"Wading neck deep in a swamp, your revolver is neither use nor ornament until you have had time to clean it" Mary H. Kingsley (1897)

Darjeeling Dawns

The information pack we had been given on arriving in Sikkim was quite explicit:

“Due to shortage in space for parking, please be informed that you will have to be ready on time & wait in the lobby. Due to uncalculated situations the vehicle reporting may get delayed. We will request you to bear with us, and as soon as vehicle arrives you will have to get in, within few seconds, before the policeman blow his whistle.”

Our itinerary for today:
“an early morning tour to Tiger Hills to view sunrise over Kangchenjunga Peak (
subject to clear weather)”.

We were to be ready in the hotel lobby by four o’clock in the morning.
My mobile alarm was set.

The morning began with a barely tepid shower and, for once, no early morning tea.
Wrapped in multiple layers of clothing, hats and gloves, we tried to leave our room causing minimal disturbance to the other hotel guests. But, reaching the eerily darkened lobby, it was soon apparent that the hotel entrance was locked and bolted.

After a few minutes of blindly bumping into lobby desks and sofas, the sound of a car’s horn could be heard.
Sanjeez, our driver, was summoning us.

The phrase “before the policeman blow his whistle” sprung to mind.
Like latter-day Cinderellas watching the clock hands about to strike midnight, we waited in hopeless frustration.

Suddenly, a shadowed sofa began to groan gently.
Not the yeti, but one of the hotel’s countless diminutive bellboys emerged hesitantly from a heap of blankets and cushions.
He pointed to the side-door of the lobby: 
an emergency exit, designed to be pushed open without access to keys.
We muttered sheepish apologies for disturbing the boy’s sleep and emerged to greet a grinning Sanjeez.

Forty-five minutes later we tumbled out of the car at the summit of Tiger Hills.

As it happened, we were not “subject to clear weather”. Kangchenjunga kept herself shyly veiled in mountain cloud.
But the experience was still worth that bleary-eyed, early start.

Pictures of dawn taken from Tiger Hills, Darjeeling.

8 responses

  1. Toffeeapple

    I think I would have given up my bed and early tea for that view, even if it wasn’t clear weather.

    October 10, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    • It was truly awesome..
      And I managed to get some tea – from a lady on Tiger Hills, who was selling it by the cup, from her thermos flask!

      October 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm

  2. That’s an exquisite eye-opener!

    October 10, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    • Yes, and I felt smugly virtuous having been up and out of bed so early!

      October 10, 2011 at 4:24 pm

  3. The month before Merton died, he was in Darjeeling (India) struggling with a sore throat and a mountain. The 28,000 foot peak of Kanchenjunga was in view from just about everywhere, including his bungalow window.

    In the dim and dawn of the morning haze it was not colored by the sun, but dovelike in its blue grey. Lovely, but difficult to photograph. Throughout his journal entries, Merton is always glancing toward the mountain, commenting on it, until finally he got tired of it and was glad for a day when it was hidden by the clouds. He was somewhat overwhelmed with all that he had seen in Asia, and grumpy with his cold.

    “When you begin each day by describing the look of the same mountain, you are living in the grip of illusion.” (p. 290 “The Other Side of the Mountain”)

    On November 19th (1968) he dreamed about Kanchenjunga:

    “I was looking at the mountain and it was pure white, absolutely pure, especially the peaks that lie to the west, And I saw the pure beauty of their shape and outline, all in white. And I heard a voice saying – or got the clear idea of: ‘There is another side to the mountain.’ I realized that it was turned around and everything was lined up differently; I was seeing it from the Tibetan side … “

    From that point on, Merton was no longer irritated with the mountain. He knew that there was another side to this mountain and to everything. When he left Darjeeling on November 22nd, Kanchenjunga was hidden. Some of the lower peaks were visible, but the higher peak itself was lost in a great snowcloud.
    Merton looked back as they drove toward Ghoom …

    “and that was the end of it”. (p. 295)

    And then, as they were passing over the hills of Ghoom he got a last sight of Kanchenjunga,

    “bright and clear in the morning sun … A surprise.”

    October 10, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    • Beth, that was all new to me. Thank you so much for sharing it here.
      Whereas Merton was initially fixated by the mountain’s presence, it haunted me through its absence. I spent my whole time in Sikkim & Darjeeling vainly hoping for a glimpse of Kangchenjunga . (September is not the best month to catch sight of it.)
      Perhaps one year I’ll manage to return – in November – and, like Merton, finally see it in perspective…

      October 10, 2011 at 6:54 pm

  4. JGP

    Sorry to be trivial, but what happens when the policeman blows his whistle?

    October 11, 2011 at 12:47 am

    • A lot of noise – and quite possibly a headache…

      October 11, 2011 at 7:01 am

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