My first time in India

This contribution is about my latest (and first) trip to India, a country full of contrasts. An Indian friend and former colleague, Asst. Prof. Dr. Balaji Birajdar, who had lived and worked in Germany for more than ten years (PhD at the Univ. of Tübingen, PostDoc appointments at Halle and Erlangen), asked me early 2017 to organize and to conduct a nation-wide GIAN Workshop on Advanced Electron Microscopy for Materials Science in India together with him. The course was contucted within the framework of and financially supported by the Global Initiative on Academic Network (GIAN) of the Ministry of Human Resource Devlopment, Govt. of India, at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi in March 13-22, 2018. Like in Europe, many new scanning and transmission electron microscopes have been installed during the past decade and many more will come in the near future, causing a rapidely increasing demand for well-educated microscopists with hands-on experience. When he asked me last year about the workshop, I was very excited and it was immediately clear to me that we would do it. We agreed to conduct the workshop in March in between winter time, when extreme smog governs everyday life, and the hot summer and monsoon period. After all, it was a lot of work but more fun and satisfaction for us as the organizers as well as the participants. Again, special thanks to Dr.-Ing. Julian Müller, my assistant at the University of Siegen, and our research students who have spent a tremendous effort to adapt and to rework our excisting courses for the GIAN workshop! (We are also going to use the new teaching material for our master courses at Siegen, which will start in April this year.) Early March 10th, I left from Siegen train station (with own toilet paper in my luggage ;-)) to New Delhi. Having read a lot about India and Delhi, I was really curious about the world’s third-largest city (>25 M people), the people, their culture, the climate (smog?) and, of course, our workshop.

When I arrived at Delhi airport later after midnight, I managed immigration and luggage pickup very quickly and Balaji picked me up right in front of the terminal building. We went to his home on the university campus by a pre-paid auto rickshaw. That was my first adventure in India, and many more would come. For the first few nights, I had stayed at Balaji’s home and he cooked dinner almost every evening of my stay. Later for our workshop, I moved to my final accomodation on campus, which was an apartment in the Jawarharlal University Institute of Advanced Studies JNIAS very close to our conference room. Balaji managed to organize a second bicycle for me to get around on the huge JNU campus. That bike was the smallest bike, I’ve every ridden in my life. 🙂

For our workshop, Balaji received almost 300 applications, from which he short-listed around 60 master and PhD students as well as staff scientists from all over India. Encouraged by such an overwhelming response, our aim was to teach both the essential fundamentals of SEM and TEM imaging and spectroscopy for every-day work with existing instruments as well as to provide a decent overview about recent methodical and instrumental developments. You will find our final schedule as one of the following pictures. Moreover, we conducted SEM and TEM live demos together with the responsible staff scientists Dr. Ruchita Pal and Mr. Manu Vashistha at JNU’s Advanced Instrumentation & Research Facility (AIRF) using SEM/TEM samples from JNU/IUAC as well as from Germany. So far, we hadn’t had any time to prepare our planned live demos together at the microscopes. Consequently, we already started to prepare the demos and our workshop at the day of my arrival. Moreover, it was the first time for me to work with a JEOL microscope; but, together with the help of a local JEOL application engineer (many thanks for his assistance during the workshop!), we even managed HRTEM and STEM alignments very well. I was very surprised how similar the operation of the JEOL 2100F and, e.g., a Philips CM of FEI Tecnai Microscope are.
Based on numerous early requests by participants to discuss their own research projects (a few already sent emails to me months ago), we adapted our schedule short-term and modified the course content several times. Balaji prepared a presentation about TEM planview/cross-sectional sample preparation short-term for our first official day. When our lectures started on Tuesday morning, we had to rearrange the conference room to fit all participants and the video recording team. After we had managed several issues with the projector, the Wifi and electricity, we started right in time at Tuesday morning with our regular program. But already during our second lecture session we faced our first power blackout. 😉 A few days later during our first TEM demo, the water chiller of the microscope broke down (total loss of refrigerant) and I had never expected the JEOL service to deal with that severe issue in time. But to everyone’s surprise, the JEOL technician identified the leakage at the weekend and repared and refilled the device at Sunday so that the microscope was ready for use on Monday morning, right in time for our second demo; many thanks for such incredible service!
Every day of our workshop, coffee, tea and great Indian food was provided by a local JNU catering service.

On Sunday, we had one day off. So, Balaji and I visited Old and New Delhi to see the city, the Red Fort from the Mughal era, Jama Masjid – one of the world’s largest mosques – and many more historic sites and memorials like Raj Ghat and Humayun’s tomb. We went there by Metro, walked more than 15 km and took autos (rickshaws) several times to get around. It was a very exciting day and I learned a lot about life in India/Delhi and was confronted with extreme social/ecological differences, ecological challenges (trash) and challenging traffic. I experienced a day full of (organized) chaos and a lot of beauty. After all, it appears to me that traffic in India is like a huge school of fish. Whenever any road user moves left or right, all others follow immediately without causing any accident.

After two very busy and demanding weeks, Balaji and I went on a trip from Delhi to Agra to Jaipur (Golden Triangle) to visit some famous historical/medieval sites. Because we din’t manage to organize the trip before my flight, we had to book hotels and trains short-term. So, we decided to take the train to Agra and back from Jaipur to Delhi. In Agra, we only stayed for on night to visit the famous mausoleum Taj Mahal in the very early morning and the medieval Red Fort from the Mughal era in the afternoon. After our arrival at Friday evening, we stayed at a private home similar to AirBnB. After a relaxing night, we got up at 5:30 am and we decided to have breakfast right after the visit of the Taj Mahal. So, we directly headed to the Taj ticket counter, which was a ~20 min walk from our accomodation. However, already hundreds of other tourist had the same idea and we lost our few bananas to some aggressive monkeys. 😉

After visiting the Red Fort, we directly headed to the train station to take a local train to Fatehpur Sikri (only a few 10 Rupies), a famous town closeby with another huge and very famous fort. Long story short, Fatehpur Sikri was founded by Akbar the Emperor as a new capital in 1571 after the birth of a male descendant, but he abandoned it already 15 years later. Nowadays, there is only the small town left and the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Because our train from Bharatpur (next city from Fatepur Sikri) to Jaipur was delayed by a few hours, we short-term decided to take a state bus. That was another 4 hrs adventure as we could only get one seat in the beginning of our journey, until we arrived at our hotel in Jaipur.

More about Jaipur will come soon (Nahargarh Fort, Amber Fort, City Palace with adjacent Hawa Mahal („Palace of Winds“) and Jantar Mantar (medieval observatory). Here are just the picture galleries:

Picture gallery Jaipur

Hawa Mahal gallery

Amber Fort gallery