When Sir Edmund Hilary climbed Mt. Everest, he left from Darjeeling. Now, the entry point for the epic climb is Katmandu. On our trip, we prefer to keep it real. We are gearing up and getting acclimated for our Himalayan trek here in Darjeeling (which we’ve learned is properly pronounced with the emphasis on the ‘Dar’ rather than on the ‘jeel’ we all stress when discussing the tea). Not a bad spot. Here is the view from our cozy guesthouse.
This is the view from our balcony, which looks east. In the distance, you see the Bhutan mountain range beyond which lies China.
Our trek on the Singalila Ridge won’t take us quite as far as Hilary went, but we’re told we’ll have jawdropping views of the Everest range and an even more astounding look at Mount Kanchenjunga, which, at 28,169 feet, is the third highest mountain in the world. Comprising 5 separate peaks, Kanchenjunga stretches across the border of Sikkim, India into eastern Nepal. Below is our first view of the mystical range, which we caught on Monday as we first drove into town.
I say mystical because Kanchenjunga has long been worshipped as a spiritual place by the people of Sikkim and Darjeeling. I also found myself worshipping the mountain a bit as our sighting of it signified the end of the most white-knuckled drive I personally have ever experienced (from the airport in Bagdograh up to Darjeeling). The concept of guardrails on steep, curvey, impossibly narrow mountain roads apparently has little meaning here in West Bengal.
Kanchenjunga was first climbed by two Brits in 1955. They stopped just short of the summit in order to keep a promise to the Sikkim monarch that they would not violate the sanctity of the top of the mountain. Since then, no climber has violated the tradition. We’re thinking well leave it intact as well….
In fact, our trek will take us no higher than about 12k feet, but it still promises to be quite an adventure. We’ll sleep as high as 11,000 feet on at least one night and we’re told the temperatures may dip as low as negative 10 degrees Celsius.
Until now, we’ve spent almost all of the trip in tropical or near tropical climes, so we’d long planned to outfit ourselves with warm clothes once we reached this mountain town. The gear is here, with Northface, or at least very well done Northface counterfeits, readily available. Our problem lay, once again, in the Modi demonetization. When purchasing Northface, real or not, the rupees add up. And as in most of India most of the Darjeeling shops do not take credit cards. Once again, we’ve gotten by, due in large part to the understanding and patience of a kind Indian we met, who offered to accept a wire for our purchases and then gave us a sizeable discount. He was really worried about the littlest of us being cold if we skimped.
Well outfitted and ready for our departure tomorrow, we spent today wandering the city. We visited the Himalayan Mountain Institute, a shrine to Everest expeditions, with a fascinating emphasis on Tenzig Norway.
We had tea at the iconic Glenary’s, founded by the British when they still controlled the area and now run by a Tibetan family. They have a wonderful bakery and chocolate plus views to die for.
It’s been a time to remember and the trek hasn’t even started yet.
We’re thinking of everyone back home on this Thanksgiving Eve. To be honest, it’s a little hard to imagine turkey and pie and football from here. It’s very easy, however, to count the many, many things we have to be thankful for this year.
Namaste and Gobble Gobble.