Darjeeling

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What is it? A Town
In the District of Darjeeling
In the State of West Bengal
In the Nation of India
Geographical Position Eastern Himalayas - Darjeeling Himalayas
Geometric Position (Latitude and Longitude) 27° 1′ 48″ North, 88° 9′ 36″ East
Area 10.57 km² (4 sq mi)
Elevation 2,134 m (7,001 ft) Average
Population 107,530 (2001 Census)
Density 8,548 /km² (22,139 /sq mi)
Pin code 734101
Telephone code 0354
Vehicle Registration Numbers WB - 73, WB - 741 GL - 01, GL -02
Administered by District Magistrate
Surendra Gupta, IAS 0354-2254233/2256201(O), 0354-2256182(R), 0354-2254338(Fax) E-Mail : ni.cin.bw|jrad-md#ni.cin.bw|jrad-md, ni.cin|jrd-md#ni.cin|jrd-md

INTRODUCTION

Unanimously described as the ‘Queen of Hills’ Darjeeling is unique in its versatility. For the tourists, fresh from the sights of other lands, Darjeeling comes not only as a delightful surprise but as a veritable relief from the hot and sultry weather of the plains. From the surroundings of this unrivalled mountainous town which stands at an average height of 7,000 feet above sea level, one sees the breath-taking beauty of the snow covered peaks, the tips of which seem too silvery to be real, a dappled effect indeed of vivid white and patches of grey.

Darjeeling is at once, both old and new. The cosmopolitan town itself has come a long way since its modest beginnings in 1835. The new includes modern amenities, first class hotels, comprehensive shopping centers; some of India’s most famous boarding-schools, cinema halls and the world’s most sought trekking trails. Yet a few miles of the town one comes into contact with age-old customs and ways of living – hand plowed terraced hill side fields, surrounded by gaily painted huts, hollowed out bamboo pipes for carrying water and villagers still utterly unspoilt by the rush and materialism of the Twenty First Century.


NOTABLE QUOTES

The most venerable Nichidatsu Fujii, the founder and teacher of Nipponzan Myohoji :

"Darjeeling, a summer resort in the northern part of Bengal is favoured with a mild climate and healthy air. There the water is clear and the landscape is uperb. One can enjoy the beautiful and majestic view of the world's highest Himalayas, and the Buddha's birthplace is located nearby. So I thought I should by all means propagate the faith in this place."

Bishnu Kumari Waiba popularly known as Parijat - an acclaimed writer.

"Darjeeling is the mountain kissed by the cold breath of Kanchanjungha."


A BRIEF HISTORY

The name ‘Darjeeling’ came from the Tibetan words, “dorje” meaning thunderbolt (originally the scepter of Indra) and “ling” a place or land - Hence, ‘the land of the thunderbolt’. This name could also have been inherited from a Buddhist Monastery of the same name once situated on the top of the Observatory Hill.

The town which originally consisted of a few mud huts surrounding the monastery on Observatory Hill was officially inaugurated by Captain Lloyd and Dr. Chapman. In 1839, the station was handed over to Dr. Campbell who was its first Superintendent. At this time there was not more than 20 families in the district of Darjeeling, and the further building up of Darjeeling, both physically and industrially was due almost entirely to Dr. Campbell’s twenty two years of untiring labour.

From a collection of a few mud-huts it has today grown up to be one of India’s premier hill stations, visited by tourists from distant corners of India and all over the world.


CONTROVERSIES

WAS DARJEELING EVER PART OF PAKISTAN

darjeeling-pakistani-flag.gif

In 1947, the then leaders of the Muslim League came forward with their own plan for Darjeeling and her merger with East Pakistan. A Muslim league team visited Darjeeling around the same time, held talks with the leaders of the local political party and participated in a convention on the merger issue. Some understanding appears to have been reached between them. This was reflected in the bizarre developments in Darjeeling between August 14 and 18, 1947. This Pakistani flag [see the only photo ever taken] fluttered on the Darjeeling Town hall for full five days in place of the Union jack. Darjeeling was popularly stated to have become a part of Pakistan in preference to India and Nepal. In fact, even sweets were disturbed and fireworks let off in joyous celebration of Pakistan’s independence.


The District of Darjeeling2

The District of Darjeeling has an area of 3149 sq kms with a population of 1,605,900 (2001 census). According to the census, 67 per cent of the population still lives in rural areas. The density of population is about 510 persons per square kilometer and the sex ratio is 940 females to 1000 males. The literacy rate is of 81.28% among males and 63.92% among females. Hindus and Buddhists form the majority in terms of religious groups and Muslims and Christians are relatively fewer in numbers.

The district extends from the marshy and tropical Terai, at an average height of 300 feet above sea level, to the cool heights of the Sandakphu Phalut ridge, about 12,000 feet above sea level. It borders on Sikkim to the North, Bhutan to the East and Nepal to the West. It includes the two other Hill resorts of Kurseong and Kalimpong, 4,864 and 4,100 feet above sea level respectively.


THE PEOPLE OF DARJEELING

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The original inhabitants of the Darjeeling Hills were Lepchas or Rongpa (the ravine folks) as they prefer themselves to be known as. Though their origin is obscure they are decidedly Mongolian in feature.

The greater bulk of the people in the Hills are Gorkhas. They are industrious and enterprising as a race and speak as many as seven different dialects - Gorkhali or Indian Nepali being the predominantly spoken language. Among the population are also the Sherpas originally from Solo Khumbu and Namche Bazaar. They are well known for their courage, stamina and surefootedness and for their immeasurable contributions to Mountaineering. Tenzing Norgay Sherpa the international hero who conquered Mount Everest along with Sir Edmund Hillary lived and died in Darjeeling. Also much in evidence in the Hills are the Bhutias, Bengalese, Marwaris, Biharis, Sindhis and Punjabis. The people from all these communities give Darjeeling a Cosmopolitan character.

All the hill people are merry and good hearted, well known for their hospitality. Singing and dancing are an integral part of their social and religious life. They have an avid and ingrained thirst for knowledge. Despite modern education and many western influences they are yet really at heart the simple and unspoilt children of nature.


RELIGION

Darjeeling enjoys a harmonious blending of Hinduism and Buddhism as the town is practically dotted with Hindu temples and Buddhist Monasteries. A close knit community of Christians, Sikhs and Muslims also exists all living in peaceful harmony.


LANGUAGES

English, Bengali, Hindi, Nepali and Tibetan are spoken among the different communities - English and Bengali being understood by majority of the people including the guides and hotel attendants.


CLIMATE AND TOURIST SEASON

Darjeeling has four seasons – Spring, Monsoon, Autumn and Winter.

After a short and cold winter, spring comes gracefully in as a blessing. Gentle mists occasionally mingled with light rain take the place of the heavy winter fog. The sky though never completely clear of clouds is still clear enough to give a succession of cool calm days. It is during these months – April to June – that Darjeeling enjoys the first tourist season. The whole town is ablaze with colour; in every garden small or big, there is a profusion of flowers – Rhododendron, Magnolia, Gladioli, Tiger Lillies, Hydrangeas, Sweet Peas, Corn flowers, Roses and Dahlias, all combine to deck Darjeeling out as the real “Queen”. This is the time of the year, too, when the various mountaineering expeditions set out, on the trail of high adventure.

The monsoon starts from late June and is usually over by the end of August. About 100 inches, or more, of rain falls during these months, the heaviest rain-fall usually during July. With the end of the monsoon by the end of August, Autumn starts creeping in from September. Darjeeling’s second tourist season is during these Autumn months of September, October and Mid-November. The weather at this time of the year is Darjeeling’s best. Cool languid days with hardly a cloud in a sky of clear and uninterrupted blue; near by slopes, a luxuriant green with blue hills shimmering across the valley and the mighty Kanchanjunga Range stands as a majestic background towering over every thing. Vistas of unrivalled beauty are presented to the visitors. Carnivals, Dog Shows, Dramatic Performances, Music Concerts, and Cultural Fiestas, all combine to make these the ‘magic months’ for Darjeeling.

Nor must the great Hindu Festivals, which are observed at this time of the year, be forgotten. The Temples and Bazaar present a vast seething mass of brightly shifting colours. Joyous and carefree crowds convert Darjeeling into one big Carnival. To climax the season and the Pujas come the Hindu Festival of Diwali (the Festival of Lights). Popularly known as Tihar, Darjeeling has a unique way of celebrating the festival. Much before the sun sets, the youths gather around in their traditional costumes and armed with musical instruments venture from door to door all over the hills singing songs and dancing. Every house and business establishment is enchantingly outlined in the velvety black night, by the flickering oil lamps. Many of the shops are gaily decorated and Indian sweetmeats are, as is the custom, lavishly distributed to all those visiting the shops. A visit to Darjeeling during the Puja Season is undoubtedly an experience of a life time.

For visitors who are not averse to cold and who want a quiet holiday, Darjeeling in the winter is an ideal spot. The mercury drops as low as 1ºC, while heavy fog frequently envelops the town. Towards the end of December there are occasional rain-storms, while snow often falls presenting the traditional ‘White Christmas’.


TRAVELING UP TO DARJEELING

Darjeeling is easily accessible from any part of India by Air, Rail or Road -The Railway station at New Jalpaiguri and the Airport at Bagdogra being the links to the outside world. There are numerous flights operated by different airways and the services are also carefully timed to offer convenient connections to all important cities of the nation.

For visitors who have more time to spare, Darjeeling has excellent rail connections. There are routes to practically every part of the nation. Once the visitor disembarks upon New Jalpaiguri he or she could either seek to make the uphill journey by taxi or the world famous and the now UNESCO World Heritage Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. Many holiday makers do prefer taxis or buses which get up to Darjeeling in almost 3 ½ hours but to those who are visiting Darjeeling for the first time traveling by the ‘Toy Train’ as it is affectionately known as, is not just pleasantly interesting but indeed the ride of a life time.

The ‘Toy Train’ on this section winds its way up gradually. Starting from a mere 300 feet above sea level, it ascends to a height of 7,400 feet at Ghoom Station and then descends to 6,812 feet at Darjeeling by a series of hair-pin curves, loops and zig-zags. This railway system owes its inception to Sir Ashley Eden and Mr. Franklin Prestage and is considered to be one of the greatest engineering feats of its kind in the world.

The journey from Siliguri to Darjeeling provides panoramic views and occasionally at bends, one sees the vast fertile plains of Bengal stretching far into the horizon, with rivers, like silver ribbons, meandering lazily over it. Huge trees, giants of the forest, choked by strangulating creepers; gigantic boulders, reminders of past land-slides; cascading water falls roaring from the hill sides, hills slopes given over to tea bushes all make the uphill trip utterly interesting.


EDUCATION

Darjeeling is famous for her schools and colleges. Some of the greatest names in Indian History are associated with education in Darjeeling one way or the other. For example, Rishi Aurobindo studied at Loreto Convent where Mother Teresa also taught. Schools in Darjeeling were established by the British to educate their own. They set very high standards for their schools and hence even today the the schools established by the British are taken to be some of the best schools in India. The schools established by the British were St. Paul's School, St. Joseph's School, Mount Hermon School, Loreto Convent etc. These schools today are affiliated with the I.C.S.E Board and follow English as the medium of edcuation. Hindi and Nepali medium schools were established by Indian patriots to help in the education of the locals. Some of the well known native schools are Maharani Girls High School, Sardeswari Girls High School, Ramakrishna Siksha Parishad Boys High School etc. Some Nepali medium schools primarily aimed at educating the native population was also established by the British. The best known of such schools are St. Robert's High School, St. Teresa's School, Turnbull Boys High School, Municipal Boys High School, Municipal Girls High School and Nepali Girls High School (known popularly as Boarding School).

While all the English medium schools are affiliated with I. C. S. E. Board, Nepali medium schools are affiliated with West Bengal Secondary Examination Board. Hindi medium schools such as Tibetan Refugee School is affiliated with Central Board of Secondary Education.

Secondary and Higher Secondary education in Darjeeling is of very good standard and numerous students come to study in schools here.

There are primarily three colleges in Darjeeling: St. Joseph's College, Southfield College and Darjeeling Government College. While recently Ghoom Jorebungalow Degree College was established, it primarily caters to students from Ghoom Jorebungalow and the surrounding areas. All the colleges in the town are affiliated with North Bengal University and offers various Degree courses in Arts, Science and Commerce. Post Graduate courses in some stream are offered in Darjeeling Government College and St. Joseph's College but a full blown Masters Programme does not exist in any of the colleges. There are no Medical colleges in Darjeeling. There are also no Technical, Engineering or Law Colleges.

Darjeeling does not have a University of her own.


PLACES OF INTEREST

  1. Observatory Hill and The Mahakal Temple
  2. Lloyd Botanic Garden
  3. Sidrāpöng Hydel Power Station
  4. Raj Bhawan - The Governor's Palace
  5. Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
  6. Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park
  7. Natural History Museum
  8. Step Aside
  9. Market Square (Bazaar) - Gundree Bazaar
  10. Chowrasta and Mall
  11. Senchal Lakes
  12. Tiger Hill
  13. Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre
  14. Japanese Peace Pagoda
  15. Dhirdham Temple
  16. Darjeeling-Rangit Valley Passenger Cable Car
  17. Batasia Loop and the War Memorial
  18. Rock Garden and Ganga Maya Park
  19. Ava Art Gallery

BUDDHIST MONASTERIES

Darjeeling has Three Monasteries of tourist interest - Bhutia Busty Monastery, the Yolmowa Buddhist Makdhog Monastery also popularly known as Aloobari Monastery and Yiga Choling Monastery.

  1. Bhutia Busty Monastery
  2. Yolmowa Buddhist Makdhog Monastery (Aloobari Monastery)
  3. Yiga Choling Monastery

TEA GARDENS

Also known as tea estates, there are numerous tea gardens in and around the town. The gardens are famous for the Darjeeling Tea and a visit to the estates including the factory are not just very charming but educative as well.

Happy Valley Tea Estate practically inside the town boundaries can be most easily accessible to the visitors. The Estate is located in the Darjeeling East Valley at an altitude of 2750 meters and has a plantation area of 110.88 Hectares. The Estate is also one of the oldest and most renowned tea estate in Darjeeling. Visitors can witness Tea picking, manufacturing and processing of tea and that’s not all tea Darjeeling Tea and buy it directly from the factory as well.


TREKS IN AND AROUND DARJEELING

Trekking in the Darjeeling-Sikkim region is a remarkable experience. Not only can there be found some of the world’s best mountain scenery, it is also of easy accessibility, thus making trekking a pleasure even for the least initiated.

The whole of the surrounding country is interesting with well maintained bridle paths, comfortable and well furnished Dak Bungalows placed at easy stages along the route. Treks can extend from short ones of a few days, to longer ones lasting weeks, and to even more ambitious ones that will bring the trekker to the very foot of the everlasting snows.

Trekking in the District is of particular delight to the botanist and entomologist, who will encounter myriads of interesting specimens and species. Pleasure seekers without any hobby whatsoever, will still be adequately rewarded with vision of the snows, the ever changing effects of light and shadow on the forest-clad mountains, the fragrant air of the woodlands, or the bracing breezes on the mountain-tops. The whole area is a paradise for artists and photographers.

Intending trekkers should plan carefully in advance, as treks entail entry permits (in the case of Sikkim) reservations of Trekkers Hut, Dak Bungalows, the hiring of Guides. The best times of the year for trekking in the Darjeeling Region are between October and January, and during April and May.


RAFTING/KAYAKING/CANYONING

Rafting is one of the best ways to explore the typical cross section of natural as well as ethno-cultural heritage of the Hills. The gorgeous Teesta and Rangeet Rivers offer excellent rafting and canoeing experience. One can glide on calm jade waters with magnificent scenery all about or rush through roaring white rapids, in the care of expert river-men employed by government authorized agencies.

Day Trips

Long Section

Bardang to 29th Mile - Grade II, III, IV - Duration 4 ½ hours
Rongpo to 29th Mile – Grade II, III, III+ - Duration 3 ½ hours

Medium Section

Bardang to Rongpo - Grade II, III, IV - Duration 2 hours
Rongpo to Malli - Grade II, III, III+ - Duration 2 ½ hours

Short Section

Malli to 29th Mile – Grade I, II – Duration 1 hour

ROCK CLIMBING

For all those cliff hangers out there, Darjeeling offers a roster of stone walls that make for an experience of a lifetime. Now of late, Rock climbing has become a popular sport in Darjeeling, which offers some really terrifice places for rock climbing. Gombu Rock, Tenzing Rock, Rock Face II are some fo the places where you can try this sport.

OFF BEAT TRACKS AND PLACES

Love Road – A forested trail circling the Birch Hill offers one of the most romantic of experiences. One can see the Lebong Spur and the Kanchanjunga Range clearer then any where else. The trail is heavily forested and short hiking in itself is most fascinating. There are numerous species of flaura and fauna. Bird watchers could find different species of birds.

Chitray - A small hamlet at the edge of the Phoobtsering Tea Estate offers a resting place for the travelers where hot tea is served with steaming hot momos. Travellers could walk around among the tea bushes and enjoy the scenery. Hand made tea can also be purchased here cheaply.

Hot Stimulating Café- Famous among the Foreign Travellers, this deserted and small restaurant serves hot and delicious dishes. Situated below the Shrubbery Nightingale Park it also offers the Panorama of Darjeeling Town and one can point out almost all the landmarks of the town.


CLUBS

Gymkhana Club: situated on the Mall, just between Governor’s Place and St. Andrew’s Church. It is open to holiday makers who would like to join the club as temporary members and this includes everything a popular club should have. Tennis, badminton and squash courts, a skating rink, an excellent dance floor, a tiny theatre, a billiard room with a fine library and reading room. The club also once ran the horse races at Lebong.

Planters Club: This club is for permanent members only connected with the tea industry.


ARTS AND CRAFTS

Darjeeling markets various Gorkha and Tibetan enterprises such as traditional ornaments and curios. There is a demand for earings and brooches which is out of the ordinary and also Tibetan masks, thankas, khukuris, knives and boots. Much attention of the visitors is concentrated on ‘Thankas’ and their enthusiasm can well be seen when the salesman explains the exquisite beauty of the paintings on the Thankas, depicting scenes connected with the life of Lord Buddha.


HERITAGE SITES

  1. The Capitol
  2. Old Cemetery
  3. Old Parsee Cemetery

NON GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATIONS (NGOs)

  1. ATREE
  2. Environment Protection Society
  3. Project S.E.R.V.E
  4. FORCE
  5. Prerna
  6. PAHAR
  7. Anugyalaya DDSSS
  8. Kripa
  9. Hayden hall
  10. CHAI project

Bibliography
1. Fallen Cicada - Unwritten History of Darjeeling Hills
2. A guide to Darjeeling Hills by Barun Roy

Websites

  1. The Himalayan Beacon - News, views and insights from Gorkhas world over
  2. The Official Website of Darjeeling District
  3. Darjeeling India Travel guide for tourists
  4. Darjeeling
  5. Explore Darjeeling

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