Raiganj residents on a rooftop seek a clear view of the Kanchenjungha on Tuesday morning. Picture of Nantu Dey
Raiganj, Oct. 8: When Susanta Saha went to bed last night, the Kanchenjungha was 550km away. This morning, like a miracle, the great white peak was in plain sight when the boy stepped out of his house.
For schoolboy Susanta and thousands of Raiganj residents, the glorious view was theirs to marvel for three hours from 9 in the morning.
After that the sky grew darker, the peak was lost.
Some Raiganj residents said this was the first clear view of the peak after nearly 30 years.
Four days of heavy rain had cleared the air in Raiganj of dust particles, allowing the view, meteorologists and environment experts said.
At 28,169ft, the Kanchenjungha is the third highest peak in the world.
For 70-year-old Parimal Pal, who went out of his house to take in the view, the sight reminded him of his childhood.
Pal, a potter, recalled that as a child he and his friends would often stare at the snow-capped Himalayas from slightly elevated railway tracks.
“When we were kids, we could see the snow-capped peaks on a clear day. Our elders used to take us to the railway tracks that are elevated for a good view,” Pal said.
That the sight was rare was clear from the reactions of Raiganj residents. Some climbed up rooftops, other stopped on their way to work and schoolchildren got late for classes.
Santanu Das, a physician, said: “I take my family for vacations mostly to hill stations like Darjeeling.” But today, the doctor just had to step out of his clinic.
Nandini Dhar, a schoolteacher, halted on her way to work. “There was a big crowd on the bridge over the Kulik river. Everybody was pointing towards the sky so I got curious. I pushed my way in and saw the Kanchenjungha. I have seen the majestic peak from Darjeeling but I never thought I would be able to see it from my home,” she said.
On the map, the Kanchenjungha would seem to be in Raiganj’s line of sight — a straight line up north from the North Dinajpur town hits the peak.
The excitement on the streets of Raiganj, which somehow has made more news for gang wars, had police worried in the beginning. Raiganj police station sent out a mobile patrol to the Kulik bridge on hearing that several hundred people had gathered there.
Class VI student Susanta, who reads in Coronation High School, said he was almost late for classes. “I was on my way to school when I saw the peak. I have seen photos of the Kanchenjungha in our geography book and I have heard it can be seen from Darjeeling. It was amazing, the sight of the white mountain,” he said.
Anjan Majumdar, a member of the Paschim Banga Vigyan Mancha and a retired physics teacher, said that the view was possible because of the near absence of dust particles in the atmosphere. “We are 187km from Siliguri where people often catch a glimpse of the peak. There has been rainfall in the hills and in the plains for the past four or five days because of which the level of dust particles is low in the air. That, combined with a clear cloudless sky, made this view possible,” he explained.
In Islampur, another district town, the peak was in clear view from 5am to 10am. But Islampur is to the north of Raiganj, hence closer to the peak.
Suprakash Bhowmick, a retired teacher in Islampur, was out for his morning walk when he saw the peak in the horizon.
“I usually go out in the morning around 5. It was around 5.30am when I saw the mountain range. I immediately called home and woke up everyone. This is the best view of the Kanchejungha I have ever seen. It was glorious,” he said.
Babulal Maitra, a science teacher in Islampur’s Srikrishnapur High School, said around 10.30am when he was entering the school, he spotted the peak.
“I was just entering school when I spotted the silver range in the horizon. We sometimes catch a glimpse of the Kanchenjungha in clear weather, especially in the winter months. But today it was so clear, the peaks looked larger and closer. I called out the students and the teachers so that they could enjoy the view too,” he said.
Meteorologist T.K. Chakraborty, said horizontal visibility is generally hampered by atmospheric obscurity.
“Our horizontal visibility is hampered by aerosol, dust particles, dust haze, moist haze and air pollution. It appears that prolonged rain led to settling down of these particles to the ground, giving us a very clear sky. That is why Kanchenjungha was so clearly visible after so many years,” Chakraborty, former director of the flood meteorological office in Jalpaiguri, said.
Animesh Bose, a veteran mountaineer and environmentalist in Siliguri, said the Kanchanjungha was often visible from Raiganj and other parts of North Dinajpur and adjoining Bihar (Kishanganj district) 30-35 years back.
“Nowadays, we don’t get the view because of the smog and dust which float in the atmosphere and reduce the visibility. The degree of pollution can be understood, considering the rare visibility of the Himalayan peak from places like Raiganj where people were stunned today,” Bose said.
“In Siliguri, even 20 years back or so, the Kanchenjungha could be seen on every morning for around four months a year but nowadays, it is during the autumn and winter that we get a glimpse of the peak,” Bose said.
The peak is also visible from parts of Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts, he said, but not every day.
“However, it is not visible from the entire district as there is forest cover, the Bhutan hills and awkward locations of some areas as compared to the peak,” he said.