Darjeeling

The Queen of Hills

The Queen of Hills

About Liza Hill, Darjeeling

Darjeeling comes from the Tibetan words “Dorje”, which is the thunderbolt sceptre of the Hindu deity Indra, and “ling, which means "a place" or "land. Darjeeling is a town and a municipality in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is located in the Lesser Himalayas at an elevation of 6,700 ft (2,042.2 m). It is noted for its tea industry, its views of the Kangchenjunga, the world's third-highest mountain, and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Darjeeling is the headquarters of the Darjeeling District which has a partially autonomous status within the state of West Bengal. It is also a popular tourist destination in India.

 

The recorded history of the town starts from the early 19th century when the colonial administration under the British Raj set up a sanatorium and a military depot in the region. Subsequently, extensive tea plantations were established in the region and tea growers developed hybrids of black tea and created new fermentation techniques. The resultant distinctive Darjeeling tea is internationally recognised and ranks among the most popular black teas in the world. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway connects the town with the plains and has some of the few steam locomotives still in service in India.

 

Darjeeling is a part of the Eastern Himalayan zoo-geographic zone.Flora around Darjeeling comprises sal, oak, semi-evergreen, temperate and alpine forests. Dense evergreen forests of sal and oak lie around the town, where a wide variety of rare orchids are found. The Lloyd's Botanical Garden preserves common and rare species of plants, while the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park specialises in conserving and breeding endangered Himalayan species. 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.

 

Forests and wildlife in the district are managed and protected by the Divisional Forest Officer of the Territorial and Wildlife wing of the West Bengal Forest Department. The fauna found in Darjeeling includes several species of ducks, teals, plovers and gulls that pass Darjeeling while migrating to and from Tibet. Small mammals found in the region include civets, mongooses and badgers. TA conservation centre for red pandas opened at Darjeeling Zoo in 2014, building on a prior captive breeding program

Darjeeling can be reached by the 88 km (55 mi) long Darjeeling Himalayan Railway from New Jalpaiguri, or by National Highway 55, from Siliguri, 77 km (48 mi) away. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is a 600 mm (2 ft) narrow-gauge railway that was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999 for being "an outstanding example of the influence of an innovative transportation system on the social and economic development of a multi-cultural region, which was to serve as a model for similar developments in many parts of the world",  becoming only the second railway in the world to have this honour. Bus services and hired vehicles connect Darjeeling with Siliguri and Darjeeling has road connections with Bagdogra, Gangtok and Kathmandu and the neighbouring towns of Kurseong and Kalimpong. However, road and railway communications often get disrupted in the monsoons because of landslides. The nearest airport is Bagdogra Airport, located 90 km (56 mi) from Darjeeling. Within the town, people usually traverse by walking. Residents also use two-wheelers and hired taxis for travelling short distances.

 

The predominant religions of Darjeeling are Shaivite Hinduism and Vajrayana Buddhism, followed by Christianity. Indigenous communities such as the Lepchas, the Limbus, and many others, also practice Animism and Shamanism which is very often, but not always, intermixed with the more mainstream Hinduism and Buddhism.

 

Dashain, Tihar, Losar, Buddha Jayanti, Christmas are the main festivals. Besides, the diverse ethnic populace of the town also celebrates several local festivals. Buddhist ethnic groups which include the Tibetans, Lepchas, Bhutias, Sherpas, Yolmos, Gurungs, and Tamangs celebrate their new year, called Losar, in January/February, Maghe Sankranti, Chotrul Duchen and Tendong Lho Rumfaat. The Kiranti Rai people (Khambus) celebrate their annual Sakela festivals of Ubhauli and Udhauli. Deusi and Bhaileni are songs performed by men and women respectively, during the festival of Tihar. All these provide a regional distinctness to Darjeeling's local culture from the rest of India. Darjeeling Carnival, initiated by a civil society movement known as The Darjeeling Initiative, is a ten-day carnival held yearly during the winter with the portrayal of the Darjeeling Hill's musical and cultural heritage as its central theme.

 

The culture of Darjeeling is diverse and includes a variety of indigenous practices and festivals as mentioned above. Many of the Nepali Hindus, as well as the various Buddhist and other ethnic groups such as the Lepchas, Bhutias, Kiranti Limbus, Tibetans, Yolmos, Gurungs and Tamangs, have their own distinct languages and cultures and yet share a largely harmonious co-existence.

 

Colonial architecture characterizes many buildings in Darjeeling, exemplified by several mock Tudor residences, Gothic churches, the Raj Bhawan, Planters' Club and various educational institutions. 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 are common pastimes among the resident population, who take pride in the traditions and role of music in cultural life. Darjeeling also has a Peace Pagoda built in 1992 by the Japanese Buddhist organisation Nipponzan Myohoji

 

Due to the varied mix of cultures in Darjeeling, the local and ethnic food of Darjeeling is also quite varied. Rice, noodles and potatoes seem to make up the dominant part of the cuisine partly due to the cold climate. The most popular local snack food are Momos, which are steamed flour dumplings with meat or vegetable fillings served piping hot with a side of clear soup and hot homemade tomato sauce. Locals love Alu Dom (Spicy steamed potato curry) and various versions of it are served. For example, they add Wai Wai Mimi instant noodles over a bowl of Alu Dom and call it Alu Mimi.

 

Another popular food is 'Thukpa' which is of Tibetan origins. Thukpa is homemade noodle soup with meat, eggs and/or vegetables. Kinema, Chhurpi, Shaphalay,(Tibetan bread stuffed with meat). Fermented foods and beverages are consumed by a large percentage of the population. Fermented foods include preparations of soybean, bamboo shoots, milk and Sel roti, which is made from rice. Tea (esp. the butter tea) is the most popular delicacy, Alcoholic beverages include Tongba, Jnaard and Chhaang, variations of a local beer made from fermenting finger millet.


There are 52 primary schools, 67 high schools and 5 colleges in the town. Darjeeling's schools are run either by the state government or by private or religious organisations. Schools mainly use English and Nepali as their media of instruction, although there is the option to learn the official language Hindi and the official state language Bengali. 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 became the place of choice for the establishment of public schools on the model of Eton, Harrow and Rugby, allowing the children of British officials to obtain an exclusive education. Institutions such as St. Robert's H.S. School, St. Paul's School, St. Joseph's School - North Point, Loreto Convent and Mount Hermon School are renowned as centres of educational excellence. Darjeeling has five colleges—St. Joseph's College, Southfield College (earlier known as Loreto College), Darjeeling Government College, Ghoom-Jorebunglow Degree College and Sri Ramakrishna B.T. College—all affiliated to the University of North Bengal in Siliguri

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