Darjeeling is a Himalayan city and the ‘hill town headquarters’ of Darjeeling District of the State of West Bengal in India. Positioned at 27.0361, 88.2627 coordinates, Darjeeling stands at an elevation of about 7000 feet above sea level on the Darjeeling-Jalpahar Range in the Sub-Himalayan Range – also known as Lesser Himalayas. Darjeeling is bordered by Sikkim in the north, Nepal in the west and Bhutan in the East.
Darjeeling is about 725 kilometres north of the West Bengal State Capital – Kolkata. The highlight of this hill station is that it offers panoramic views of the ‘Kanchenjunga’ – third highest mountain in the world at 28,200 feet!
And if you’re lucky you could even sight the Mount Everest – the highest Mountain in the world! Imagine that!!
Owing to the physical proximity to Tibet, Darjeeling derives its name from the Tibetan words – ‘Dorje’ which means thunderbolt and ‘ling’ which means the land, therefore – ‘land of the thunderbolt’.
Fondly referred to as the ‘Darling city’ by its visitors – Darjeeling is one of the most sought after tourist destinations of the world. Amongst a portfolio of attractions, Darjeeling is primarily remembered for the mind blowing views of the Kanchenjunga; the romantic toy-train ride of 83 kilometres in the Sub-Himalayan Range and the scenic lush green step-terraced fragrant tea estates!
Such is the yield of this place – both physical and ethereal, that the United Nations Agency - The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has marked and listed Darjeeling as a place of special cultural and physical significance.
Darjeeling was once just a group of villages that fell under the administration of Nepal and Sikkim in different timelines. During the mid 19th Century, the British recognized and exploited the nature’s bounty and set up a Hill Station in Darjeeling by leasing it from the ‘Chogyal’ (Monarch) of Sikkim Kingdom. Later on it was discovered that Darjeeling was suitable for cultivating Tea Plantations. In 1849, Darjeeling was annexed to British India – during the period when India was ruled by the British and was governed from Calcutta (Kolkata). This is also the period when Darjeeling became the summer capital of the whole of India.
Darjeeling city is a Victorian Town with a tinge of Tibet and Sikkim culture reflecting off of its architecture and the cultural diversity. The town is still reminiscent of the British Colonial History in Darjeeling – the ‘Toy Train’ being one of the classic examples of the British influence and the other being the British-style schools which are aided by the Government. One of the very few steam locomotives (is a train that runs on steam which is produced and fueled by coal, wood or oil) which are still in service in India today is in Darjeeling.
Darjeeling is a trekker’s delight offering medium to high Grades of trekking slopes. Darjeeling is Eastern India’s only location that witnesses substantial foreign tourism.
Darjeeling being a part of the Eastern Himalayan (the area of Southeast Tibet, Sikkim, North Bengal, Bhutan and Northeast India) zoo-geographic zone is resplendent with temperate and alpine forests and home to the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park which conserves and breeds Himalayan endangered species and the Lloyd’s Botanical Gardens which preserves rare Himalayan plant species. The Wildlife Wing of the West Bengal Forest Department protects the wildlife of Darjeeling. Among the various migratory birds that originate in Tibet and land at Darjeeling are myriad species of Ducks, Gulls, Plovers and Common Teals. Civets (lithe-bodied nocturnal mammals, Mongooses (carnivorans) and Badgers (omnivorous weasels) are also found in this region.
Dense evergreen forests of Sal (shala tree) and oak (native to northern hemisphere) are visible in abundance around the town, where a wide variety of rare orchids (perennial epiphytes) are also found. Bamboo jungles interspersed with fern is what constitutes a majority of this Hill Station if it’s not Tea Gardens.
Tourism and Tea are the chief contributors to Darjeeling’s Economy amongst a myriad others. The agro-climatic conditions of Darjeeling are highly conducive for tea plantations which sport a distinctly different taste than the Assam Tea. Darjeeling tea is a thin-bodied, light-coloured black tea with a slight musky aroma. Darjeeling Tea is more Oolong than black technically speaking as it involves a traditional Chinese processing method of withering the tea leaves under the strong sun and oxidation of the same before curling and twisting them. Unlike other teas, the Oolong teas can be brewed several times (with the same tea leaves) and the taste improves with each brew. Majority of the workers in the tea gardens are women, which speaks for the stable economic condition of women in Darjeeling. Other crops cultivated in Darjeeling are Paddy, Maize, Millets, Cardamom, Potato and Ginger.
How can Darjeeling be mentioned without mentioning scores of Bollywood and Bengali movies that were shot here? Darjeeling is one of the most sought-after filming destinations of India.
Darjeeling sports a temperate climate where the changes in winter and summer are moderate and not extremes and comprises five seasons – spring, summer, autumn, winter and monsoons – with annual average maximum temperature of 14.9 degrees Celsius and annual average minimum temperature of 8.9 degrees Celsius.
Darjeeling prides itself in its cultural diversity and celebrates each and every one of the various festivals of Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Tibetans such as Diwali, Dussehra, Holi (Dol Purnima), Noboborsho (Bengali New Year), Durga Puja, Ram Navami, Christmas, Easter, Eid, Losar, Maghe Sankranti, Chotrul Duchen, Buddha Jayanti, and Tendong Lho Rumfaat. Losar is Tibetan New Year and is celebrated in January and February. But the 10-day Carnival, called the ‘Darjeeling Carnival’ gets the icing on the cake as it gets the participation of all people with great enthusiasm. Held during winter, the Darjeeling Carnival was initiated by the Darjeeling Initiative – a civil society movement. The carnival comprises photo exhibitions, painting exhibitions, poetry-reading sessions, tea-drinking ceremonies, ethnic food festivals, Land Rover rallies, and most importantly – music concerts.
Darjeeling is a music-centric place and a hub of ‘Nepali Rock’ which is heard in full blast during the carnival.
Month-wise details of the festivals of Darjeeling are:
i. 1st Jan – General New Year’s Day.
ii. 11th Jan – Cho Nga Chopa – Tibetan festival of intiation of future disciples of Buddha.
iii. 14th Jan – Maghe Sankranti – Nepali New Year’s Day.
iv. 26th Jan – Indian Republic Day.
v. 27th Jan – Lhosar or Losar – Tibetan New Year’s Day.
i. Shri Panchami – Hindu Festival of Sarawati Puja.
i. Holi – Hindu Festival of smearing and splashing colours at one another.
ii. Ram Navami – Hindu Festival of Lord Ram’s Birthday.
iii. 26th Mar - Chaite Dasai – Nepali Hindu Festival of praying to Goddess Shakthi.
iv. Eid-ul-Zuha – Also known as Bakr-Eid, it is an Islamic Festival commemorating Prophet Ibrahim.
v. Chotrul duechen – Tibetan Festival of ‘Offerings’.
i. Buddha Jayanti – Tibetan Festival commemorating Lord Buddha’s Birthday.
ii. Sansari Puja – Nepali-Hindu Ceremony.
iii. Good Friday – Christian Holiday commemorating the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
iv. Easter – Christian Festival celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
v. Muharram – Muslim mourning for the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali – the grandson of Prophet Muhammad.
i. Saga Dawa – Tibetan Festival celebrating Buddha Sankyamuni’s Enlightment & PArinirvana.
i. Ashar Ko Pandra – Nepali-Hindu Festival for salvation.
i. 6th July – Tibetans celebrate His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Brithday.
ii. Dzam Ling Chi Sang – Tibetans celebrate local Deities Day.
iii. Sawane Sankranti – Nepali Festival.
i. 5th Aug - Chokhor Duchen – Tibetan Festival commemorating Lord Buddha’s Enlightenment and the teaching of the Four Noble Truths.
ii. 8th Aug – Tendong Lho Rumfaat – Lepcha Festival commemorating the rise of the Tendong Hill in Sikkim in order to save the Lepcha people from a big flood.
iii. Kwati Purne – Nepali Festival.
iv. Guru Purnima – Nepali Festival
v. Raksha Bandhan – Hindu Festival of ‘Rakhee’.
vi. 15th Aug – Indian Independence Day.
vii. Naag Panchami – Festival celebrated by both Hindus & Nepalis.
viii. Kushe Aaushi – Nepali-Hindu Festival.
i. Teej – Also pronounced Teez is a festival of the Brahmin and Chettri Castes of Nepali Women in honour of Lord Shiva.
ii. 17th Sept - Biswakarma Puja – Hindu and Nepali workers celebrate and worship their tool of trade in honour of the hindu God of Trade Tools & Machines – Lord Viswakarma.
i. Dashain – Biggest Festival of Nepali Hindus.
i. Teohar – Nepali Festival.
ii. 19th Nov - Lhabab Duchen – Tibetan Festival commemorating the descent of Lord Buddha from heaven back to earth.