the raw bulbs of Madagascar, the source of the Nile, the high prayers of Tibet, the rush of the raft on the river Zanskar, the slithering forests of Periyar and many more—refresh our eyes, reboot our consciousness so that we are always aware, most strikingly, of what it means to live.

But what of home? The daily din? The mean, the normal, the everyday thump
of the newspaper on the porch, the place where nothing changes and everything stays the same. How content I am here! Home, to me, was becoming an exotic other. I do not return home, but travel home. In some ways, I carry my home with me, building nests even as I abandon them. But in others, it is the physical place—the fuss of the family, the bursting bookshelf, the ritual of routine—that makes up my nostalgia. It is this object, heavy with embedded meaning, that cannot be carried.

Among the countries that I have visited, from my foreign imagination, home comes to mean a variety of things. In Tibet, home is a desire for a way of life without siege, an unthreatened thought. Home means return to peace, a return of identity— Tibetan Buddhism. It means that the prayer flags left en route to Mt Kailash flutter in freedom and the glass facades of Chinese commerce that reflect back the Potala palace are silenced, so that the whispers to his Holiness might finally be heard.

In Madagascar, where over 80% of all flora and fauna is endemic, home is where the familiar is comprised of the unique everywhere else. In a land so native,
the sight of a baobab, like an upturned tree, a neuron touching the nerve of
the sky, is enough to arouse a sense of belonging. Though the people are made up of immigrants from the coasts of Africa and Asia along with French colonies, the landscape is inherent.

Moving home

In Mongolia, home is a shifting place, shifting by season, by the fertility of the soil, and endless, always a distant end and constantly being re-assembled. The ger tent, made of a lattice of wood and felt, is a yurt that the nomads pack with them on their journey from pasture to pasture. The word ger means home.

In Ethiopia, home is where the River Nile has its source. Home is the red earth and dust beneath the wares of a Monday market. Home is the ritual coffee ceremony and popcorn. Home is the Timkat, where homage and exchange is the same thing, where what is white is full of colour and where sound is a music that sings of progress and hope. Home is a country where everything is embossed with touch, with feeling, love, thought, idea, energy from the blood, the tingling of the anatomy at work, pregnant with the future, ripe from the past. Where everything is done by hand; baskets are being woven, injera poured, steel fixed on buckets, trucks oiled, hay stacked, hand shaken, kissed, cheque written, wall painted, rocks from street removed, sacks of sand stacked, money begged for, body knelt before sun and god, child stroked, wife caressed, folds of white bedsheets neatly folded and tucked, where home is the origin.

In Peru, home is an ocean of forest split, like arteries, by terracotta rivers. Home is the remembrance that the Incas were here. It is walking a path for centuries till the moss is removed, and thick, grey slabs of stone and a whole civilization is uncovered. When the Incas looked up at the Wilkamayu, or the Milky Way, they saw the galaxy reflected in the river. When they saw a hummingbird dip its slender snout in an orchid, they told the story of the princess who was transformed into an orchid while waiting for her warrior prince to return from war, then the warrior prince was transformed into a hummingbird so he could forever be with his wife. And for the tears that were shed, the orchid is called Wakanki, ‘you will cry’. Home is lore.

Flowing stories

Juchitan, a town in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, is matriarchal, where women wear long flowing gowns printed with big red flowers. They call their dresses el agua; water. They wear their hair in big black balls framed by two braids on either side of their high cheekbones. They are silent but assertive. They are unshifting and strong. I sit bleary eyed early in the morning in the zocalo, the centre of the town, a kind of living room for all. I wait for the morning to rise and something interesting to happen.  Then a lady walks toward me and reaches over and strokes my shoulder then my arm and my hand. Her hand and eye twitch, she wears a long flowery dress but stutters when she speaks. She stares at me then tells me I am sick and that I must wave a knife over my head to rid myself of the infirmity. Usa una cuchia para curar la infirma. Then she stares at me again and walks away. I see her later in the day in the church. I walk past her, but I can feel her light and intense stare upon my shoulder. I don’t forget her words, for there are energies here. There are energies where random events make patterns and string together in fantastically webbed ways. Here, home is allowing strangers into your superstitions.

Beyond bricks and mortar

Conceptions of home differ even in the meaning of the word itself. French has
no word for home, while in American and English sports, home is a word synonymous for a goal, a kind of victory. Some think of home as a physical house, others as language, others as the haze in the sky or an old family recipe. On the internet, it’s a landing page.

And here, in India, where I live, home is more complex. As a foreigner, I would say India is the Taj Mahal, or the brandishing Bollywood poster, the saint in saffron. It cannot be read, however, as a stereotype.

It is inconsolable, non-negotiable. It is as much the country, the city, the house as it is the way people are, creating chaos together. It comprises argument and aggression, affection and dependence. It comprises reflexes and a muscle memory, exasperation and elation.

So is home a real place? How does one reach it? Or is it indeed nothing to write home about? When we wander, are we lost? When we thirst to check off every country from our list of never-visited, are we fulfilling a desire to simply see ourselves anew? Or does travelling allow us to dream more, invigorate our imaginations, step outside of moral and societal conduct? Does travelling away, in fact, allow us to return? Return in order to find adventures at our doorstep: in the gardener’s escapade with the ironing lady, or the competition between the women of the house on whose bowl of yoghurt is better made. Or simply in the wonder of the objects in the loft, and the memory of tales from faraway places.

Originally written in August 2014 for Jetwings Magazine.

Antarctica Matters: Racing to Cross Antarctica

Two adventurers are attempting to cross Antarctica alone, without support, without being resupplied by food, or assisted by any means of transport other than the power of their legs. If either or both succeed, they will be the first to do so. No one has been able to cross Antarctica on foot, unsupported, yet.

The two adventurers are attempting this feat separately, and couldn’t be more different than each other.

Lois Rudd is a 44-year-old British Army captain. He wishes to slide into the record books, tracking two other British explorers—Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton.  Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole in 1911. Ernest Shackleton wrote that “there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeyings — the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea”. 

Mr. Rudd is a grizzly British Army adventurer, carrying hot chocolate powder, dried porridge, along with the rest of his kit.

The second explorer is a 33-year-old American mountaineer and explorer—Colin ‘O’ Brady. Mr. Brady is a chiselled professional triathlete-turned-mountaineer. He has over 70,000 Instagram followers, a YouTube channel, and brought his own custom-made energy bars called Colin Bars.

While for Mr. Rudd the reason for taking on this journey is a personal one, Mr. Brady wants to win the race, and make history. 16 people have attempted to cross Antarctica so far. All failed. Waiting to see what happens now.

Source: Financial Times

We are going on an epic voyage to this expansive continent in March 2019. The journey aims to create ambassadors for Antarctica, who will pledge to protect and preserve the region from exploitation of all kinds. Check this link for more details of the journey, and send in your enquiries to us at ibex@ibexexpeditions.com

 

UPDATE: Colin O’Brady eventually won the race in 53 days. For more, read this BBC story.

Treading on the Explorer’s Trail in Satpura National Park

Ibex Expeditions  recently organised The Panchmarhi Trail in Satpura National Park with partners Reni Pani Lodge for the delegates of ATTA’s Adventure Connect. The journey, led by Mandip Singh Soin and a senior naturalist captured the explore spirit, was full of wonderful sightings of birds, squirrels, a leopard and pugmarks!

The five day journey  began at Panchmarhi, also known as Satpura ki Rani, a hill station and part of the national park. The travellers, treading the footsteps of Captain James Forsyth, the original explorer of Satpura National Park  (he belonged to Bengal Lancers and entered the park looking for Indian freedom fighter Tantya Tope) and reached Dhelia camp. The Reni Pani lodge is magnificent. Private tents along the river located just outside the buffer zone of the national park. Beautiful views all around. And the best part? No plastic along the trail!

On our first day in the park, while on a jeep safari, we spotted a leopard, barely 10m from us! Just sauntering along. What tremendous grace the cat has.

The next day was a 16km walk further in. We spotted the exquisite Indian Giant Squirrel, who flew from branch to branch. They build their nests on top of the branches with leaves. They neatly place one leaf after another and make their cosy home. It was quite a sight for us.

The twelve of us had three forest guards walking alongside throughout our journey. We spotted a number of birds—wagtails, grey herons, black bellied terns; even heard an owl hoot!

On our way we kept seeing pugmarks. The guards told us they were three-days old. On the second day of our trail we saw pugmarks that were two days old. Things were heating up! Finally, on the third day, just about a 100m after our lunch stop, we saw a massive drag mark, going all the way from the river to the sand over a rock. The guard told us that the tiger must have had a major kill – a sambhar or a deer and dragged the prey along. It was an incredible sight.

We continued to Manakhachar, our second camp, and walked around the fields and meadows before driving back to Reni Pani Lodge.

We travelled and explored using various means of transport — jeep safari, rowing in local canoes for bird spotting, cycling around the fields, and of course our very own two feet.

It was a wonderful experience overall. We plan to organise similar wildlife-centric journeys in the future. Perhaps combine a journey to Satpura and Bandhavgarh. 🙂

To know more about our special, customised journeys, get in touch with us at ibex@ibexexpeditions.com

 

 

Antarctica Matters: Scientists Discover Graveyard of Continents Beneath Ice

Antarctica has been called the least understood continent of Earth. Recently, data from a discontinued European satellite reveals that the ice sheet beneath eastern Antarctica is a graveyard of continental remnants. The research, led by Jörg Ebbing, a geophysicist at Kiel University in Germany, reported their discovery earlier this month in Scientific Reports.  They created 3-D maps of the southernmost continent’s tectonic underworld and found that the ice has been concealing wreckage of an ancient supercontinent’s spectacular destruction. The pieces may have been assembled a billion years ago, when the supercontinent Rodinia was built, or as recently as 500 million years ago, when another supercontinent, Gondwana, came together. Either way, what has been found beneath Antarctica is part of what’s left after Gondwana’s dissolution, around 160 million years ago.

Why is this important to know? Because knowing the rock that sits beneath the largest ice sheet in the world will help understand global warming, as subglacial geology influences how ice shifts as the climate changes.

Source: The New York Times

We are leading a journey to Antarctica in March 2019. Send us an email at ibex@ibexexpeditions.com to find out more about this epic voyage. 

North East India: Responsible Tourism Recommendations at India’s International Tourism Mart 2018

 

Nongriat, Meghalaya Photo Credit: Neil D’Souza

The north-eastern part of India is an explorer’s paradise. Part of the eastern Himalaya, the region is covered by the mighty Brahmaputra-Barack river systems and its tributaries. The region has some of the last remaining  rainforests of the Indian subcontinent, that support diverse flora and fauna and several crop species. Dense forests, living roots bridges, emerald pools, high mountains and among these live some of the most amazing tribes of the world. The north-east is truly a gem.

At the 7th International Tourism Mart 2018 for the North East Region, our founder and explorer Mandip Singh Soin was a panellist at a session on adventure and ecotourism development in the region. He gave a number of recommendations to maintain the beauty of the region and work harmoniously with local communities. These included recommending tour operators to get an STCI certification (Sustainable Tourism Criteria for India), and to follow #responsibletourism practice in every step that accrue benefits to the #localcommunities and environment and allow for interactions with the amazing tribes of the region.

When tour operators, governments and travellers make responsible tourism and sustainable travel as part of their policy and thought process, good things can be achieved.