Mountain Walking

Himalayan Travel Diaries: The Ice Wall

This has been, by far, one of my favourite Himalayan travel stories. As I spoke to Munira Dalal about the concept of ‘Himalayan Travel Diaries’, we giggled like little girls over exciting trips we had undertaken so far. I was delighted to read her account of seeing the mighty Kanchenjunga on her trip to Sikkim with her family and friends. Munira is a content writer, a storyteller and is also involved in theatre for children. Truly the storyteller in her has focused on the experience of her trip through a gripping narration, which I’m sure you’ll love reading too.

The telephone on the nightstand by our bed rang at 6.30 a.m. and woke me up. “Hello”, I growled into the phone.

“It’s here. I can see it. You have to come out right now or you guys may miss it,” said Gaurav. The excitement in his voice was quite apparent and suddenly I was wide awake.

I shook my husband who was dozing next to me and whispered in his ears, “Gaurav is calling us outside. He can see it. Let’s go out. ”

My husband put a finger to his lips and that was indication to end any further conversation. He tucked the blanket under our five year old daughter, who was still fast asleep. Then we both quietly padded out of the room.

We stepped out onto the porch of our cottage and were greeted by the cool mountain breeze which flushed my colourless cheeks a deep red.

Gaurav and his wife Tripti were already standing there, staring at something straight ahead. I followed their line of gaze and what I saw has been embedded in my memory forever. There is only one word to describe what I saw – magical. It was an almost surreal and mystical sight. The magnificent Kanchenjunga range stood before us in all its glory and grandeur, and we were mesmerised.

From where we were looking at it, the Kanchenjunga seemed less of a mountain range and more of a white wall, suspended in the sky. It was surrounded by floating clouds which seemed to be bowing down to this magnificent beauty much like the angels of the sky bow down to the Lord Himself. Looking up at the summit of the Kanchenjunga, it seemed so pure and ethereal. We could scarcely believe that it was actually a part of the solid earth on which we stood, for it was so high that it seemed more to be a part of the sky itself.

We were in the tiny town of Pelling in the remote and less unexplored North Eastern state of Sikkim. Our previous attempts to view the Kanchenjunga had been met with failure as the peaks had been covered with a blanket of dense clouds in the last two days. There was no sound of chatter on this particular morning. It seemed as though we were all in a trance, and no one spoke a word. The Kanchenjunga had cast a spell over us and we were enraptured. No one wanted to risk making a sound, lest the spell be broken.

As I later checked my watch, I realised that all we had done for more than twenty minutes was gaze. We wanted to save the sight in our eyes and minds like a camera film. Only in this case, I knew it was going to be far more permanent than even a photograph. Then, just like that, without even a warning, the clouds began to drift over until they fully claimed what was truly theirs. 

Just then, the door to our bedroom opened and our little girl stood there in her pink pyjamas holding onto her stuffed elephant, rubbing her sleepy eyes.

“Mamma, is it morning? I want to go to the bathroom.”

As I turned around and looked at her, she asked, “Why are you crying Mamma?” and all I could do was smile.

We had been offered what was a rare moment of joy and at that point, I felt like a child – a child who had been awarded for being a good girl by being allowed to peek inside a toy store, at her favourite toy; but only too briefly.

A year later, while I try to recall the details of that moment, I think and question myself – why did I cry? What brought about those unexplained tears? Could it just have been an outcome of my happiness at finally being able to see the Kanchenjunga?  Or was there something else? What was it?

Ironically, the one person who helped me find the answer was my daughter. We were going through the photographs of our Sikkim holiday when she said, “Mamma, Sikkim is so beautiful. It was so clean. Can we go back again, please? I want to collect some more of those purple flowers.”

It was then that I realised that it wasn’t just the sight of the Kanchenjunga alone, but all that it stood for. Our excessively fast-paced and erratic city life doesn’t permit us to slow down and catch our breath. I have to catch this train, I have to get that promotion this year, my child must secure admission in a ‘good’ school, and I have to save enough to buy a bigger car… The list is endless. So caught up are we in the race of ‘I have to’ that we chose to ignore that tiny voice within us which quietly says, “I just WANT to… or I wish I COULD…”

WM Ice Wall 01

The mighty Kanchenjunga range shrouded in clouds at Pelling, Sikkim, India; Photo: Gaurav Motwani

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