Glorious Kanchanjunga

Glorious Kanchanjunga : Five Treasures of the Snow                                                                                                                   Buddhi Narayan Shrestha* 

Nepal Himalaya has been the center of attraction to the whole world for mountaineering adventure, expedition and high altitude research. It is not just the height that mountain peaks give their grandeur, but they have fascinating and peculiar shape and size. Some of them are conical and sharp edged. The others are bald, blunt, dome-shaped, twin-peak and dwarf. But Kanchanjunga has five consecutive peaks in a short span of Kumbhakarna Himal range. And five summits of Kanchanjunga chain is the glorious mountain known as “Five Treasures of the Snow.”


There are hundreds of mountains peaks from west to east opened for mountaineering expeditions in Nepal. Api West (7,100 meter) is the westernmost mountain of Nepal Himalaya and Kanchanjunga is the easternmost peak above 8,000 meter opened for foreign expeditions only when they have been climbed by Nepalese and foreign joint expedition ( HMG Ministry of Tourism & Civil Aviation, 1999). Besides, Kanchanjunga is located at most southerly part of the major Himalayan peaks whereas Nala Kankar is the northernmost mountain peak of Nepal.


Glorious Kanchanjunga

Kanchanjunga is the only one that displays its charming glories to the world at large, because it is to be seen easily from anyone of the lower foot-hills. Kanchanjunga boasts on some of the most magnificent snowy and icy scenery in the world. It is because of the fact that it has an annual precipitation of snow probably greater than that of any other peak in the Himalayas. Secondly, the avalanches that Kanchanjunga throws down are said to be the largest anywhere else in the world.


Kanchanjunga Himal has infinite variety of landscape cultures and panoramic view. If some one observes from the lower hills, they are colourful village settlements, rich vegetation with variety of rhododendrons, green forest, river valleys, splendid glacier and then finally gorgeous view of Kanchanjunga ridge.


Majestic panoramic view of Kanchanjunga could be seen from southern foot-hills, such as Sandakpur (3,336 m), Phalelung (3,602 m), Tiger Hill (2,590 m), Gangtok (1,574 m) etc.

 If we have a look at Kanchanjunga at early dawn from Sandakpur (Queen of the east), it is really an unforgettable majestic view. At first the dark dawn will start to turn slowly into twilight. The dark clouds flying into clear sky would start to turn into somehow glowish brightness. Then the sun would start to rise from the horizon via Bay of Bengal as a red iron lump. Within some moment the red lump of sun starts to climb on high mountain. And the light early rays of the sun splash into Kanchanjunga, so that the peak could be seen with marvelous pink colour. After some time golden rays of the rising sun splashes to the right shoulder of snowy Kanchanjunga, so that the view of the mountain could be visualized as mixed golden and silver rays as striking contrast. And this is the glorious view of Kanchanjunga seen from far off distances.  Five treasures of the snowKanchanjunga is translated along the lines of “Five Treasures of the Snow” as it contains five peaks over 8,000 meter. Kanchanjunga is also called Kangchen Dzonga / Kangchenjunga / Khangchendzonga / Kanchenjanga / Kachendzonga or Kangchanfanga. In Tibetan dialect, Kng-chen means ‘snow-great’ and Dzo-nga is ‘treasuries-five’ that denotes Mount Kanchanjunga in other words (P. V. Angus-Leppan, 1982).

The word Kanchanjunga is regarded as the abode of gods who bestow prosperity and benevolence to the inhabitants and their lands. To the local people, its five summits are the five treasures of the snow as the throne of all powerful gods rest on them. Their well-being and even their lives depend on the blessings of five snow treasures. If the ‘five treasures’ get angry, Kanchanjunga is able to blast their crops with the storm or may destroy their village with avalanches and floods. The citizens of Sikkim and surrounding Nepal believe the summit as sacred and they worship Mount Kanchanjunga as a deity. To respect this local religious beliefs and to honour the sentiment of the Nepalese and Sikkimese, the expeditioners would stop a few meter short of the actual summit, before climbing on the top of mountain. The stopping for a few minutes has two underlying meaning. The first would mean that the summit will remain inviolate instantly. The other is to get a rest for some while to the conqueror before stepping up on the highest portion of the mountain. Most of the successful summit parties have followed this tradition till this date.


Third highest peak in the world

Kanchanjunga (Main) is the third highest mountain in the world and second highest peak in Nepal, situated on just western frontier of Nepal and India borderline, twenty kilometer south of Chinese (Tibetan) frontier. It is located 90 kilometer east of Everest in Taplejung District at 27° 42′ 09″ north latitude and 88° 09′ 10″ east longitude from Greenwich meridian. Up until 1852, Kanchanjunga was believed to be the highest mountain in the world. But calculations made from the British 1849 Great Trigonometrical Survey of India made Mount Everest the highest of all and Kanchanjunga as third highest in the world.


Topography of ‘five treasures’

If we make a study on the topographical map of Kanchanjunga area (Survey Department of Nepal, 1997) there are five consecutive mountain peaks in the Kanchanjunga chain, as “Five Treasures of the Snow.” Kanchanjunga or K-Main (8,586 m) is situated at approximately center area of the chain. And K-Mid (8,473 m) is located in between K-Main and K-South (8,476 m). In the same way, K-North (8,505 m) as Yalung Kang is positioned in between K-Main and K-West ( 8,077 m). Geographical position of this Five Treasures has been tabulated below:

Name of the peaks Height( in meter) Longitude ( °    ” E) Latitude ( °      N)

Kanchanjunga West


88   07    27

27   42   20

Kanchanjunga North


88   08   25

27   42  15

Kanchanjunga Main


88   09   10

27   42   09

Kanchanjunga Mid


88   09   17

27   41   45

Kanchanjunga South


88   09   25

27   41   31


 The five peaks of Kanchanjunga in a regular chain within a distance of approximately 3.75 kilometer, really qualifies the meaning of “Five Great Treasures of the Snow.” The five-peak range is elongated westward and south-eastward from Kanchanjunga Main.


Geographical location of Kanchanjunga Main

The world knows that Kanchanjunga lies in Nepal. But there may be a curiosity how Kanchanjunga belongs to Nepal, since the mountain is located at the border between Nepal and India. If we make a study on various maps prepared and published by different agencies and organizations, it may reveal the fact. The topographical feature is that the base of the mountain has been spread on both the countries. Even the contour line which denotes 8,560 m runs on both sides. But the summit of Kanchanjunga Main (8,586 m) is located on the Nepalese frontier of Taplejung district (Survey Department of Nepal, 1997). With this geographical fact, people of the world recognize that Kanchanjunga belongs to Nepal.   Exploration history

The first European to undertake serious exploration of Kanchanjunga was the famous British Botanist and Explorer Sir Joseph D. Hooker. He trekked the area in 1848-49. Before that, Kanchanjunga was unknown and unexplored. In 1848, Hooker traversed the Tamor valley, Wolangchung Gola and Yangma passes, which led from north-eastern Nepal into Tibet. He then passed through Kanbachen to Darjeeling via Yalung valley and Singalila ridge. In 1849, he ascended the Tista valley to Lachen, Tumbachen, Lachung valley and Kanchanjunga area.


In course of the exploration of Kanchanjunga, Lieutenant Carter made a reconnaissance survey in 1861 between Darjeeling and Tumlong. In 1878, the Survey of Sikkim and periphery was made by Captain H.J. Harman of Survey of India. He tried to reach the foot of Kanchanjunga but he was forced to return back due to his health condition. Then Colonel H.C.V. Tanner undertook the continuance of the survey. He offered survey training to three Indians. They are known as ‘ Pundits.’ They are Sarat Chandra Das, Urgen Gyatso and Rinzin Namgyal (Rajeswar Thapa et. al., 1998).


The Triangulation Survey work of Kanchanjunga area was undertaken by Tanner and his assistant Robert, whilst the three Pundits added topographical details of the area.


In 1879, S.C. Das crossed the Kang La (4,990 m) from Sikkim into Nepal and passed up the valley of Kangbachen (6,160 m) and onward. In 1883, Lama Urgen Gyatso travelled to Tista and Lachung valleys and made valuable route sketches of Kanchanjunga area. The same year Robert and his assistant Rinzin Namgyal completed the survey of more accessible parts of Kanchanjunga and Sikkim area. Rinzin explored several side-valleys in Sikkim and crossed the Kang La into Nepal, where he sketched the Yalung glacier and followed S. C. Das footsteps to the Jongpong La. He was the first Surveyor to map the circuit of Kanchanjunga (Survey of India, 1990).


Exploration of Kanchanjunga from Sikkim side continued with both British and Pundit explorers. They prepared maps and took photographs in 1899. The same year Douglas Freshfield carried out valuable exploration. He mad a circuit of Kanchanjunga and produced what is still one of the most authoritative maps of the region. Freshfield was the first mountaineer ever to examine the great western face of Kanchanjunga rising from the Yalung glacier (Rajeswar Thapa et. al., 1999).

 Exploration progress

One of the major contributors to obtain knowledge about Kanchanjunga region was Dr. A.M. Kellas. He was the mountaineering pioneer in the Kanchanjunga area. It is to be mentioned that he ascended immediate neighborhood of Kanchanjunga up to 7,000 m in 1911.


After this, German expedition team attacked the peak of Kanchanjunga. Dr. Paul Bauer attempted to conquer the peak in 1929 to 1931. But none was successful. Nevertheless several expedition teams attempted to summit Kanchanjunga Main from 1931 to 1954. They were unable to overcome the Kanchanjunga; however they climbed only peripheral peaks.

First accent on the summit

There was always a lure among mountaineers and expeditioners to summit the virgin Kanchanjunga. Ultimately, British team led by Dr. Charles Evan approached the peak via Yalung glacier. Two groups have been successful to climb on the peak stopping just short of the summit for a few minutes to confirm to a moral agreement with the religious belief to honour the traditional and sentimental value of the Nepalese and Sikkimese, not to violate the summit instantly. The first mountaineers to summit the virgin peak of Mount Kanchanjunga (Main) have been George Band and Joe Brown on 25 May 1955. The next day, Tony Streather and Norman Hardie climbed on the top as the second group of the same team. The route they followed was south-west face of the mountain. Up till now there are 195 mountaineers who have obtained victory over the summit of glorious Kanchanjunga. The last successful expeditioner is a team of ten mountaineers including Ashok Kumar Chauhan and Pemba Rinzi, who reached the summit on 10 October 2004.


Kanchanjunga, the third highest in the world and second highest peak in Nepal has its glorious views due to its magnificent scenic beauty. It has an extra ordinary variation of scenery and ecology within a small area and short distance. At the same time, Kanchanjunga range is regarded as ‘Five Treasures of the Snow.’ It is the easternmost peak of Nepal above 8,000 m located at most southerly part of the major Himalayan peaks as well.


HMG, Ministry of Tourism & Civil Aviation, Some Provisions Relating to Mountain Tourism in Nepal (Kathmandu, 1999), p 9.  P.V. Angus-Leppan, The Height of Mount Everest, Survey Review, Vol. 26, 206 (October 1982), p. 371. HMG Survey Department of Nepal, Topographical Map Series, Kanchanjungha, (First Edition 1997), Sheet 2788 05. HMG Survey Department of Nepal, op. cit., Sheet 2788 05. Rajeswar Thapa et. al., Kangchenjunga A Guide and Handbook, (Kanchan Printing Press, Kathmandu, 1999), p. 27. Survey of India, Indian Explorers of the 19th Century, (Dehradun, India, 1990), Folder p. 7.  Rajeswar Thapa et. al, op. cit., p. 24.



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