Space View

Better than R-Day Parade: The sights and sounds from ISRO’s record launch in Sriharikota

The launch lasted just two minutes, yet it was an enthralling experience.

Forty-five seconds to go. About 200 people shuffle around to fit themselves into the best vantage spot. The rooftop terrace above the MR Kurup Auditorium at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, is round, high-walled in and fringed by trees. It is thrown open at 9.15 am, with just minutes to go to the historic 9.28 am launch. A bomb squad spends a long five minutes scoping the open terrace before an antsy crowd is allowed in. A blaring speaker system is counting down, first every five minutes, then every five seconds. The Indian Space Research Organisation is ready to smash a world record.

The crowd had been in the auditorium below for about 40 minutes, watching snatches on a big screen from ISRO’s bustling Mission Control Room. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, or PSLV-C37, will launch 104 satellites, a singular feat. No country had ever attempted a century of satellites before. The world record so far was held by Russia with 37 satellites.

Twenty-five seconds. All eyes trained upward into the mass of clouds, above the trees. Fifteen seconds. Ten, nine… the crowd joins in. Five, four… goosebumps. Three, two, one… bated breath. A few seconds of nothing. And then there is a collective gasp. At +10 seconds, a fiery jetstream cuts into the clouds, as though in slow motion, and the crowd erupts with cheers. For once, selfie sticks dangle loose, cameras are up in the air, but the spectators are peeking above their lenses, using their eyes.

The rocket zooms through our view for a total of about 30 seconds, including a dramatic encore – a theatrical gold trail, vanishing, then making an entrance again through a clearing in the clouds. The crowd stands rapt, many carrying little children in their arms. It is a sensory experience: first, the awe-inspiring visual, and then, as the speed of sound catches up, an arresting rumble of the engine, enough to make the building shake. We are watching quietly for a few minutes even after the rocket has disappeared, willing it to make another appearance.

Credit: PTI
Credit: PTI

In just 15 minutes, the rocket has cut through the atmosphere and made its way into its planned orbit. Now, the satellites start to separate. All 104 satellites in the PSLV-C37 are housed in its top section, the conical structure that measures about 60 feet. The rest of the vehicle carries fuel and other technical necessities. To jigsaw the satellites into the vehicle’s real estate, a scientist standing by tells us, was a major challenge.

Of the 104, three satellites are indigenous. The Cartosat 2D, the PSLV’s main payload, is a high-resolution Earth-observation satellite, which will help in water resource mapping, road network monitoring and land-use mapping. The other two Indian representatives are nano-satellites. A bulk of the body comes from the US, with 88 satellites. Other customers include Switzerland, the Netherlands, Kazakhstan. ISRO is particularly proud of bringing together “Israel and the Arab world” on a single platform – one satellite each is from Israel and the UAE.

ISRO hopes to recover half of the mission’s cost from the cost of foreign launches. The organisation has now taken its tally of successfully launched foreign satellites to 180.

The launches are high security affairs, and you are only allowed in if you get a space scientist to vouch for you, or can validate a professional or educational purpose.

But many in the crowd, like us, had found references to get them in, and travelled here from across the country to be part of the historic event. For instance, my husband, brother and I made the trek from Mumbai to witness the launch, even though it lasted all of two minutes. My husband had always wanted to be an astronaut, and in a bucket list of things to do before turning 30, watching a rocket launch live was top of the list. He stood there, awe-struck, matching expressions with so many others.

Credit: Arun Sankar/AFP
Credit: Arun Sankar/AFP

Starting young was 14-year-old Param Luhadiya, who travelled to Sriharikota with his family of 10 and a white NASA T-shirt. Always fascinated by space travel, Luhadiya skipped two days of school to watch the rocket take off. “I’ve watched space launches on YouTube and on TV, but watching it live was exhilarating,” he said. “I learned much more today than I would have at school.”

Malvika Kommineni, a 29-year-old homemaker, was shaken awake in the middle of the night. Her husband had a surprise planned for her, and until they got from their home in Tirupati to Sriharikota – a 2.5-hour drive – she had no idea where they were going. Kommineni has been actively tracking ISRO’s activities for more than two years, and always wanted to watch a live launch. “We could never figure out how to get access, but this time, my husband found somebody to refer us and surprised me with passes,” she said. “It was a breathtaking experience.” Her four-year-old daughter is starry-eyed beside her. “While other girls play with dolls, she plays with rockets. She wants to be an astronaut, so watching a real, live rocket has made her week.”

After watching the PSLV fly into orbit, visitors came back into the auditorium with refreshments, to watch the vehicle orbit, and the satellites separate. Once the satellites had all made it into their own orbits, a series of ISRO heads gave inspiring speeches, acknowledging the world record.

“India is 104 not out,” said one.

“India’s achievement today will be gold-lettered into the history of space science,” said another.

To experience history first-hand, Tricolour swaying around you and pride shining in hundreds of eyes, beats the somewhat forced grandeur of the Republic Day parade. Complete with a tour to the space museum on campus, where scientists patiently answer hundreds of questions, a trip to Sriharikota is a tangible hope in the idea of India.

“The whole world is watching, and India is on the map,” said Kommineni. “We achieved what even NASA couldn’t.”

California-based engineer Prudhvi Nethi, who made sure to make it to the launch during his visit home, summed it up: “Now, I can go back to the US and brag – not just that we broke a world record, but that we put so many American satellites in space.”

Credit: Yash Kadakia
Credit: Yash Kadakia
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.