Its been about 24 hours since I have returned from ARIES, Nainital and the entire event was such an awesome experience that I have a huge hangover from India”s first national star party, the Milky Way Voyage. In an attempt to sound geeky, I shall point out that the American Heritage Dictionary defines voyage as the events of a journey of exploration or discovery. The first Milky Way Voyage was just that. One would assume that the voyage was just two nights – 7th and 8th. But all the volunteers involved would agree that our voyage began long ago and lasted long after.
Even the journey to Nainital from Delhi threw up a lot of interesting stories right from the scramble by a ”select” few to catch the train to the story of seven people with just six berths at hand and eventually using just five. Four of those – Shubham, Pankaj, Atish and I, using two berths each and covering ourselves with one and the same blanket which eventually got christened “the kambal”. Confused? Contact any of us for secrets we will gladly reveal 🙂
Eventually at the hotel in Nainital we checked into some five rooms carefully alloted to 20 people in advance by meticulous and time consuming planning by one of the most enthusiastic and energetic volunteers. Half and hour later everyone had shuffled and changed rooms to suit their convenience much to the frustration of you know who. With two hours at hand before the next planned step and everything blisteringly cold all around us most of us decided to take a quick nap and one of us decided to do laundry! (to avoid the obvious jump in conclusion, no it wasn”t a girl). It took us a while to realize that we had plenty of time at hand and an enthusiastic mind decided we must go to the town for a walk. The walk was punctuated with some sincere confessions especially one when passing an elegant hotel which seemed to be made of glass. It should suffice to know the confession included a rock and being within throwing range of the glass hotel. Since Shubham has been gloriously referred to in another book (ask him for details), let me continue the legacy by making sure I give him fair coverage. It was Ruhi, Jiya, Mayank, Shubham and I walking aimlessly till the point when a phone call made Shubham declare that we have to search for a shop which will sell “a wooden pen with personalized name on it”. The name was to be of the boyfriend of a friend of Shubham. So there we were walking from market to market taking directions from locals and at the end of two hours finally stopped with no pen in hand.
Passing a restaurant named ”Nanu Nani” drew a barely audible thought from a quiet member who wondered, who would visit a restaurant named that. Two hours later as 15 of us walked in Nanu Nani for lunch, I had really no time for additional comments from the source. This restaurant surprisingly seemed in sync with the Milky Way voyage preparations as all the lights were covered in red cellophane paper, a sight all astronomers appreciate.
As we reached the observatory later that evening, the 40 inch dome was a sight for sore eyes. Most of the volunteers had been here before but for a few of us including me this was a sensational view. We gathered around Sachin for a quick meeting and finished it off with a tour of the observatory. The clouds sweeping past us (not above… literally through us) was another incredible feeling. Of course we were trusting Ajay”s words saying the clouds clear up by sunset so weren”t really worried. We brought out our telescopes and got busy with the job we do best. The night sky and the cold wind blowing gave a good idea of the things to come.
Back at the room after dinner and there was another story unfolding. A moderate gathering was enjoying loads of Pepsi and fruit juice (completely unaltered?) with Seinfeld and Friends playing on TV on the side. Late in the night a particular someone had lost his bearings and discussions on capitalism and photography techniques were being shot down sharply. Even after half past 3 it took Jiya and me some doing to get everyone to sleep.
Day 2 as most would imagine started at noon. After incredible effort most of my roommates managed to get up. Its kind of odd to use the word most when there were just 3 people in the room apart from me but I”m trying to avoid naming the minority (one person) who couldn”t get up. Ask around and find out who tasted butter chicken when served tomato soup and you”ll get the answer. Alternatively send roasted almond chocolates or Kit Kat to bribe the other roommates and get an answer out of them. Anyway, after multiple quick meetings with everyone we were on our way to the observatory for the first night of MyWave.
The telescopes were out, people had streamed in and there was a lot of buzz all around. Chocolates were flowing in all directions and so were the volunteers trying to get a hold on things. The girl who was supposed to handle the public announcements (since it can only be Ruhi, there”s no point in anonymity) was struggling to find where the mike was. In her absence Sachin took over the job of announcements and kept the show going.
Away from the action and into the glare of lights, I was on Sachin”s 10 inch Meade Goto telescope. It was supposed to be put up for a public watch but with the opening ceremony stretching a little, the expected public had taken a hike. So the public watch now was a media watch and while Sachin explained concepts of constellations and star motion along with the RA and Dec coordinates, the media seemed keen on knowing how Stellarium knew the night sky. Within about an hour all the interested persons at this telescopes had left when they realized all open clusters seem to look the same and the nebulae they were watching weren”t impressive enough. This brought to mind Ajay”s point that the audience must be shown the objects from a regular 6 inch or an 8 inch before letting them graduate onto the bigger telescopes. Anyways I was getting really bored so far away from the 40 inch dome and I pulled the plug on the 10 inch, packed it and as I was about to go to the the 40 inch dome, saw all my roommates on their way back to the hotel. That was the final nail in the coffin and soon I was on my way back very well knowing I will be missing the best part of the galaxy when it eventually rises.
Day 3 and the second day of MyWave started off quite well with everyone getting up nice and early (11 am). All decked up we left for the observatory early evening. Well prepared to counter the solitude, I took the 10 inch behind the 40 inch dome this time and set it up. Saturn of all objects seemed the pic of the moment and was attracting great reviews from the crowd. A short while later I realized most volunteers around me were missing and a few steps towards the steps of the 40 inch dome showed 5 members cozily settled under the kambal. Staying there for almost two hours they had a view of just one bright constellation and had to satisfy themselves by looking at Corvus for two hours. Needless to say a lot of post-modern-mythology was developed under the kambal. What deep rooted mental impact that view of Corvus for two hours had on them, only time will tell.
As Sagittarius rose, most volunteers got into their act again and it was globular clusters, galaxies and nebulae galore on the beesinchi/usb. An enthusiastic participant started playing Pink Floyd on his laptop at this moment and Vishnu and Vikrant went all out in providing the strongest backing vocals that you have ever heard to the band. A scramble for cabs and an 8 hour train ride later we arrived in Delhi ending the mighty Milky Way Voyage.
Withdrawal symptoms is too small a term to describe what I”m going through. Miss everything and all my roommates. Hope to be back doing this next year at Kutch