The first time I truly understood the meaning of the term light pollution was also the first time I saw the stunning whorls of the Milky Way spiralling outwards clearly—and almost endlessly. That was more than 15 years ago, and I was standing in a field in Patangarh, a village that’s home to some of India’s finest Gond artists, in Madhya Pradesh, and which was then fairly remote. It’s likely those skies aren’t as clear anymore, but stars have always inspired curiosity as well as awe—oracles looked to the stars as did early astronomers, both trying, in their own ways, to make sense of the world.
Looking up to the sky comes naturally to most of us, but in the light-polluted cities in which we live, it’s rare to see more than some sparkly twinkles. To see part of a galaxy in such clarity is to marvel at the symmetry, beauty and complexity of the world we live in. It’s this desire to discover and be amazed that is driving India’s nascent interest in astrotourism, or travelling to dark sky spots in order to observe stars.
Our cover story tracks these travelling stargazers, whose interest ranges from pure admiration to scientific discovery to astrophotography. Oddly enough the pandemic—a time when people had little to do but look up and hope for better days—is one of the triggers for this newfound love for night skies. The Dark-Sky Movement, which aims to prevent light pollution and preserve existing dark zones, is slowly gathering steam in India. Members of astronomy clubs, online groups and curated travel clubs cross the length and breadth of the country—from Hanle in Ladakh, India’s only dark sky reserve, to Sakleshpur in Karnataka—to stare at the skies. Even if you are not an avid skywatcher, signing up for one of these trips can make for a truly immersive and unusual holiday. These are travellers who crave darkness.
Other stories in our issue also feed a spirit of curiosity and discovery—a detailed profile of artist K.S. Radhakrishnan, who is having his first retrospective in Delhi; a contemplation on the literature born of the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992; a charming piece on two British-era libraries in the Nilgiris; and a story on the agave-based drinks that are fuelling an appetite for Mexican food.
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