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Darjeeling and Beyond - On leave from the Forgotten Army

By CHARLES EVANS

When Charles Evans died in 1995, he left a manuscript of his experiences as a 'Doctor in the XIVth Army - Burma 1944 -1945',  the so called Forgotten Army.

In 1998 his wife Denise secured a publisher - Leo Cooper of Pen and Sword Books - who wanted it shorter so some sections were cut, including this delightful account of two weeks ' leave' over New Year 1945, to Darjeeling and beyond in the shadow of Kangchenjunga. It was published in The Alpine Journal, UK (2005) for the first time as a special tribute to Charles Evans to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the first ascent of that majestic mountain on 25 May 1955 by the British team led by Charles himself.

SALT, with the kind consent of The Alpine Journal, UK, is reproducing the article to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Kangchenjunga.

There was a wide choice of places to go on leave. Some liked the bright lights of the clubs and hotels of Calcutta; others chose to spend their leave at one of several hill stations where the climate was good and limited social amenities could be found. My idea was to go to a hill station and see how close I could get to the big mountains. I chose Darjeeling partly because it was nearest to Calcutta and partly because the name had magic associations; it had been the starting point of the early expeditions to Everest and Kangchenjunga and as far as I knew it was the only place outside Nepal where the Sherpa people, of whom I had read a good deal, were to be found.

Siliguri, where the mountains began, was the end of the main line and the Darjeeling Mail from Calcutta went no farther. I crossed the station platform to what at first looked like a toy train - the mountain railway to Darjeeling. The squat little steam engines were driven by hillmen with pillbox caps and Gurkha faces; they had two helpers, cheerful-looking urchins who sat over the front wheels of the engine, one each side; their job was to throw handfuls of sand on the line whenever the rails were slippery on the climb of nearly 8,000 feet to Darjeeling.

Darjeeling was on the crest and western slope of a narrow ridge; only the small bazaar some way below the ridge was on flat ground. At the station a pale girl with slanting brown eyes and pleasant features lifted my heavy kitbag on her back with an easy movement, at the same time arranging a carrying strap across her forehead. I hesitated to let her add my rucksack to her load but she made nothing of it and we set off to walk up The Mall, the main street, to the Windamere Hotel.

 

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