The world’s most beautiful mountain?

Siniolchu overlooks the Zemu glacier and is in the shadow of Kanchenjunga

Published - May 09, 2021 12:31 am IST

beautiful panorama of Himalayan mountains at sunset, Pokhara, Nepal

beautiful panorama of Himalayan mountains at sunset, Pokhara, Nepal

Listed among the latest publications in the weekly “Browser” strip of The Hindu Magazine (Sunday, February 28) was the HarperCollins title Raj and Norah .

The name Rajendra Kohli and his image on the dust jacket of the book at once lit up my memory of a mid-morning at Gangtok in May 1964. I was the junior-most staff officer, a captain with less than eight years in uniform, on active field service at Headquarters 17 Infantry Division. My makeshift office had a broad window, as though cut out on purpose to frame the Kanchenjunga summit to perfection.

Brigadier R.S. Kohli had arrived to assume command of the 112 Infantry Brigade, and he came for a formal meeting with the Divisional Commander but mistaking my office for the ADC’s, he entered, made polite conversation and in the process happened to look out of the window, showcasing Kanchenjunga in sunlit grandeur.

He fell silent, pulled a chair to sit and watch the summit in a kind of meditation till he was jolted out of the reverie to keep his appointment with the General.

Turning to me, he said in a pleasant tone, “Baljit, Kanchenjunga is beguiling but do you know what is considered the world’s most beautiful mountain?”

Of course, I had no clue but before I could say so, he left.

Scaling the peak

I happened to be among the first few graduates of the basic and advance mountaineering courses from the HMI, Darjeeling under Tenzing’s tutelage and in the process soaked in considerable amount of history and lore concerning explorations of summits in the high Himalayas. The most notable source was the book Fight for Everest by Colonel Edward Norton, leader of the 1924 British expedition. And I believed the most beautiful peak was Nuptse in the neighbourhood of Everest but in Sikkim, Pauhunri was Mr. Tenzing’s choice of the perfect pyramid. During my subsequent two conversations with the Brigadier, his emphatic pronouncement on the most beautiful peak was Siniolchu which overlooked the Zemu glacier and was in the immediate shadow of Kanchenjunga, a revelation that remained lodged in my memory bank.

When 18 years later, I was placed in command of the very same 112 Mountain Brigade, Siniolchu would become a kind of obsession. Luckily, my operational jurisdiction comprised the entire northern half of Sikkim, hemmed in by Kanchenjunga-Siniolchu in the west and Chomulhari in the east.

And I would have innumerable opportunities to watch the peak from every conceivable angle during frequent, routine aerial reconnaissance flights over this beautiful jumble of lofty peaks permanently encrusted in snow, glaciers vast and small perennially feeding streams to collectively form the Teesta river, hillsides clothed in dense forests of pink and scarlet rhododendrons, silver birch and Himalayan elm, home to gorgeous Monal pheasants and above all, an amphitheatre of pervasive silence.

Under favourable flight conditions, helicopter pilots would oblige with one or more close circuits around Siniolchu, among my unforgettable moments of fulfilment.

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