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Darjeeling (Nepali: ) is a town in the Indianmarker state of West Bengalmarker. It is the headquarters of Darjeeling districtmarker, in the Mahabharat Rangemarker or Lesser Himalaya at an average elevation of . During the British Raj in India, Darjeeling's temperate climate led to its development as a hill station (hill town) for British residents seeking to escape the heat of the plains during the summers, becoming known as the Summer Capital.

Darjeeling is internationally famous for its tea industry and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railwaymarker, a UNESCOmarker World Heritage Site. The tea plantations date back to the mid 19th century as part of British development of the area. The tea growers of the area developed distinctive hybrids of black tea and fermenting techniques, with many blends considered among the world's finest. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway connecting the town with the plains was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 and has one of the few steam locomotives still in service in India.

Darjeeling has several British-style public schools, which attract students from many parts of India and neighbouring countries. The town, along with neighbouring Kalimpongmarker was a major center for the demand of a separate Gorkhaland state in the 1980s, though the separatist movement has gradually decreased over the past decade because of the setting up of an autonomous hill council. In recent years the town's fragile ecology is threatened by a rising demand for environmental resources, stemming from growing tourist traffic and poorly planned urbanisation.



History

Darjeeling view, 1880
The history of Darjeeling is intertwined with that of Bengalmarker, Bhutanmarker, Sikkimmarker and Nepalmarker. Until the early 19th century, the area around Darjeeling was ruled intermittently by the kingdoms of Bengal, Nepal and Sikkim, with settlement consisting of a few villages of Lepcha woodspeople. In 1828, a delegation of British East India Company officials on their way to Sikkim 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 from the Chogyal of Sikkim in 1835. Arthur Campbell, a surgeon with the Company and Lieutenant Napier were given the responsibility to establish a hill station there, and the former's efforts to develop the station, attract immigrants to cultivate the slopes and stimulate trade resulted in a hundred-fold rise in population of Darjeeling between 1839 and 1849. By 1852, a Hill Corps had been established to maintain order and communication, and a sanatorium, bazar and jail had been built.

Darjeeling became a part of the British Indian Empire a few years after an incident of discord between Sikkim and the Company in 1849, following which the British annexed of territory from Sikkim in 1850. In 1864, a treaty was signed with the Bhutanese rulers following which the passes leading through the hills and Kalimpongmarker were ceded to the British. By 1866, Darjeeling District had assumed its resent shape and size, covering an area of . Scottishmarker missionaries undertook the construction of schools and welfare centres for the British residents, laying the foundation for Darjeeling's notability as a centre of education. The opening of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railwaymarker in 1881 hastened the development of the region. In 1899, Darjeeling was rocked by major landslides (known as the "Darjeeling disaster") that caused severe damage to the town and the native population.

Darjeeling War Memorial


Under British rule, the Darjeeling area was initially a "Non-Regulation District", a scheme of administration applicable to economically less advanced districts in the British Raj, and acts and regulations of the British Raj did not automatically apply to the district in line with rest of the country. Later in 1919, the area was declared a "backward tract". Darjeeling's elite residents were the British ruling class of the time, who visited Darjeeling every summer. An increasing number of well-to-do Indian residents of Calcuttamarker, affluent Maharajas of princely states and land-owning zamindars also began visiting Darjeeling. The town continued to grow as a tourist destination, becoming known as the "Queen of the Hills". The town did not see any significant political activity during the freedom struggle of India owing to its remote location and small population. However, there was a failed assassination attempt by revolutionaries on Sir John Anderson, the Governor of Bengal in 1934.
A woman selling vegetables at a market in Darjeeling


Socio-economic problems of the region which had not been addressed during British rule continued to linger and were reflected in a representation made to the Constituent Assembly of India in 1947 which highlighted the issues of regional autonomy and Nepali nationality in Darjeeling and adjacent areas. After the independence of India in 1947, Darjeeling was merged with the state of West Bengalmarker. The separate district of Darjeeling was established consisting of the hill towns of Darjeeling, Kurseongmarker, Kalimpongmarker and some parts of the Terai region. While the hill population was comprised mainly of ethnic Nepalis who had migrated there during British rule, the plains harboured a large ethnic Bengali population who were refugees from the Partition of India. A cautious and non-receptive response by the West Bengal government to most demands of the ethnic Nepali population led to demands for autonomy of Darjeeling and the recognition of the Nepali language in the 1950s and 1960s, culminating in the recognition of Nepali as an official language by the Government of West Bengal in 1961.

The GNLF flag


The creation of a new state of Sikkimmarker in 1975, along with the reluctance of the Government of India to recognise Nepali as an official language under the Constitution of India, brought the issue of a separate state of Gorkhaland to the forefront. Agitations for a separate state continued from 1982-88, and were suspended only after an agreement between the government and the Gorkha National Liberation Front, resulting in the establishment of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council which was given semi-autonomous powers to govern the district. Though Darjeeling is now peaceful, the issue of a separate state still lingers, supported by the political party Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). New protests erupted in 2008-09, but both the Union and State governments rejected the GJM's demand for a separate state.

Geography

Mount Kanchanjangha as viewed from Darjeeling


Darjeeling is located at an average elevation of in the Darjeeling Himalayan hill region on the Darjeeling-Jalapahar range that originates in the south from Ghummarker. The range is Y-shaped with the base resting at Katapahar and Jalapahar and two arms diverging north of Observatory Hill. The north-eastern arm dips suddenly and ends in the Lebong spur, while the north-western arm passes through North Point and ends in the valley near Tukver Tea Estate.

Darjeeling is the main town of the Sadarmarker subdivision and also the headquarters of the district.The hills of Darjeeling are part of the Mahabharat Rangemarker or Lesser Himalaya. The soil is chiefly composed of sandstone and conglomerate formations, which are the solidified and upheaved detritus of the great range of Himalayamarker. However, the soil is often poorly consolidated (the permeable sediments of the region do not retain water between rains) and is not considered suitable for agriculture. The area has steep slopes and loose topsoil, leading to frequent landslides during the monsoons. According to the Bureau of Indian Standards, the town falls under seismic zone-IV, (on a scale of I to V, in order of increasing proneness to earthquakes) near the convergent boundary of the Indian and the Eurasian tectonic plates and is subject to frequent earthquakes. The hills are nestled within higher peaks and the snow-clad Himalayan ranges tower over the town in the distance. Kanchenjungamarker (8,598 m or 28,208 ft)—the world's third-highest peak—is the most prominent peak visible. In days clear of clouds, Nepal's Mount Everestmarker ( ) can be seen.

There are several tea plantations in the area. The town of Darjeeling and surrounding region face deforestation due to increasing demand for wood fuel and timber, as well as air pollution from increasing vehicular traffic. Flora around Darjeeling includes temperate, deciduous forests of poplar, birch, oak, and elm as well as evergreen, coniferous trees of wet alpine. Dense evergreen forests lie around the town, where a wide variety of rare orchids are found. Lloyd's Botanical Gardenmarker preserves common and rare species of flora, while the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park specialises in conserving and breeding endangered Himalayan species.

Climate

A Darjeeling street, taken in heavy rain


Darjeeling's temperate climate has five distinct seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter, and the monsoon. Summers (lasting from May to June) are mild, with maximum temperatures rarely crossing 25 °C (77 °F). The monsoon season from June to September is characterised by intense torrential rains often causing landslides that block Darjeeling's land access to the rest of the country. In winter temperature averages . Occasionally the temperatures drop below freezing; snowfalls are rare. During the monsoon and winter seasons, Darjeeling is often shrouded in mist and fog. The annual mean temperature is ; monthly mean temperatures range from . The average annual precipitation is 281.8 cm (110.9 in), with the highest incidence occurring in July (75.3 cm or 29.6 in).

Civic administration

A political rally taking place in Darjeeling


The Darjeeling urban agglomeration consists of Darjeeling Municipality and the Pattabong Tea Gardenmarker. Established in 1850, the Darjeeling municipality maintains the civic administration of the town, covering an area of . The municipality consists of a board of councillors elected from each of the 32 ward of Darjeeling town as well as a few members nominated by the state government. The board of councillors elects a chairman from among its elected members; the chairman is the executive head of the municipality. The Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) at present holds power in the municipality. The Gorkha-dominated hill areas of the whole Darjeeling district is under the jurisdiction of the Darjeeling Gorkha Autonomous Hill Council since its formation in 1988. The DGHC's elected councillors are authorised to manage certain affairs of the hills, including education, health and tourism. The town is within the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency and elects one member to the Lok Sabha (Lower House) of the Indian Parliament. It elects one member in the West Bengal state legislative assembly, the Vidhan Sabha. The Bharatiya Janata Party's Jaswant Singh won the parliamentary election in 2009, while the state assembly seat was won by GNLF in the 2006 polls. Darjeeling town comes under the jurisdiction of the district police (which is a part of the state police); a Deputy Superintendent of Police oversees the town's security and law affairs. Darjeeling municipality area has two police stations at Darjeeling and Jorebungalow.

Utility services

A sewer running behind houses


Natural springs provide most of Darjeeling's water supply – water collected is routed to Senchal Lake (10 km or southeast of town), from where it is piped to the town. During the dry season, when water supplied by springs is insufficient, water is pumped from Khong Khola, a nearby small perennial stream. There is a steadily widening gap between water supply and demand; just over 50% of the town's households are connected to the municipal water supply system. The town has an underground sewage system that collects domestic waste from residences and about fifty community toilets. Waste is then conveyed to six central septic tanks and ultimately disposed of in natural jhoras (waterways); roadside drains also collect sewage and storm water. Municipal Darjeeling produces about 50 tonnes (110,200 lb) of solid waste every day, which is disposed of in nearby disposal sites.

Electricity is supplied by the West Bengal State Electricity Board, and the West Bengal Fire Service provides emergency services for the town. The town often suffers from power outages and the electrical supply voltage is unstable, making voltage stabilisers popular with many households. Almost all of the primary schools are now maintained by Darjeeling Gorkha Autonomous Hill Council. The total length of all types of roads—including stepped paths within the municipality—is around ; these are maintained by the municipality.

Economy

A tea plantation in Darjeeling


The two most significant contributors to Darjeeling's economy are tourism and the tea industry. Darjeeling tea is regarded as one of the best of black teas and is widely popular. Darjeeling produces 7% of India's tea output, amounting to around nine million kilograms every year. The tea industry has faced competition in recent years from tea produced in other parts of India as well as other countries like Nepal. Widespread concerns about labour disputes, worker layoffs and closing of estates have affected investment and production. Several tea estates are being run on a workers' cooperative model, while others are being planned for conversion into tourist resorts. More than 60% of workers in the tea gardens are women. The district's forests and other natural wealth have been adversely affected by an ever-growing population. Besides tea, the most widely cultivated crops include maize, millets, paddy, cardamom, potato and ginger.

Darjeeling is reported to be the only location in eastern India that witnesses high footfalls of foreign tourists. It is also a popular filming destination for Bollywood and Bengali cinema. In the 1969 film Aradhana, the hit song, Mere Sapno Ki Rani picturized on Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore was shot on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railwaymarker. Satyajit Ray also shot his film Kanchenjungha (1962) here; his Feluda series story, Darjeeling Jomjomaat was also set in the town, and more recently Main Hoon Na starring Shah Rukh Khan was been filmed here.

Transport

The "Toy Train" approaching Darjeeling


The town of Darjeeling can be reached by the 50 miles (80 km) long Darjeeling Himalayan Railwaymarker (nicknamed the "Toy Train") from Siligurimarker, or by the Hill Cart Road (National Highway 55) that follows the railway line. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is a narrow-gauge railway. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCOmarker in 1999, becoming only the second railway in the world to have this honour. Regular bus services and hired vehicles connect Darjeeling with Siligurimarker and the neighbouring towns of Kurseongmarker, Kalimpongmarker and Gangtokmarker. Four wheel drives, including Land Rovers, are the most popular means of transport, as they can easily navigate the steep slopes in the region. However, road and railway communications often get disrupted in the monsoons because of landslides. The nearest airport is in Bagdogra near Siliguri, located about from Darjeeling. Indian Airlines, Jet Airways and Kingfisher Red are the three major carriers that connect the area to Delhimarker, Calcuttamarker and Guwahatimarker. The closest major railway station is in New Jalpaigurimarker, which is connected with almost all major cities of the country. Within the town, people usually traverse by walking. Residents also use bicycle, two-wheelers and hired taxis for travelling short distances. The Darjeeling Ropeway, functional from 1968 to 2003, was stopped after an accident killed four tourists.

Demographics

Concrete/brick and timber houses in the town


Darjeeling urban agglomeration (which includes Pattabong Tea Gardenmarker), with an area of has a population of 109,163, while the municipal area has a population of 107,530. The town has an additional average diurnal floating population of 20,500 – 30,000, mainly consisting of the tourists. The population density of the municipal area is 10,173 per km2. The sex ratio is 1,017 females per 1,000 males, which is higher than the national average of 933 females per 1000 males. The three largest religions are Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, in that order. The majority of the populace are Gorkhas of ethnic Nepalimarker background. Indigenous ethnic groups include the Limbu, Rai, Tamangs, Lepcha, Bhutias, Sherpa and Newars. Other communities that inhabit Darjeeling include the Marwaris, Anglo-Indians, Chinese, Bihari, Tibetans and Bengali. The most commonly spoken languages are Nepali, Hindi, Bengali and English.

Darjeeling has seen significant growth in its population during the last century, especially since the 1970s. Annual growth rates reached as high as 45% in the 1990s, far above the national, state, and district averages. The colonial town had been designed for a population of only 10,000, and subsequent growth has created extensive infrastructural and environmental problems. The region is relatively new in geological terms and unstable in nature, suffering from a host of environmental problems. Environmental degradation, including denudation of the surrounding hills has adversely affected Darjeeling's appeal as a tourist destination.

Culture

Colourful flags with Buddhist text around a Hindu temple.


Apart from the major religious festivals of Diwali, Christmas and Dussera, the diverse ethnic populace of the town celebrates several local festivals. The Lepchas and Bhutias celebrate new year in January, while Tibetans celebrate their new year in February–March. The birthday of the Dalai Lama is celebrated in mid-June with processions. Darjeeling Carnival, initiated by a civil society movement known as The Darjeeling Initiative, is a ten day carnival held every year during the winter with the high quality portrayal of the rich musical and cultural heritage of Darjeeling Hills as its central theme.

A popular food in Darjeeling is the momo, a steamed dumpling containing meat cooked in a doughy wrapping and served with clear soup and achar. A form of Tibetan noodle called thukpa, served in soup form is also popular. Other commonly eaten dishes include aloo dum, a potato preparation, and shaphalay, Tibetan bread stuffed with meat. Tea is the most popular beverage, and is usually drunk in the Tibetan version. Alcoholic beverages include Tongba and Chhaang, local beers made from millet.

Colonial architecture characterises many buildings in Darjeeling; several mock Tudor residences, Gothic churches, the Raj Bhawanmarker, Planters' Club and various educational institutions are examples. Buddhist monasteries showcase the pagoda style architecture. Darjeeling is regarded as a centre of music and a niche for musicians and music admirers. Singing and playing musical instruments is a common pastime among the resident population, who take pride in the traditions and role of music in cultural life.

Education

Darjeeling's schools are either run by the state government or by private and religious organisations. Schools mainly use English and Nepali as their media of instruction, although the national language Hindi and the official state language Bengali are also stressed. The schools are either affiliated with the ICSE, the CBSE, or the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education. Having been a summer retreat for the British in India, Darjeeling soon became the place of choice for the establishment of public schools on the model of Etonmarker, Harrowmarker and Rugbymarker, allowing the children of British officials to obtain an exclusive education. Institutions such as St. Joseph's College , Loreto Convent, St. Paul's School and Mount Hermon School are renowned as centres of educational excellence. Darjeeling hosts three colleges—St. Joseph's College, Loreto College, Salesian College and Darjeeling Government College—all affiliated to University of North Bengal in Siliguri.

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