Friday, December 21, 2007

First Glimpse Of the Himalaya

The late, legendary photojournalist and explorer Galen Rowell, in a book about Tibet entitled 'Mountains Of The Middle Kingdom', describes one of his first glimpses of the eastern Himlayan range thusly: "It was a sight off the scale of my comprehension."

That's very similar to the way I felt the first time I caught a glimpse of the Himalayas. It was February 1999, in the northeast Indian town of Darjeeling, from which one can get a pretty stunning view of the eastern portion of the world's highest mountain range. That is, as long as weather conditions cooperate.

Darjeeling isn't easy to get to, but like all truly unique places in the world, it's well worth the effort. After arriving in Calcutta, I took a 10 hour bus ride north to the city of Siliguri, then hired a driver with a very beat-up Land Rover to take me the rest of the 4 hours to Darjeeling. From Siliguri, the road quickly rises and transforms into a seemingly endless series of hairpin turns, with the views of steep alpine ravines becoming more breathtaking with each turn.

Our driver, an old, grizzled Indian gentleman, had what I would describe as a penchant for sadistic behavior. But thankfully, he also had a good sense of humor.

As we climbed higher and higher, the driver would take his hands off the steering wheel in the middle of each successively more scary hairpin turn, look back and me and the other passengers, and laugh maniacally as he allowed the Land Rover to veer towards the edge of the road, which of course had no guardrail. My fellow travelers and I appreciated his sense of humor, but wanted to strangle him by the time we reached Darjeeling, which lies at about 7000 feet above sea level.

I spent six days in Darjeeling, and for the first five, clouds blanketed the mountains and obscured the views of the eastern Himalayan range for which the town is famous. But on the morning of the sixth day, I was able to capture this shot of Kanchenjunga, which, at 28,169 feet, is the world's third highest mountain.

This photo is grainy, and probably isn't the best shot I've ever taken. But I'd have to say that it's definitely one of the most rewarding, especially in light of the amount of time and effort I spent getting to this very special place.

1 comment: