The Queen of the Hills – Darjeeling
The name Darjeeling is thought to be a derivation of ‘Dorjeeling’ meaning the place of the Dorjee, the majestic thunderbolt of the Lamaist religion. In fact, the famous Buddhist Monastery standing at the top of the Observatory hill was known by this name. The district was the part of the dominions of the Raja of Sikkim upto the beginning of the 18th century. Apart from the magnificent view it commands, this hill atop the Mall also is attached with great religious importance as a revered temple complex for both the Hindus and the Buddhists. Darjeeling has some interesting places to watch the local handicrafts being made as well as a various range of choiced handicraft souvenirs. Until the early part of the eighteenth century, Darjeeling was under the king of Sikkim. Later Gorkhas invaded the region and annexed the area, which they eventually lost to British. The British used the place to escape the heat and found the strategic importance of the area. They, hence, developed the area as a hill station and tea-growing area. Darjeeling is well known for its tea industry and eco-tourism. Darjeeling is thought to be derived from the word Dorjeeling, which literally means ‘the place of Dorjee’ the majestic thunderbolt. Some believe that the thunderbolt belongs to the Lamaist religion and some believe that it belongs to Lord Indra. Timber, tea, and tourism underpin the economy of Darjeeling. The tea plantations were originally developed by the British. Oranges and cardamom are also available in plenty. Traditional arts and crafts of Tibet and Sikkim are the products available for shopping. Traditional Tibetan and Sikkimese food as well as other Indian cuisines are available. Rain can be expected any time in a year. Summer and spring are the two seasons most popular with the visitors. Darjeeling is a famous destination .
The Darjeeling Hill area represents a unique geo- environmental perception. The area of study is primarily composed of erosional landforms produced by southerly flowing streams, which have exposed a full cross section of different tectonic units. The form units are, however approximately the same throughout the hill area, having more or less uniform lithology, structure, climate, soil and vegetative covers. According to Mallet (1875), Audent (1935) the tectonic units are found to be in the reverse order of stratigraphic superimposition, and is represented by Siwalik and Gondwana systems. Towards the inner Himalayas, the thrusted sheets of Daling and Darjeeling group of crystalline rocks succeed these. The contact between different groups of rocks is represented by thrusts, dipping at high angles towards north. A brief description of various formations of the Darjeeling Himalaya is given here under Raised Terraces: A recent to sub recent formation form a fringe along the hills, especially at the confluences of the rivers. These terraces are composed of gravels, pebbles and boulders mixed with sand and clay. The formation is semi-consolidated, stratified along with the evidences of upheaval at places. This type of high-level terraces is also called the Terai. A 40 m high terrace is found in the Tista valley at Kalijhora. Siwalik: The Siwalik system in the Darjeeling hill areas is comprised of mudstones, sandstones, shale and conglomerates along with the bands of shale and lignite. In the Hill Cart Road and along the Tista River a few stretches of good exposers of Siwalik are found. The general strike of these rocks is NNE-SSW to NW-SE with dips varying between 30º to 60º. Damuda Series: Just after Siwalik, coarse-grained hard sandstone, quartzites, carbonaceous shale and slates belong to Damuda series are found. The Damuda series of Darjeeling hill areas is equivalent to the Gondwanas of Indian peninsular region. The maximum width of the Damuda is about 2.5 km along the Tista valley. The maximum thickness is about 1000m. The general strike of the bed is from ENE to WSW, with a varying dip of 40º to 90º. In this belt coal seams of about 3 mt. are found near Tindharia region, Lish and Gish Rivers. Daling Series: This series is comprised of chlorite shales, phyllites and schist associated with quartzite, which rest over Damuda series. Well-developed form of Damuda series is found along the Tista River and the stretches along the Tindharia –Paglajhora on the Hill Cart Road. The rocks are occasionally traversed by quartz and feldspar veins. The most important feature of this series is increasing metamorphism upwards, where slates form the lowest bed. Darjeeling Gneiss: In the higher reaches of the Darjeeling hill areas, the Dalings gradually grade into the more metamorphosed rocks, which is known as Darjeeling Gneiss. The dips of the rocks are irregular and vary in between 40º – 70º. Darjeeling gneisses are highly foliated due to metamorphism. There are two prominent sets of joints in the Darjeeling gneiss, one running roughly NW-SE and the other NNW-SSE. The general direction of the hill spurs is in accordance with the joint directions.
The culture of Darjeeling is quite miscellaneous, due to the mixed ethnicity of the population. The local culture of Darjeeling can be well understood during the season of native festivals. The diverse community of people of Darjeeling consists of the Lepchas (the original inhabitants), the diverse dialect groups of Nepali Gorkhas who form the majority, Bengalis, Tibetans, Biharis and Marwaris to name a few sects. Lepchas were the original inhabitants of Darjeeling and Sikkim but they represent a minority of the population in today`s Darjeeling. Nepali Gorkhas constitute the majority of the population of Darjeeling today. They come from different castes and dialect groups like the Limbu, Gurung, Tamang, Rai, Newar, Mangar, Sherpa and Thami communities. The Tibetan community is comparatively a new addition to the population formed when thousands of Tibetan refugees settled across Darjeeling district in 1950 when China captured Tibet. The rest of the population is an assortment of people who are from the plains of India, from states like Orissa, West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and so on. Festival contours the cultural synthesis of Darjeeling. Apart from the major Hindu religious festivals like Christmas, Diwali, Dussera, Holi, Ram Navami and others, the diverse ethnic population of the Darjeeling district observes several local festivals. The Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups like the Bhutias, Lepchas, Gurungs, and Tamangs celebrate New Year called Loshar during the months of January or February. Maghe Sankranti, Buddha Jayanti, Chotrul Duchen, and Tendong Lho Rumfaat are some of the local festivities in Darjeeling that largely tells about the culture of the place. Darjeeling Carnival, initiated by a civil society movement known as the Darjeeling Initiative, is a ten-day carnival held annually during winter that especially portrays the prosperous musical and cultural heritage of Darjeeling Hills as its basic theme.
Places to Visit
Situated at an altitude of 2590 metres (8482 ft.), it is 15 km from Darjeeling town. An early morning trip to the Tiger Hill promises an unique experience. A view of the sunrise amidst the Himalayan range has earned it an international fame. From here you can get a glimpse of Mount Everest, the highest mountain and Kanchenjunga range.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway or the Toy Train
This fascinating narrow gauge steam engine train still operates with the original steam engine and the loops and the zigzags along the route are remarkable feats of engineering. The journey from New Jalpaiguri may be a pleasant experience but it is the short ride from Darjeeling town to Ghoom, the nearest station, that becomes a joy ride in itself. The Toy Train is considered an engineering marvel and some prefer to call it one of the wonders of the world, to be preserved forever.
Batasia Loop and the War Memorial
About 5 kms. from Darjeeling, this railway loop is a marvellous feat of engineering and with its magnificent view of Darjeeling town with the Kanchenjunga mountain is worth an experience, whether aboard the Toy Train or just watching the Toy Train pass through this loop. The War memorial is constructed in the memory of the brave sons of Darjeeling who died for the country since Independence in 1947.
In and around Darjeeling there are important and interesting Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries. The oldest one is called the Yiga Cholling Monastery which is situated about 8 kms. from the town at Ghoom and enshrines an image of ‘the Coming Buddha’ or the Maitriya Buddha. It was constructed in 1875 and belongs to the Gelugpa Sect.
Japanese Peace Pagoda
The Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist inaugurated the Japanese Peace Pagoda in 1992. It is a recent landmark constructed by Japanese Monks and commands an excellent view of the town and the Himalayan Range.
The Mall and Chowrasta
The Mall road originates and culminates at the Chowrasta which is the hub of Darjeeling town, a square on the ridge of Darjeeling town and a good place to sit and relax. It is ideal for a leisurely walk around a setting that is perfect. A walk around The Mall is a must just at any time of the day with the pleasant view of the mountains, valleys with rhododendron trees and old houses.
Natural History Museum
While taking a walk in The Mall a visit to the Museum of Natural History which lies closeby is worthwhile. This fine small museum exhibits an unique collection of the fauna of the Himalayan region, especially of the Eastern Himalayas.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
It was founded in 1954 after the historic conquest of Everest on the 29th of May in 1953, when two people set foot atop Mount Everest. They were, Tenzing Norgay (Sherpa) from Darjeeling and Sir Edmund Hillary from New Zealand. As an honour to the great Sherpa this Institute was formed with the aim of imparting mountaineering skills to all the enthusiasts. Tenzing Sherpa himself was one of the founding members and also the Field Director of the Institute. It is situated on Jawahar Parbat and adjoins the Zoo. This Institute also houses a museum which holds a rare collection of mementos from various Everest expeditions. Nawang Gombu, the first man to have climbed the Everest twice is presently the Chief Advisor for the Mountaineering Training.
Himalayan Zoological Park and Snow Leopard Breeding Centre
A high altitude wild life park and new home of the Siberian Tiger, Himalayan Black Bear, Barking Deer etc. , Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park or the town Zoo exhibits some rare Himalayan Fauna including the Snow Leopard, Red panda, Tibetan Wolf, Himalayan Pheasants, etc. It is a treat for all wild life enthusiasts. Just nearby is a very successful Snow Leopard Breeding Centre.
Lloyds Botanical Garden
This is a colourful garden situated just below the market. In 1878 Mr. W. Lloyd gifted 40 acres of hillside to make a garden with local plants and flowers. It still has the most varied collection of rhododendron, magnolia, orchids, etc. of the Eastern Himalayas. It also has a glass-house full of alpine flowers and also features an Orchidarium and a collection of medicinal plants.
Darjeeling has some interesting places to watch the local handicrafts being made as well as a various range of choiced handicraft souvenirs. The Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre is a self-supporting Centre for Tibetan refugees which manufactures some intriguing Tibetan handicrafts.
Barbotey Rock Garden
Situated 10 km from town, is a very attractive picnic spot with natural water falls. The Rock Garden was constructed by The Gorkha Hill Council Tourism Department. The road to the garden is a steep and winding one almost touching the plain. But the sight of the natural waterfall makes you forget all the pain and weariness.