Kalimpong : The Union home ministry’s (MHA) decision to lift an 18-year-old ban on Kanchenjungha by including it in the “open area” along with other 136 mountains of the country has not gone well with the Lepcha community residing in the districts of Kalimpong and Darjeeling in West Bengal.
The MHA, in its notification issued to the IMF, state governments and union territories on August 13, had decided to open 137 peaks in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim to promote adventure sports in the country.
A total of 24 peaks of Sikkim, including Mt Kanchenjunga, is also in the list.
The lift on the ban means that mountaineers can now obtain permission from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) to scale the third highest peak in the world, which is situated at a height of 8,586 m (28,169 ft).
“Mt Kanchenjunga is the identity of the Lepchas. Our custom, culture, tradition and our faith has come from Mt Kanchenjunga. It is our scared place, a place which we have been worshiping for ages. The Lepcha community not only originated from the mountain but has also evolved with it as time passed by,” P T Lepcha, a senior citizen told EastMojo.
“You may talk about Teesta and Rangeet, which are the prominent rivers of the region. Even those originate from Mt Kanchenjunga. We also consider those rivers holy as Mt Kanchenjunga is their source. So let the mountain stay pure as because the mountain is pure, so is the environment and the thoughts of the people,” he added.
Lepcha said that it is because of the purity of Mt Kanchenjunga that the Lepcha community is considered one of the most abstemious communities in the region.
Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association (ILTA) general secretary Rumden Simik Lepcha said, “The Centre government’s notification has hurt the sentiments of the Lepchas. We consider Kanchenjunga as a scared and holy mountain as we believe that God, created the first man and woman from the pure mountain. Hence, we appeal the Government of India to let remain Mt Kanchenjunga a holy and sacred place and roll back its notification.”
We have held meetings regarding the same and decided to submit memorandums to the Union ministry of home affairs and Sikkim chief minister PS Golay expressing our resentment, Rumden said.
A senior citizen and renowned writer Palden Lepcha also shared similar views.
“We, the Lepchas, have been worshiping Mt Kanchenjunga as our guardian deity since time immemorial and it has a strong emotional connection with us. We pay our reverence to Mt Kanchenjunga when we start our day and also when we end it. It is a part of our lives,” he said, also calling upon the government to revoke its decision.
The Lepcha community, in the state of Sikkim and those settled in parts of West Bengal, Nepal and Bhutan, pray every year to the Kanchenjunga.
Accordingly, a festival named “Pang Lhabsol” is also organised annually in the month of September in honour of the great mountain.
Kanchenjunga was first climbed by British mountaineers in 1955.
The first member of the team to complete the ascent, Joe Brown, stopped just short of the top, out of respect for the belief in Sikkim that the summit of the mountain is sacred.
Meanwhile, IMF, India’s apex mountaineering authority has declared that it will not issue permits to mountaineers to scale Mt Kanchenjungha.
“The governing council of IMF has taken a decision not to issue any permit to (scale) the peaks in Sikkim which are under the category of sacred peaks, including Kanchenjungha, despite they now being in the open area,” Indian Mountaineering Foundation Col (Retd) H S Chauhan told EastMojo recently.