When I walked into the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and museum in Darjeeling, I didn’t know what I was hoping to see. In hindsight, it seemed obvious that they’d display the tools, the gear, and even the remains of some of the Himalayan creatures.
But it wasn’t so obvious then, and it was all the more disappointing when they had a clear sign prohibiting all forms of photography. We walked through dozens of glass boxes that rose to the ceiling, encasing mementos from mountaineers who had conquered Himalayas. From little chisels, stoves, and crockery, to even the tents they slept in during their expeditions. They were all in there. And for a moment, I couldn’t grasp the magnitude of what I faced.
The Himalayas wasn’t just something we heard about in the media anymore. It wasn’t just the highest mountain range, with a cold index that no one should underestimate. Standing there, looking at the plate a mountaineer had eaten out of when he was camping in the Himalayas made me realise how big the whole thing was. From being a natural phenomenon that mankind could never conquer, to watching photographs, and clay sculptures of the mountain itself, of the climbers picking their way through the snow caps — it all became too real too soon.
I marvelled at the fact that people just like you an I have managed such a huge feat. They weren’t some weirdos or a mysterious elite. They could have been as ordinary as our noisy neighbours. And yet, somehow, extraordinary. Looking at their possessions, I wondered, that particular mountaineer must’ve have liked his tea like I did mine: A mugful.
And that realisation brought me closer to humans than anything else had ever done.