Darjeeling, West Bengal, India
What is it? Hill station in decline but which has wonderful tea gardens a short walk away
Where is it? West Bengal
When do I go? March to June
For how long? Three days
STD Code: 0354
Known as the Queen of the Hills, Darjeeling was an extremely popular destination in the time of the British Raj. The wonderfully cool climate, clear brisk air and the breathtaking views of the Himalayas drew the British here to escape the stifling heat of Kolkata. These spectacular views and the climate have stayed the same, but the grandeur is fading a little. Still, Darjeeling continues to draw honey-mooners, trekkers and others seeking to escape the heat and humidity of the plains, especially in summer.
Until the 18th century, the area that comprised Darjeeling was in the hands of the rajas of Sikkim. However, they gradually began to lose control of their lands to the Gurkhas, who invaded Sikkim in 1780. The Gurkhas in turn ran into trouble with the British East India Company and fought a series of wars with them; eventually the area around Darjeeling became Company lands.
The Company returned some of the land to the rajas in exchange for British control over any disputes that would arise with neighbouring states.
While investigating one such dispute, two British officers spent time at Darjeeling, then called Dorje Ling or ‘The Place of the Thunderbolt’, (named after the lama who founded the monastery which once stood on Observatory hill), and were quick to see its strategic importance as a site for a hill station, sanatorium and an entree to Nepal and Tibet.
The raja was eventually pressured into transferring Darjeeling to the British, and later on lost still more land. All this resulted in rapid development of the area, an increase in the population and an influx of Nepali labourers into the area as workers in the tea estates. Darjeeling’s heyday came in the early 1900′s, when it was the preferred destination for socialites and adventurers, plus a sprinkling of princely families, who came here to escape the hot Indian summer. It was also the summer residence of the Bengal government, who came here to beat the heat.
After Independence, Darjeeling was absorbed into the state of West Bengal, but calls for autonomy grew, as the local people began to accuse the government of neglect. The Gurkhaland movement crystallised in the 1980′s when the Gurkha National Liberation Front led by Subash Ghising agitated for autonomy for the Gurkhas. Sporadic violence did occur in the region, but a compromise was reached in 1988 and the GNLF now controls the Darjeeling Hill Council, under the aegis of the West Bengal government. However, the calls for a separate homeland have not died down yet.
Darjeeling district in West Bengal includes three administrative subdivisions, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. The town sprawls over a west-facing ridge, over the hillside and is surrounded by tea plantations. The town’s belly is Hill Cart road, which is where the railway and bus stations are, as well as the motor entrance to town. The road rises to Chowrasta, the town centre near the top of the ridge. The Mall or Nehru road is another principal avenue in Darjeeling.
The average temperature ranges from 8.5 to 15°C in summer and from 1.5 to 6°C in winter. Light woollen clothing is recommended during the summers while heavy woollens are a must during winter. For mountain views, the best time to visit Darjeeling is from mid-September to mid-December, although it gets pretty cold by December.
The season resumes around mid-March and continues to mid-June but as the haze builds up the view becomes less clear. However during this period there are a lot of Indian tourists who visit Darjeeling to escape from the heat and humidity of the plains. During the monsoon months ( June – September) clouds obscure the mountains.
For more information on the following topics, please see our Darjeeling travel guide below:
- Getting there
- Getting around
- Sights & Sounds
- Eating Out
- Useful Information
- Survival Guide
|Darjeeling, West Bengal
A popular hill station during the days of the Raj, Darjeeling is a lovely Victorian town built among the Himalayan foothills and home to the famous “Darjeeling Tea” and the toy train.