| A vehicle of the expedition team encounters a group of camels in Africa
New Delhi, June 30: Evading bandits and bombs, driving across mountains and grasslands, and fixing a tyre with lionesses for company, a 10-member Indian team has travelled 25,000 km from Shimla to the southern tip of Africa.
Three scientists from Calcutta were in the team that drove from Shimla to Mumbai, sailed to Bandar Abbas in Iran, and then hit the road again through west Asia and eastern Africa.
They travelled for 100 days across 16 countries in three sports utility vehicles before entering South Africa and arriving at Cape Agulhas, the southern tip of Africa, on June 24.
“This expedition turned out to be a natural geological observatory,” said team member Trilochan Singh, a geologist posted at the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology’s Northeast unit in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh.
“Along the way, we could see signatures of Africa’s future geological fate,” Singh told The Telegraph. An eastern chunk of Africa is now rifting and could break apart millions of years from now to create another Madagascar-like island.
The Ethiopian highlands and a series of elongated lakes along the route provide evidence of this rifting process, Singh said.
The science contingent from Calcutta included Paramjit Singh from the Botanical Survey of India, Gopinathan Maheshwaran from the Zoological Survey of India, and Ankeram Sankhyan from the Anthropological Survey of India.
They called it the Gondwanaland expedition, borrowing a name given to the primordial continent that was made up of modern-day Africa, peninsular India, Australia, South America, and Antarctica.
The team led by Akhil Bakshi, a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, moved from Iran into Turkey and through the Syrian desert, continued south into Jordan and past the Dead Sea across the Gaza Strip into Egypt.
The day the team arrived in Tel Aviv, the city witnessed a suicide bombing. While they were in Addis Ababa, three bombs exploded in the city.
After crossing the Ethiopian highlands, the convoy turned east into the Danakil desert and then south into the Great Rift Valley, passing through lakes and volcanoes along the geological fault line ' Lake Victoria in Kenya, the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania and Laka Nyassa in Malawi.
In Kenya, the team once had to fix a flat tyre under the gaze of a pair of lionesses staring at them from a nearby rock. Another time, the team returned from a walk along the grasslands to find a lion playfully rolling under their Jeep, with a couple of team members who had stayed behind perched on its roof.
In Tanzania, Bakshi said, the team had to make a 750-km detour to keep away from an area notorious for bandits. “The police asked us to avoid the area and declined to provide us any escort,” Bakshi said.
The team had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on March 22 before setting out. Along the route, the scientists interacted with their counterparts in different countries, while other members interacted with youth organisations.
“Part of our goal was to promote people-to-people contact with countries in West Asia and Africa,” Bakshi said.