Kalimpong, West Bengal: Kalimpong is a hill station at 4500 feet elevation in the Lower Himalayan Range which lies between the Shiwalik Range (Outer Himalayas) and the Great Himalayas in the northern part of West Bengal State in India.
Kalimpong is located at 27°4'13"N 88°28'54"E, about 56 kilometres east of Darjeeling and 680 kilometres north of the State Capital - Kolkata. Kalimpong Town is perched atop the ridge which connects Deolo Hill and Durpin Hill and has River Teesta (which forms a border between Sikkim and West Bengal) flowing in the valley below. From Kalimpong, neighbouring hills like Kang, Jaanu, Pandim, Kabru Chomio Mou, Siniyalchu and Seembu are also visible.
Kalimpong serves as the headquarters of the Kalimpong subdivision which is a part of Darjeeling District. In 1945, the Kalimpong Municipality - which was divided into 23 wards, was established and was given charge of the infrastructure of the town's road and water. '27 Mountain Division' - the Indian Army's Corps is stationed right outside Kalimpong.
The loose topsoil and steep slopes of the Sivalik Range causes frequent landslides in the Kalimpong region during Monsoons. However, the reddish soil of Kalimpong supports Acacia- which are widely used as ornamental plants and are also used in the production of pharmaceuticals and preservatives. Cinnamon, Cardamom, Bamboo, Ficus and Cacti, Pine and evergreen alpine are found in abundance around the Kalimpong area. The forests in and around Kalimpong are temperate deciduous kind where oak, birch, alder and maple trees are found. The specialty of Kalimpong is the 300 varieties of Orchids found there apart from the Sunflowers and the Poinsettia. 'Ecological Hotspot' is what the Kalimpong geography is classified as and is one of the only 3 Eco regions in India.
In Tibetan language, 'Kalimpong' means - 'Assembly of the King's Ministers' from where it is known to have derived its name as Kalimpong was once the stronghold of the Kingdom of Bhutan and often held its assembly of Noblemen here. Kalimpong may also have derived its name from a fibrous plant called the 'Kaulim' which grows in abundance here.
The drive to Kalimpong is through dense forests of gigantic trees, with River Teesta flowing by and the Kanchenjunga Mountain Range - the world's third highest mountain visible in the distance. It's a gorgeous place to drive up to in your own car so you could stop at all the beautiful locales on your way up to Kalimpong.
The first thing that would strike you in and around Kalimpong is the dense green cover dotted with millions of multi-coloured flowers in spring. Kalimpong is home to about 400 varieties of Orchids and is the largest producer of the lovely gladioli (80%) apart from roses and cacti which gave rise to more than 50 large commercial flower nurseries like nowhere else and also contribute to Kalimpong's Economy immensely.
Ginger is another major produce of Kalimpong. In fact, Kalimpong and Sikkim together contribute 15% to India's ginger production. You would find vast expanses of Tea Estates in Kalimpong however tea production in Kalimpong is not comparable to its nearest competitor in tea-production - Darjeeling as Kalimpong contributes just 5% of total tea production in the area. The Kalimpong climate is wonderful and pleasant one in moderation which suits plantation and tourism round the year.
Kalimpong Hill Station is set in the foothills of the Mighty Himalayas amidst lush green forests, valleys, meadows, birds, flowers and butterflies. It's a great place to holiday between October and May when flowers and trees are in full bloom which attract millions of birds and butterflies apart from tourists each year.
The Colonial Bungalows in Kalimpong deserve a special mention as they stand testimony to the glorious British architectural times dated centuries back. One must walk around town to discover these colourful and sturdy vintage houses with landscaped lawns in each and defined driveways skirted with ornamental plants. It takes fine taste in luxury and style to even want such ornate and ostentatious structures to dwell in. These colonial houses which are reckoned with as buildings with strong imperial ancestry stand out distinctly adding elitist and aristocratic airs to the place.
Being on the Darjeeling tourism circuit in West Bengal, Kalimpong is one of the prime tourist hotspots in West Bengal with tourism contributing greatly to the Kalimpong's Economy as Kalimpong serves as a link between Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet. Leveraging the strategic positioning of Kalimpong town and its beautiful environs, tourism is networked around Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Siliguri, Lava, Lolaygaon and Pedong. This route was established centuries ago as a part of the Silk Route circuit where Kalimpong was the trade gateway between Tibet and India prior to China's annexation of Tibet. Currently, Tourism is the primary contributor to the economy of Kalimpong especially during summer and spring when the whole town gets busy with employment - directly or indirectly.
Education is the next biggest contributor to Kalimpong's economy with a large number of residential schools catering to the steady influx of both Indian and foreign students from Sikkim, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Thailand. A recent educational initiative under Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) is the Kalimpong Science Centre which was established in 2008 in order to create scientific awareness among school students. Off late this Science Centre has also gained popularity with all tourists who tour this area.
Majority of the current population is Nepali, others being Lepchas, Sherpas, Limbus, Tamangs, Yolmos, and Bhutia apart from Bengalis, Marwaris, Chinese, Tibetans and Anglo-Indians. And a big chunk of the population is engaged in catering to the Indian Army Bases by providing them essential supplies and services. Apart from this and tourism, and horticulture, the locals are also into Fisheries and Sericulture - a government enterprise.
Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity are the major religions followed in Kalimpong among others because of which Diwali, Dussera, Losar, Buddha Purnima, Drupka Teshi, Christmas and Easter among others, have become major local festivals with full-fledged celebrations throughout the town.
Kalimpong cheers for Football which is evident in the Independence Shield Football Tournament being organized here every year since Indian Independence in 1947. The craze for football is explained best by Pem Dorjee who captained the India National Football Team and actually hailed from Kalimpong.
Momos (dumplings of pork, beef vegetables cooked in flour wrappings); Thukpa (a type of noodles); Wai-Wai (another type of noodles) and Churpee (type of Yak cheese) are local delicacies which ought to be tried out. Kalimpong also has a lot of other restaurants which serve Indian and Chinese cuisine. Although other soft drinks are available, Tea is the most widely available drink in Kalimpong.
In terms of cultural centres, Kalimpong has Buddhist Monasteries, Museums, Churches, Temples and Mosques which showcase the various cultures in existence in Kalimpong. A Booker Prize-winning novel was set in Kalimpong.
Darjeeling (50 kms west), Siliguri (65 kms south) and Kolkata (720 kms south) are the nearest big towns to Kalimpong.