Darjeeling has an interesting multi-faceted history spanning centuries and Dynasties of Bengal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal, and the British East India Company. The Kingdom of Sikkim ruled over the hilly region of Darjeeling until the early 19th Century and Siliguri’s plains were ruled by the Kingdom of Nepal whose territory stretched right up to the Teesta River. Between both the places there were settlements of Lepcha and Kirati people.
A delegation of the British East India Company discovered Darjeeling in 1828 on their way to Nepal-Sikkim border – until which time Darjeeling was unknown to the British.
The delegation found this place to be apt for the following reasons:
1.Darjeeling would be a strategic point for entry into Nepal and Bhutan.
2.This point would be a British outpost in the Himalayas.
3.Darjeeling would serve as a base of defense of the trade route to Tibet via Sikkim.
4.Darjeeling offers panoramic views of Sikkim whose battle-plans could be monitored.
5.Darjeeling would be the right place for the British soldiers to recover from Wars.
6.Darjeeling can provide respite from the hot Indian Tropical weather to the British.
That is when the East India Company took up this area of Darjeeling on lease from the Chogyal of Sikkim in 1835 – a landmark year in the history of Darjeeling. The leased out area was on the west of the Mahananda River.
In 1849, the British East India Company’s efforts to free Arthur Campbell – Director of British East India Company as well as Joseph Dalton Hooker – a British explorer from the clutches of the Sikkim Monarchy resulted in the British East India Company gaining 640 square miles of territory in 1850.
During the 1860s, the raids and plunders from Bhutan had also heightened and political unrest in Darjeeling had saturated. The Treaty of Sinchula (post the Bhutan War, also called the Duar War) which was signed between the British East India Company and the Bhutanese Kings in 1864 brought about the relinquishment of Kalimpong and its hilly passes to the British and gradually stretched to the area which was to the east of River Teesta in 1865. In 1866, Darjeeling territory was formed – what it is today – an area of 3200 square kilometres.
Prior to the British setting foot in Darjeeling, it was a quiet, uninhabited dense jungle but by 1840, a road wad laid and a hotel, a sanatorium and several houses were constructed. And suddenly Darjeeling witnessed a sudden population explosion owing to the large number of recruits for the Tea Estate from Nepal. The recruitment of the Nepali Gorkhas (natives of Gorkha District of Nepal) led to their immigration which in turn ended up in political unrest in the Mountainous areas of West Bengal. The Gorkhas fought for their civil rights as they felt discriminated and neglected by the West Bengal Government with regard to employment with the Government which had a cascading effect on their lives and lifestyles in the State. Led by Subhash Ghising, the ‘Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) or ‘Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’, fought with the State of West Bengal for a separate State which was to be called ‘Gorkhaland’. Darjeeling Gorkha hill Council was established in 1988. Between 2008 and 2009, when new protests rose demanding a separate Gorkhaland, both the Union and State Government rejected it. Finally, in July 2011, a pact was signed by the West Bengal State Government and the ‘Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’ (GJM) which led to the formation of ‘Gorkhaland Territorial Administration’ (GTA) – a new autonomous Hill Council with greater powers vested in it than the previous body – the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. Funnily, prior to 1886 the Darjeeling Territory belonged to Nepal which was won by conquest from Sikkim.
In 1988, the West Bengal State gave the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council a good measure of autonomy for the West Bengal State Government. Though Darjeeling is still a part of West Bengal State, it enjoys greater control over its own territory.
The establishment of the Hill Station in Darjeeling has been credited to the British East India Company’s Arthur Campbell and Lieutenant Robert Napier. Campbell drove the establishment of the Hill Station from a scratch – even recruiting the Nepali workers to cultivate the slopes.
During Campbell’s tenure, around 1852 the following developments took place in Darjeeling:
1.About 70 European houses were constructed in the virgin jungle territory of Darjeeling.
2.A Bazaar was set up for locals – which gave the locals new business avenues.
3.A Jail was established in order to maintain law and order in the area.
4.A Justice System and its jurisdiction which was made in tune with the existing tribal system - was introduced.
5.Forced Labour – which was prevalent then with the Nepali immigrants - was abolished.
6.A road was laid which meandered through the densely forested hills and plains.
7.The experimental phase of Cultivation of Tea, Coffee and fruits.
In 1842, the first road connecting the Darjeeling hills to the plains was laid which took about three years. Half a decade later, the British set up a Military Depot for their soldiers and in 1850, the town became a municipality.
It was only in 1856 that the commercial cultivation of Tea had commenced which saw the influx of several British Tea Planters in Darjeeling which also increased the British population in Darjeeling. In order to cater to the British families, the Scottish Missionaries were given the responsibility of establishment of schools and welfare centres which led to Darjeeling becoming a hub of education.
It was the opening of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in 1881 which caused a big splurge in the physical and economic development of Darjeeling.
The socio-economic issues of Darjeeling (such as regional autonomy and nationality of Nepal immigrants) which were stirred up by the British but not addressed by them during their reign, popped up again in 1947 in the form of a representation that was made to the Constituent Assembly of India. Darjeeling was merged with West Bengal State in 1947 with Darjeeling becoming a separate district comprising the hill Towns of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and the Terai region.
Peace on all fronts was established in 1866 which marks the genesis of civilization and progress in Darjeeling and has laid foundation to what it is today – the ‘Queen of Hill Stations’ in India!
The Sikkim Kingdom, The Nepal Kingdom, The Bhutan Kingdom, The British East India Company, The Bengal Kingdom, etc are the rulers who ruled the kingdom.
The Toy Train, Tenzing Norgay, Tea Estates and views of the ‘Kanchenjunga’ Mountains is what Darjeeling is heralded for.
Famous Personalities of Darjeeling:
1.Arthur Campbell – Director of British East India Company
2.Joseph Dalton Hooker – British Explorer.
3.Subhash Ghising, - ‘Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF)
4.Lieutenant Robert Napier – British Armed Forces.
5.Tenzing Norgay Sherpa – Nepalese Mountaineer, one of the first two Mountaineers who reached the Summit of Mount Everest in 1953 and first Director of Field Training in the Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering.
6.Nowang Gambhu - Director of Field Training in the Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering.
7.Dorjee Lhatoo – Deputy Director of Field Training in the Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering.
8.Major N D Jayal – one of the pioneers of Mountaineering in India.
9.Colonel B S Jaiswal – Mountaineer of Indian Army.
10.Brigadier Gyan Singh - The second Principal of the Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering and the Hony. Director of National Adventure Foundation.
11.Colonel N Kumar - Mountaineer of Indian Army.
12.Lt. Colonel A S Cheema: The 5th Principal of the Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering and the first and only Principal of the Institute to have summitted the Everest.
13.Gp. Captain A J S Grewal - Fellow of Royal Geographical Society.
14.Gp. Captain A K Chowdhury - Mountaineer of Indian Air Force.
15.Brigadier D K Khullar – Mountaineer of Indian Army.
16.Colonel Amit Roy – Mountaineer of the Indian Army.
17.Colonel A K Dutt – Mountaineer of the Indian Army and Indian delegate to the Mountaineering Commission UIAA.
18.Colonel H S Chauhan: The 11th Principal of the Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering.
19.Colonel Vijay Singh - Instructor in High Altitude Warfare School, Gulmarg, Kashmir.