History of Darjeeling


King_Edward VII took over the British_empire after…
King Edward VII took over the British empire after.

The name ‘Darjeeling’came from the Tibetan words,’dorje’meaning thunderbolt (originally the scepter of Indra) and ‘ling’a place or land, hence ‘the land of the thunderbolt’. A land-mark year in the History of Darjeeling was 1835, but it would be appropriate to trace its History before that. Prior to its acquisition by the East India Co. in 1835, Darjeeling formed a part of Sikkim and for a brief period of Nepal. However neither the history of Sikkim, nor the history of Nepal furnish any account of its early history.

Previously Darjeeling formed a part of dominions of the Raja of Sikkim, who had been engaged in an unsuccessful warfare against the Gorkhas.From 1780 the Gorkhas constantly made inroads into Sikkim and by the beginning of 19th Century, they had overrun Sikkim as far eastward as the Teesta and had conquered and annexed the Terai. E.C.Dozey in his ‘Darjeeling Past and Present’, writes, ‘Prior to the year 1816, the whole the territory known as British Sikkim.

belonged to Nepal, which won it by conquest’.

chowrastaIn the meantime, the British were engaged in preventing the Gorkhas from overrunning the whole of the northern frontier. The Anglo-Nepal war broke out in 1814. Defeat of the Gorkhalis led to the Treaty of Sugauli,1815 in which, ‘Nepal had to cede all those’ territories the Gorkhas had annexed from the Raja of Sikkim to the East India Company.

‘In 1817, in the Treaty of Titalia’ , the East India Co. reinstated the Raja of Sikkim (who was driven out), restored all the tracts of land between the Mechi and the Teesta to the Raja and guaranteed his sovereignty.

With the intervention of the British, the Gorkhas were prevented from turning the whole of Sikkim into a province of Nepal and Sikkim (including the present District of Darjeeling) was retained as a buffer state between Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.

Ten years later dispute once again arose between Sikkim and Nepal, which according to the Treaty of Titalia, were referred to the Governor General. Accordingly in 1828 Captain Lloyd was deputed to settle the dispute. Along with Mr. J.W.Grant, the Commercial Resident at Malda,he came to the Hills and was attracted by the position of Darjeeling.

From a Report dated 18th June 1829, in which he claims to have been the only European, who visited the place. We learn that Lloyd visited ‘the old Gorkha Station called Darjeeling’, for six days in Feb. 1829 and ‘was immediately struck with it being well adapted for the purpose of a sanatorium’ (he was apprehensive of the winters suggested Ging).

So he stressed the need to procure the place for

  • The advantage that the Britishers would have, as it would serve as a strategically important position in commanding entrance to Nepal and Bhutan.

  • Serve as a British outpost in the Himalayas.

  • Serve as a base for the defence of the trade route to Tibet through Sikkim.

  • From its commanding height, the whole of Sikkim and the neighbourhood could be observed and protected.

  • A summer resort for British officials to escape the heat in the plains.

Lord Bentinck promptly deputed Capt. Herbert to examine and map the tract of land along with Grant with special reference to its strategic and communication benefits. Their Reports proved the feasibility of establishing a sanatorium in Darjeeling. General Lloyd was accordingly deputed to start negotiations with the Raja of Sikkim for the transfer of Darjeeling in return for an equivalent in money or land. The negotiations ended in the execution by the Raja of Sikkim of a Deed of Grant on the lst of Feb. 1835.

DEED – ‘The Governor General, having expressed his desire for possession of the Hill of Darjeeling on account of its cool climate, for the purpose of enabling the servants of his Government, suffering from sickness, to avail themselves of its advantages,the Sikkim puttee Raja, out of friendship for the said Governor General, hereby present Darjeeling to the East India Co. that is, all the land South of the Great Rangeet River, East of the Balason, Kahail and Little Rangeet rivers and West of the Rungno and Mahanadi Rivers’.

Thus, Darjeeling was gifted to the Britishers. This was an unconditional cessation of what was then a worthless uninhabited mountain. The land gifted to East India Co. in 1835 did not comprise the whole present Darjeeling. It was narrow enclave of 138 square miles, about 30 miles long and 6 miles wide. It was entirely surrounded by the Raja’s dominions – entry and exit being restricted to a narrow path, which included the sites of Darjeeling and Kurseong towns and touched the plains near Pankhabari. What the Raja got in return immediately was a gift parcel – one double barreled gun, one rifle,one 20 yards of red-broad cloth, 2 pairs of shawl- one superior quality and the other of inferior quality.

The Raja appeared before the Governor General for compensation. In 1841 the Govt. granted the Raja an allowance of Rs.3,000/- per annum as compensation. This amount was raised to Rs.6,000/- in 1846. At the beginning Sikkim was not favourably disposed to the ideas of gifting Darjeeling – but finally circumstances made it necessary as Sikkim needed to be in the good books of the British.

  • Lepcha trouble.
  • Gorkha aggression.
  • Attitude of Tibet uncertain.

Nepal and Bhutan, alarmed at British presence in the Himalaya accused Sikkim of selling out to the foreigners. Tibet, instigated by China, did not look favourably to British presence in the Sikkim Himalayas.

Having acquired the Hill Territory of Darjeeling, Gen. Lloyd and Dr. Chapman were sent in 1836 to explore the tract, to ascertain the nature of the climate and to investigate the capabilities of the place. They spent the winter of 1836 and a part of 1837 here and on the basis of their report it was decided to adopt Darjeeling as a sanatorium.

By 1840 a road was built from Pankhabari and staging bungalows built at Pankbabari and Mahaldiram. A hotel was started at Kurseong and one at Darjeeling. In Darjeeling itself about 30 private houses were erected.

Inspite of all these, most of the tract that now comprise Darjeeling consisted of uninhabited impenetrable virgin forests. So the major problem faced by the administration was total native settlers.

In 1839 Dr. Campbell, the Br. Resident in Nepal was transferred to Darjeeling as Superintendent. He devoted himself to the task of developing the station, attracting immigrants to cultivate the mountain slopes and stimulating trade and commerce. Every encouragement was given to the settlers, who received grants of forest land and the success with which life met can be gauged by the fact that the population rose from not more than 100 in 1839 to about 10,000 in 1849, chiefly by immigrants from the neighbouring states of Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan, where Rajas were despotic and where slavery was prevalent. No one has cared to examine the source from where this figure has been derived. When Dr. Campbell made this remark, he was talking of the area around Observatory Hill or Mahakal, which contained about 20 hills because the area had been deserted by a large number of Lepchas who had migrated to Nepal.

Due to his (Campbell’s) efforts, by 1852 – an excellent Sanatorium had been built, a Hill Corps had been established to maintain order and communication

  • No. less than 70 European houses had been built;

  • A bazar and a jail had been built;

  • Revenue of Rs.50,000/- had been raised;

  • A System of justice had been introduced in line with the tribal system;

  • Forced labour had been abolished;

  • Road had been constructed;

  • Experimental cultivation of tea, coffee and fruits had been introduced.

In the meantime, British and Sikkim relations soured. The Raja of Sikkim was a mere cipher in the hands of the powerful Pagla Dewan (PM). The increasing importance of Darjeeling under free institutions was a constant source of jealousy and annoyance to the Diwan. According to Sir Joseph Hooker ‘every obstacle was thrown in the way of a good understanding between Sikkim and the British Government’. When in 1849 the Pagla Dewan arrested Campbell and Hooker, the British sent a fugitive expedition against Sikkim in 1850. An annual grant of Rs. 6,000 was stopped and the British annexed 640 square miles of additional territory from Sikkim. It comprised the entire ‘Sikkim Morung or Terai’ i.e. the Siliguri sub-division and in the hills ‘ the whole southern part of Sikkim, between the Great Rangeet and the plains of India, and from Nepal on the west to the Bhutan frontier and the Teesta river on the east’


  • Raja of Sikkim confined to mountainous hinterland and cut off from all access to the plains except through British territory.
  • Welcomed by inhabitants as they had to pay a small and fixed tax to the Treasury at Darjeeling.
  • And assets to Darjeeling as
  • increase in population,
  • suitability for tea and
  • connected Darjeeling on the South with British districts of Purnea and Rangpur Jalpaiguri.

Raids from Sikkim however continued. In 1860 the British occupied Rinchingpong.

In 1861 (Ist Feb.) Col. Gowler and Ashley Eden marched from Darjeeling and reached the Sikkimese capital of Tumlong. The Diwan fled and the old Raja abdicated in favour of his son. On March 28th 1861, Ashley Eden signed a treaty with the new Raja. This treaty was of great advantage to Darjeeling as it ended the annoyances caused to its inhabitants and secured full freedom for commerce. A road from Darjeeling to Teesta was constructed. Sikkim undertook to complete the remaining part.

In the meantime trouble arose with the adjoining state of Bhutan. The Bhutanese were constantly raiding and plundering the areas of Darjeeling. There was also rumors of a planned attack on Darjeeling. In 1863, Ashley Eden was deputed to negotiate with Bhutan. The British envoy was openly insulted and returned to Darjeeling. In the winter of 1864, a military force was dispatched to Bhutan and the whole of Bhutan Duars was captured. In Nov. 1864, the treaty of Sinchula was executed in which the Bhutan Duars with the passes leading into the hills and Kalimpong were ceded to the British. The Darjeeling district can be said to have assumed its present shape and size in 1866 is 1234 sq. miles.

So 1866 marks an epoch in the History of Darjeeling, peace was established on all fronts, hence began the march to progress and civilization.

Post-Independence :

Those were the days_ Old Taxi Stand in DarjeelingThe 15th of August, 1947 saw India becoming a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular & Democratic Republic. Thereafter, the district administration has been continuously upholding the values that the country was based on. It has been working on various projects viz.

  • Infrastructure development.
  • Education for the masses.
  • Poverty Eradication.
  • Rural Health & Sanitation.
  • Economic development of the people.
  • Tourism

Development.It has strived hard against odds and has achieved goals at par or even better than the rest of the country. Through the years, it has not rested on its laurels but taken the achievements as a base and striven for excellence. Darjeeling District today is ample proof of this.

Darjeeling-Today :

Darjeeling District Administration

After the formation of The Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council Act, the role of district administration has changed from being a manager to a key player. Apart from managing the various key departments, it plays a pivotal role and acts as an intermediate between the council and the Government. Critical issues viz. elections, panchayat, law and order, revenue, etc. are still handled by the district administration.

Formation of Council … DGHC

The period 1982 to 1988 saw the people of Darjeeling in agitation for the formation of a separate state. However after an agreement between the Government and the chief of The Gorkha National Liberation Front, Mr. Subsash Ghisingh, the agitation was suspended and paved the way for the formation of an autonomous council for the social, economic, educational and cultural advancement of the hill people.

The Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council Act was passed by the West Bengal Legislative Assembly as the West Bengal Act 13 of 1988 to provide for the establishment of an Autonomous Council for the social, economic, educational and cultural advancement of the Gorkhas and other people residing in the hill areas of the district of Darjeeling.

Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA):

As per Memorandum of Agreement signed between Government of India, Government of West Bengal and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, Gorkha Territorial Act XX of 2011, having been assented to by the President of India was first published in Kolkata Gazette, Extraordinary of the 12th March 2012. Provisions of the said Act came into force with effect from the 14th day of March 2012 except the provision of section 74. The Act has provided for the establishment of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration for the region comprising the three subdivisions Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and some Mouzas of Siliguri subdivision in the District of Darjeeling. The objective is to establish an autonomous self-governing body to administer the region so that the socio-economic, infrastructural, educational, cultural and linguistic development is expedited and the ethnic identity of Gorkhas established, thereby achieving all-round development of the people of the region.

Accordingly, GTA Sabha was constituted on 02.08.2012 with forty-five elected members and five members nominated by the Governor. Hill Affairs Branch of the Home and Hill Affairs Department, Government of West Bengal, is the nodal branch to look after the matters of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration.

Functions of the Branch:

  • Release of Grants in Aid to GTA for State Development Schemes and Administrative Expenditure.
  • Release of RIDF loans for rural infrastructure development of areas under GTA.
  • Release of Additional Central Assistance as committed by the Central Government as per MOA signed.
  • Arrangement of reliefs for people damaged by the landslides and other natural calamities.
  • Audit of Accounts of erstwhile DGHC and present GTA.
  • Framing of GTA Act, 2011.
  • Framing of GTA (Election) Rules, 2012.
  • Amendment of the GTA Act.
  • Constitutional Amendments required for GTA matters.
  • Rules of Business of GTA.
  • Setting up of different Boards/ Committees for GTA areas.
  • Service matters of GTA Employees.
  • Matters related to tea Gardens.
  • Matters related to tourist Spots.
  • Matters related to Clean and Green Darjeeling.
  • Determination of Territorial limits of Constituencies of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Sabha.
  • Delimitation of GTA Sabha Constituencies.
  • Conduction of Election to the GTA Sabha.
  • Matters related to Board of Administration, GTA.
  • Issues related to the transferred subjects to the GTA.

N.B. The limits of the existing Darjeeling District have been altered by way of bifurcating it into two separate districts, namely Darjeeling with its headquarters at Darjeeling and Kalimpong with its headquarters at Kalimpong vide Notification No 36-PAR (AR)/0/2R-2/16 dated 07/02/2017 of the Department of Personnel & Administrative Reforms and e-Governance.