Rajastan Eclipse Adventure

How do you get to an eclipse in the middle of the Great Thar Desert in Rajastan? Not easily. Indians tend to view solar eclipses as ominous occurrences, and prefer to avoid them. Our hotel in Bikaner, mindful of the safety and well being of its guests, sent around a letter the day before with helpful Road to nowhereadvice for "enjoying the eclipse" that included staying in one's room with the curtains drawn! In view of this attitude, and the fact that we needed to travel about 70km north from Bikaner to the eclipse path near Lunkaransar, and then at least another 10km into the desert (the air pollution is so severe in any Indian city or village as to virtually preclude any type of astronomical observation), we were careful to secure a car and driver a day early. Unfortunately, the day before the eclipse was the Indian holiday of Diwali, and the celebrating tends to go on into the small hours. Whether because of this or simple superstitious fear, our driver failed to show up at the arranged upon 5:00 AM. By 6:00 ("T" minus 2½ hours) we had succeeded in finding another driver who was willing to risk the eclipse in exchange for about a month's salary (fortunately, not a great financial burden in India). GPSWhile two hours might seem like plenty of time to travel a mere 80km, anyone familiar with Indian roads will recognize the slimness of the margin we were working with. Now superstition worked in our favor, however, and the normally crowded roads were virtually empty. We headed north and found a small road across the desert that appeared (on the map) to cross the eclipse path. Navigating by GPS and a programmable calculator, we arrived at the supposed center of the path of totality with less than an hour to spare. It remained only to set up our observing equipment and hope that our calculations were correct and that we were indeed in the right place (an error of only 1km would result in our seeing only a partial eclipse). Well, through a combination of luck and the miracle of modern technology, totality began within 10 seconds of its predicted time. As darkness fell and the stars came out, wail-like chanting could be heard from the surrounding desert, adding a surrealistic touch to an awe inspiring spectacle.

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