Make your own free website on Tripod.com

BRIEF HISTORY OF DARJEELING

  back  places of interest  trekking  transportation  people  places near darjeeling


WHERE THE PINES NEEDLE THE SKY
Nestling in the grandeur and beauty of towering snow-capped mountains; with the mighty Kanchenjunga (King of the Mountains) dominating the somber, snowy sentinels, lies a jewel of a town -- elegant, sophisticated and incredibly beautiful; the name of Tibetan origin means where Indra's thunderbolt or scepter rested, (Dodi-thunder bolt, Ling-place). In Sanskrit, the name, derived from the world 'Durjay Ling', means 'Siva of invincible prowess, who rules the Himalayas'. The official name of the town is DARJEELING.

The town, itself, laid out by Lord Napier of the Royal Engineers, is at an altitude of 2,134 m (7,000 ft). Moving up the hills, one is greeted by smiling tea gardens, changing to firs, pines and fast moving torrents, surrounded by 4,000 types of flowering plants and 300 varieties of ferns, including the rare tree fern.

Bounded on the north by Sikkim, Darjeeling is flanked by Bhutan on the East and Nepal on the West. Standing on a narrow ridge jutting out in a vast basin in the heart of the Himalayas, and enclosed by mountains, the view is more open to the north and north-east as where the eye traverses range after ascending range of hills behind the cultivated slopes of closer hills till the rising waves mingle with the distant snowy griddle of rugged peaks. Obscure in the early dawn, the peaks begin to inch towards pink, then slowly, mauve, orange, till, when the sun pierces the horizon, they finally, burst aflame.

 
Wrote Mark Twain of Darjeeling:
"THE ONE LAND THAT ALL MEN DESIRE TO SEE, AND HAVING SEEN ONCE -- BY EVEN A GLIMPSE -- WOULD NOT GIVE THAT GLIMPSE FOR THE SHOWS OF THE REST OF THE WORLD COMBINED."

History discovered this shangri-la in the early years of the 19th century, when it was a part of the domain of Sikkim and assailed frequently by the war-like Gorkhas of Nepal. In 1780, the Gorkhas marched into Sikkim, annexed the Terai, advancing to the Teesta river and setting off, unwittingly, a conflict they had not bargained for. They had trodden on the toes of the East India Company, the war of 1814 was fought with Nepal, the tract ceded, and the Raja of Sikkim reinstated with his sovereignty guaranteed by the Company. Sikkim, including Darjeeling, became a buffer state between Nepal and Bhutan. Ten years later the dispute broke out afresh. In 1828, Gen. Lloyd was deputed to bring about a settlement he took with him the Resident.

Mr. J.W. Grant, Commercial Resident at Malta, unknown to himself, was to play a role he had never, in his wildest dreams, felt he would. Setting out through mountain regions never traversed by Europeans before, they reached the old Gorkha station, and stayed for six days in Feb. 1829-the first Europeans to have set foot in Darjeeling. The senatorial possibilities intrigued both the General and the Resident who also observed the strategic position of a place commanding entrance into Nepal and Bhutan along with its power of attracting all the trade of the country. What impressed Governor General William Bentick the most, was the thought of saving all those poor souls suppressed by the age-old tyranny, with the spread of Christianity. Mr., Grant and the Deputy Surveyor General, Capt. Herbert, were sent to survey the area and Gen. Grant was asked to open negotiations with the Sikkim ruler for the cession of the Terai as soon as a convenient occasion arose in 1834.

The deed was executed on Feb. 1, 1835 and it read:
THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL HAVING EXPRESSED HIS DESIRE FOR THE POSSESSION OF THE HILL OF DARJEELING ON ACCOUNT OF ITS COOL CLIMATE.... I THE SAID, SIKKIMPUTTEE RAJAH, OUT OF FRIENDSHIP FOR THE SAID GOVERNOR-GENERAL, HEREBY PRESENT DARJEELING TO THE EAST INDIA COMPANY, THAT IS, ALL THE LAND SOUTH OF THE GREAT RANJEET RIVER, EAST OF THE THE BALSUM, KHAIL AND LITTLE RANJEET RIVERS AND WEST OF RUNGNO AND MAHANUDDI RIVERS. --- DATED THE 9TH MAUGH, SAMBAT 1891 A.D., 1835

The rajah was granted an allowance of Rs. 3,0001- by way of compensation for, what was then an uninhabited tract of land. In 1845, it was raised to Rs. 6,000/-. There were, then, only 20 mud huts around the Mahakal Observatory, the population was 100. Steps were taken promptly for developing the area and in 1836 Gen. Lloyd and Dr. Champbell dispatched to the area that was to learn the vicissitudes of power politics which included a stanth with a ruler touched with madness. In freezing cold, the intrepid Englishmen spent the night without wraps in a lonely mud hut. Four year later, there were 30 buildings and in 1863,70 homes were built in the best British tradition.

In 1839, Darjeeling got its first Superintendent; the ubiquitous and indefatigable Dr. Campbell was transferred from Nepal for the job, soon he was in-charge of political relations with Sikkim besides, running the civil, criminal and fiscal administration, when he found time, he also acted as Postmaster, Marriage Registrar and Administrator of the station funds. His devotion and rare nature achieved gratifying results; from a mere 1 00 souls in 1839 when he came, the population had shot up to 1 0,000 by 1849. A road from Pankhabari was laid-out through inaccessible tracts of dense forest lined with staging bungalows.

The first hotel was built in Kurseong, the second in Darjeeling; along with the 70 British bungalows, was built a bazaar and hospital -- not forgotten was the jail. For the first time cultivation of tea and coffee was introduced.

 
Steady progress in Darjeeling gave rise to the inevitable incumbent jealousies in the erstwhile rulers. The Raja, now old and feeble, was in the hands of a power-mad Prime Minister known as the "Pagla Dewan", who had robbed the coffers of the estate and was opposed to all reform; the trade was monopolized in his person which daily grew insolent, insulting and aggressive to all British officialdom.

The annuity, which had recently been doubled to Rs. 6,000/- was withdrawn and the Sikkim Terrai annexed, along with the portion of the Sikkim Hills bounded on the north by the Raman river, the Great Rangeet and Teesta on the east and the Nepal Frontier on the west. The new territory, 640 sq. miles, suitable for tea cultivation, was placed under the Superintendent of Darjeeling which was linked with Jalpaiguri and Purnea on the south. To the west of the new territory was Nepal, to the east-Bhutan. Peace did not last long, in 1861 the 'Mad Dewan' worked his way back into power which was, however, short-lived -- the Company had sent an expeditionary force.

The new treaty with the new ruler opened Sikkim to trade and removed all restrictions on travelers and merchants. The treaty put an end to the sufferings of the residents of Darjeeling, but the see- saw peace was rudely interrupted by the incursions of the Bhutanese into the district. Once again, a large force was sent in the winter of 1864-ultimately the whole of the Dooars was occupied, the Kalimpong police circle was added. The year 1891 saw the addition of the sub-division of Kurseong and 1907-Siliguri.

Three British civil servants, Grant, Lloyd and Campbell had achieved their end; Grant and Lloyd had discovered the possibilities and secured cession. Campbell built the district and laid the foundation of the, now multi-million dollar tea industry in 1841. Twenty-five years later, there were already 40 gardens in 1 0,000 acres with an out-turn of half a million pounds. Immigrants poured in and the Cart road was laid out. The journey then took a fortnight was negotiated by boat, palanquin and pony; it cost; in those days, three hundred rupees to travel the 663 km (412 miles) from Calcutta.


COPYRIGHT: SUVANKAR SANYAL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED