KINCHINJANGA

IT dawned at Siliguri three hundred and fifty miles to the south of Calcutta. In one night I spent in the train the season changed from autumn to winter.

All the travelling outfits fastened at the back of a motor car. I was now ready to run up a mountain road for fifty miles towards Darjeeling. The plain soon lost itself in a heavily-shadowed forest. Leaving bamboo bushes and mangoes behind, I found that Nature began to feast me with kaleidoscopic changes when the road became steep and zigzag. Looking down the ravine and seeing hundreds of red flowers among the ferns crowded like clouds, I could not help thanking Nature, whose feminine heart kept her own kindly tenderness even at a lonely spot forgotten by humanity. I leave to your imagination how unsettled I felt because, even before I reached Sookna in the distance of seven miles from Siliguri, my motor-car made turning a hundred times, and that almost in mad reeling pace.

Kurseong, a town five thousand feet above sea-level, greeted me with a huge sunflower that would not fail to please anybody, a Wilde or a Blake. Among the beggars around me there was an old Tibetan who, like the Buddhist that he looked, wore a rosary on his neck and muttered something mysterious. I amused for a moment staring at his outlandish face linked with a Japanese No-mask of Ebisu, an ebony black nondescript god of wealth, whose original home was a subject of frequent discussion among the archaeologists. And when I saw another interesting specimen in a human peacock, the Tibetan widow whose ear-lobes were decorated with large pieces of gold, I wondered that female freak of an idle rich was not a tantalising problem restricted in New York or London.

The fog grew deeper with the progress of the motor-car, now drawing near Darjeeling; the zigzag road increasing its bends looked so narrow under the gloomy dusk that forbade me to see ten feet ahead. I thanked, however, my driver, whose adroit handling of the car relieved my mind of a foolish fear of nose-dive into a bottomless ravine. Through the fog a few strange human shadows approached when my car stopped to make them pass by. Finding them to be but French missionaries of the Roman Church who lived with God in a lonely mountain in this neighbourhood, I could not help admiring of their religious heroism. I thought, with gratitude, that the spiritual kingdom was not wholly lost in the world.

When I arrived at Darjeeling, the young clerk of Everest Hotel welcomed me in Japanese and said:  You are a Japanese poet, I believe; we had been following your movement since you arrived in Calcutta. How we looked forward to your coming here!" Since I did not come for the Japanese words to such a distant place near the Tibetan frontier, I looked at him with amazement and doubt. Being told that he mastered our language during two years he spent in Yokohama. I felt all the more decidedly the smallness of the world. I asked him, when I was shown to my room, whether I could expect good weather for tomorrow; he replied: "No one would be responsible for weather. But it will clear off tonight—at least, I hope so."

Leaving weather to God's whim, I left my room and went out for seeing a bazaar where I soon added a Japanese to a dirty but picturesque exhibition of swarthy races, Lepchas, Limbus, Bhatias, Nepales, Paharias, Tibetans, Bengalies and Kasmiris. They smelled pretty bad. There were many booths or sheds where bird feathers, red or green, a fur with black spots and rugs hemmed round with painted elephants linked together were shown for sale; I found also there hundreds of brass plates and bottles, decorated with strange tropical flowers, inlaid sparsely with beads in blue or vermilion. And on the rush-mat of a street-stall fried beans, pickled vegetables, salted fishes and other tit-bits were on sale beside cheap perfumes, printed cottons and flannels.

I returned to my hotel room when the fog suddenly cleared off, and through the window pane Kinchinjanga, a jumbled mass of diamonds, was seen in the distance half-buried in the foaming sea of clouds. The mountain sanctified in thin air, was too sublime to look at, being absolutely unapproachable for us human beings; it was a natural citadel shown by God who put our wonder or fear to the test. Fancying that there in the mountain should be living some people far more noble than ourselves, I retied to my bed for a little rest to free myself from fatigue. But after a little while I woke up from sleep, and to my surprise I found God to be a capricious artist who rubbed away Kichinjanga from his canvas with the fog.

I left my bed before three o'clock in the next morning, cheered up by a cleared sky, studded all over with brilliant stars. I finished simple breakfast, a toast and cup of tea, anticipating a wonderful sunrise to be seen at Tiger Hill six miles away. When all prepared with mid-winter clothes I stood before the hotel entrance, six Tibetan coolies were ready with an open vehicle, Jinrikisha, as we called it in Japan, the long handles of which were soon lifted by them. Turning to right and left, the winding road gradually grew steep and dark when town lights were left behind. Unknown to the location, I felt as if carried off through a dismal cavern walled by the bushes and trees that rustlingly replied to my vehicle in panting progress. This ghostliness was more intensified when the coolies began to sing in Tibetan. whether to inspirit themselves or to amuse me or to frighten a beast awaiting to assault. When their songs in a weird and hoarse voice stopped, the hoofs of a horse, on which my Indian servant rode, were heard ringing up to the stars.

Raising my face from among the blankets, I noticed that, daybreak drawing near, the stars already had lost their former brilliancy and the sky now became slightly pale. Through a faint light that resembled mists, I saw the jumbly tree and bushes to right and left, where a few early risers of birds already chirped in greeting a zealous climber. Before I reached the top of Tiger Hill my servant ran up whipping his horse because he had to build there a fire for my warming. It was so cold that my body stiffened, but air that kissed my cheeks was fresh and fragrant with promise of a splendid dawn. The fire my servant prepared was brightly burning on the top of the hill where I soon stood. Not drawing near the fire, I held my head high against the wild sea of clouds that almost rose from my feet; but I trembled in the face of Kinchinjanga, a triangled array of diamonds, rising above that cloud-sea as a divine agency.

Receiving the first benediction of the sun when others were not yet relieved of the night, the mountain commanded, as I perceived it, the world to be ready for welcoming the dawn. The new moon in the low eastern sky, an Indian lady's eyebrow, now vanished into obscurity because, after a fashion becoming to tender heart, she was afraid to be seen by the sun. Silence that ruled the world still quite dark was profound. But the silence began to break when the red fringe of the sun appeared from beyond the horizon. One minute passed, two minutes passed, three minutes passed when the sun, now a round fan of vermilion, floated up making the sea of clouds a sea of seething blood. Oh, how Kinchinjanga sparkled in gold! What a sight; what grandeur!

My Indian servant who stood by me suddenly exclaimed: "look, look  look at Everest!" Turning my head towards the way he pointed, I saw Mount Everest silently saluting a Japanese visitor from afar. But in a few minutes, alas, the divine ghost disappeared.

I have now seen the view which was permitted only for a few. Thinking it too holy for one's long admiration, mistrusting, too, God who might play the wilful artist again to wipe the scene away, I made preparation to descend the hill.

 

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