Siliguri , West Bengal: The ‘Gateway of North-Eastern India’ and the ‘Trade Capital’ of north Bengal is Siliguri – located in Darjeeling district of West Bengal State in India. Positioned at 26°43′N 88°26′E, Siliguri is at an elation of 400 feet.
Siliguri is located in the plains at the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains, on both sides of the trans-boundary Himalayan River – Mahananda. The Himalayan River – Balasan also flows through a part of Siliguri. The sub-Himalayan ranges and Kurseong border Siliguri on the north; Nepal on the west; New Jalpaiguri on the east and Bangladesh on the south. Siliguri shares a 20-kilometre international border with Bangladesh.
Siliguri city encompasses 232 square kilometres between Sevoke on the northeast and Naxalbari in the west and Ranjganj in the south and Rohini Gardens in the north. Siliguri’s administrative jurisdiction comprises 4 C. D. Blocks – Matigara, Phansidewa, Khoribari, Naxalbari plus Siliguri Municipal Corporation. Though Siliguri is in Darjeeling District, a part of its area (15 out of 47 wards of Siliguri Municipal Corporation) falls under Jalpaiguri District which explains why Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri are twin-towns with seamless boundaries.
The Mahananda Wild Life Sanctuary and the Baikunthapur Forest which are in the immediate neighbourhood majorly determine the local atmosphere or the micro-climate of Siliguri and keep it a lot cooler than other cities of West Bengal – making the climate suitable to cultivate Tea and Timber.
Positioned where it is, Siliguri has become a transit point for air, rail and road traffic to the neighbouring countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal and also acts a starting-point or a base for all the Hill Stations of north Bengal – Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong, Mirik and also Gangtok in Sikkim with the best communication network in the region.
Siliguri is the fifth largest town of West Bengal State and is positioned in a commercially advantageous location as it falls on the international trade and tourism route to Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet.
It is said that this place was named ‘Siliguri’ after the ‘Shila’ or the loose large rounded stones that are seen in River Mahananda which runs through the city of Siliguri. There is a large population around this river in this area that thrives on stone-crushing for livelihood. It is no wonder then that people around here deemed it appropriate to name it after the big stones that they see in the River. Another theory around the genesis of this name is that ‘Siliguri’ also means ‘a place of Sal trees’ – as Siliguri was actually a dense forest with Sal Trees which continues to dominate this city’s economy.
Siliguri is a perfect blend of the beautiful Himalayas; dense forests; massive Tea gardens occupying a major chunk of Siliguri landscape; a sizeable count of wildlife; two big, splurging Himalayan Rivers running through; pleasant temperate climate and the bustling cosmopolitan and commercial activity. Siliguri is known for its countless picnic spots in and around the city. Travellers rave about the good variety of fast food joints in the city. And so close is this town to the Himalayan Range of Mountains that on a clear day you can actually see Kanchenjunga Mountain Peaks at a distance.
Siliguri’s economy is pivotal to northeastern India - dominated by the industries – Tea, Timber, Transport and Tourism around which lifestyles and lives here revolve. Annually, the city plays host to about 3 lakh domestic visitors and more than 20,000 foreign visitors - – for trade and on travel-transit. This has rendered the once-quiet town of Siliguri - a bustling cosmopolitan. All this tourist and trading activity has dramatically augmented the Siliguri city:
- Enhanced the markets - both domestic and foreign. Siliguri is a shopper's paradise. Hong Kong Market, Matigara, Seth Srilal Market, Sevoke Road and Hill Cart Road Markets are some of the popular markets where foreign and domestic low-cost goods are available and are a big trading place of the region. Siliguri Is home to one of the biggest market-scapes of the county. A sudden increase in two-wheeler and four-wheeler sales here is indicative of the fast-paced development of the city as well as an increase in population.
- Increase in accommodation options with many luxuries 5-star and 3-star hotels set up recently in order to meet with the rising tourist demand.
- Cityscape dotted with new ultra-modern commercial and housing complexes boosting the real-estate and the land value and also beautifying the city landscape.
- Increase in the number of big brands of malls, multiplexes, fast-food joints and coffee houses due to the cosmopolitanization of the locals and an increase in their spending moneys. Separate areas in city which sell specialized cuisines such as the Shivmandir Bazar which is famous for Tibetan food - momos, chowmin, egg and chop fries.
- Becoming the 'seat of education' of the northeastern part of India where students from Nagaland, Sikkim and Assam as well as Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh come to pursue their basic and higher education in CBSE, ICSE, ISC and West Bengal Secondary and Higher Secondary Boards. The 330-acre campus of the University of North Bengal in Siliguri is the second largest in India with affiliations with more than 80 colleges with an annual churn-out of about 38,000 graduates and post graduates.
- Increase in jobs and creation of varied means of livelihood apart from the regular career-lines.
- A 40,000 seater multipurpose Stadium which was setup recently as well as the Siliguri Municipal Indoor Stadium (5000 capacity) reflect the city's passion for sports with a special affinity for football, cricket and table-tennis and also the sizeable number of its locals who have well-grounded careers in the Sports field in Siliguri. Apart from internal football matches, this Stadium also houses annual Tourism and Food Festivals; Book Fairs and Baisakhi Melas of West Bengal with participants from all the northeastern states of India along with West Bengal.
- From a sleepy Nepali-Indian hamlet, Siliguri transformed into a robust and religious and culturally diverse city with Churches, Mosques, Temples and Buddhist Gompas dotting the cityscape. Durga Puja, Ganesh Puja, Laxmi Puja, Saraswati Puja, Chhath Puja Diwali and Baisakhi are the major festivals celebrated in Siliguri among others.
Export quality Tea is produced here in Siliguri which accounts for a majority of the city’s economy which is produced by 50 Tea Gardens sprawled all over majority of Blocks of the Siliguri Sub-Division. And owing to the dense forests that surround Siliguri, Timber trade is also very high in Siliguri.
Siliguri is titled the ‘Gateway to the North East of India’ because of its strategic geographic location through which the North East of India connects to the rest of India. It also is a base for providing essential supplies to North East India and this plum positioning has made Siliguri a highly profitable nerve centre for a wide spectrum of businesses which is why Siliguri is the headquarters of Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry of North Bengal (FOCIN).
Siliguri is also a gateway to Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan with its roadways being utilized by the Governments of Bangladesh and Nepal to transport their essential commodities. The trade route between India, Tibet and China – popularly called the ‘Silk Route of India’ encompasses Siliguri as it falls on this route. Infact Siliguri is the base for tourism to the North Eastern States and Countries.
Siliguri is also known for housing the bases of the Indian Armed Forces – The Indian Army; the Indian Border Patrol Agency which guards India’s International Borders – the Border Security Force (BSF); the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF); Indian Paramilitary Force - Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB); and the Assam Rifles – another Indian Paramilitary Force.
Nearest Big Town:
Jalpaiguri (2 kms), Darjeeling (70 kms), Cooch Behar (142 kms), Kolkata (600 kms), Gangtok in Sikkim (115 kms), Paro in Bhutan (280 kms), Dhaka in Bangladesh (480 kms), Kathmandu in Nepal (1170 kms).