February 9/10 2013
This is a “no moon” weekend and, as such, a very auspicious date. On Sunday, up in Allahabad, it is the main bathing day for the Maha Kumbh Mela and of course it is also Chinese New Year. I am sure this is not a coincidence. And on Saturday and Sunday quite a few large groups were gathered at the Sadaiyandy Temple down the road (more on that in another blog) together with the goats to be sacrificed and then stewed. But for us, last night and the previous two have been fabulous for star-gazing. There was no cloud cover at all, and, while we are not in an official “dark sky” area such as they have in Galloway in south-west Scotland, we have very little light pollution here.
I downloaded the star maps for our latitude and longitude for 9pm and 4am from an excellent free site http://www.fourmilab.ch/yoursky/. By 9pm we had finished dinner on the roof with our friends from Bangalore, and then, with the map as reference we tried to pick out the major constellations. Luckily Orion was directly overhead in the dead centre of the celestial bowl and we could take lines from his sword, or belt, or shoulders and make some semi-informed guesses. Jupiter was clearly visible and Uranus was setting to the west. At 4am to our delight the Southern Cross was clear as a bell due south of us and Saturn was coming into view over the mountainside to our east. Then at 5, as the call to prayer came from the mosque across the lake, the sky started to lighten and by 6 the stars were all but gone.
It was cool on the roof before dawn. But this is not the real chill of northern India at this time of the year, or of the hill stations. This is the clammy chill you get when the temperature drops to around 19 degrees but the humidity is so high that, just before dawn, a light dew falls.