Darjeeling Diary – How it started

Darjeeling, in Tibetan, means the ‘land of Thunders’. ‘Dorje’ means thunder and ‘ling’ means a place or a land. However, another school of thoughts believe the name has originated from the ‘Thunderbolt Spectre’ or ‘Bajra’ of the Hindu god Indra. Whatever be the reason the name is related to thunders and there must have been some reasons for that.

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The Chowrasta Mall (1870)

For the most part of history, Darjeeling was an unimportant village on the hills near the Rungeet River and was under the kingdom of Sikkim. Naturally, there was not much historical evidence of the existence of the place. It was as late as 1829 when two British officials visited Darjeeling while travelling to Sikkim to resolve a border dispute. Before that, in the late eighteenth century, the region was captured by the Gorkhas of Nepal. After Nepal’s defeat in the Anglo-Gorkha war (1814), the region, along with Darjeeling was recovered by the British and was given back to the Chogyel of Sikkim.

When Captain George Alymer Lloyd and J.W. Grant were sent by Lord Bentinck to resolve a border issue between Nepal & Sikkim, they rested in the small hamlet of Darjeeling for six days. At that time, only about 100 Lepchas were residents of this hamlet. It was February and one can easily imagine the amazing weather there was at the place and that certainly shocked the British officials. Soon after returning from their trip, in June 1829, Lloyd communicated to the Governor about the possibility of setting up a sanatorium at that place because the place had out of the world climate and natural beauty.

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An old photograph of Toy Train leaving Darjeeling Station

It was another February in the year 1835 when Chogyel of Sikkim agreed to lease the areas, which were nothing but a barren forest in the middle of nowhere to him, to the British East India Company. The company which was really eager to set up a place for its wounded soldiers and elder officers to spend their time started work immediately. That brought Archibald Campbell to this place. Though Lloyd should get the credit for finding this hidden gem, the credit of setting up the city and bringing the world famous tea to the soils of Darjeeling goes to Campbell.

Campbell was a member of Indian Medical Services and he was entrusted with the job of setting up the sanatorium. The work under Dr Campbell started and Darjeeling became a beautiful hill station. He was assisted by Lieutenant Napier and within four years the sanatorium was ready and it opened its doors to the sick and ailing British officers and soldiers in the year 1839 – Campbell became the first superintendent of it.

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Chowrasta Mall

In the same year, a road construction was started on which horse driven carts used to ply. Though the quality of the road was not good for moving vehicles the ‘Hill Cart Road’ was built on the same route in the year 1866. In the year 1841, Archibald Campbell brought a few seeds of Chinese Tea from Dehradun and planted them in his backyard – which was the first tea plants to grow on the soils of Darjeeling and was eventually going to change the history of the city forever.

In the year 1850, the city was brought under the administration of a Municipality but before that, a lot has happened to convert Darjeeling into a Tea Planting Ground as well as a centre of education. The Government made arrangements to grow the plantation and had set up tea nursery in 1847 and some of the prominent British residents of the hill station started experimenting with tea plantation at various levels of the hill. The Loreto Convent, the first European school of Darjeeling started in the year 1847.

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Soon, the city’s population started to increase and construction was in full swing. The first commercial Tea Estate (Tukvar, Steinthal & Aloobari) started in the year 1852 followed by many more. The famous St. Paul School shifted its campus from Kolkata to Darjeeling in the year 1864. Planters Club, the place for the social gathering of the Tea Estate owners was set up in the year 1868. The most important part of Darjeeling’s initial development was the Narrow Gauge Railway which was constructed between 1878-1881. The railway station was upgraded and remodelled in the year 1891.

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