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Eclipse fever in India village

Students of a school in Taregna
Students of St Mary School in Taregna are attending special classes on the eclipse (Photos: Prashant Ravi)

An obscure village in the eastern Indian state of Bihar has suddenly shot into limelight as the best place in India to watch a total solar eclipse on 22 July. Amarnath Tewary travels to Taregna to discover the excitement among locals.

In Taregna, a science teacher is busy teaching her students about solar eclipses and how they can be viewed safely.

The students of St Mary School are being told that viewing the Sun's harsh light should only be done through proper solar telescopes or glasses.

Astro-physicists and scientists have marked the village as the "epicentre" of the eclipse.

The name Taregna, incidentally, means counting stars in Hindi.

'Astro-tourist' influx

Total solar eclipses usually take place about once every 18 months, and always at new Moon - when the lunar body sits directly between the Sun and the Earth.

So, all of a sudden Taregna, some 35km (22 miles) from the state capital, Patna, has shot into limelight - some 20,000 "astro-tourists" and scientists from all over the world are expected to congregate here on the day of the eclipse.

Suraj Kumar
We do not wish to miss this rare opportunity
Suraj Kumar

Local authorities are excited by Taregna's new-found status. Bihar's Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has said he will be visiting the town on the day of the eclipse.

"I have already instructed the officials to make proper arrangement for visitors at Taregna," says Mr Kumar.

Authorities have chosen three to four locations in Taregna from where people can view the eclipse.

St Mary School is one of them.

"We are very excited that Taregna has been chosen as the place for the best view of the solar eclipse. So we are teaching our school students about eclipses and how to view them after taking precautions," science teacher Ms Mamata says.

The village is being spruced up to receive all the tourists and scientists.

Approach roads are being repaired, drains are being cleaned and faulty electric wires are being replaced.

Many hotels in Patna have been booked in advance by people coming into town for the eclipse.

Special flights

From Taregna, the solar eclipse should be visible for at least three minutes and 38 seconds, says a Nasa bulletin.

However, the maximum duration of the eclipse will be six minutes 38 seconds in the Pacific Ocean.

In India, the eclipse will commence soon after sunrise. Surat in Gujarat and Patna in Bihar are also expected to be excellent locations for good views.

Taregna railway station
The villagers have never seen anything like it

Legend has it that it was at Taregna that India's famous astronomer and mathematician Aryabhatta studied stars and planets during the Vedic age.

"We do not wish to miss this rare opportunity, especially when people from across the country are thronging here to witness the eclipse," say school students Ranjit Kumar and Suraj Kumar.

Tour operators have also made special arrangements to cash in on the occasion

Some of them have chartered planes to fly in eclipse watchers from other cities.

One of the planes will have 21 seats facing the Sun ("Sun-side seats") and 21 seats facing the Earth ("Earth-side seats"), says a tour operator.

"Sun-side seats, which will have a direct view of the eclipse, cost about 79,000 rupees [$1,618]," he says.



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