Kanchenjunga. The Waves of Awe
I love the mountains, but this was not always the case. After living in England when I was eight years old, I spent a year in Delhi. Then, my father packed me off to Nainital to study. I remember my first sight of the mountains, as they appeared dim in the mist. Foreboding filled me, and I did not want to spend the next nine months of my life in the hills. Later that year, in December, I took a train during my winter holiday to spend three weeks with my father in Kalimpong, just south of Sikkim. I remember waking up early, taking my tea out to the little veranda, and settling down. As I was about to sit, I looked up and gasped. The Kanchenjunga stood in full glory, in front of me. When I gaped at the peaks standing, glittering in the morning light, waves of awe seemed to fill my body.
The Moment of Love
I’d say that this was the moment I began my enduring love affair with the mountains. Since then, I have lived in the hills for many years. If they left it to me alone, I will go back to the mountains and spend the rest of my life in them.
For over a century, men (in particular, Westerners) have wanted to climb mountains. Perhaps this need stems from a desire to command nature. This is what we humans have been trying to do since the Industrial Revolution. Ever since we became conscious of climate change and the Anthropocene, or the Pyrocene, people have been talking about geoengineering, with saliva dripping from their mouths. All they see is the promise of profit. Countries will scramble to command shipping routes at the two Poles.
But while I don’t intend to rant, I had to give in to the temptation.
The Sacred Mountains
Mountaineers who respect the mountains say that you don’t climb mountains. Rather, the mountain allows you to climb it. Most people, for whom mountains like the Kanchenjunga and Kailash are sacred, do not wish to climb the mountains. In contrast, they love the mountain, and when they worship them, I am sure waves of awe flow through them. This happened to me, and I have not forgotten that initial shock of love and awe.
Yes, I truly love the Kanchenjunga, and always will. I am not a mountaineer and have no desire to conquer the peaks. But if you want to climb a mountain, go ahead. Do it.
A Final Question
But now I must ask all of you a question. Before I do, I will preface the question with a few comments. These days, most of us stalk the streets with our faces buried in our phones. I read somewhere that Thoreau remarked about people who use a watch to tell the time but cannot do so when looking at the angle of the sun.
When you are out with your camera (or pen, or paintbrush), do you become obsessed with the questions of technique? Or do you allow yourself to sit there, allowing the waves of awe to envelop you? Do you allow yourself to feel the true majesty of nature? Sometimes, it is good to sit there, thinking nothing, doing nothing.
Will you photograph (or paint, or write about) the mountain? Or, will you let the mountain allow you to photograph it?