Known the world over as the ‘Queen of the Hills’ Darjeeling is a scenic hill station located within the state of West Bengal amidst the Himalayas. Its natural beauty is unmatched and its various attractions enchant tourists from far and wide. Actually this picturesque hill station was discovered by the British who made this place their summer retreat. The tea gardens of Darjeeling offer breathtaking views and refresh the mind and soul.
Most tourists visiting India make it a point to include Darjeeling in their tour itinerary because of its popularity and scenic splendor. This hill station which is situated at an altitude of 6, 982 feet above sea level is well connected by road, rail and air.
The name ‘Darjeeling’ has been coined from two Tibetan words- 'Dorje' (thunderbolt) and 'Ling' (place). As such Darjeeling means ‘The Land of the Thunderbolt’. The natural beauty of Darjeeling is accentuated by its superb landscape and beautiful tea gardens that dot the entire hill station. Darjeeling is also famous for the ‘Toy Train’ which is managed by Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR). In fact this hill station has been nominated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The climate is temperate and soothing which makes Darjeeling a much sought after holiday destination by tourists. Souvenirs, colorful carpets, woolen fabrics, intricate wood carving works, handicrafts, bamboo products and shiny jewellery items are some important memorabilia which tourists take back on their return journey.
The history of Darjeeling is quite old as at one time it was a part of Sikkim and also Nepal. However in 1835 Darjeeling was acquired by the British East India Company.
Actually it was the continuous dispute between Sikkim and Nepal over the years that prompted the British to intervene and on one such intervention in 1828 a Britisher named Mr. J.W.Grant, visited Darjeeling and was impressed by its beauty. At that time Lord Bentinck was the Governor-General and when he came to know about Darjeeling he instructed his subordinates to start negotiations with the Raja of Sikkim for handing over Darjeeling to the British in lieu of money or land. Finally on the 1st of Feb. 1835 Darjeeling was handed over to the Britishers by the Raja of Sikkim.
However at that time the shape and size of Darjeeling was not as what it became in 1866 (1234 sq. miles). Since 1866 Darjeeling began to progress well. When India gained her independence from the British on 15th August 1947 Darjeeling was handed over to the Indian government which in turn entrusted the district administration with the responsibility of managing the hill district.
People and Culture
The Lepchas or Rongpa are considered to be the foremost inhabitants of this hill district. This tribe has Mongolian like features. Next are the Khampas with their warrior like and dashing features. Khampas are in fact another faction of the Lepchas but they are recent immigrants from Tibet.
However it is the Gorkhas who far outnumber the other tribes. They are Nepalese with Mongolian features and can speak different languages. Their military prowess is legendary with the coveted Victoria Cross being conferred to a good number of Gorkhas. The Khukri is the traditional weapon of Gorkhas which is actually an ornamental knife shaped with a curve.
Other inhabitants include the Newars or Sherpas (known for their mountaineering acumen), Bhutias, and a sizeable Bengali population migrated from Siliguri subdivision.
Nepalese folk dances are an integral part of Darjeeling culture. Their songs and dances are lyrical and full of life.
The captivating Himalayan environment along with abundant lush greenery and forests influences religion and culture and that includes Nepalese folk songs and dances. There is a trace of romantic and poetic shade in their songs and dances. Hinduism and Buddhism are the two main religions here and have influenced Nepali culture to a great extent. Ancient cave paintings, religious rites, temple songs/dances bear testimony to this fact.
Fairs and Festivals
Apart from local traditional festivals Darjeeling witnesses mainstream Indian festivals common to other parts of the country. These are Durga Puja, Diwali, Saraswati Puja and Shivratri etc. The local New Year festival is celebrated in the month of January by Lepchas and Bhutias. On the other hand Tibetans celebrate the same between the last week of February and March. The highlight of their celebrations is the Devil Dance.
There is also a little bit of Chinese traditional influence in Darjeeling. As such Snake or Dragon Dances are performed on the streets during mid-June which commemorates the birthday of the Dalai Lama.
Diwali is celebrated in Darjeeling with lot of fanfare and lasts up to two weeks which includes other celebrations like Lakshmi Puja, Bhailo, Deosi and Bhai Tika.
Popular folk dances like ‘Chabrung’, ‘Tamangs’, ‘Damfu’, and ‘Maruni’ are performed during all festivities. Traditional folk songs ‘Jhowre’, ‘Juhari’, ‘Rosia’, ‘Baloon’, ‘Malsiri’ and ‘Rateli’ are also sung during festivals. On the whole there is great rejoicing amongst people during festivals.