Known the world over as the ‘Queen of the Hills’, Darjeeling is as unique as it is diverse. For travelers arriving from the Indian plains, the cool climes of Darjeeling provide welcome relief and delightful experiences around every corner. Situated at an average height of 7000feet (2130metres) above sea level, this beautiful town with its colonial charm and contemporary culture shelters in the shadow of Kangchenjunga’s snow-covered peaks. This magnificent mountains range, whose name means ‘the Five Treasures of the Snows’ in Tibetan on account of its five peaks is also written as Khangchendzonga and Kanchenjunga.
History of Darjeeling
The history of Darjeeling is intertwined with that of Bengal, Sikkim and Nepal. Until the early 19th century, the hilly area around Darjeeling was historically controlled by the kingdom of Sikkim, while the plains around Siliguri were intermittently occupied by the kingdom of Nepal, with settlement consisting of a few Villages of Lepcha & Kirati people. It is also known that Nepal once expanded its kingdom till Teesta River. In 1828, a delegation of British East India Company officials on its way to Nepal-Sikkim border stayed in Darjeeling and decided that the region was a suitable site for a sanatorium for British soldiers.The company negotiated a lease of the area west of the Mahananda River from the Chogyal of Sikkim in 1835. In 1849, Arthur Campbell and the explorer and botanist Joseph Dalton the British East India Company (BEIC) director Hooker were imprisoned in the region by the Sikkim Chogyal. The East India Company sent a force to free them. Continued friction between the BEIC and the Sikkim authorities resulted in the annexation of 640 square miles (1,700 km2) of territory in 1850. In 1864, the Bhutanese rulers and the British signed the Treaty of Sinchula that ceded the passes leading through the hills and Kalimpong to the British. The continuing discord between Sikkim and the British resulted in a war, culminating in the signing of a treaty and the annexation by the British of the area east of the Teesta River in 1865. By 1866, Darjeeling district had assumed its current shape and size, covering an area of 1,234 square miles (3,200 km2). During the British Raj, Darjeeling's temperate climate led to its development as a hill station for British residents seeking to escape the summer heat of the plains, and its becoming the informal summer capital of the Bengal Presidency in 1840, a practice that was formalised after 1864.
The People of Darjeeling
The original inhabitants of the Darjeeling Hills are the ‘Lepcha’. They speak a Tibeto-Burman Language, which they call Rongaring, and were originally the indigenous people of both Darjeeling and Sikkim. The majority of Darjeeling’s contemporary population are the culturally Nepali, who spek Nepali (also called Gorkhali), along with their own mother tongues, such as Gurung, Limbu, Mangar, Newar, Rai, Sherpa, Tamang and Thami. The Sherpa community are famous for their courage and stamina in mountaineering, most notably Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, who first summitted Mount Everest along with Sir Edmund Hillary. Tenzing Norgay spent much of his life in Darjeeling and eventually died there. Throughout the hills you will also meet Bengali, Bhutias, Biharis, Marwaris, Punjabis, Sindhis, Rajbanshi and Tibetans.