Darjeeling before the DHR
Adapted from compilation by Virgil Miedema and Marilyn Metz
The man who moved ahead with the idea of establishing a 'sanatorium' (health resort) at Darjeeling was no fun-loving fellow looking for a good holiday spot to unwind, sip tea and take in a bit of shikar (shooting). In 1835, Lord William Bentinck was Governor-General of India, resident in Calcutta ..... and rather unpopular with the ruling crowd. He frowned on unnecessary expenses, and so cut down on entertaining and the trappings of his office and officialdom in general. He was hardly someone inclined to launch what today we would call a 'spa'. Bentinck opened Calcutta's Government House to anyone he wanted to talk to and, apparently, that often wasn't the denizens of local European society. He was indeed something of a social reformer, which, in the middle of the nineteenth century, was rare in British India. And he had on his hands many, many ailing soldiers and exhausted East India Company officials, who, it was thought, would benefit from the milder climate than lower Bengal and the Gangetic Plains could provide.
So it was that Darjeeling (and other hill stations) first emerged as sanatoria. Lord Bentinck gave the go ahead to negotiate with the Raja of Sikkim for some land on which to build what was to become Darjeeling. He did so, having been impressed with an 1829 report by Captain George Alymer Lloyd and Indian Civil Service (ICS) Officer Mr J W Grant - who had been sent to the area to resolve a dispute with Sikkim - to the effect that the ridge called Dorje-ling (place of the thunderbolt) or Dorje-Rinzing (name of the founder of the monastery which once stood atop what is now Observatory Hill) would make an excellent convalescence depot. Negotiations succeeded, and a deed was signed by the Raja of Sikkim on 1st February 1835, whereby he handed over to the British a strip of hill land 24 miles (38km) long and about 5 or 6 miles (8-10km) wide, '..... as a mark of friendship for the Governor-General Bentinck and for the establishment of a sanatorium for the invalid servants of the East India Company'.
This British Indian holding within Sikkimese territory was vastly expanded in 1849, following another dispute with the Raja, who was persuaded by Namgoway, his brother-in-law - nicknamed in Darjeeling the Pagla-Dewan (the crazy minister) - to arrest Dr Arthur Campbell, the town Superintendent, and Dr Joseph Hooker, a naturalist and a friend of Charles Darwin, who were travelling in Sikkim with the Raja's permission. A punitive expedition resulted and, as a result, the entire district of Darjeeling passed into British possession. The Darjeeling ridge now had a direct land connection to Jalpaiguri and Purnea (the latter in present day Bihar). The final agreement also allowed trade between British India and Sikkim, which, of course, was a great boon to Darjeeling. In subsequent years, there were other skirmishes, including one with the Bhutanese, but by 1864 formation of the Darjeeling district was complete.
Of course, Darjeeling did not develop overnight. In the early days, travelling by road to Darjeeling from Calcutta was tortuous and required considerable leisure time, a 'heavy purse', and any amount of stamina. It was not until 1881 that the famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway's 'toy train' steamed into Darjeeling, reducing the journey to little more than two days. Today, the journey time from New Delhi or Calcutta can be less than six hours - combining air and overland travel - making Darjeeling one of the most accessible of hill stations.
With regard to victuals, goods and those other comforts required by the early travellers, all came by bullock cart or on the backs of porters until the train line was established. Today, goods come by lorry, assuring a steady supply of all that is required to make a stay in the Hills comfortable.