A group of Indian scientists are to traverse a 35,000-km journey by road from the Himalayas in India to the Cape Agulhas in South Africa to study the history of the continents of Asia and Africa that were a single landmass once upon a time.
The journey by road across 17 countries in 100 days is named the 'Gondwanaland Expedition' and will begin from Shimla on Saturday. Led by explorer Akhil Bakshi, the 10-member team has two geologists and a seismologist, an anthropologist, botanist and zoologist each.
"India was millions of years ago a part of Gondwanaland and was separated from Madagascar and the northeastern part of Africa," says Bakshi, who is chairman of the Science and Exploration Committee of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.
The countries along the expedition route include Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa.
"Throughout most of geologic time there were only two primordial continents: Laurasia in the north and Gondwanaland in the south, separated by the Sea of Tethys. Gondwanaland consisted of Africa, peninsular India, Australia, South America, Antarctica and Eurasian regions south of the Alpine-Himalayan chain," says Bakshi.
About 265 million years ago, this continental togetherness began to split. For 200 million years, India, Arabia, and Apulia (consisting of parts of Italy, the Balkan states, Greece, and Turkey) drifted across the ocean, and finally collided with the rest of Eurasia 65 million years ago.
Among the team members are seismologist Dr T S Kaith of the Wadia Institute of Geology, geologist Prof Rajeev Uphadyay of Kumaon University and botanist Dr Paramjeet Chana of the Botanical Survey of India. There is also rally veteran Mahindra and Mahindra's Sudhir Kashyap, a much-sought after vehicle engineer during the Ministry of External Affairs-CII sponsored India-Asean Car Rally from India to Indonesia in 2004.
The scientists will conduct exploratory geological research on the continental structure to bring to light evidence of history along with the study of seismic activity in the Indo-African region.
The recent earthquakes in India and Pakistan and the tsunami disaster in south and southeast Asia has added to the urgency of the expedition, says Bakshi, who had earlier led the Central Asia Expedition in 1994 on the old Silk Route and the Azad Hindi Expedition in 1996 in the footsteps of the Indian National Army.
After an initial Shimla-Delhi journey, the expedition team will resume its drive in the three cars shipped to Bandar Abbas in Iran from Mumbai early in March. The journey will continue through the historic cities of Shiraz and Tehran in Iran into Turkey. Along the route are Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The expedition ends at Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa in June.
The team members, who called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday, received goodwill messages from him for all the countries on the way. "The prime minister has lauded the expedition's spirit of adventure and the desire to explore the geological ties that bind India with West Asia and Africa," says Bakshi.