Musings in the Mist – A Journey of an Indian Army Brat – from Childhood to an Army Officer


This book is authored by Major Shona George, Regiment of Artillery, Indian Army, a personal friend.  Rather, his father Late Colonel Raju George, again from Artillery and I shared many hours  discussing various subjects ranging from military, history, religion, faith, parenting, philosophy, etc.

The book is fast paced and gripping.  It is a about 160 pages –  short enough hold your interest and cover the essentials, but long enough to get into your mind with a detailed account of what an Indian Army Officer – Sam Kapoor goes through.

The language used is simple, with adequate explanations about other language words and also military terminologies.  The book is as expected, divided into three sections.

The first dealing with Sam’s childhood of growing up in the Military Cantonments – a gypsy life – natured in Assam and nurtured in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bengal, Rajasthan, Delhi, Nagaland – rather most Provinces of India Union.  The life of a kid maturing to an adult through his teens is well etched. The language and narration keeps up with the innocence of a kid, with all the pranks, comical situations and activities the youngsters indulge in.  This chapter depicts the growth of Sam into a leader, through his various childhood activities.    Turning into adolescence –  a university student in Delhi  – and the hiccups everyone faces, interaction with friends, crushes, infatuations and ultimate love for a girl has been essayed out with its essence intact.  Ultimate dilemma of Sam to choose between his dream of becoming an Army officer like his dad and his love gives a cinematic twist to the narration.

Sam as a newly commissioned Lieutenant serving in Siachen Glacier – the highest and coldest battlefield in the world – forms the second part.  It is real fast paced, fascinating and will surely touch your inner cord.  What goes through Sam’s mind, without any dilution has been well explained, especially what Sam goes through losing the soldiers under his command.  The irony every Army Officer faces while breaking the news of loss of a soldier to his parent, carrying out the last rites  of an officer whom he met briefly, digging out a soldier trapped under an avalanche  – could not have been explained better.  At least I can vouch for it having been through similar situations.

Third part of the book deals with the operations in Kashmir Valley, dealing with terrorists.  Here again the author has done justice bringing out what goes through Sam’s mind as a military leader.  This I am sure is an experience most Officers of the Indian Army in the last three decades would have been through.

This book is a must read for all those who follow the Indian Army, its Officers and Soldiers.  The reader will surely end up with a feeling of patriotism and leave you with a hair-raising and spine-chilling sensation.

A prescription for sure of all those self-claimed Desh-Bhakths.

The book is available on Amazon.in, eBay and Flipkart. The ebook version is available on readwhere.com and the international edition is available on Amazon.com.

Special Aircraft for the Indian Cricket Team

During our recent trip to Alaska, we flew from Toronto to Vancouver.  We boarded the early morning Air Canada flight from Toronto.  The flight duration was of about five hours, but the clock only moved by two hours because the clock had to be set back by three hours as the time zone of Vancouver is three hours behind Toronto.

The five hours flight was made more comfortable than the regular one as the aircraft, an Airbus 319 variant deployed was the special charter plane used to fly various teams of the National Hockey League (NHL).  The aircraft had only 58 seats, that too all First Class, with all the accessories like comforters, extra legroom, LCD screens, and a private jet-like experience.  Thank you Air Canada.  They neither charge us any premium nor extra for the additional comfort and services rendered on our Economy Class ticket.

Former India cricket captain Kapil Dev has suggested the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to buy an airplane for the Indian cricket team in order to reduce travel time and resulting fatigue in an already busy schedule. He had made a similar suggestion to the BCCI a few years ago too.  With the T20 Indian Premier League (IPL) also going great guns, BCCI is surely making good money.  By owning a plane, could be in partnership with any of the leading carriers, it is sure to save a lot of time and make life easier for Team India and also for various IPL teams.

In the middle of the aircraft were four seats on either side with a large table.  Surely, it must be for the team management, the captain, the coach, the physio to hold any meetings in flight to work out strategy for the next game or to evaluate the team’s performance in their previous game.

With a busy schedule ahead, both at home and at international locations, Team India is in for spending a lot of time in air.  The effect of jetlag travelling across the globe takes a fair share of energy that too sitting in a cramped position, especially after playing a physically and mentally tiring match.  Why, even the practice sessions of today takes the toll.

It could also be feasible for various IPL teams to own their own aircrafts in collaboration with various domestic carriers.  The aircraft could be used on the domestic circuit when the IPL is not in session.  It will surely be a great draw with the cricket crazy Indian public, to be sitting on a seat usually occupied by their cricketing hero.  Obviously, such seats will go at a premium.  The aircraft can also be chartered for corporate events, tourism packages, pilgrimage and also for weddings.

It would not only generate extra mullah for the airline, but would also help in with their publicity.

Kapil Dev’s suggestion must be taken up by BCCI  and all the IPL franchisees, at least to make  the players enjoy a better and comfortable flight in future.

The Indian Digital Revolution

During my visit to our village in Kerala in August-September 2017, I observed an  increased use of cellphones and lack of verbal communication among family members and also among friends.  A family on a dinner at a posh restaurant, all the family members were glued to their mobile devices.  If it was the aim of the outing, it would have been better at home.  The relatives at homes I visited, the scene was no different – each one busy with their devices – smiling at times – may be enjoying the very same joke or watching the very same video clip, with hardly any verbal communication.  Wouldn’t it be better in case the same was shared by all?

Another notable aspect was the absence of laptop or desktop computers at home.  Obviously the modern cellphone does have much more capabilities than the computer, but it reduces the possibilities of parental monitoring.  Fast and cheap data connectivity, at a fraction of a cost as compared to Canada, appears to be the major factor driving children to over-use their cellphone.  The Indian parents care too much for their children – they pay for both the cellphone and the monthly bills of their children.  Some parents take ‘pride’ in the digital abilities of their young kids and flaunt their kid’s latest cellphone.  Could be that some parent is today looking out to be first proud parent of the school to provide iPhone X.

Everyone, at home, travelling or at places of leisure, were all too busy swiping continuously on their mobile devices.  They were obviously not reading, but only glancing which is given out by the frequency of their swipes.

The next causality of this ‘digital revolution’ is reading.  No one seemed interested in paperback books, newspapers or periodicals.  They appear more interested in sharing or forwarding what they received.  The comments posted on social media are mostly solitary words.  If someone does not read, how can you expect him/her to write?

The ‘sharing and forwarding’ syndrome has nipped creativity in the children and in the youth.  The most appreciated video clips are of those children mimicking the movie superstars.  Mimicry seems to have become accepted as an art form in Kerala and is the most sternly competed event in the Youth Festivals organised by the schools and also at the district and state level competitions.  Most TV Channels air at least a couple of mimcry shows with children as young as Kindergarten kids to grandparents as participants.  There are hardly any show to explore the creative talent of the kids and the youth.

Kerala homes about two decades ago had a gravel spread  courtyard with a little garden.  Every morning the courtyard was swept clean of the fallen leaves.  Today there is neither the gravel spread courtyard nor the garden.  The courtyards have all been tiled or concreted and the gardens have been replaced by potted plants – some even the artificial ones.  No one appears to have time and energy to get up early morning to sweep away the fallen leaves.  Further, most fruit trees that adorned the area in front of the homes have been felled.  Where are the leaves to fall now?

In our growing days, it was the duty of all the children at home to ensure that the courtyard was kept clean and the garden tended to.  As both our parents were school teachers, we had to do the hard work to keep the home beautiful.  Nowadays the parents want their children to study all the time and do not want them dirtying their hands.  Obviously there is some disconnect.

Two days after I landed in Kerala, the morning newspaper carried the frontline news about the Blue Whale Game, an Internet game that claimed the life of college student.  The game allegedly consists of a series of tasks assigned to players by administrators during a 50-day period, ending with the challenge requiring the player to commit suicide like the beached whales.

The parents of the victim claimed that before ending his life, their son did not behave normal and also carved some initials on his body.  The victim’s mother said that there were signs that he was taking up the life-risking challenges that Blue Whale administrators ask its users to perform.  The victim is believed to have jumped into a river though he did not know how to swim and had to be rescued.  In April, once the victim is said to have  asked his mother, “What if I die? Will you be upset?”. Two weeks later he committed suicide and before ending his life, he had  watched a number of horror movies.

The administrators or curators of the game are in the lookout for kids who visit sites carrying suicidal content or the kids ‘googling’ issues like suicide, self inflicted injuries, etc.  The administrator now sends in an invite to join.    Once a kid gets in touch with the administrator, he is given a new challenge each day. Then children are supposed to take a photo or video to prove that the challenge is completed.

When kids accept the game, the administrator gets some personal information from them or they extract images and video clips from their device. In case children want to leave or terminate the game, the administrator threatens with exposure or harm to their family. On the fiftieth day, the administrator instructs the participant on how to commit a suicide.

When I discussed this subject with the parents, everyone seem to carry a misconception that “Our children are God fearing and respectful to their parents. They will never visit such sites.”  No one appeared concerned about it and the news channels carried the news accompanied by verbose discussions by the so called ‘experts’ for a day.  Barring a few, most participants in the channel discussions brushed it off as a onetime phenomenon.  The clerics blamed it on lack of prayers and fear of God among youth.

The need for parent-child communication needs no further elaboration.  Please read my earlier Blogpost on the subject by clicking here.  The parents need to set an example by curtailing the use of their mobile devices at homes, especially when children are present.

The parents got to talk to their kid about the game.  The aim being to find out as to whether it has already taken root in the child’ school.  In case of any indication, it is best to inform the school about it.  The parents need to be aware of mood and behavioural changes of their children and got to go for professional advice to deal with the situation.  The quacks and clergy are obviously not the answer to your child’s problems.

The Last Lap

We steamed off from Ketchikan by 5 PM on 03 August and we had to sail for about 40 hours to our final destination – Vancouver. The ship cruised through the Inside Passage, crossing from the US to Canada. On either sides were the coastal mountains cut off by glaciers millions of years ago. It provided a spectacular view of coastal rainforests, beaches, waterfalls and mountains. The passage has been the route since the first passenger steamers of the Yukon gold rush in the 1890’s. The Inside Passage provides safe transit as a sheltered West Coast waterway.  The journey offered a view of many fishing trawlers laden with their catch heading to harbour, historic lighthouses on rocky isolated shores, coastal First Nations houses fronted with proud totem poles and bald eagles.

In the evening the crew of the ship (882 crew members from 44 countries) put up an absorbing and entertaining cultural programme to bid goodbye to their guests.

Next morning, Fabrizio Fazzini, the Executive Chef of the ship held a culinary demonstration, showcasing few of his signature dishes. Jean Paul Misiu, the Maître d’Hôtel was the host. In large organizations such as hotels, or cruise ships with multiple restaurants, the Maître d’Hôtel is responsible for the overall dining experience including room service and buffet services, while head waiters or supervisors are responsible for the specific restaurant or dining room they work in.

The culinary show was followed by a tour of the kitchen. The kitchen was spread over two decks, connected by two sets of escalators. It was a well laid out kitchen with adequate space for the staff to work and was all spick and span. Every section had separate storage lockers, maintained at specified temperature as dictated by the items stored.

Pasta and Spaghetti Section

Pastry Shop where 7000 assorted pastries are produced each day. All baking needs like bread, cakes, and pastries are made here.

Soup Section

Sauce Section

Vegetable Section where 4 tonnes of vegetables are used.

Butchers Shop where 700 kg of fish and seafood and 1600 kg of meat is prepared and served each day.

Garde Manger (French for ‘keeper of the food’) is a cool, well-ventilated area where cold dishes (such as salads and appetizers) are prepared and other foods are stored under refrigeration. The person in charge of this area is known as the Chef Garde Manger or Pantry Chef.

At the end of the tour Marina purchased a cookbook authored by Fabrizio Fazzini, the Executive Chef. The book was autographed by the Executive Chef and Jean Paul Misiu, the Maître d’Hôtel.

Our ship docked at the Vancouver’s Fraser Port on 05 August morning. The port resembled a modern airport with all the facilities like aerobridge, customs and immigration offices, car parking etc. This port has been is consistently ranked as one of the most passenger friendly ports in the world and so is no surprise over 800,000 cruise passengers come through this port each year,

On coming out of the cabin balcony, I realised that the visibility was pretty poor with smoke hanging in the air. It was all due to wildfires in British Columbia (BC), about 150 of them burning that day. Since April, there have been 928 fires due to a combination of lightning and tinder-dry conditions. Of these over 500 of them have been confirmed to be naturally caused while another 364 were human caused. These numbers are consistent with previous years where roughly 60 per cent of fires are natural and 40 per cent are caused by people.

Bans on campfires as well as the use of off-road vehicles on public lands had been in effect for most of BC. People were warned about the heavy smoke causing poor visibility on roads and drivers should have their headlights on and watch out for any wildlife. The smoke also posed a health risk for infants, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions.

The BC Province and Canadian government have left no stone unturned to fight these wildfires. They have moved in firefighters with their equipment from all other Canadian provinces and also requisitioned water-bomber aircrafts. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) through Operation LENTUS is in the forefront by providing aircrafts for transportation of the firefighting crew and equipment from all over Canada. The CAF aircrafts are also employed in evacuating locals who are affected by the wildfires, transporting first responders (Ambulance with Paramedics, Police and Firefighters), delivering essential aid to isolated communities and in assisting the local police in providing information to the public and conducting observation and reporting tasks at assigned points along access roads in affected areas.

We disembarked from the Coral Princess and bid goodbye to the crew and boarded a coach to the Vancouver Airport to catch out flight to Toronto,

All good voyages and travels must come to an end, but surely the next experience is awaiting.

Ketchikan – City of Totem Poles and Salmon

Over 80 Native American Totem Poles dot Ketchikan and a traveler  cannot go a few blocks without seeing one.  These Totem Poles serve as important illustrations of family lineage and the cultural heritage of Native American people.

The Totem Pole shown above tells the story of a Raven, who desired the sun, the moon and the stars believed to have been owned by a powerful Chief.  The Raven is depicted on the top of the pole.  Below the Raven is the Sun.  In order to procure the heavenly bodies, the Raven changed form to appear as the Chief’s daughter’s son.  The Chief’s daughter is depicted below the Sun.  The Raven cried to his grandfather until the Chief gave him the boxes containing the heavenly bodies.  The Raven opened the box, bringing the sun, moon and the stars to the earth.

This is the Chief Johnson Totem Pole.  The figures symbolise a single story about Raven.  On top is the mythological Kajun Bird.  The un-decorated long blank space symbolises the high regard in which the Kajun Bird is placed.  Below the blank space are the Raven’s slaves with the Raven below it.  The bottom figure is that of the Fog Woman.  She is identified with the summer salmon run. It was believed that the Fog Woman produced all salmon and caused them to return to the creeks of their birth.

The life story of the Alaskan Salmon is another interesting tale.  The story that takes the Salmon  from the rivers and streams of Alaska’s wild frontier to the Pacific Ocean and back again.  How they find their way back from the Pacific Ocean is intriguing.

Starting out as small eggs in a stream bed, they hatch and begin their journey downstream towards the ocean. They spend a couple of years in the streams and rivers growing up. During this time, their bodies change to adapt to seawater. The young adult salmon then head out to sea and spend several years swimming in the Pacific Ocean.

Adult salmon spend one to four years swimming and feeding in the Pacific Ocean. They grow to their adult size and develop unique adult markings . Their ocean journey is long and hazardous as they are constantly hunted by seals, whales and fishermen. After swimming more than 2000 miles throughout the Pacific Ocean they swim back to their original stream or river where they re-adapt to the fresh water and swim back up the stream to reach their spawning grounds, the place of their birth. To ‘spawn’ means to release or deposit eggs.  Sometimes this involves swimming up rugged rivers with rapids and even waterfalls to leap.  Upon reaching their spawning ground, the female adult clears a spot in the stream-bed by sweeping her tail back and forth creating a gravel nest and lays her eggs.  The male adult salmon now fertilizes the egg with his sperm and protects them until both die within a couple of weeks and leave the embryos to fend for themselves.  Their carcasses decompose in the stream creating a nutrient-rich environment for the new infant salmon that are about to hatch.

It is obvious that Alaska salmon have interesting lives. One has to admit that a salmon that has returned to its birth stream after years at sea is an admirable fish to say the least. Due to the excellent salmon management practices that now exist in Alaska, salmon populations are well protected.

If the salmons could come up the Ketchikan’s  streams  to spawn, the men of Ketchikan were not far behind.  By the turn of the Twentieth Century, the population of male workers in the city was almost double that of the females.  This encouraged prostitution and thrived until banished in 1954. In 1903, the City Council ordered all the bawdy houses to be moved to the Creek Street.  At the time in Alaska, prostitution was tolerated but only if it did not occur on land.  This gave birth to Creek Street, where the houses were built on stilts above a creek.  The women who worked in Creek Street called themselves as ‘sporting women.’

As per the then Alaskan laws, more than two ‘female boarders’ constituted a prostitution house.  Hence, most Creek Street ladies lived in pairs or alone.  The only exception was Star Dance Hall, (the building with the salmon), a two storey building with 21 rooms, with live music and dance partners.

Single men frequented the Creek Street openly, whereas the married men used the more discreet Married Man’s Trail through the woods.  The girls could easily identify them by the mud on their shoes

At the other end of the Creek Street lived Dolly who bought this house in 1919 and lived here till her death in 1975.  Dolly lived all alone as she preferred to work alone. In those days when the average Ketchikan male worker earned $1 a day, Dolly charged each man $3.  She purchased her house for $800 and paid it off in two weeks.

Dolly neither smoked nor drank, but her house was the most sought after ‘watering hole’ as prohibition was in place.  Dolly earned more money selling small amounts of liquor for large sums to her clients than she did through prostitution.  She kept one or two bottles in the house at a time and hid the rest under the dock. It was easier for her to discard them in case of a raid.   Many of the Creek Street houses had trapdoors where they could receive alcohol deliveries under the dock in the darkness of night.

Dolly was an industrious lady.  As soon as people realised the ineffectiveness of French Silk Condoms in vogue then, with the dead stock Dolly had, she made flowers out of them to decorate her bath curtain.

Dolly’s bedroom was done up very tastefully, obviously it was here she conducted her business.  It appears she loved pink, red and green colours.  The furniture in the room was a gift from a client a from Petersburg.

When Dolly died on July 1975 at the age of 87, all the major newspapers in Alaska carried her obituary, paying tribute to a woman with an indomitable spirit exemplified the tough, roistering years of Ketchikan’s early history.

By evening, It was time for us to bid adieu to the colourful historic city of Ketchikan.  We embarked on our ship for the last leg of our sailing to Vancouver, Canada.

Next : The Last Lap

Ketchikan – The First City of Alaska

 

Our ship reached Ketchikan Port in the early hours 03 August.  After breakfast, we disembarked and walked to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show arena.

The term lumberjack is a Canadian derivation and are workers in the logging industry who perform the initial harvesting and transportion of trees. The term usually refers to a bygone era when hand tools were used in harvesting trees. The lumberjack’s work was difficult, dangerous, intermittent, low-paying, and they lived in makeshift cabins and tents. However, the men built a traditional culture that celebrated strength, masculinity and  confrontation with danger. Lumberjacks, exclusively men, worked in lumber camps and often lived a migratory life, following timber harvesting jobs as they opened. Their common equipment were the axe and cross-cut saw.

In popular culture, the stereotypical lumberjack is a strong, burly, usually bearded man who lives to brave the natural environment. He is depicted wearing suspenders, a long-sleeved plaid flannel shirt, and heavy caulk boots.  With a rugged group of expert lumberjacks, some razor sharp equipment, and a mix of corny jokes, a hour long exhibition of logging events was worth watching. The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show featured a page right out of history with old fashion axe swinging and lumbering skills.

Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is the re-enactment of how the lumberjacks competed and displayed their skills.  There was a rivalry between the Dawson Creek Mill in British Columbia, Canada and the Spruce Mill in Alaska, USA.  Both camps claimed they produced better timber and their lumberjacks were more skilful.  To stake their claims, they held an annual Lumberjack Competition and the winners won the bragging rights.  The arena where we watched the Lumberjack Show was the very same place where the Spruce Mill was functioning.  The show began and it was a hysterical, hand clapping and foot pounding spectacle as the audience were also divided into two sides supporting each team – the Canadian and the American.

The first event was Underhand Chop while standing on a log.  It required the lumberjack to swing an axe fractions of an inch from his feet, mimicking how early lumberjacks would cut fallen logs to length in the forests.  It needed immense skill and control of the axe as the margin of error was very narrow.  The axe had to move vertically up and down, else would land on the lumberjack’s foot.

This was followed by the Standing Block Chop.  To the casual observer, the standing block chop may resemble a baseball swing.  It involves swinging a razor sharp axe at a 11 inch thick pine chopping block. It was surely more than just smashing on a log with brute muscle power.  The lumberjack had to ensure that axe met the log at the correct angle to cut the wood fibers and slice into the block.

The next event was the Springboard Chop.  The lumberjacks had to severe a log placed about nine feet high.  In the earlier days springboards used to allow lumberjacks a flat working surface in uneven terrain or where tall trees were cut by hand in steep hills.  The lumberjacks started by cutting a small pocket with an axe at roughly hip level for the first springboard, then jumped onto the first board before cutting another pocket higher up the pole.  Then they placed the second board into this hole and jumped on it, providing a secure location to chop the log.   Standing on this springboard, they chopped and severed the block.

This was followed by Stock Saw cutting.  The lumberjacks had to cut two cookie shaped slices from a block using a powered chainsaw, first cutting down and then next cutting up.  The lumberjacks had to have a keen ear to the sounds the saws made while feeding the saw just enough wood  to ensure that it is cutting fast but not too much wood that it got bogged down

The next competition was the 60-feet Speed Climb where in the lumberjacks climbed a 60-feet-tall cedar pole using steel-core climbing ropes  and spurs and then came down slithering. While descending, the lumberjacks had to touch the pole once every 15 feet.

This was followed by Double Buck Sawing where two sawyers working as a team with a two-man bucking saw had to cut through a 20-inch-diameter pine log.

The next event was Axe throwing where the lumberjacks threw an axe at a target, attempting to hit the bulls eye as near as possible in the allowed five throws for a maximum score of 25. The target was a three feet diameter circle, consisting of five rings  four inches wide. The scoring was based on where the axe struck with the outside ring worth one point, the next one in worth two, then three, then four and finally the bulls eye worth five points. The distance of the throwing line to the target was 21 feet.  In case the thrower stepped over the throwing line, or the axe did not lodge correctly on the target,  he got no points.

The final event was Logrolling, also known as Birling.  Two lumberjacks from opposing teams stepped onto a floating log and started  the roll and spin it rapidly in the water with their feet.  They would  stop it suddenly by digging into the log with special caulked birling shoes and a reverse motion to maneuver their adversary off balance and into the water, a feat called ‘wetting’. Dislodging an opponent constituted a fall.

The Lumberjack Show reflected upon North America’s rich logging history and came to life with thrilling displays of strength and agility. The show in fact honours an industry that was the backbone of Ketchikan’s economy from the late 50s to the 80s.

Next : Ketchikan – City of Totem Poles and Salmon

Juneau – The Capital City of Alaska

Our ship’s next port of call was Juneau on 02 August early morning.  Juneau has been the capital of Alaska since 1906.  Juneau is rather unusual among US state capitals (except Honolulu, Hawaii) in that there are no roads connecting the city to the rest of state or to the rest of America. The absence of a road network is due to the extremely rugged terrain surrounding the city.  All goods and persons coming in and out of Juneau must go by plane or ship.  Downtown Juneau is located at sea level, with tides averaging 5 m, surrounded by steep mountains about 1,200 meter high.

Even though Anchorage is the biggest city in Alaska and is well connected by rail, road and air network, how did Juneau become the capital of Alaska?

Sitka was the Alaskan capital when the US took over Alaska from Russia. The capital was moved to Juneau in 1906 because the gold rush had made it and other towns in the Northern Alaska much more economically significant than Sitka. When Alaska officially became a territory in 1912, Anchorage did not exist. Anchorage came into being during the summer of 1915 as a construction depot on the Alaskan railroad. It wasn’t that important of a town until the US Military moved in before World War II.

After the war Alaskans considered moving the capital out of South-East Alaska to a more central location. Anchorage was considered suitable with its central location, but poverty and lack of agreement prevented any action from being taken. The resolution to move the capital was put to vote in 1984 and 1996, but was defeated and is unlikely that the state government will ever physically move.

We got off our ship and headed on a bus to Auk Bay, about 20 km from the port, for whale watching.  We were ushered into a boat captained by  Emily.  John, a university student pursuing his pre-medical degree was her assistant.  Both Emily and John were very knowledgeable about the Auk Bay and the surrounding areas and also about whales.   We were a group of 12  in the boat and after everyone boarded, Captain Emily gave out the safety briefing followed by a talk about what we were expecting to see.  After leaving the jetty, Emily went full throttle, skimming over the water to locate  the whales.  During this journey John gave a detailed briefing on whales.

After about an hour, we sighted Sasha, a humpback whale. The whales located in  Auk Bay are given numbers and names.  Alaska is only a feeding area for the whales as there are lot of fish to feed on and is not a breeding ground due to the cold temperature. We watched bubble-net feeding by Sasha as she dived down and released a ring of bubbles from its blowhole beneath a school of fish. As the bubbles rose to the surface, it created a net, trapping the fish.

The next whale we located was Flame.  The humpback whales have patterns of black and white pigmentation and scars on the underside of their tails or flukes that are unique to each whale.  These black and white patterns are their bio-metric identification akin to our fingerprints.

After watching the whales, Emily steered the boat to an island where over two hundred sea lions were sunbathing.  The males had their heads up while the females and the cubs were all lying down like an arrangement of sausages on the beach. After watching the sea lions, Emily dropped us at the jetty to board a bus back to Juneau.

Back at Juneau, we drove on the Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway,  a five-minute ride through the rain forest, from the cruise ship pier to the  Mount Roberts at an elevation of 600 meter.  It offered a breathtaking view of the cruise ships, the port and  downtown Juneau as depicted in the images at the top. The Mount Roberts Tramway is one of the most vertical tramways in the world.

 

We came down on the tramway and decided to enjoy lunch at Juneau’s Twisted Fish Company, rather than going on board our ship anchored 100 meters away.  This place was recommended to us by locals and it was worth it. We savoured a menu of salmon, halibut and clam, sourced straight from the docks.

At the dock stood a plaque commemorating the ultimate sacrifice by the 690 member crew of the Anti-Aircraft Light Cruiser Ship USS Juneau.  The ship was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese submarines on the morning of 13 November 1942 in the Pacific Ocean.  Only 10 crew members survived to narrate the tale.  Aboard USS Juneau were  George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert – five brothers from the Sullivan family.  Even though US  Navy’s policy of separating siblings was in place,  it was not always followed and the five brothers enlisted to serve together and were assigned to USS Juneau.  The two oldest brothers George and Francis had served in the Navy before World War II and both had been discharged in May 1941. When war broke out, the older brothers with their three younger siblings volunteered to serve in the Navy but only if they could serve together.

After the sumptuous lunch, we boarded the ship and we sat in the balcony enjoying the breeze and the view outside on the waterfront.  There were many sea planes taking off and landing on water and a fishing boat crew were spreading their nets to catch salmon between the cruise ships and the ‘runway.’

The day for us ended with dinner and our ship bid goodbye to Juneau on its onward journey to Ketchikan, our last port of call in Alaska.

Next : Ketchikan – The First City of Alaska