The Himalayas of Bengal and Sikkim together make up our land. We are born and brought up in these mountains surrounded by the interesting folklore, rituals, and stories of myths and fables. Our history is what binds us all together.
The mighty Mt.Kangchenjunga standing tall in all its glory is the guardian of our lands. Mystical stories about demons and gods entangled with nature are a major part of our local folklore. We are blessed with divine forest and fertile lands. Our folks have been living in harmony with nature for centuries. Guru Padmasambhava also is known as Guru Rinpoche passed through these lands in the 8th Century visiting Yuksom and the Pristine Gurudongmar Lake to reach Tibet, blessing the land and introducing the people to Buddhism and foretold the era of monarchy that would arrive in these himalayas centuries later.
16th Century - The formation of Sikkim
Phuntsog Namgyal, A fifth-generation descendant of Khye Bumsa from Tibet, received a divine revelation instructing him to travel south to seek his fortunes. In 1642 he was consecrated as the first Chogyal, the priest-king, of Sikkim by the three venerated lamas at Yuksom. In generations to come the capital was moved from Yukosm to Rabdentse in proximity to Pemayangtse Monastery (One of the oldest monasteries of Sikkim), near modern-day Pelling in West Sikkim. A magnificent palace was built on top of the hill overlooking Mt Kangchenjunga. The palace was later torn down during the Gurkha invasion but there still remain the ruins of the Chortens, prayer areas, and living spaces. Here, one can still just go back in time and experience the serenity of these mountains.
Rabtense Ruins Yuksom Shrine
In the 19th century, Gurkhas - the warriors of Nepal, invaded the Kingdom of Sikkim, taking over most of the Terai region, this prompted the British to attack Nepal to save the northern frontier resulting in the Gurkha war of 1814. The annexed land was given back to Sikkim only to be handed over to the British years later.
Gangtok - The new trade hub
Enchey Monastery was built in the year 1840 in Gangtok, which was till then a small hamlet with just a few houses. This marked Gangtok as a significant pilgrimage center. Soon, the Tibetans lost the war to the British, and Gangtok was re-established as a major stopover in the trade between Tibet and British India. This increase in trade laid the foundation stone of the modern-day Gangtok as we see today.
Until then, the North of Sikkim consisting of Lepchas of Dzongu; Lachenpas of Lachen; and the Lachungpas of Lachung, were still untouched by all this chaos and lived their traditional life as hunters and gathers. Their rituals and practices promoted a harmonious relationship of co-existing with nature. Their customs and traditions revolved around prayers and honest pursuit of life to find our higher selves.
Pristine Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim
Mid -19th Century
The Terai region of Darjeeling and Kalimpong was formed, consisting of land annexed from the Kingdom and Sikkim and from the Kingdom of Bhutan respectively under the Treaty of Sinchula, which ceded these lands to the British East India Company. The temperate climate of Darjeeling suited the British and they developed this hill station as the Summer Capital of Bengal Precedency in 1864, soon after commercial cultivation of tea began in 1856. The Scottish missionaries undertook the construction of schools and welfare centers for the British residents, laying the foundation for Darjeeling's notability as a center of education. Prominent schools like Loreto Convent in 1847; St. Paul's School in 1864; Planters' Club in 1868; Lloyd's Botanical Garden in 1878; St. Joseph's School in 1888 were set up.
Early establishment in Darjeeling
Late – 19th Century
Tea revelation and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
The need for transportation of tea to Siliguri, from where the already established British Railway would transfer it to shipping docks of Kolkata and further to all parts of Europe, gave birth to The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Company. Connecting Siliguri (altitude of 100m) to Darjeeling (altitude of 2200m) in an 88KM narrow gauge line using six zig zags and five loops (including Batasia Loop) to gain altitude. All this was to be done using just a steam engine. This was one of the most ambitious engineering projects taken up by the British. The DHR is an exemplar to the marvels of British Engineering and in 1999 was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage. Cruising across the Hill Cart Road, the train passes through scenic forests, breath-taking views, and reminiscing old stations like Sukna, Rongtong, Kurseong, Ghum among others to reach the Darjeeling town.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Darjeeling- the land of the thunderbolt, then became home to the Newars, Rai, Gurung, Lepchas, and Bhutias living amongst the English planters, Scottish Missionaries, and Swiss bakers. The Darjeeling Municipality was set up in 1850 which built landmarks like the Observatory Hill (Mahakal Mandir), St. Andrews Church, Governor's house to name a few, along the Chowrasta. Here one can still spend a day just soaking in the rich history and folklores of Nepali writer “Bhanu Bhakto”. Iconic bakeries like Keventers and Glenray’s opened up that suited the English taste. Noble people like Thakur Das Pradhan began photographing and documenting, the beautiful landscapes of Darjeeling and the lives of local people. His photographs still stand as reminisces to the contributions of local people in building the “Queen of the Hills”.
The mystical tea gardens of Darjeeling
Meanwhile, the silent Buddhist town of Kalimpong (a ridge connecting two hills, Deolo Hill and Durpin Hill) due to its proximity to the Nathu La and Jelep La passes was growing as an important trading outpost in the trade of furs, wools, and food grains between India and Tibet. The Scottish missionaries also set up The Scottish University Mission Institution, Kalimpong Girls High School, Reverend J.A. Graham founded the Dr. Graham's Homes School marking Kalimpong as another educational hub.
Kalimpong - The new trading town.
The movement of people into the area, transformed Kalimpong from a small hamlet with a few houses, to a thriving town with increased economic prosperity. This economic prospect attracted a lot of traders from the Marwadi community to open up shops in Kalimpong. Trade-in Kalimpong flourished and so did the Marwadi community in all parts of these hills. Kalimpong became home to one of the wealthiest families who oversaw the construction of iconic buildings on the streets of this town, some dating back to the 19th Century. The center of the town is still lined with a number of such heritage structures.
Today, Sikkim is a separate state and the districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong come under the West Bengal Government, but they still share the same essence of peace, simplicity, authenticity, and belonging to their land. They still look up to this land as their guardians and providers. Their faith and beliefs still hold together, the culture and nature that their ancestors have left for them.
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