What makes a place so special that it keeps drawing people to itself? Is it the look, the vibe, the people, the food, the aura? Or is it a memory etched so deep into who we are that we find ourselves invariably attracted to it?
What if that place is actually eight and a half kilometres from sea level, perched on the highest mountain range in the world? Kanchenjunga is unlike any other of her 8000-metre comrades.
Sure, you can argue that Mt. Everest stands proud as the highest peak in the world, the ascent of which would add the final straw on the proverbial mountain junkie’s hat. K2 or Mt. Godwin Austin would further stake a claim to be among the most unusual mountains, and so should it. Located in the Karakoram range, furthest north, the peak is as elusive to see as the gateways of the legendary Shangri-La.
But here is a peak, situated a mere 74 kilometres as the crow flies from the hilly town of Darjeeling garnering all the attention. You would not need to hike three days with Sherpas guiding the way and yaks carrying your luggage as you would to see Everest. Nor would you need to take a flight over Kashmir on an especially clear day to catch a glimpse of K2. You can soak in all of Kanchenjunga’s beauty with a cup of piping hot tea in hand.
Even on mildly clear days, you can see each of the smaller peaks that make up the mountain. The summit is among the privileged few in this part of the world that is witness to the warm rays of the sun brushing against the horizon. As the stark white mountain snows turn bright red, it almost seems nature has put on a light show for the ages.
No other mountain allows you to come this close to it without breaking the buck or the back. This is not a Kilimanjaro in the heart of the Kenya wilderness, or an Aconcagua in the Andes, zillions of miles away. People of all ages, all statures, any nation, any belief can walk up to the mall in Darjeeling to watch it.
Think about all of us who cannot afford a ticket to Africa or South America. Or even those among us who may never travel outside the country. This gallant spectacle of nature churned up from the rocks beneath our feet millions of years ago, is their only chance of seeing something this high from an eye level
I realised all this while standing at the Tiger Hill Observatory in the biting cold, long after the sun was high in the sky and the spectators had left with cameras packed with pictures and a head full of memories from that sunrise. All I did was stand and keep looking across the hills and valleys to Kanchenjunga.
Still waiting to find out why it is so unique? Only a trip to Darjeeling on a clear day may reveal the answer. Stop finding the answer in blogs like mine.