Darjeeling: Land of the Thunderbolt

by admin on November 26, 2012

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Kanchenjunga View, DarjeelingDarjeeling derives its name from the Tibetan word ‘Dorje’ meaning thunderbolt and ‘ling’ meaning place, or land. It was once a part of the kingdom of Sikkim, overrun by the Gurkhas of Nepal in the 1780s, who after their defeat by the imperial British in 1814 signed the treaty of Sugauli in 1815 ceding back the land to British India Company. Except for Darjeeling, the British returned most of land back to Sikkim and reinstated the Raja of Sikkim and guaranteed his sovereignty in 1817 through the Treaty of Titalia. In compensation for the land taken by the British, the Raja of Sikkim got an allowance of three thousand rupees per annum, and amongst the gifts he received were two shawls, 20 yards of red broad cloth and a double barrel gun. Soon, the British turned Darjeeling into hill retreat and strategic high point to oversee activities in neighboring Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet. Incidentally, Sikkim was the last state to join the Indian union through a plebiscite in 1975.

Darjeeling was a pleasant little town till the early1980’s, surrounded by awe inspiring pure white snow capped mountain range and peaks of the Kanchenjunga, and on clear days one could see the majestic grandeur of Mount Everest. From high of the town, one could see the clouds drift up from the lofty valley below which gives a surreal sensation. Lots of flora and fauna were abundant in every nook and corner. There were three hundred different types of ferns, and trees like Himalayan firs, spruce, larch, conifers and  junipers; while flycatchers, sunbirds, woodpeckers, three toed kingfishers and long legged falcons filled the air, besides numerous exotic butterflies. On the ground, hares, jackals and foxes played their own game of hide and seek. In those days there were very few shops and restaurants, the big ones being Glenary’s which served (and still does) awesome food and confectionary, and Keventers, known for its typical English breakfasts with tea, toast, ham, sunny side up eggs, bacon, sausages, strawberry milk shakes , et al.  Just opposite of Keventers stands the imposing (tea) Planter’s Club.

Except during the monsoons, the skies are crystal clear, with mellow sunshine drifting through to warm the soul. The usual road route to Darjeeling (average height of 6710 feet) is either by car or bus from Siliguri which roughly takes 4 hours. Otherwise, the nearest airport is at Bagdogra which is 25 kiliometres away from Siliguri.Darjeeing, India

Of course Darjeeling is now known today for it joyous toy train ride on the narrow gauge, starting from New Jalpaiguri Station,  meandering past valleys and small little towns en route, stopping for water to cool and fill up the tanks for its coal fired steam driven engine at a place called Pagla Jhora (meaning mad stream). The last station before Darjeeling is at highest railway reach in India called Ghoom at 2260 metres.  It then moves down to Darjeeling; covering a total distance of almost 80 kilometres in just about 8 hours. But, truly it’s a mystical, once in lifetime peace of joy. Just below the Darjeeling station is the famous Dhirdham Temple which was built in 1939, the rooftop is built in typical Tibetan Buddhist style, within which is large statue of Lord Shiva inside in his Pancha Bakram –Tri Netram, mood viz. his five different facial expressions and his third eye are depicted in this formation. Some of the famous monasteries in Darjeeling include the Bhutia Busty Monastery, built in 1879 which follows the Niygmapa or the Red Hat sect which follows pre-Buddhist, shamanic traditions, while the Samten Choling Monastery of more recent years, follow the Gelugpa or Red Hat sect, which is based more on philosophy.

Strolling down the Chowrasta or the Mall, you’ll find long a circular road along which there are magnificent viewpoints and off shoot  lead off to places like the Natural History Museum, which was established in 1903 and has incredible samples of flora and fauna, mineral stones, the estuarine crocodile and a large collection of butterflies. On the circular road the uphill route leads to the Darjeeling Zoo which is famous for conservation and breeding grounds for almost extinct Snow Leopard, Red Panda, Tibetan Wolf and the Himalayan Salamander- other exotic species of animals are also abundant. But today, Darjeeling has become just another tourist hotspot with hundreds of hotels and buildings jostling for space, cutting off the nip in the air as well the insightful mountain views. So off season (if you can find any) or deep winter in January may just be the best time to visit in order to get a whiff of its charm. Don’t forget to bring back the local Yak milk cheese called churpi and of course its world famous heavenly aromatic teas. Next time we will try to take you to a less crowded place.

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