I felt like that bear must have felt when I went to Darjeeling one summer. Twice I hiked to a place called Tiger Hill. From that high mountain, on a clear day, I should have been able to see Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Both times I got to Tiger Hill it was cloudy. So all I could see was the other side of Tiger Hill, and I never did get to see Mt. Everest.
It was the first time my family had been to Darjeeling. Of course we wanted to see Mt. Everest. Frank Fiol and his wife also wanted to see it. She was expecting a baby so she could not hike with us men. She and Ruth and a couple other ladies had a taxi come at 3 A. M. to take them to Tiger Hill. Frank and I hiked the seven miles. It was tough going because much of it was uphill as we climbed higher into the mountains. We had to start at 2 A. M. to be on the Hill when the women arrived. We made it just in time.
On top of Tiger Hill there is a shelter - just a roof with some benches under it. We found some Indian people who had also come to see Mt. Everest. When we looked out toward Mt. Everest all we could see were the prayer flags near by, saying their prayers in the morning breeze. The Buddhists write prayers on long pieces of cloth and attach the cloth to long bamboo poles. They stand the bamboos upright in the ground. They believe that when the breeze blows the flags the prayers are said. There must have been 50 or more prayer flags just below the top of the Hill. All we could see were the prayer flags on the other side of the mountain but beyond that there were clouds so we did not get to see Mt. Everest. After it was daylight we drank the coffee the ladies had brought in the car and had our sandwiches, then Frank and I hiked back to Darjeeling.
There were five young missionaries families that came to Darjeeling that summer. All of us lived in a long building that once had been a cow shed but had been made into nice little apartments. Along the front of it was a long veranda where the children could run and play when it was raining outside. From our apartment we had a splendid view of the mountain range.
Mount Everest wasn't the only famous mountain to see. Just in front of our long row of apartments we looked far down to a river some miles below. On the other side of the river stood the majestic Mt. Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. On clear days we could see little clouds of snow, called snow plumes, as they blew off the peak of the mountain. What a sight that was. I still have a picture of it.
In Darjeeling there are many people from Tibet. Darjeeling is near the border between India and Tibet. Tibet is a land that is mostly mountains and the mountains are higher than our Rocky Mountains. There were always people from Tibet in the market place. Women wore long skirts and colored shirts that came almost to their knees. They wore many beautiful beads and some of them wore many bracelets on their arms.
Nearby was a Buddhist temple. Along the outer wall were rows of prayer wheels. Prayer wheels are round things. Some large, some small, on which are written prayer, or prayers are printed on paper and put in small prayer wheels. At this temple large prayer wheels were fixed into the wall so people could turn them. "See," Ruth said, "those worshippers are turning the prayer wheels. They believe their god will hear the prayers each time the wheel is turned."
Nearby were Tibetan shops where there were all kinds of things made in Tibet for sale: cow bells, beautifully painted wall hangings, brass trays with the image of the mountain god on them, and things with beautiful turquoise inlaid in them. We bought a brass tray with the image of their mountain god and a small hand held prayer wheel.
Many of the young girls from Tibet and from nearby were tea pickers. There were tea bushes growing on the mountainside all around us. The women carried cone shaped baskets on their backs and as they went from bush to bush they picked off the young leaves and tossed them into the basket. The leaves were then taken down the mountain to the plantation where they were dried, then packed, ready for sale. Darjeeling tea is famous all around the world.
"We are in tea country," Ruth said, "We ought to go down to the tea plantation and see how they dry the tea leaves and get it ready to send to other countries." And that was what we did. It was quite a ways down the mountain. Several of us started out, Betty Ann and the other children ran ahead. They had to be careful because the path was steep. When we got to the plantation the manager had us sit down. "Now I will show you the proper way to prepare a cup of tea to get the best flavor," he said.
On the way back we came to a place where the whole side of the mountain had fallen into the valley below. Then our guide told us what had happened. "A family by the name of Lee were spending their summer with their children in their house on that mountain side. One weekend the parents were called back to Calcutta. They left their five children with their servants. That weekend the rains came in torrents and during the rain the mountain side began to slide down into the valley. The house disappeared completely and with it the five children. The parents were informed and rushed back to search for their children. They were able to find only one of the them. The rest were buried in the mountainside."
Someone asked, "Did the parents go back to America?" "No," the guide continued. "They were missionaries and they believed God wanted them to help the people of India. They went back to Calcutta. From there they wrote their friends in America and also told the people in India that they had decided to start a living memorial for the children they had lost. The memorial would be a school for Indian children. That is now the Lee Memorial School where you stayed while you were in Calcutta on the way to Darjeeling." I could only say, " What a wonderful way to remember their children."
Before we left Darjeeling we had to take a ride on the little railroad that comes up the mountain from far down below. We rode only between two stations at the top of the mountain. The train is tiny. The engine has two drive wheels on each side and those are its only wheels, because it has to go around sharp corners winding its way up the mountain. Two men sit on the front of the engine with long bamboo sticks to drive cattle and goats off the track. The rails are only about a foot apart. Out of the little smockstack white smokle rose. The little engine burns wood instead of coal. The engine pulls three passenger cars. The car wheels are so tiny that to step into the car is much like taking a step to go upstairs. The benches are made of wood. Each car holds about 15 people. It was fun just to ride in that little train.
So our summer passed and we returned to Jabalpur where I was to begin teaching at Leonard Theological College. The summer had not been all fun for I had to outline all the courses I was to teach in the college and that took hours of work every day. I hope some time you can go to Darjeeling and that you will have more success than I did and you will get to see Mt. Everest from Tiger Hill. [by James E. McEldowney, Spring 1997]
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