Akhilesh Mathur > Hobbies

A description of my hobbies and interests.











Akhilesh Mathur

The beautiful Berner Oberland region is a trekkers' paradise. I typically do 5- or 6-hour treks involving a climb of 1600 meters (5300 feet). My climbs include the Niesen, the Stockhorn, the Brienzer Rothorn, the Niederhorn, the Morgenberghorn, the Gantrisch and the Dreispitz. (The last holds my personal record as my hardest physical effort ever.) These are not technical climbs—they are walks, and do not require ropes and pitons. They do, however, require caution at some exposed sections where you are only inches away from a yawning abyss. A trek to the Schreckhornhütte, an alpine staging hut for climbs up the Schreckhorn, involved using cables, ladders and handholds—all screwed to the rock—to traverse a vertical face called the Rots Gufer. Another climb to the Glecksteinhütte required walking through a small waterfall. Because of cold and snow, trekking in Switzerland can really be done only in the summer. I do about six treks every year.

I have learned to ski and can manage the elementary slopes, coded blue in Switzerland.

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The Sea

Akhilesh Mathur boat Akhilesh Mathur underwater

Left - backing my boat out of Cudrefin harbor.                    Right - scuba diving in the Maldives.

I love the oceans. Having grown up in Visakhapatnam, on India's east coast, I have frolicked in the sea since childhood. I swim regularly, and have a Zodiac Futura Mark II motorboat with a 30-horsepower outboard motor on Lake Neuchâtel. The boat is powerful enough to pull a skier. As it can float in ten inches of water, it is ideal for going ashore on a sandy beach. Lake Neuchâtel has many beautiful corners to explore. And swimming in its waters during the warmer months is exhilarating.

Lake swimming, however, is not as exciting as swimming in the sea. When travelling, I visit a beach whenever possible—and I must swim in the sea at least once a year. The best beach I've seen? The lagoon of Aitutaki Island in the South Pacific. It was a typical south seas paradise, with white sand, blue water and coconut palms. I've plunged into the blue-green waters of Waikiki beach in Honolulu, Copacabana beach in Rio, and Manly beach in Sydney. I even lived near Dona Paula beach in Goa for a few months. This pretty cove abuts the National Institute of Oceanography (known locally as the NIO) in Panjim (Panaji). I have also done some scuba diving in the Maldives.

Sailing and ocean navigation are thrilling. How many people can resist having the wind and spray in their faces? My dream of doing a transatlantic cruise took me to to a Southampton sailing school in 1994 to get some ocean sailing experience. I have books on seamanship, boat handling, meteorology, and navigation. I also have some navigation instruments—a bearing compass, binoculars, a barometer, a GPS receiver, and navigation protractors. I do not have a sextant because Switzerland is too mountainous to see a horizon. Astro navigation, though fast becoming a lost art, is fascinating and I would like to learn it one day.

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Physical oceanography

This subject combines my love of both mathematics and the sea. Who is not fascinated by the voyage of the Kon-Tiki, the fragile balsa raft that rode the Pacific from South America to the Marquesas Islands? I want to learn how tides, winds, temperature gradients and the Coriolis force arising from the earth’s rotation drive ocean currents. The associated mathematics is challenging.

For submarine aficionados like me who love books like The Hunt for Red October, Blind Man's Bluff, Ice Station Zebra, and Run Silent, Run Deep, the propagation of sound across temperature and density gradients in seawater is very interesting. Submarine sonar uses sound waves to detect other submarines and underwater objects, and the way sound travels underwater is affected by water temperature and density.

I visited India's National Institute of Oceanography in July 2005. Dr. Satish Shetye, its director, has a Ph.D. in physical oceanography. He gave me a very informative and readable pocketbook on the oceans published by the Institute. He also gave me this authoritative reading list:

1. The Ocean Basins: Their Structure and Evolution
2. Seawater: Its Composition, Properties and Behaviour
3. Ocean Chemistry and Deep-Sea Sediments
4. Case Studies in Oceanography and Marine Affairs
5. Waves, Tides and Shallow-Water Processes
6. Ocean Circulation

The Open University (UK) publishes these books.

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Travel (I have spent a lot of money on this) is one of life's genuine pleasures. My work, too, requires some travel. I have toured Western Europe extensively. Travels outside Europe include Abu Dhabi, Aitutaki, Amman, Ankara, Auckland, the Bahamas, Baku, Bangkok, Beijing, Boston, Brasilia, Cairo, Caracas, Dallas, Doha (Qatar), Dubai, Gulfport (Mississippi), Hong Kong, Honolulu, Houston, Istanbul, Jakarta, Kashgar, Kauai, Kissimmee (Florida), Las Vegas, Los Angeles, the Maldives, Manaus, Maui, Miami, Montreal, New York, Niagara Falls (Ontario), Ottawa, Panama, Plainsboro (New Jersey), Rarotonga, Rio de Janeiro, San Diego, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Shanghai, Sharjah, Singapore, Sydney, Toronto, Tripoli, Turfan, Urumchi and Washington.

My most "exotic" trips? Visiting the Amazon jungles and fishing for piranha was interesting. I remember Manaus (the capital of Brazil's Amazonas province) from my fifth-grade geography textbook. The waters of the Rio Negro (black) and the Amazon (yellow) meet in Manaus and do not mix for several kilometers. The distinct black-yellow boundary is a unique sight on this planet.

Sinkiang province in Chinese Turkestan was another memorable trip. I visited the silk route towns of Turfan, Urumchi and Kashgar. These towns, steeped in history, ring the Takla Makan desert. Grape vines shade entire streets in Turfan: bunches of grapes hang over cars driving below. The people here—the Uighurs—are of Central-Asian Turkish stock. They are very good-looking, gracious and gentle. Islamic links with India—especially in the music, cuisine and even facial features—are evident. This is not surprising, as Kashgar lies almost directly across the Himalayas from India. It is easy to understand now how migratory movements carried Central Asian culture to India. And Kashgar, the crossroads of Central Asia, borders Tajikistan's Ferghana region—the Great Mughal Babar's home.

Akhilesh Mathur frontier Akhilesh Mathur Berlin Wall

Left - arch on the China-Kirghizstan border.        Right - the Berlin Wall. East German watchtower                          visible on other side.

I also visit the Kirghizstan frontier from Kashgar. Stepping across the border—an arch with 'CCCP' (USSR) written across it—I look for Kirghiz border guards, but see none. Chinese border guards gesticulate and yell at me to return. I prudently do so. My guide tells me later that the Kirghiz guards (where were they?) might have shot at me if I had walked any further. He was probably exaggerating, but why take chances?

This incident recalls my 1988 Berlin Wall-era crossing of Checkpoint Charlie. Entering East Berlin with surprising ease, I visit the Brandenburg Gate, stroll down the Unter den Linden and visit the Pergamon Museum. When I return, however, the East German immigration officer—a very hard-faced lady—interrogates me. What did I do? What did I buy? She looks at my face and passport repeatedly before allowing me back into West Berlin.

Another adventurous journey—inspired by Alistair MacLean's book Ice Station Zebra—was to the arctic island of Spitzbergen (Svalbard) in 1986. I borrowed cold-weather gear from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police for this trip. At 78 degrees north, Spitzbergen is only 1300 kilometers from the North Pole. The bleak desolation of the high arctic can chill the soul.

How does anyone get to someplace so remote? I fly from Delhi to Moscow and change planes for Longyearbyen, the capital of Spitzbergen. Why Moscow? The Russians have a coal-mining operation in Spitzbergen, and there is a once-fortnightly flight there from Moscow. This flight makes a transit halt at Murmansk—a major Soviet ballistic missile submarine base and the headquarters of the Soviet Northern Fleet. After we land in Murmansk, some soldiers collect our passports and herd us off the plane to the transit lounge. When the plane is ready for boarding, all the passengers get their passports back. I don't. I am a little worried, but soon see a guard standing further ahead with my passport. The Soviets are clearly taking a special look at me. I am relieved when we take off for Spitzbergen. (Read a more detailed account of my visit here.)

One of the reasons for my visit was the desire to see the aurora borealis, but I was unlucky not to do so. The Arctic and the Antarctic fascinate me, and it is thrilling to reading accounts of these regions by explorers like Fritjof Nansen and Ernest Shackleton. I would love to visit the US Amundsen-Scott base at the South Pole. A dream is to do an overland trek to the poles.

I have traveled with my family to Hawaii, the Bahamas and the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. Our dream destination is Bora Bora in French Polynesia (which we hope to visit one day). We also visit the USA regularly—my wife's sister lives there, and both my sons study there.

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I read political, military and espionage thrillers. I also read about outdoor survival, land navigation and cartography.

I like history and read about the Greeks, the Romans, Alexander the Great, Genghiz Khan, Hannibal, and Sparta. It is interesting to reflect on the historic Indo-Aryan thread that stretches from Iceland to India. Word stems in seemingly diverse languages betray their common origins. They offer clues about human migrations, trade routes and even military conquests.

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Defence policy

Defence policy and doctrine—with an emphasis on nuclear weapons and nuclear command, control and delivery systems—are other interests. Movies like Crimson Tide and War Games strike a responsive chord. I "operate" a Los Angeles class nuclear attack submarine using a simulator program.

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Aviation and air traffic control

Airway structure around Delhi
A Jeppesen chart is the aviation equivalent of a road map. This extract (NOT to be used for navigational purposes) shows the airways around Delhi. 

A solid triangle inside two concentric circles is a VOR (Very High Frequency Omnirange). VORs are navigational radio beacons. DELHI VOR, callsign DPN (Delta Papa November), operates on 116.1 megahertz. 

Solitary triangles are waypoints called intersections. Note TIGER intersection situated on the left. It is common to both airway G452E (Golf Four Five Two East, highlighted) inbound to Delhi and airway G452W outbound from Delhi. Situated on the India-Pakistan border, TIGER is probably the most well-known waypoint into and from Indian airspace. 

Latitudes and longitudes of VORs and intersections (indicated on the chart) are fed into the aircraft's navigation computers. The aircraft's Flight Management System steers it from one waypoint to the next. 

Westbound departures from Delhi follow airway G452W. Initial course is 240° (southwest) for 26 nautical miles to the Chillerki VOR (middle left of picture). Then course 266° (west) for 135 miles to the ESDEM VOR, and finally course 280° for 100 miles to TIGER. Departures for Europe would typically use airway A466W, steering 297° to BUTOP intersection.

I run flight and ATC simulation programs on my PC. I monitor radio exchanges between aircraft and air traffic controllers on my scanner, and have visited ATC centers in Montreal, Geneva and Delhi. I have Jeppesen charts and 1:500,000 topographic maps (Tactical Pilotage Charts, or TPCs) for many routes. The Zurich-Delhi sector requires fourteen TPCs. If you transfer airways and intersections from the Jeppesen charts to the topographic maps, you get the aircraft's ground track. You can then determine aircraft position using terrestrial features in daytime. (Bodies of water are particularly useful.) Town lights suggest position at night.

This is an interesting exercise. One learns, for example, that two airways to Delhi cross the India-Pakistan border. On a clear night, you can see the line of sodium-vapor lamps illuminating the Indo-Pak border fence. The two border intersections (on airways A466 and G452 respectively) are Samar (Lat 31°20.8'N, Long 74°34.0'E, west of Amritsar) and Tiger (Lat 28°28.8'N, Long 72°14.9'E, west of Delhi). They mark the airspace boundary where control is transferred between India and Pakistan.

How does Indian ATC handle my flight from Switzerland? Entering Indian airspace on airway G452 east, the pilot calls Delhi ATC on 124.55 megahertz: "Delhi control, good morning, Swissair one niner four, Tiger two one three zero, flight level three seven zero." Delhi replies: "Good morning Swissair one niner four, identified, descend to flight level three three zero." The pilot has told Delhi West Area Control that he crossed Tiger intersection at 2130 GMT and is flying at 37,000 feet. The controller has identified him on radar, and instructed descent to 33,000 feet. Delhi is still 45 minutes away.

Area Control hands over to Approach Control about 25 minutes later. Approach issues maneuvering instructions (called vectors) to position the aircraft for landing. The approach controller's job is very stressful. Aircraft are arriving from all directions, and speeds, altitudes and courses must be juggled to keep aircraft separated and sequenced. The approach controller hands over to his tower colleague when the aircraft is on final approach. Landing clearance follows: "Swissair one niner four, cleared to land runway two eight, wind two seven zero degrees five knots." My good friend K. S. Raghuraman often works the Delhi Approach Control radar.

My brother-in-law Atul Mathur is an aviation aficionado as well. A US-based aerospace engineer with Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, he leads his company's Aero Thermal Fluids & Performance team. Rocketdyne makes the Space Shuttle Main Engine, which is ground-tested at the Stennis Space Center on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I have visited two of NASA's ten centers—Stennis, and the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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Amateur radio

A radio ham since I was 15, I have an advanced grade license that allows transmission up to one kilowatt. My Indian call sign is VU2VB. India and Switzerland have a reciprocal agreement—licenses issued in one country are valid in the other. However, I have not been active on the air from Switzerland.

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Hindi 'filmi' music—especially from the '60s and the '70s—is a favorite. I like English pop too. I enjoy western classical music.

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I spend about six hours a week on mathematics.

I am learning number theory to better understand ciphers and cryptosystems. Other areas of interest include the Frullani integral, Riemann-Stieltjes integration, the evaluation of integrals with infinite limits, the Laplace and Laplace-Stieltjes transforms, the calculus of variations, the optimization of constrained functions, and analysis.

An author I like is David Widder. He taught at Harvard University, and his books are models of clarity and rigour. A review of him once said, "Professor Widder could teach calculus to a rhinoceros." I used his classic Advanced Calculus text in Goa, and would often study from this book during lunch. I also have his book on Laplace Transforms. I also have Tom M Apostol's Mathematical Analysis.

Another favorite mathematician is Dr. Richard Bellman. He discovered dynamic programming and modern control theory. I bought my first book on control systems from Singbal's Book House in Panjim on 1 October 1975. I keep it in my office to this day. Singbal's was the best bookstore in Panjim, and I still remember my visits there.

Play music

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Page created on 30th August 2004 and last reviewed on 23rd December 2012

E-mail: akhilesh.mathur@upu.int

Akhilesh Mathur, Berne, Switzerland

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