Originally just a cluster of villages that was administered intermittently by Nepal and Sikkim, Darjeeling grew in prominence during the mid 19th century when, because of its climate, the British first established a hill station there after leasing it from the Chogyal of Sikkim and later discovered that the area was particularly well suited for tea plantations. In 1849, the British annexed the area and Darjeeling became a part of British India. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was opened in 1881 (it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the town became the de-facto summer capital of India during the days when the Raj was governed from Calcutta.
Because it was a popular hill station during the days of the Raj, a lovely Victorian town was built among the Himalayan foothills, the remnants of which are still visible around the Chowrasta and Darjeeling remains a popular summer and fall resort for the natives of Kolkata today. For foreign tourists, the main attractions are the cultural diversity (many Tibetan refugees moved here after Tibet was annexed by China and they co-exist with the descendants of the many Nepali and Bihari laborers brought to work in the tea plantations), the beautiful views (including the wonderful vista view of Kanchenjunga), a variety of trekking options, and the opportunity to cool down after a stint in the plains. The town is also a jumping off point for travelers heading to Sikkim.
There has been intermittent political action from Gorkha groups demanding an independent state (Gorkhaland). In June 2008 a strike paralyzed the area, with closed hotels, restaurants and shops, and the accompanying protests even turned violent a couple of times. Though inconvenient, tourists generally are not at risk, but recently they do check the status before going there.
Situated at a height on 2134m above sea level, is a world-renowned hill resort – Darjeeling. ‘The land of the thunderbolt”. The British acquired it from the Raja of Sikkim as a “Free gift” about a hundred and fifty years ago and developed it as a rest and recreational center for their troops. Today Darjeeling has become a welcome respite during the hot summer months. Blessed with a cool and bracing climate, one can see a panoramic view of the Himalayas spread over one hundred and eighty degrees crowned by the Kanchanjunga massif. The town has retained, till today, many of the legacy of the British Raj. It has a mixed population of about 1000,000 of various races and religions living in perfect harmony. This is vividly reflected in the shrine at observatory Hill, where Hindus and Buddhists offer prayers alongside each other, Gorkhas, Bhutias, Lepchas, Sherpas. Yolmos and migrants from the plains have made Darjeeling their home. Gorkhali (Nepali) is the lingua franca, but Hindi and Bengali are also spoken and almost everyone understands and speaks a bit of English.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (H.M.I):
Established in 1954, Tenjing Norgay Sherpa, the first person to climb Mt. Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary, was closely associated with this institute till the time of his death. The institute conducts basic and advance courses in mountaineering and has a field training center in the West Sikkim Himalayas where the advance course students climb small peaks. The Everest museum, which is attached to the Institute, has on display rare photographs, objects and artifacts. Tenjing’s monument is also located here.
Introduced by the British in 1840 as an experiment, Darjeeling’s “Orthodox” tea is now famous the world over. Darjeeling tea is produced by the orthodox method as opposed to the “Curling, Crushing and Tearing” (CTC) method adopted in other places in India. The most convenient tea garden to visit is Happy Valley, which is only 2 km away from town.
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