1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Darjeeling

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DARJEELING, a hill station and district of British India, in the Bhagalpur division of Bengal. The sanatorium is situated 367 m. by rail north of Calcutta. In 1901 it had a population of 16,924. It is the summer quarters of the Bengal government and has a most agreeable climate, which neither exceeds 80° F. in summer, nor falls below 30° in winter. The great attraction of Darjeeling is its scenery, which is unspeakably grand. The view across the hills to Kinchinjunga discloses a glittering white wall of perpetual snow, surrounded by towering masses of granite. There are several schools of considerable size for European boys and girls, and a government boarding school at Kurseong. The buildings and the roads suffered severely from the earthquake of the 12th of June 1897. But a more terrible disaster occurred in October 1899, when a series of landslips carried away houses and broke up the hill railway. The total value of the property destroyed was returned at £160,000.

The district of Darjeeling comprises an area of 1164 sq. m. It consists of two well-defined tracts, viz. the lower Himalayas to the south of Sikkim, and the tarai, or plains, which extend from the south of these ranges as far as the northern borders of Purnea district. The plains from which the hills take their rise are only 300 ft. above sea-level; the mountains ascend abruptly in spurs of 6000 to 10,000 ft. in height. The scenery throughout the hills is picturesque, and in many parts magnificent. The two highest mountains in the world, Kinchinjunga in Sikkim (28,156 ft.) and Everest in Nepal (29,002 ft.), are visible from the town of Darjeeling. The principal peaks within the district are—Phalut (11,811 ft.), Subargum (11,636), Tanglu (10,084), Situng and Sinchal Pahai (8163). The chief rivers are the Tista, Great and Little Ranjit, Ramman, Mahananda, Balasan and Jaldhaka. None of them is navigable in the mountain valleys; but the Tista, after it debouches on the plains, can be navigated by cargo boats of considerable burthen. Bears, leopards and musk deer are found on the higher mountains, deer on the lower ranges, and a few elephants and tigers on the slopes nearest to the plains. In the lowlands, tigers, rhinoceroses, deer and wild hogs are abundant. A few wolves are also found. Of small game, hares, jungle fowl, peacocks, partridges, snipe, woodcock, wild ducks and geese, and green pigeons are numerous in the tarai, and jungle fowl and pheasants in the hills. The mahseer fish is found in the Tista.

In 1901 the population was 249,117, showing an increase of 12% since 1891, compared with an increase of 43% in the previous decade. The inhabitants of the hilly tract consist to a large extent of Nepali immigrants and of aboriginal highland races; in the tarai the people are chiefly Hindus and Mahommedans. The Lepchas are considered to be the aboriginal inhabitants of the hilly portion of the district. They are a fine, frank race, naturally open-hearted and free-handed, fond of change and given to an out-door life; but they do not seem to improve on being brought into contact with civilization. It is thought that they are now being gradually driven out of the district, owing to the increase of regular cultivation, and to the government conservation of the forests. They have no word for plough in their language, and they still follow the nomadic form of tillage known as jum cultivation. This consists in selecting a spot of virgin soil, clearing it of forest and jungle by burning, and scraping the surface with the rudest agricultural implements. The productive powers of the land become exhausted in a few years, when the clearing is abandoned, a new site is chosen, and the same operations are carried on de novo. The Lepchas are also the ordinary out-door labourers on the hills. They have no caste distinctions but speak of themselves as belonging to one of nine septs or clans, who all eat together and intermarry with each other. In the upper or northern tarai, along the base of the hills, the Mechs form the principal ethnical feature. This tribe inhabits the deadly jungle with impunity, and cultivates cotton, rice and other ordinary crops, by the jum process described above. The cultivation of tea was introduced in 1856, and is now a large industry. Cinchona cultivation was introduced by the government in 1862, and has since been taken up by private enterprise. There is a coal mine at Daling. The Darjeeling Himalayan railway of 2 ft. gauge, opened in 1880, runs for 50 m. from Siliguri in the plains on the Eastern Bengal line.

The British connexion with Darjeeling dates from 1816, when, at the close of the war with Nepali, the British made over to the Sikkim raja the tarai tract, which had been wrested from him and annexed by Nepal. In 1835 the nucleus of the present district of British Sikkim or Darjeeling was created by a cession of a portion of the hills by the raja of Sikkim to the British as a sanatorium. A military expedition against Sikkim, rendered necessary in 1850 by the imprisonment of Dr A. Campbell, the superintendent of Darjeeling, and Sir Joseph Hooker, resulted in the stoppage of the allowance granted to the raja for the cession of the hill station of Darjeeling, and in the annexation of the Sikkim tarai at the foot of the hills and of a portion of the hills beyond. In August 1866 the hill territory east of the Tista, acquired as the result of the Bhutan campaign of 1864, was added to the jurisdiction of Darjeeling.