Window Seat: Darjeeling

Prameyanews English

Published By : Prameya News Bureau | March 31, 2024 IST

Window Seat: Darjeeling

Mrinal Chatterjee

Recently I went to Darjeeling as a Resource Person for a journalists’ training programme organised by UNICEF and Calcutta Press Club. Darjeeling is known as the Queen of the Hills. So are Shimla and Mussoorie.  However, that should not be an issue, as in the past Kings were allowed to have multiple queens.

Located in the Northernmost region of West Bengal in the eastern Himalayas it has an average elevation of 2045 metres (about 6709 feet). The highest point in Darjeeling, Tiger Hill has an elevation of 8500 feet.

The name Darjeeling came from the Tibetan word ‘Dorje’  meaning thunderbolt (originally the scepter of Indra) and ‘Ling’- a place  or land; thus Darjeeling means,  the land  of the thunder bolt.

The recorded history of Darjeeling dates back to the 18th century, when it was a part of  Sikkim kingdom and then for some time of Nepal. On 1 February 1835, the British East India Company acquired Darjeeling from the Chogyal (monarch) of Sikkim.

The settlement at Darjeeling really began in 1828 with British interest. By 1835, it was separated from Sikkim; a Sanatorium for the invalid servants of the East India Company was built. It then consisted of a monastery on observatory hill clustered with about 20 huts and a population of about 100 people. Planning began in 1839, to lay out the Darjeeling town and construct a hill road connecting Siliguri, Pankhabari, Kurseong and Darjeeling. By 1840, Darjeeling town had about 30 buildings and a few respectable houses. Darjeeling town expanded rapidly as tea gardens proliferated and it was connected
 with rail to Siligudi in the plains by the late 19th century.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as the DHR or the Toy Train, is a 2 ft (610 mm) gauge railway, about 88 km long that runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling.

Built between 1879 and 1881 the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) was the first of three mountain railways of India to be inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1999.  It was the first Hill Railway in India and only second in the world to get this prestigious status.

An engineering marvel, DHR has an interesting history.

It was in the year 1878, Franklin Prestage, Agent of the Eastern Bengal Railway, foresaw the utility of a rail link between the hills of Darjeeling and the plains. His scheme was mainly driven by hard economic considerations: the huge difference in the cost of essential commodities between Darjeeling, and Siliguri, the need to carry out tea for export and the inability of the existing road to handle the growing traffic. He submitted a scheme for the construction of a two feet gauge railway line from Siliguri to Darjeeling. The construction began in 1879. The train service began on 4 July 1881 at a limited distance.

Gradually it was extended up to Darjeeling.

It reduced the travel time from Siligudi to Darjeeling from 4-5 days to 8-10 hours. But as buses and trucks started plying, the ‘toy train’ fell out of favour of the commuters.

It still exists as a relic of the past and as one of the most charming ways to enjoy the beauty of the Himalayas. One can feel the romance of the past as it glides along the Hillcart road and winds through the mountainous terrain, with the mighty Kanchenjunga at the side.

Ghoom

Situated at an altitude of 2,258 metres (7,407 ft), Ghum of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) is the highest railway station in India.

Ghum is the world's 14th highest railway station. Tanggula Station is the highest in the world. It resides at an astonishing 5,068m (16627ft)above sea level and caters to the Qingzang railway – a high-altitude network that connects Xining, Qinghai Province to Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.

Ghum station has a museum, one of the three of DHR; the other two DHR museums are located at Kurseong and Sukna. Although the museum is small, it contains all rare historical artifacts from the picture of construction of the railways station to the spare uniform.

The place is the home of the Ghum Monastery and the Batasia Loop, a bend of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.

Batasia

The name Batasia, meaning ‘airy space’ or ‘open area’ perfectly describes the serene and peaceful atmosphere of this remarkable spot. It is here that one can see a remarkable engineering achievement  undertaken to overcome the steep gradients and sharp curves of the Eastern Himalayas.

The loop, constructed in 1919, was designed by ingenious engineers to allow the narrow-gauge Toy Train to negotiate the treacherous descent from Ghoom, the highest railway station in India, to Darjeeling.

The loop comprises a spiraling track that coils around itself, gradually descending at a gentle gradient. This innovative design not only reduces the gradient but also provides passengers with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. The loop spans over an area adorned with lush greenery, vibrant flora, and commanding vistas of Darjeeling town and the majestic peaks of the Himalayas. The loop offers breathtaking panoramic views of Darjeeling town nestled amidst the undulating hills, with the snow-capped peaks of Mount Kanchenjunga looming majestically in the distance.

A memorial in commemoration of the brave Gorkha Soldiers, who sacrificed their life to protect the sovereignty of the Nation since independence stands here since 1995.

Nepali Topi

In Darjeeling the resource persons including myself were presented with Nepali topi.

The Nepali topi (also called Dhaka topi) forms part of Nepalese national dress, worn by men on celebrations. It is said to portray the Mountain after the glacial melting Melted ice encourages the growth of greenery and vibrantly coloured flowers in the mountain's lower terrains.

I liked the topi and wore it throughout my stay in Darjeeling much to the delight of my wife.

Business  Standard turns fifty

On March 27, 2024, Business Standard, one of the better known business dailies of India turned fifty.  It was started on March 27, 1975 by Ananda Bazar Patrika (ABP) group.  The ownership changed in 1997. Then Anand Bazar Patrika  group put Business Standard up for sale. Uday Kotak bought it and picked T N Ninan, who had joined the newspaper in 1992 as consultant and soon became its Editor to run the paper. Ninan became the Editor as well as publisher, a unique combination at that point of time in Indian journalism.

Ninan stuck to this notion that editorial and business departments should be separated. The paper faced a lot of problems. It  braved through  the dot com bust around the turn of the century and acute
 financial crisis.

Presently it has thirteen editions.  Business Standard stuck to the principle that  they would make a good product for people who value it. This remains till date the priciest newspaper in the country at Rs.13/- a copy. That probably shows it has lived  up to its original vision of being the business newspaper for the top end of the market serving  the thinking audience, the policy makers and decision makers, the top management and the economists.

I am none of the above, but I love this paper and read it from Monday through Saturday. It is not published on Sunday.  It is one of the few newspapers that publishes book reviews every day.

Disclaimer:

This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write-up have nothing to do with www.prameyanews.com.

 

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