Polar Plunge

 We were certified as have done an “act of indubitable courage as well as extraordinary incomparable foolishness” and that we had “temporary loss of common sense…….”.  This was when my wife, Pushpa and me tried to exhibit a brave act.

Our expedition cruise, “50 years of Victory” was anchored at The North Pole. Yes, at 90 degrees North.    The guests were given a crazy offer. They could take a “Polar Plunge”.   The organisers cleared an area of about 15 feet by 15 feet on the icy surface of the ocean. The melted ice formed a pool of polar ice water.  The water was surrounded by thick wall of ice all around.  The temperature was about minus 20-25 degrees centigrade at surface. One could see the water as it was freezing.  Even so, the passengers came out of their cabins to take a plunge.  A different type of adventure.

We were told it could be fatal to be in that water for more than one and half minutes.  To ensure the survival of the people who take the dip, they were tied to a rope before the dive.  The rope would be used to pull a person out, in case they fainted or wasn’t able to come out at the stroke of 90 seconds.   Once the swimmer was out, he was immediately made warm by towels and rum if one desired.  Then you could go to your cabin and have a hot shower and relax for a while, till the blood pressure got back to normal.

I was not confident of taking the plunge.  Not too many from our crew dared had opted for it – only about 10%.  I gave an excuse to myself, “I am from a warm place like Mumbai. We were not exposed to extreme cold.  No… no… no… not safe.”   I told Pushpa too.   But she had different ideas.

l was still considering the matter when Pushpa threw a surprise at me. She said she wanted to go for the plunge.    I thought she was joking.  Nope, she wasn’t.  For such crazy activities, usually I persuade her to join me.  This time she beat me.

It so turns out that before we left for the trip, Pushpa in a casual conversation had mentioned the Polar plunge to our daughter, Meeta.   Meeta suggested, “If you get a chance, do it!  Why do you want to miss it?  Unlikely that you will be going there again.” I wasn’t aware of this conversation.

Pushpa was determined.   And she did it too – without any fuss! To survive she had to return within one and a half minutes.  She was pulled back after a minute or so.  They offered her vodka to keep her warm after the plunge.  But being a teetotaler, she refused to take the drink and survived comfortably.

Pushpa’s plunge inspired me.   After watching her doing the feat so comfortably, I had to do it too! I went to the cabin, changed into swimwear and took the plunge. I’m not sure I’d have taken the plunge if it weren’t for Pushpa.

After the plunge I realised it was one of the most exciting, adventurous and crazy events of my life.


We were given certificates from the organisers for the brave act.  The certificate also stated that we “did an act of indubitable courage, as well as extraordinary, incomparable foolishness… “   It further said that Ship’s Doctor had confirmed that it was an act of absurd heroism and we had “temporary loss of common sense”!

Having the plunge at 90 degrees North was a life time opportunity and achievement.  Having done something that not many would do and being the first Indians to do that, we were extremely happy to have accomplished the feat and fully satisfied with our efforts to go on this expedition.

This incident further confirmed my belief that if in doubt, ask yourself, “If others can do it, why can’t I?”

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa
Edited By : Meeta Kabra

Is Spiritual Power Believable?

Is it to be believed?  Lord Hanuman can make himself 100 time larger, if he sees necessary!  Bhakta Prahalad prays to see Lord Vishnu and finds him next to him, a travel from Vaikunth (the heavens) to Bhooloak (earth)!  Lord Krishna lifts Govardhan Parvat  (a mountain with a 22 kilometers in circumference) on his little finger, for weeks, to shelter people from floods.    Well, we don’t know about these stories, as we were not alive then.

But here is a small example of what happened in years ago and can be experienced even today.

About 20 kilometers from Pune, on the way to Satara, there is a durgah (Shrine) at a small town called Khed Shivapuri.  The shrine is built over the grave of a revered religious figure Pir Qamar Ali Shah Darvesh. It can be identified by a huge tree outside which has hundreds of eagles hanging upside down.

Peculiarly, there is also a 250 kilogram stone in front of the shrine.  This stone cannot be lifted or even be moved by any number of people, even the strongest of them.  However, if an odd number of men like 7, 9, 11 come together, get their pointing finger below the stone, chant the name “Pir Qamar Ali Darvesh” while lifting it, the stone can be thrown up – as high as 8 feet or above.   Louder the chant, the higher it goes. No strength need be applied. If the group is short of odd numbers, fakirs standing by are happy to join in.

The surprise element is if one tries with even number of men like 10 or 12, or with a woman in the group or withtout uttering his name, the rock won’t budge.

Dargha 1 Dargha 2 Dargha 3

Logic fails here.

The story goes that a few hundred years ago, Qamar Ali Darvesh was born in a family famous for their wrestling powers.   At a very young age Qamar Ali became the disciple of Sufi saint living in the same area.   His brothers excelled in wrestling and teased him for being physically weak and a good for nothing.

Qamar Ali meditated and by the blessings and power he had, he challenged his brothers to use their muscle strength to lift the said stone.  The wrestlers could not move it without saying Qamar Ali Darvesh’s name.

Is spiritual power stronger than muscular power, then?  I wonder if similar miracles referred to in our Vedas and Puranas (holy books) might not be wrong.  Maybe, we are yet to understand a lot of the technology described in these texts.

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Unique In Its Truest Sense

“Oh! The Sun has risen from the West today” is a proverb used when something most unexpected happens.  But it is true that there is a place where the Sun never rises from the East.  It sounds unbelievable. The place is……

Hold on… … there are more curious characteristics of this place.

It is an accepted fact that Sun rises every morning and the moon every night.  However this is a place where Sun and Moon rise and set only once a year!

Standing here, one can see the stars, sun and moon spinning around one “point” straight over one’s head, in the sky. They appear at different locations in the sky as the day progresses but are visible 24 hours (depending on the season).

Not just that, you can go only South from this place!  How would a compass behave at this place?  It stays confused with the needle going around in circles!

This place is happy with just a latitude as a coordinate, it has no longitude.  The local time of any place on earth is determined by its longitude, such that the time of the day is more-or-less synchronised with the position of the sun in the sky. Since there is no longitude, does this place have no time zone either?  It is not synchronized with GMT and no time zone has been assigned to it.  Use any time zone that is convenient, no questions asked!

At this place, there is no earth underneath but still one can walk along and dance around.   There is no land within a radius of about 700 kilometers and 5,000 meters underneath. “Land” is a sheet of floating ice here.

This unique place is The North Pole, 90°N.

We all have learned that the earth spins on an imaginary axis, once a day.   North Pole is the point where this axis intersects the earth’s northern most surface. The North Pole is the point from which all the meridians begin, thus no longitude!

In this world, where every country is fighting for a chip of land, this is a vast area which is not governed by any one country in the world.  No country owns the North Pole or the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it. It is surrounded by five countries Norway, Russia, Canada, USA (Alaska), Denmark (Greenland).  Their authority is limited to a 370 km around their coasts.  The area beyond that, up till North Pole is administered by the International Seabed Authority.

It doesn’t even have an official marker for the position, as the ice moves constantly.   The position is detected by a specific compass.

North Pole experiences only night for half the year, and has day time continuously for the other half depending on whether the pole is facing towards or away from the Sun.

The Geographical North Pole at 90 deg N is different from the Magnetic North Pole. The latter is a wandering location and moves about 45km every year.

I visited this place with my wife, Pushpa in 2009 and experienced all of the above.  I stayed there for about a day on the floating ice and was told by the time I left the place, that I have moved a few kilometers since I landed. Unique in its truest sense, the experience is irreplaceable for us!  We were the proud first Indians to land on North Pole, 90°N.

Let us not get restricted to popular travel destinations only, opt for unusual.  Though looks difficult, they give unique knowledge and unique pleasure.

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra