The desire to see the gorgeous mountains again must have been the inspiration for my thought that the fog must have been gone today. Not at all! The fog was still there even though the stars were visible at night and we were spending our last morning in Darjeeling.
As the fog, by the way, was not too dense and one could see the blue sky peak through in some places, we decided to ride to the 2870 m high and about 10 km distant Mount Sentschal or Tiger Hill. From there one should have a splendid view on clear days of the Himalayas, especially on Mount Everest. It was bitterly cold and despite warm clothes and coats we were freezing like on a European winter day but the low temperature especially made us hope that the ride would not be in vain and the desired view upon the proud mountain peaks granted.
The path led from the hotel to the serpentines steeply upwards to the English sanatorium for fever-stricken soldiers who lived in a number of small houses and seek recovery from their ailments. A small English garrison too, probably the highest placed in the world, is stationed here.
On a mountain ledge that in the surging fog resembled a cliff in the moving sea stoo a fantastic temple of Buddha whose construction style is similar to the Chinese pagodas, an architectural sign of the combination of art forms from different peoples and their local points of contact.
Up to here we had expected the weather to clear up as even the sun had made an appearance from time to time. But in vain! The fog became ever more dense, one could barely see the man in front and so we had to decide to turn back and acknowledge the lack of success of our exertions.
Due to the cold we dismounted from our ponies and ran down to our hotel. Then we visited the bazaar a final time where money changers sat on the ground offering coins from Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan among which we found rupees, peis (1 rupee = 16 Annas à 12 Peis) and Cowries ( 6400 Cowries = 1 rupee). The well known Cowries are sea snails that have served as coins since ancient times in the orient and especially in Africa (Cypraea moneta). Barbers followed their trade in the open road and merchants sold their goods in their stores.
A special mention merits a strange article available at every Tibetan merchant’s: Praying wheels made out of copper and silver. These consist out of a metal tube through which is inserted an iron bar on whose upper end is mounted a cylindrical box that can be turned. Inside this box is a long folded paper scroll with writings which is turned by the reel within the box.Even the turning of the prayers with the solemn pronunciation of them is considered by Buddhists as a confirmation of piety; the most pious prayers, by the way, also mumble the prayer while they turn the reel of the cylinder. A more drastic and easier form of prayer is the flying of long cloths inscribed with prayers which are fluttering in the wind on high bamboo poles near the temples and the houses and thus send away an protect the buildings from evil spirits.
We clearly have increased Darjeeling’s commercial life and have created the hope in many that it would be possible to make a large transaction especially favorable to the vendor at the last minute. As we were standing, fully packed, outside the gates of the hotel, we were ambushed by countless merchants with cloths, weapons, dogs, pheasants, hides, musical instruments of the most diverse kind and all kind of instruments both religious and secular. Among the devotees to trade stood beggar monks and lamas from Tibet and Mongolia who asked for alms for their temples.
„Lama“ is a honorific title of the priest of Lamaism that is a Buddhism transformed by Tsongkhapa in the 14th century and popular among Tibetans, Mongols and Kalmyks. The highest priests in this hierarchy are the Bogdo Lama in Tashi-Lhunpo and the more often named Dalai Lama, Ocean priest — that is the time and again reborn Buddha in human form — in Lhasa closed off to Europeans for the last decades and probably inaccessible for quite some years to come. Finally we had to end the commercial activities around us as time was pressing and fought our way through the standing crowd to reach the station.
Even though the weather had not been kind to us during our short stay here in Darjeeling, I still left Darjeeling very inspired and mentally refreshed. I felt that I could concentrate my mind in this gorgeous mountains an find a benevolent quietness which would make me more receptive for the amount of coming impressions on Indian soil. I had seen the jewel of the mountains, Kangchenjunga, even though for only a few moments. I had enjoyed the Alpine world in the tropical climate in its enchanting marvels, had been given a view on the confluence of peoples of so many races with all the resulting strange mixtures in all human endeavors of life and finally — last not least — breathed in my element, pure heart refreshing Alpine air after the fever and bacteria soaked atmosphere in Calcutta and the interminable smell of coconut oil, rose water, sandalwood and burnt Hindus.
Many of the large number of visitors to Darjeeling every year, despite a stay of two to three weeks, despite the ascent of so many heights will not catch a glimpse of Kangchenjunga as the mountain giant keeps grumbling for months and refuses to show his honorable old head. I am thus not allowed to complain. As I was saying good-bye to Darjeeling, I felt a resolution growing in my breast to return one day to fully enjoy the attractions of this paradise to my heart’s content — if the powers of fate will mercifully permit it.
At 1 o’clock we departed Darjeeling. For the descent we first used the train but then had the good idea to ask the director for a handcar which offered a better open view. After some resistance against this too dangerous idea, our request was granted and soon we drove down the mountain at top speed in a handcar with twelve seats over curves and serpentines. The lower we came the more the clouds parted, the fog lifted and finally we were welcomed by good weather. What joy overcame us on this audacious drive! Nothing inhibited the full view upon the sea of green mountains, peaks, valleys and gorges over which we seemed to pass in the air as if we were swimming in ether, flooded by the golden breeze of the sinking sun, saying good-bye with its wonderful last rays.
When it started to get dark, the director who cared very much about our bones would not allow us to continue the drive under any circumstances; so we had to wait for the train back that took us to Siliguri. At night, train service is usually suspended on the mountain track. That is why there is no lighting of the tracks. For our trip, the locomotive was equipped with a powerful clear light in whose shine the trees of the jungle, the lianas, the bamboo flew past like ghosts.
Finally we arrived in Siliguri to continue with the Eastern Bengal Railway on the small gauge track up to Manihari Ghat.
- Location: Manihari, India
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