Contemplation and Khangchendzonga

Scraps of memory remain. Travelling for five days through the land of mountains and valleys. The Teesta and Rangit meandering through the hills and meeting us at every other turn with their pristine white waters and swirling eddies that beckoned us so urgently to take a dip in the cool clear waters. Unusually clean country which took us by suprise because we could hardly see the usual scraps of colourful fluttering plastic that we have become so accustomed to in a city and no longer even notice. The chortling laughter of the chubby cheeked children who waved to us so energetically, the smile of a slender, shy Sikkimese girl who stopped the car and offered us a bunch of wild red rhododendrons – these are the memories that remain of this beautiful land locked state of Sikkim.

 

The locals say that Sikkim gets its name from two words, su which means ‘new’ and khym which means palace. Phuntsok Namgyal, the first king, built a palace here in the 17th century. The seat of coronation still exists beneath a three hundred year old pine tree that looms over it like a protective parent.

 

That day I awoke at four in the morning. I am not an early riser usually, but the eastern part of India doesn’t let you sleep till late. The sun rises early and with it the people. Consequently they also turn in alarmingly early, which proved to be quite a meance for a night bird like me. When at home, I would sit awake late into the night reading or watching television. Sometimes if the mood took me, I would write into the early hours of the morning. That first night in Sikkim, I  sat awake reading in bed an old and much worn Franz Kafka novel. It might seem somewhat odd to you that I would wish to read Kafka on a travelling vacation, but it was the book that tumbled and fell at my feet when I opened the covers of my bookshelf in a last minute hurry to extract some books for on -road reading. But  there is nothing remotely Kafaeqsue about this write except that perhaps in a sense I too went through a transformation as did Gregor Samsa – only it was not into a horrible bug that I metamorphosed but into a beautiful world that had hitherto not existed for me even in my remotest dreams.

 

….

 

The curtains were drawn aside and I struggled to sit up on my bed. Snuggled up in a double quilt, I  reached blindly for my glasses on the side table. Fumbling with sleepy fingers I put them on and peered outside. It was still an inky blue but I could see no stars at all; they had probably dipped into the western horizon. I looked at the glowing hands of my old Tissot – it showed just past 4am.  Propping my pillows up I settled into the covers.  I had no intention of getting out into the chilling cold. The urge to slide down and submerge myself under the blankets was enormous and yet I did not. I sat staring out into the darkness. The previous evening the concierge at the Hotel had wooed me with exciting stories of an enchanting sunrise, but I have to say that for a person who is easily swayed, I had remained unusually resolute. Nothing, I decided was going to deprive me of a good , long sleep during my vacations. I worked hard enough round the year in the hot and sultry seaside megacity and I owed myself a few hours of extra long sleep if nothing else.

 

The concierge, a stout little bustling man, bowed low but looked a mite disapproving. I sympathised with him as he persuaded me, “how soon would Madam visit such a beautiful place again – not for a long time surely. A view of our deity, the mighty Khangchendzonga is a must for all who visit Sikkim. ” I am sure he must also have taken a disparaging view of my laziness. But I had my own reasons as I have explained before and walked away to my room leaving the poor concierge looking grim and unhappy.

 

Now, sitting there in the darkness of the bedroom I wondered what stopped me from burrowing back into the sheets. The sky had turned a shade lighter and I could make out the silhouettes of the branches as they stretched themselves against the sky. A lone bird fluttered away and the rustle of its winged feathers rubbing against each other was clearly audible to me. Throwing the sheets aside, I stood up and flexed my body. Slipping on my mules I padded into the bathroom and splashed some icy cold water on my face. That has a way of  painfully startling you into alert wakefulness, you may have noticed.

 

Rubbing my face vigorously into a thick hand towel I came back into the room to stand near the window. Sliding the glass panes aside, I breathed in a lungful of the crisp, cold morning air. Then I looked around for my jacket and pullover and pulled those on . Struggling into a pair of  tracks and hastily pulling a woollen cap to cover my ears, I went out of my room and headed for the open terrace that I had discovered the evening before. As I walked softly along the dark corridors of the hotel, I noted with satisfaction and a certain amount of smugness that not even one room had lights peeping through the cracks of the door. Evidently Mr. Concierge was stretching the truth when he said that all his tourists were eager to watch the sunrise !

 

Feeling a wee bit triumphant that I had beaten all his early bird hotel guests, I slid the latch on the door and opened it wide to step out onto the terrace. The cold morning air hit me a second time and I drew the jacket close around me. The sky had lightened considerably by now and everything looked shrouded in a grey white blanket. Dark green and violet mountains loomed all around me. Mists curled this way and that and when I exhaled to warm my palms I felt like a kettle letting out steam. Standing on one heel I did a slow pirouette, turning three sixty degrees to take in the magnificient vista.

 

Going to the edge of the terrace which was roped in by a railing, I looked down into the valley and found that I could see nothing at all but clouds hovering dark and heavy. The trees and dense foliage stood stock still in the early dawn apparently devoid of all life. Stepping away from the railing I looked up and to my right I found the sky turning a vivid orange gray. Just as suddenly, the whole sky seemed to brighten up as if shrugging off the covers  as I had done earlier . I looked down into the valley again and could now discern little villages and narrow pathways  amongst the forest of junipers, firs, pines and cypresses. I could even make out little curling twists of smoke as people began to go about their daily chores.

 

And then I happened to look straight up. Not to my east, but straight ahead of where I was standing. To the North. And I let out an audible gasp; for what had been only dark grey sky before was now splendorous with the white rugged peaks of the mighty mountain -the Khangchendzonga. Snow laden and majestic, it seemed to have appeared from nowhere at all. It stood now as if it had just come and conquered the land from the depths of darkness.

 

Khangchendzonga is an awe inspiring piece of rock clothed in pristine white snow. It is said to both protect and terrifies the people of Sikkim. This Himalayan giant is the world’s third highest peak and the people of Sikkim reagrd it as their diety. But all these things held no meaning for me at that moment. The sheer beauty of the gargantuan mountain was enough to take my breath away. I have heard of sparkling diamonds that make you catch your breath, but you have to see the sunlight glinting off the Khangchendzonga to believe in the beauty of Nature. A brilliant refulgent, glow that you can only watch, not capture in even the most sophisticated camera. 

 

Khangchendzonga – the name itself means a ‘house of five treasures’ which refers to its five peaks – looks like a jewel laquered in gold against the first rays of the glinting sun. As I stood there on the terrace drinking in the beauty of the mountains, the sun steadily rose on its diurnal journey untiring and ceaseless. The breeze pulled at the strands of hair which had escaped my toupee and the chill wind warmed to caress my cheeks. The mists began to rise and so did the clouds which had been resting in the valley. I stood there watching them ascend upwards, till they beagn to shroud the magnifient snow peaks. The mystical mountain slowly began yeilding to the nimbus clouds that gathered and moved up swiftly to cover the snow clad peaks. Omnipresent and yet veiled, the mighty Khangchendzonga withdrew behind the hazy miasma of vapour to rise again another day. I wondered if I would witness such beauty and strength in a long time again.

 

      It makes me think of a line I had read somewhere, ”  If eyes were meant for seeing

   t then beauty is its own excuse for being.”

9 Comments

  • nandanjha says:

    Welcome aboard Shoma.

    I am not a great reader to really comment like a pro, but from my experience of reading, I do not remember such a rich and detailed account of sun-rise. Splendid.

    I have been to Gangtok and Khangchendzonga (pronounced as Kanchan Janga in Hindi) is really the mighty lord of the region.

    Great story and eagerly looking fwd to read more.

  • ashoksharma says:

    the fine details you r able to sketch in beatiful words is highly commendable.god blesses very few people with such a beautiful eyes and senses.keep seeing the world with your natural and blessed eyes.
    keep on writing.

  • Shoma Mittra says:

    Hi Ashok

    Thank you for reading and commenting on my write. I shall soon start reading everyone else’s on Ghumakkar.

    shoma

  • Abhijit says:

    Shoma,

    I abjectly failed in my frantic effort to describe your post in a single superlative. Many words crisscrossed my mind but none could climb the height of your write. May be my English has failed me.

    You truly dont need the most sophisticated camera with such a mighty pen in hand. The tumbling Kafka rolled me back to the book self in your Mumbai flat. The connect was instant. The mind vision of the silhouette of a closely drawn jacket shrouded in curly mists was so vivid that I could discern the chill! Could any inanimate photo lenses compete with that?

    By now the scrapbook must have been filled with imageries of your new house in Perth. Bring out some delicacies from that for us to devour. And with your promises to Nandan, Ive to be more regular in browsing Ghumakkar!

    Mukherjee Da.

  • Shoma Mittra says:

    Mukherjeeda, I feel humbled with so much unworthy praise from you who write so well and tell such fabulous stories. I am waiting eagerly for more travel tales from you too.

    Thank you so much for reading this. Sikkim was a truly beautiful place to visit.

    There are so many places I wish to go to but so little time. Perhaps one day….

    Until then I shall have to read other’s writes on travel sites like this and satiate my travel appetite.

    shoma

  • Ram says:

    Shoma,

    After what Abhijit Da has commented, there is hardly any scope to add any other superlatives.

    Simply awesome.

    Welcome aboard and keep on writing.

  • Nitin says:

    Hi

    I have planned my trip for darjelling and sikkim from 1st Aug-7Aug

    please adivce if i can travel in monsoon season.

    Nitin

  • Manish khamesra says:

    Shoma,

    One of the most powerful narrative, I read recently; a great start of my day :-)

    Looking forward to read more from you.

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