The original inhabitants of the Darjeeling Hills were Lepchas or Rongpa (the ravine folks) as they prefer themselves to be known as. Though their origin is obscure, they are decidedly Mongolian in feature. The Khampas, another branch of the Lepchas, are warrior-like and more dashing than their docile cousins. The Khampas are recent immigrants from Tibet. The greater bulk of the people in the Hills are Gorkhas . They are industrious and enterprising as a race and speak various dialects. The short Mongolian type Nepalese, the Gorkhas, renowned for their military prowess the world over, and the first to be decorated with the coveted Victoria Cross, finds jobs and security both in the British and Indian armies. They carry the traditional weapon, the Khukri-a curved ornamental knife. Among the population are also the Newars or best known, the world over as the Sherpas. They are well known for their courage, stamina and surefootedness and for their immeasurable contributions to Mountaineering. Also much in evidence in the Hills are the Bhutias and they are divided into Tibetan, Bhutan, Dharma and Sikkimese Bhutias and a greater bulk of Bengalee from Siliguri subdivision.
Nepali Folk Dances
The Nepalese are rich in folk culture. The hills and dales are the treasure house of songs and dances of the hill folk. There is not a moment in their lives, possessed as they are of a lyrical mind and heart that does not turn into singing and dancing.
The panorama of the Majestic Himalayan mountains, its lush green hills and forests seem to have played a significant role in influencing the religion and culture including the folk songs and dances of the Nepalese people, inhabiting in and around the Himalayan regions with its serene, romantic and poetic shades of different hues. Even the two major religions. viz., Hinduism and Buddhism, seem to have influenced the Nepali culture full of its rich folks songs and dances, co-existing side by side.
The earlier cave paintings, religious rites and temple songs and dances have also played another significant role in influencing Nepalese Folks songs and dances. The earlier form of dances and folk songs attributed to the Gods and goddesses of both the Hindu and Buddhist pantheon, are also inspirational in creating Nepalese folk songs and dances, impressions of religious dances performed either to appease Gods and goddesses or ward-off the evil spirits can also be seen distinctly in performing arts of the Nepalese people.
The following are some of the most popular and worth mentioning forms of Nepali folk dances.
- Maruni Nach.
- Dhan Naach.
- Jhankri Naach.
- Jatra Naach.
- Damphu Naach.
- Khukuri Naach.
- Deora Naach.
- Panchay Naach.
- Dhimay Naach.
- Sanginy Naach.
- Balan Naach.
- Jhyauray Naach.
- Paschimay Chutki.
- Rodhighar Naach.
- Baton Naach.
- Jhumara Naach.
- Sakhia Naach.
Nepali, Hindi, Bengali and English are the prevailing languages. Bengali is the language of the plains, Tibetan is used by the refugees and some other tribal people.
Hinduism, Buddhism and to an extent Christianity, remain the predominant religions here.
Pamper your taste buds with the exotic but homely food and discover a mosaic of culture while satiating your gastronomical needs.
Whether it is the ubiquitous momos or thupkas whose fabled taste has transcended across the Himalayas along with the migrant Tibetans or the lemon grass menu from south-east Asia,Darjeeling offers you the best.
Meat dumplings which are steamed and accompanied by a bowl of clear soup and achaar. One can also order for vegetable momos in which the meat is ideally replaced by cabbage and other vegetables.
Tibetan noodles mixed with egg/meat, vegetables with a predominant soup base.
Tibetan bread stuffed with meat.
Typical indian potato preparation which the hill people cannot do without.
Salt tea which is mixed with butter which has its own distinct taste.
Local brew made from millet and has to be sipped through a bamboo straw. Usually found in the local haat(fair) held on sunday near the Rock Garden.
Developed by the British, many buildings of British style architecture can be found here. Apart from these, the Tibetan influence is very noticeable in the buildings of the monasteries.
In addition to Durga Puja, Diwali, Saraswati Puja and Shivratri etc., there are local festivals unique only to this region. The Lepchas and Bhutias celebrate the New Year in January, while the Tibetans have their Devil Dances to celebrate their New Year in their monasteries from the last week of February to March. As in the Chinese tradition the snake or dragon dances curl through the streets. In mid-June, processions celebrate the birthday of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama.
Houses are decorated and spirits start building up for Diwali eve when the festival commences. Lasting two weeks, it consists of Lakshmi Puja, Bhailo, Deosi and Bhai Tika. There are robust folk dances with the males participating enthusiastically in the ‘Chabrung’ of the Libus, the Tamangs dance, ‘Damfu’, and the most popular of them all, the scintillating Maruni. Gay folk songs fill the air with ‘Jhowre’ relating to the lover, and the ‘Juhari’ which throws questions and answers between the lovesick couple. The ‘Rosia’ is sung in the fields, the ‘Baloon’ extols the deeds of the Mahabharata and ‘Malsiri’ is kept for the Durga Puja. The ‘Rateli’ are nursery rhymes set to music. It seems that the people have saved all their energy for these two weeks which are filled with great rejoicing.
The culture of the hill people of Darjeeling are uniquely expressed in the exquisite and inimitable artistic handicrafts of the district and their traditional colourful designs, which show marked resemblance to the art of neighbouring Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan. Among the artistic crafts, ornaments, trinkets and handlooms are worth mentioning. There is also fine craftsmanship in wood-work and bamboo fret work. While the principal utility products are blankets, woolen knitted garments and woven fabrics, the artistic products are hand-bags, wall panels, fire-screens, folding partitions, Bhutan paintings, cotton shoulder-bags etc. Beautiful curios are made at Darjeeling and Kalimpong on copper plates studded with red and blue stones with engravings of replicas of deities. Wonderful Tankas with paintings depicting the life of Lord Buddha are also available. Woolen carpets are made in a combination of shades in vegetable and synthetic dyes. Bhutia chaddars can be found in beautiful textures. Decorative Nepali khukris are made in Ghum. Bedroom slippers and rope-sole shoes, jackets, hats, hanzu coats made from handloom cloth and masks are among the many items which attract tourists and curio collectors.
The cash crops of the region are fruits, tea and cardamom. Tourism contributes in a great way to the economy of the region.
Tea and Darjeeling are synonymous. Darjeeling Tea is world renowned for its flavour, which is unequaled by other tea producing areas not only of India but also of the world. Darjeeling still manufactures the tea by the original methods known as the ‘orthodox’ method.