Years ago the mountain spurs, on the slopes of which the hill station of Darjeeling now stands, formed a part of the independent kingdom of Sikkim and was covered with dense forest. The town of Darjeeling alone now has thousands of people belonging to different creeds and races, but there were not more than two hundred inhabitants when the East India Company, which then controlled British interests in India, first came into contact with it.
This was in 1814 when the Company intervened in favour of Sikkim as against the war-like Nepalese, who would otherwise have absorbed the whole of the little State of Sikkim and annexed it to their own territory. The Nepalese were repulsed in the war that ensued, and the Raja of Sikkim was reinstated in possession of his kingdom. Sikkim, including Darjeeling became a buffer state between Nepal and Bhutan. In 1828, a frontier dispute occurred between the Sikkimese and the Nepalese. This was referred to the British Government according to the terms of the treaty signed at Titalya on February 10th,1817. Lt. Gen. C.A. Llyod and Mr. J.W. Grant, I.C.S., the Commercial Resident at Maldah, were deputed to settle the internal factions between the Nepal and the Sikkim States.
While settling the internal feuds between these two States, principally in matters relating to the settling of the boundary between the two territories, they were struck with the suitability of the hills as a sanitarium for the British troops, on a summit of which they could spy from a distance the few lowly huts of the village of Darjeeling encircled by the forest. In the long run, being deputed by the Court of Directors of the East India Company, Lloyd started negotiation with the Maharaja of Sikkim for ceding the mountainous region, now going by the charming name, Darjeeling, in lieu of money or land. Lloyd with his imposing personality succeeded in making the negotiation fruitful.
And so in 1835, we find the East India Company obtaining the lease of a small strip of country in the south of the Sikkim Himalaya for the purpose of a sanitarium and an outpost of strategical importance on the northern frontier of India. A member of the Indian medical Service, Dr. Campbell, was appointed Agent of the tract leased, and Lieut. Napier (afterwards Lord Napier of Magdala) set to work to fell the forest and lay the foundations of the hill station of Darjeeling . In return the Maharaja was allowed a subsidy of Rs. 3,000/- a year for, what was then an uninhabited tract of land. In 1845, it was raised to Rs. 6,000 per annum. At that time this territory yielded a pepper-corn revenue never exceeding Rs. 20/- per annum from the village of Darjeeling. There were then, only 20 mud huts around the Mahakal Observatory, the population was mere 100.
The little town founded by the two officers (Dr. Campbell and Lieut. Napier) of Government grew very rapidly, natives of the surrounding country were quick to avail themselves of the blessings of life under the ægis of the Pax Britannica, and within ten years, between 1839 and 1849, the population rose chiefly be immigration from 100 to about 10,000 persons, a truly remarkable tribute to the East India Company and the administration of their officers.
This rapid growth, however, excited the jealousy of the Maharaja of Sikkim, or rather of his Prime Minister, and when Dr. Campbell and the eminent explorer and naturalist, Sir Joseph Hooker, were touring in Sikkim in 1849, with the permission of both Governments, they were suddenly seized and imprisoned. Many indignities and even severe insults were thrust on the British Agent during weeks of meaningless detention, and as a result the usual expeditionary force had to be sent to teach good manners to the uncivilized authorities in Sikkim. Fortunately there was no necessity for bloodshed, and after the Company's troops had crossed the Rangeet river into Sikkim hostilities ceased. Consequently on this trouble, and further ebullition of misconduct on the part of the Sikkim authorities a few years later, the mountain tracts now forming the district of Darjeeling became a portion of the British Indian Empire, and the remainder of kingdom of Sikkim became a protected State.
When India became independent, Darjeeling remained a part of West Bengal. From 1986, a powerful agitation began in the Darjeeling hills seeking an independent state in the Indian Union. The agitation ended with the establishment of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council under the Chairmanship of Mr. Subash Ghissing and has been given considerable autonomy in administrative matters.
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.