'Gaye Firdaus Barruye jameen ast
Hameen asto, hameen asto, hameen ast'
(If there is anywhere Heaven on the earth,
It is here, it is here, it is here.')
There is no doubt that Firdaus did not write these eulogizing lines specifically for Darjeeling but these immortal lines are quite apt for Darjeeling, the famous hill station in West Bengal (India) and the glorious home of Sherpa Tenzing who first stepped in 1953 on the highest mountain peak of the world, Mount Everest, with Edmund Hillary. Mark Twain seems to have visited this Himalayan city and penned down his impression about Darjeeling as the 'land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that away for the shows of the rest of the world combined.'
Such is the beautiful land of Darjeeling. Adjacent to and surrounded by small Asian countries as Burma, Bangladesh, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, this beautiful 'Queen of the Himalayan Region' is not only one of the biggest tea producers of India but is also abundantly enriched with natural beauty. Situated on the foothills of the Himalayas at an altitude of some 2000 meters, Darjeeling ' which was a territory of Nepal before 1816 - reflects the beauty of the Himalayan peak of Kanchenjunga popularly known as Five Treasures In The Snow and revered by the inhabitants as the abode of the gods. Kanchenjunga, literally meaning 'the golden thigh' is quite a scenic mountain peak of the Himalayas and if you want to see its beauty in perfection and that of its underlying Singla valleys, you must get to the Jawahar Parvat behind the Raj Bhawan (Governor House). Such scenery is really heavenly. But .. you will be missing something great if you escaped Tiger Hill. A bit away from Darjeeling town, this world-famous 'Window of the Sunrise' is situated at an altitude of 2590 meters. and offers a panoramic view of the Sun rising over Kanchenjunga. One can view from here the beauty of the entire Eastern Himalayan peaks and can observe even Mount Everest if the weather is clear. It is marvelous to see the golden glow of the rising Sun sprinkle its changing shades on the snow. '
The Land of Thunderbolt
Rains, thunder, roaring rivers, sky-scraping hills, industrious people, charming smiling girls, Buddhist flavor, sensational jungles, and varied wildlife are the quintessence of the life of Darjeeling. Darjeeling traditionally means 'Dorje Ling', that is, the 'Land of the Thunderbolt'. This is also believed to be the 'Abode of Lord Shiva' in the guise of 'Mahakaal', the Supreme Ordainer. Rains are quite unpredicted in Darjeeling and wise travelers must always carry an umbrella with them. Heavy rainfalls also cause landslides making internal traveling very difficult. The local people, however, are accustomed to such a difficult life and they are hard-working, courageous and sturdy. So are the women.
Equality of men and women, which is a yet a dream for the rest of India, is a striking reality in Darjeeling. Women work out in the field, pluck tea-leaves, sell home-made items in the market, join hands with their male counterparts in all the work and are cheerful and vigorous. In a total estimated population around 1,200,000, Buddhists form the largest religious minority group in Darjeeling district with a population of some 14% while Christians and Muslims comprise some 8% of the total population. The majority of the inhabitants are Hindus. Gorkhas, Bhutias, Lepchas, Sherpas. Yolmos are some of the native tribes. They speak mainly Nepali but also understand Hindi, Bengali and English. Even though Hindus form the majority of the population, one can see a number of Buddhist monasteries, churches and mosques in Darjeeling and the people reflect exemplary religious harmony which is yet another remarkable thing about this Himalayan area. Though politically Darjeeling is a part of West Bengal but from the cultural point of view it is akin to Nepali culture than to Bengali. This fact led to the formation of Gorkha Hill Council in 1988. The Council has elected Councilors who wield a limited autonomous authority in managing certain affairs of this Himalayan region such as education, health etc. Tea Plantation is still the backbone of Darjeeling's economy and Darjeeling tea has its own flavor. Tea is produced in a traditional way distinctive from the ways adopted by other tea producers in India. Evergreen tea estates perfect the natural scenery of Darjeeling and for one who wishes to visit a tea estate, Happy Valley is the nearest destination.
Beautiful Places to Visit
Darjeeling is packed with wonderful aesthetic points as well as interesting places for people of varied taste. Lofty mountain terrains and cascading rivers offer adventurous sports like trekking, mountaineering and rafting. Adventurous people from all over the world come to Darjeeling to enjoy trekking. Sandakphu, situated at an altitude of 11,929 ft. and 57 kilometers from Darjeeling, is a wonderful trekking place surrounded by bewitching scenery along winding roads. Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is a center of its own kind dedicated to training in mountaineering. Whether parks or museums, resorts or gardens, art galleries or hillsides, sanctum sanctorum or market complexes, Darjeeling reflects a life which is full of colors.
Tiger Hill is a must for those who come to Darjeeling but if you are the one who loves animals and their natural traits the Himalayan Zoological Park is the right place to step in. It is a high altitude wild life park and a new home for the Siberian Tiger, Himalayan Black Deer, Panda, Llama and birds like Monal, Emerald Dove, maroon Oriole, etc. Though the whole of Darjeeling seems evergreen and attractive with spruce, chestnut, magnolia, oak, and silver fir trees, Lloyds Botanical Garden is a special place for plant-lovers and has a rare collection of various Himalayan plants and flowers. Rock Garden is yet another beautiful spot which attracts the tourists.
Buddhist Monasteries are such wonderful places in and around Darjeeling which have their own serene appeal. Both in their artistic shape and in their tranquillizing effect they leave an indelible impact. The Buddhist Monastery of Ghoom, a place near Darjeeling, deserves special mention. Built in a typical Tibetan style, the Monastery has a 15 ft. tall image of Maitryee Buddha, i.e. the foretold incarnation of Lord Buddha. Another important Monasteries are the Aloobari Monastery on Tenzing Road and Bhutia Busty Monastery near Chowrasta which also has a rich library of Buddhist Writings. Dali Monastery as well as the Japanese Peace Pagoda, dedicated to world peace, are also worth visiting. A religiously important site of its own kind is the Observatory Hill. The hill is a sacred spot for both the Hindus and the Buddhists and commands a magnificent view combined with a solemn spiritual atmosphere. Dhirdam Temple built in the style of the famous "Pashupatinath" temple of Kathmandu is also a wonderful sacred spot.
For those who love art and history, Darjeeling has a rich legacy of invaluable worth. Natural History Museum, established in 1903 offers a comprehensive collection of Himalayan fauna including hundreds of rare specimens of estuarine crocodile. Himalayan Mountaineering Institute Museum, too, has a varied collection of mountaineering equipment and of Himalayan flora and fauna. An interesting item of the Museum is a relief model of the Himalaya. Ava Art Gallery contains beautiful pieces of fine art. Tomb of Alexander Csoma de Koros, the great Hungarian scholar of Tibetan language and culture who was the first to introduce Tibetan Buddhism to the Western world, is also one of the landmarks of Darjeeling. Among the thrilling experiences that Darjeeling offers are viewing of the Rangat Valley Ropeway, the five kilometer long first passenger ropeway of India, and the railway loop of Batasia in Ghoom, one of the highest railway stations in the world. Not only these are the marvels of engineering but they also add to the viewers' pleasure in capturing the beautiful natural scenery around. The toy train of Darjeeling is the best possible pleasure that can be offered to children. The beautiful lake named Kalpokhri, a bit away from Darjeeling, is also worth visiting. And when you have culminated your trip to this beautiful Himalayan queen, forget not to take a round of The Mall before you leave. The beauty of Kanchenjunga gives a unique look from this place which you can glance from modern Coffee Houses or Restaurants full of palatable stuff. The Mall is the heart-throb of Darjeeling and looks teeming with shops and market complexes. Beautiful woolens sold by beautiful women will especially give you a warm feeling. And .. remember, the best season to visit Darjeeling is from September to December as the view of the peaks is clearer and Darjeeling is also less crowded in these months.
Darjeeling has a diversified population and people are jolly by nature. Festivities, therefore, take a special place in the life of this Himalayan region. Almost all the year round you will find this Hill Station buzzing with fun and frolic. This festive mood starts right from the first day of the Calendar with pompous celebration of New Year on the 1st of January involving the youthful souls in singing and dancing the whole night. The end of January marks the end of the Tibetan Year and the outgoing year is given a ceremonial farewell in Monasteries with colorful Tibetan dance. The farewell ceremony is followed by the celebration of Losar, the welcoming of Tibetan New Year. This mirthful celebration continues for a full week with much fun, foods, dances and merry-making. Then they have, in the same month of February, Saraswati Puja when the Hindus worship Saraswati, the goddess of Knowledge.
The all-embracing colorful festival of India ' Holi ' does not leave Darjeeling untouched in March when they sprinkle colors on each other, mix and socialize in a spirit of fraternity. Then there is Ram Navmi (the Birth Anniversary of Lord Rama) when they take out a procession of the holy chariot with Lord Ram's idol. This same day is also marked for the worship of 'Shakti', the goddess of vigor, and as an emblem of the triumph of good over evil. Nepalese put colored rice as 'tika' (symbolic victory mark on the forehead) as blessings from the elders of the house. Buddha Jayanti, the Birth Anniversary of Lord Buddha, is celebrated in April when the Llamas take out the image of Lord Buddha along with a musical processions emerging from Buddhist monasteries. Around the same time, Muslims celebrate Id-uz Zuha in commemoration of prophet Ibrahim. In June Muslims mirthfully celebrate Mila-Dun-Nabi, the Birth Anniversary of Prophet Mohammad. Good Friday and Easter are also celebrated in Darjeeling with great reverence. In July the Tibetans celebrate the Birthday of Dalai Lama followed by Dzam Ling Chi Sang, i.e. Local Deities' Day. In August, the Lepchas celebrate Tendong Lho Rumfaat, the prayer of Tendong mountain. Lepchas believe that they are the descendents of the people who survived the 40 days and 40 nights of rain by going to the top of this mountain. August also marks the celebration of Raksha Bandhan ' a festival symbolizing the bond of love between brothers and sisters ' by Hindus. Hindus also celebrate Naag Panchami in this month. Priests go from door to door to chant prayers and paste the symbol of 'Naag' (snake) to protect the houses from the attack of snakes.
Teez is an important Hindu festival falling in the month of September and celebrated by women. Women keep a rigorous fast on this day to strengthen their love for their spouse and observe sanctity and prayers for whole day and whole night. In October the Nepali Hindus have their greatest festival called Design. It's a continuous celebration for fifteen days. The 'Shraddha' (remembrance of the dead ancestors) ceremony is also performed during this period. From the next day starts Durga Puja when the goddess Durga (symbolic for the triumph of good over evil) is worshipped for nine days in nine different forms.
Tihar is an important festival in November when crows and dogs, believed to be the messengers of the Lord of Death, are offered food. Tihar is, in fact, an expanded way of celebrating Diwali, the festival of light, when Laxmi (the goddess of wealth) is also worshipped. The last month of the calendar, December, brings many festivals together including Ngenpa Gu Dzom for the Tibetans, Id-ul-Fitr for the Muslims, and Christmas for the Christians. The celebration of these festivals in an atmosphere of love and harmony reflect the way of living of the people of Darjeeling. They show how people can foster different beliefs and yet live as brothers of one composite family. No doubt, some of these festivals mirror forth the deep-rooted superstitions but this innocence with love is more valuable than wisdom with hatred prevailing in more cultured areas of the world.