The highest peak in India, the second highest amongst the Himalayan peaks and the third highest peak in the world, Kanchenjunga reigns supreme not only in numbers but also in legend and lore. From its name to the demon who lives here, you will hear new stories every day from the locals. Here are few of those:
But first let’s talk about the name Kanchenjunga. While, most of the people think of Kanchenjunga as a single mountain peak, it actually comprises of five peaks. name. In Tibetan, Kang means snow-covered mountain and Chen means ‘great’ or ‘lofty’, nga is ‘number 5’ and dzong denotes ‘treasure house’ or a fort. So Kanchenjunga literally means ‘Five Treasures of Snow’, referring to Kangchenjunga’s five peaks. And the five treasures are: salt, gold, precious stones, sacred scriptures and invincible armour.
The Lepcha tribe that dwells at the foothills of Kanchenjunga in Sikkim claims to be the ‘people of snow,’ and believe to be created out of snow at Kanchenjunga. They consider it to be a really sacred peak. They also believe that the first two humans were born on this peak, and thus it holds a key position in the origin of mankind as well. The mountain is worshiped and is considered to be the abode of divine forces. This is also the reason why it took so long for someone to climb the mountain. Joe Brown and George Band were the first ones to climb the peak on 25th May 1955. Before climbing they promised the local Chogyal ruler that they will not climb the peak and will stop few feet before, to respect the religious belief. The tradition continued and till date, no one has stood on its peak. Around two hundred climbers have come close to the summit, a quarter of which has died in the attempt. The Indian government banned any expeditions to Kangchengjunga in the year 2000 after an Austrian team tried to scale the holy mountain in exchange of $20,000. The locals were extremely upset and therefore the ban was enforced. Anyone who wants to climb Kanchenjunga can do so from the Nepal side.
Where there is a mountain, there is a Yeti. Another reason why the Lepchas don’t want anyone to climb the mountain is because folklore asserts that the mountain is guarded by demons who personify the dangers that await those who climb its slopes. When Douglas Freshfield reconnoitred the approaches to Kanchenjunga in 1899, he declared that the mountain was protected by the ‘demon of inaccessibility’. The valley of Kanchenjunga is said to be home to a mountain deity, called Dzo-nga (Kanchenjunga Demon). He is a yeti or big footed snowman. In 1925, a British geological expedition allegedly saw a bipedal creature roaming the mountain, a bear-like beast. Tombazi. A Greek photographer who was part of the group later wrote that the creature was like a human being who wore no clothes. While moving across the lower slopes, this creature stopped occasionally to uproot or pull at some dwarf rhododendron bushes. In 1951, two British mountaineers, Eric Shipton and Micheal Ward, photographed footprints, each one was about 13 inches wide and 18 inches long. Lots of other climbers have described their experience of coming across supernatural activities at Kanchenjunga. Science deny this and claims these stories were made by the mind due to the high altitude effect. What do you think?
The folklores doesn’t end here. Lepchas believe in a terrestrial paradise, similar to the Tibetan idea of a beyul, though they call their promised land Mayel Lyang. ‘Ma’ is the word for hidden, ‘yel’ means eternal and ‘lyang’ is land. This is where the mother goddess, Na-zong-nyo, makes her home, somewhere in the upper regions surrounding Kanchenjunga. The migratory birds passing through Sikkim are said to be flying to Mayel Lyang where they build their nests and lay eggs.
An interesting tale about Mayel Lyang tells us about a fisherman who was travelling upriver into the mountains and suddenly finds himself in an idyllic valley. There he met an elderly couple who welcomed him into their home, offering food and shelter. The fisherman was fed and happily slept without knowing the surprise he was about to get. The next morning, when he wakes up, the fisherman discovers two children playing outside and the elderly couple were nowhere to be found. When he asked the children, they started laughing and told him that they were the same elderly couple from the previous day. All the inhabitants of this valley pass through a lifetime every day; from infancy at daybreak and childhood until noon, they continue ageing until midnight. With each new day the cycle begins again and in this way they never die. These stories are told and retold for generations. The tale of “Valley of Immortality” is well known to both the original inhabitants of the area, the Lepcha people, and those of the Tibetan Buddhist cultural tradition. In Tibetan, this valley is known as Beyul Demoshong. In 1962, a Tibetan monk named Tulshuk Lingpa led twelve followers up Kanchenjunga to find this unseen land of perpetual bliss. Tulshuk is said to have been holding a bundle of scriptures and chanting certain sacred syllables aloud while he made his way up. Suddenly, the world vanished, engulfed in a white mass of snow. It was an avalanche. And Tulshuk disappeared underneath it. Did he found the valley is the question the locals have been asking themselves.
There are so many other stories from the mighty Kanchenjunga. From the ghosts of the climbers who died while climbing to the people who just disappeared without a trace. You should visit Sikkim one day, sit with a local to hear all the stories about the mighty Kanchenjunga. I am sure the mountain will be smiling at you.