View of Darjeeling from the Happy Valley Tea Estate

View of Darjeeling from the Happy Valley Tea Estate
c/o Wikimedia

Darjeeling sits nestled in the Himalayan foothills just East of present day Nepal. Sitting so close to the borders of Nepal, Sikkim, Bengal and Bhutan, its history has been characterised by successive waves of invasion and immigration by people from each of these regions. When the Shah Dynasty's Gorkha Raj (Empire) was at its height both Sikkim and Darjeeling were part of 'Greater Nepal', but prior to that, Darjeeling was mostly under the rule of either Sikkim or Bhutan. After the Anglo-Gorkha War, Sikkim was returned to the Sikkimese by the British, although it was later to become part of India under the British.

In 1828, officials from the British East India Company stopped over in Darjeeling en route to Sikkim and were impressed by its beautiful landscape and cool climate. In 1835 the Company negotiated the lease of Darjeeling with the Chogyal (Monarch) of Sikkim and began building a sanatorium there for British soldiers. In the 1830s and '40s roads connecting Darjeeling to the plains below and to military depots were built. In the 1850s British missionaries set up schools and welfare centres, and commercial tea cultivation also began. Darjeeling is of course now famous across the world for its tea. In 1881 the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway opened, further encouraging the town's development. The 'toy train' railway still operates to this day.

Although Darjeeling is part of the India state of West Bengal, the majority of its population is Nepali and for the past few decades there has been a growing political movement to establish a separate state called 'Gorkhaland'.

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