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Darjeeling District,West Bengal

Darjeeling District is the northernmost district of the state of West Bengal in eastern India in the foothills of the Himalayas. The district is famous for its beautiful hill stations (often referred to as the Queen of the Hills) and Darjeeling tea. Darjeeling is the district headquarters. Kalimpong, Kurseong and Siliguri, three other major towns in the district, are the subdivisional headquarters of the district. Mirik, another town of the district, has been developed as a lake resort since the late 1970s.

Geographically, the district can be divided into two broad divisions, the hills and the plains. The entire hilly region of the district comes under the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, a semi-autonomous administrative body under the state government of West Bengal. This body covers the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong. The foothills of Darjeeling Himalayas, which comes under the Siliguri subdivision, is known as the Terai. The district is bounded on the north by Sikkim, on the south by Kishanganj district of Bihar state, on the east by Jalpaiguri district and on the west by Nepal. Darjeeling district has a length from north to south of 18 miles (29 km), and a breadth from east to west of 16 miles (26 km). As of 2011 it is the second least populous district of West Bengal (out of 19), after Dakshin Dinajpur.

History

The name Darjeeling comes from the Tibetan words, Dorje (thunderbolt) and Ling (place or land), meaning the land of the thunderbolt. The history of Darjeeling district is linked to that of the Sikkim, East India Company, Nepal and Bhutan.

Most of Darjeeling formed a part of dominions of the Chogyal of Sikkim, who had been engaged in an unsuccessful warfare against the Gorkhas of Nepal. From 1780, the Gorkhas made several attempts to capture the entire region of Darjeeling. By the beginning of 19th century, they had overrun Sikkim as far eastward as the Teesta River and had conquered and annexed the Terai.

In the meantime, the British were engaged in preventing the Gorkhas from overrunning the whole of the northern frontier. The Anglo-Gorkha war broke out in 1814, which resulted in the defeat of the Gorkhas and subsequently led to the signing of the Sugauli Treaty in 1815. According to the treaty, Nepal had to cede all those territories which the Gorkhas had annexed from the Chogyal of Sikkim to the British East India Company (i.e. the area between Mechi River and Teesta river). Later in 1817, through the Treaty of Titalia, the British East India Company reinstated the Chogyal of Sikkim, restored all the tracts of land between the Mechi River and the Teesta river to the Chogyal of Sikkim and guaranteed his sovereignty. In 1835, the hill of Darjeeling, including an enclave of 138 square miles (360 km2), was given to the British East India Company by Sikkim.

In November 1864, the Treaty of Sinchula was executed in which the Bhutan Dooars with the passes leading into the hills and Kalimpong were ceded to the British by Bhutan. The Darjeeling district can be said to have assumed its present shape and size in 1866 with an area of 1234 sq. miles.

Prior to 1861 and from 1870–1874, Darjeeling District was a “Non-Regulated Area” (where acts and regulations of the British Raj did not automatically apply in the district in line with rest of the country, unless specifically extended). From 1862 to 1870, it was considered a “Regulated Area”. The term “Non-Regulated Area” was changed to “Scheduled District” in 1874 and again to “Backward Tracts” in 1919. The status was known as “Partially Excluded Area” from 1935 until the independence of India.

Gorkhaland Movement

During the 1980s, the Gorkha National Liberation Front led an intensive and often violent campaign for the creation of a separate Gorkhaland state within India, across the Nepali-speaking areas in northern West Bengal. The movement reached its peak around 1986-1988 but ended with the establishment of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988.

The hill areas of Darjeeling enjoyed some measure of autonomy under the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. However, the aspirations of the people of Darjeeling and the surrounding areas were not fulfilled and the demand for full statehood within India has emerged once again, with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha as its chief proponent.The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration replaced the DGHC in August 2012 after the GJM signed an agreement with the government.

Geography

The Darjeeling hill area is formed of comparatively recent rock structure that has a direct bearing on landslides. Heavy monsoon precipitation contributes to the landslides. Soils of Darjeeling hill areas are extremely varied, depending on elevation, degree of slope, vegetative cover and geolithology.

The Himalayas serve as the source of natural resources for the population residing in the hills as well as in the plains. As human population expands in the hills, forests are being depleted for the extension of agricultural lands, introduction of new settlements, roadways, etc. The growing changes coming in the wake of urbanization and industrialization leave deep impressions on the hill ecosystem.

The economy of Darjeeling hill area depends on tea production, horticulture, agriculture, forestry and tourism. The major portions of the forests are today found at elevations of 2000 meters and above. The area located in between 1000–2000 meters is cleared either for tea plantation or cultivation. About 30 percent of the forest covers found in the lower hills are deciduous. Evergreen forest constitutes only about 6 percent of the total forest coverage. Shorea robusta remains the most prominent species of tropical moist deciduous forest along with heavy under growth.

Teesta, Rangeet, Mechi, Balason, Mahananda, Lish, Gish, Chel, Ramman, Murti and Jaldhaka are the important rivers of the district.

Languages

The official language of all of West Bengal is Bengali, and Nepali is also recognised as official language in Darjeeling and Kurseon sub-divisions of the district of Darjeeling (but not the rest of the district).The major languages spoken in Darjeeling district are Nepali (which is spoken by more than 60% of the population in Darjeeling Hill subdivision and 15% in Kalimpong and Kurseon subdivision ), Bengali and Hindi are predominant in Terai region or Plain Siliguri subdivision. Other languages spoken are Lepcha, Tibetan, Sunuwar, Limbu, Rai languages, Yakkha, Tamang, Denzongke, Rajbonshi, and Bijori (a Munda language).