It was well before dawn. The watch tower at Tiger Hill had only started filling up with a handful of tourists when we arrived there, and the three of us managed to find seats in the second row. Our excitement in anticipation of the year’s first sunrise had dampened a bit by then as we found the arrangement in the watch tower to be shabby at best. We almost mistook it to be a relic from the British era for its inadequate size and threadbare state, but that is not the case I am told.
At a height of 8482 feet, it was a lot colder than Darjeeling and we were glad to have donned heavy woolens, complete with monkey caps and gloves. The seating area of the watch tower was painted a pallid yellow and lit by an equally monotonous yellow light. The small area was soon choc-a-bloc with people and as we feared, a man, with a foolish grin plastered on his face, flouted all civil manners and conveniently placed himself right at the front before one of the glass panes, blocking the view of the others. When another tourist bickered with him, the man showed no signs of budging from his spot, instead just widened his grin.
The collective murmur of the crowd rose, as the first red hue of daylight touched the eastern sky ever so lightly, announcing the breaking dawn. People jostled, pushed and shoved their way to the front for a better view. It was only 5.40 AM and still dark everywhere, save for the eastern horizon. Speculation about the possible timing of sunrise was on, while we shared a good laugh for Google clearly pegged the time at 6.25 AM. We sat back patiently and watched the circus. Let’s not be cynics here, but it was quite a sight as everyone shouted and fought for space to get a footing in front of the windows, armed with cameras, eager to get the perfect Facebook cover photo. While we were more amused than irritated, a few serious photographers sat with glum faces, SLR cameras perched on their laps, clearly miffed by all the frivolity around us. Men and women of all ages manoeuvred their way past us, nearly dislodging us from our chairs. In all the noise and scuffle, we did not even realize when Rajarshi’s muffler went missing.
Finally the sun’s upper edge showed up above the horizon, painting the mighty Kanchenjhunga a brilliant shade of crimson. A huge cheer arose. We rose from our seats and took turns peeking out of the window to catch a glimpse of the rising sun. Luckily the crowd had thinned out and moved to the far side of the hall that probably offered a better view, and we had a clear view for us. The rapid change of colours across the snow capped peaks of Kanchenjungha – from a touch of red to a golden yellow – was a treat for the eyes. There was daylight everywhere and we breathed in the fresh and crisp morning air.
While drinking in the not so refreshing coffee sold there, Rajarshi discovered his muffler was not with him. I quickly went into Byomkesh mode and – voilà! – there it was, hanging precariously from a lady’s handbag! More surprise was in store for Rajarshi. Who would have known that the idea of the local teenagers to celebrate the new year was to plant a chocolate bomb at his feet! Kaboom! What a way to start the new year.
So the year started on a high note for us. Yet we were not too pleased with how the crowd behaved. We met a friend, one who has been to many treks, the following evening at Siliguri; he told us it is a total waste of time: going through all the trouble of getting up in the middle of the night, travelling in the biting cold and then enduring two hours of indiscipline and craziness is not worth it. Looking back, I am glad I went through all the trouble and got to witness the first sunrise of the year.