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History of Darjeeling

History of Darjeeling is coppied from my friends websitehttp://www.east-himalaya.com

Till the early 18th century, Darjeeling District including some areas within Eastern Nepal and Western Bhutan belonged to Sikkim but following several invasions from both its neighbours, it gradually lost much of its territories. Kalimpong was lost in 1876 to the Bhutanese and control of other areas that today make up of Darjeeling’s district was wrested away by the Gurkhas who invaded Sikkim in 1780.

However, the Gurkha annexation brought the invaders into direct confrontation with the British and there were wars between the two forces, eventually leading to the defeat of the Gurkhas which resulted the ceding of all the land they had taken from Sikkim to the hands of the British. Part of the lost territory was restored to the king of Sikkim and the country's sovereignty guaranteed by the British in return for British control over any disputes which arose with neighboring states.

One such dispute in 1828 led to the dispatch of two British officers to this area, and it was during their fact-finding mission that they discovered Darjeeling. Quick to appreciate Darjeeling's value as a site for a much needed sanatorium and hill station for the empire builders’ languishing in the tropical heat of Calcutta, and also as a likely doorway into Nepal and Tibet, a report was presented to the authorities in Calcutta and a pretext was eventually found to pressure the king into granting the site to the British for an annual fee of three thousand rupees. The deed, however, displeased Tibet which regarded Sikkim as a vassal state.

Darjeeling's rapid development as a trading centre and tea-growing area in a key position along the trade route leading from Tibet via Sikkim into the plains of India began to hamper the fortunes of the lamas and leading merchants of Sikkim. Tensions arose, but the wily British soon found another pretext to pressure the Sikkimese king when two of their noteworthy subjects, Dr. Hooker and Mr. Campbell were arrested inside Sikkim. In the process of securing their release with the use of force, the British also razed Sikkim’s capital in Tumlong and installed a Political Agent who in a way became the de facto administrator, and eventually the British annexed the whole of the land between the present borders of Sikkim and the Bengal plains, and withdrew the royalty that was being paid for the lease of Darjeeling.

The annexation brought about a significant change in Darjeeling's status. Previously it had been an enclave within Sikkimese territory and to reach it, the British had to pass through a country ruled by an independent king. After the takeover, Darjeeling became contiguous with British territory further south and Sikkim was cut off from access to the plains except through British territory. This eventually led to the invasion of Sikkim by the Tibet and in retaliation, the British dispatched military expedition to Lhasa.

When the British first arrived in Darjeeling it was almost completely forested and virtually uninhabited, though it had once been a sizeable village before the wars with Bhutan and Nepal. Development was rapid and by 1840 a road had been constructed, numerous houses and a sanatorium built and a hotel opened. By 1857 Darjeeling had a population of some 10,000.

The population increase was due mainly to the recruitment of Nepali laborers to work the tea plantations established in the early 1840s by the British. Even today, the vast majority of people are of Nepali origin and the name Darjeeling continues to be synonymous with tea.

The immigration of Nepal’s hill-people into the mountainous areas of West Bengal eventually led to a political crisis in the mid-1980s. Resentment had been growing amongst Darjeeling’s indigenous populace over what they felt was discrimination against them by the government of West Bengal. Their language was not recognized by the Indian Constitution and priority to government jobs were given to Bengalis.

The tensions finally erupted into widespread riots throughout the district for several years resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives and thousands became homeless. Tourism came to a grinding halt. This movement was led by Subash Ghising of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), which demanded a separate state to be known as Gorkhaland.

In 1988, the Union Government eventually came to terms with the demands of the GNLF and a compromise was struck which allowed for a certain degree of autonomy for Darjeeling’s hill people. Although Darjeeling still remains a part of West Bengal, the autonomous Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) was formed to handle all local administrative affairs.


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