Darjeeling, October 5,1929
Two hours ago I sent you a telegram about my arrival in India. I am imagining you must be receiving it just now (it must be about noon there); you will probably be surprised that it is coming from Darjeeling and not from Calcutta. But as I mentioned in my last letter, I arrived in Calcutta two days early; in order not to alarm you, however, I wanted to wait for the designated day to send my telegram.
(….) As of noon today, I am sitting here in this mountain village in the foothills of the Himalayas (2200 meters altitude). It is strange to know that from my window I could see the gigantic mountains of the Himalayas with its glaciers, if only the weather were clear; for right now the rain is pouring, and a thick fog is barely allowing visibility of 100 meters. You can imagine that I am a little impatient; two days from now I will have to leave here again, and if it does not clear up till then, I should say that my entire trip to India was practically in vain. It is these mountains that are dearer to my heart than any old temples. But maybe I will be lucky again as I have been in similar cases often before. Actually, it is very beautiful here even with rain and fog; the air itself is quite different from down there in the heat of the Ganges basin, and makes you feel “at home”; it is so chilly that I had to wear my wool suit. Should the weather clear up, then I will attempt (like every tourist) to rise at 3:00am and climb a mountain named “Tiger Hill” which gives you a view of Mt. Everest; sunrise there is supposed to be so beautiful. There are here, as the name indicates, still tigers around in the forest (called jungle) but they never dare to come close to the traveled paths, but run away from humans for good reason, just like our deer in the woods do.
Yesterday in Calcutta, I spent time with the physicists and had a host of interesting experiences. In the afternoon I was a guest of the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. You may recall him from the lectures he gave a few years ago in Munich. Tagore is running a university or school, whatever you want to call it, where young Indians are taught in the arts and sciences, etc. This school is closely connected to the Indian freedom movement under Gandhi. Material power, of course, is with the English – will there ever be a triumph of spirit over might? I have encountered the English colonial economy only in its bad features. Hotels for Europeans, railroads, everything is very poor and very expensive. Obviously, all profits are pocketed by the English, do not stay in the country, and can therefore not be used for infrastructure improvements. For instance, even in the sleeping compartments of the first class one is not provided pillows and sheets, you have to bring those yourself, and any fourth class compartment in Germany is better than first class here. Yet everything is more expensive than at home. One can easily figure out where the money goes. Any decent person will deem the economy here scandalous. Of course, life in the lower classes here is also shocking for us; and yet the English have not improved this.
Some religious customs in this country appear to us quite terrible and inexplicable, and I have witnessed some things which I would rather wish I could forget.
Meanwhile evening has descended, and the servant just started a jolly fire in the fireplace of my room, lest it get too cold. This reminds me a lot of life in our alpine hut. Outside it also, knock on wood, cleared up a little and everywhere there are glimmering lights from the village across the mountains. I hope it will clear up completely during the night.
Sunday morning, 6.October. In the meantime I have had quite a stroke of good luck, more than I had dared hope for at all. When I woke up once at 1:00 am, it was again completely foggy and I really gave up any hope. But already at 2:00 am the servant was knocking at my door: it was clearing up, and did I want some tea? At 2:30, all done getting dressed and having a bite for breakfast, off I went with a Tibetan guide. (The mountain inhabitants here are of Mongolian origin and hail from the north). The sky was now partially lit with stars; especially Orion was spectacularly bright above our trail. At first there was a gentle incline up to a neighboring village where only a few lights were still on, then up through a thick forest; I was glad to have the guide along, otherwise I might have gotten lost. While we were ascending, the sky was getting visibly clearer and as we reached the summit at 4:30, only a few bands of clouds were up in the sky, and the view all around was totally unobstructed. But it still was all dark, just this wonderful starry sky. We used the time till sunrise to brew some coffee on a wood fire. We were the only people on the summit, since everyone else didn’t believe in the change in weather. Then at about a quarter past five, it started getting light in the east, and out of the transparent blue sky, there emerged the snowy mass of the Himalayas, with their whitish gray color, so familiar to me from our own mountains. Directly in front of us (that is: still 50-70 km away) there was the range of the Kanchendjunga completely cloudless, every summit sharply edged. The main summit is 8000m high, -and at such heights mountains are simply gigantic even at a distance of 50 km. Mt Everest, however, is much farther from here – I think about 150km, and thus is appearing less grand. Also it was always a little under cover of clouds, allowing only occasional glimpses of the summits. Between both ranges and east of the Kanchendjunga there stretches a long chain of lower peaks and glaciers, probably all of them still over 6000m high. Particularly towards the east this view bore a lot of similarity with the one from the Bruennstein towards the range of the Tauern Mountains. (You probably still remember it?) Long before the sun reached our hill, the tallest mountain peaks began to glow, first the Kanchendjunga and Mt. Everest, then the lower summits. But you already know what such a sunrise looks like. We remained up there for a long time, till the mountains were gleaming white and the sun was warming us.
Now we are once more sitting under clouds and fog, but that of course doesn’t faze us any more.- But I don’t want to begin a new page. Therefore many warm greetings,