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Darjeeling Travel Guide:

Darjeeling is a Himalayan town in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is internationally renowned as a tourist destination, along with for its tea industry and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the headquarters of Darjeeling district. The town is located in the Mahabharat Range or Lesser Himalaya at an average elevation of 6,710 ft (2,050 m).

The development of the town dates back to the mid-19th century, when the British set up a sanatorium and a military depot. Subsequently, extensive tea plantation was done in the region, and tea growers developed distinctive hybrids of black tea and created new fermenting techniques. The resultant distinctive Darjeeling tea is internationally recognised and ranks among the most popular of the black teas.[2] The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway connects the town with the plains and has one of the few steam locomotives still in service in India. Darjeeling also has several British-style public schools, which attract students from throughout India and neighbouring countries. The town, with its neighbouring town of Kalimpong, was a center for the demand of the Gorkhaland movement in the 1980s. The present movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland is also centered in Darjeeling town. In recent years, the town's fragile ecology has been threatened by a rising demand for environmental resources, stemming from growing tourist traffic and poorly planned urbanisation.

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The history of Darjeeling is intertwined with that of Bengal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal. Until the early 19th century, the hilly area around Darjeeling was historically controlled by the kingdoms of Bhutan and Sikkim, while the plains around Siliguri were intermittently occupied by the kingdom of Nepal, with settlement consisting of a few households of Lepcha people. In 1828, a delegation of British East India Company officials on its way to Nepal-Sikkim border stayed in Darjeeling and decided that the region was a suitable site for a sanatorium for British soldiers.The company negotiated a lease of the area west of the Mahananda River from the Chogyal of Sikkim in 1835. In 1849, the British East India Company (BEIC) director Arthur Campbell and the explorer and botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker were imprisoned in the region by the Sikkim Chogyal. The East India Company sent a force to free them. Continued friction between the BEIC and the Sikkim authorities resulted in the annexation of 640 square miles (1,700 km2) of territory in 1850. In 1864, the Bhutanese rulers and the British signed the Treaty of Sinchula that ceded the passes leading through the hills and Kalimpong to the British. The continuing discord between Sikkim and the British resulted in a war, culminating in the signing of a treaty and the annexation by the British of the area east of the Teesta River in 1865. By 1866, Darjeeling district had assumed its current shape and size, covering an area of 1,234 square miles (3,200 km2).During the British Raj, Darjeeling's temperate climate led to its development as a hill station for British residents seeking to escape the summer heat of the plains, and its becoming the informal summer capital of the Bengal Presidency in 1840, a practice that was formalised after 1864.The development of Darjeeling as a sanatorium and health resort proceeded briskly. Arthur Campbell, a surgeon with the Company, and Lieutenant Robert Napier were responsible for establishing a hill station there. Campbell's efforts to develop the station, attract immigrants to cultivate the slopes and stimulate trade resulted in a hundredfold increase in the population of Darjeeling between 1835 and 1849. The first road connecting the town with the plains was constructed between 1839 and 1842.In 1848, a military depot was set up for British soldiers, and the town became a municipality in 1850. Commercial cultivation of tea in the district began in 1856, and induced a number of British planters to settle there. Scottish missionaries undertook the construction of schools and welfare centres for the British residents, laying the foundation for Darjeeling's notability as a centre of education. The opening of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in 1881 further hastened the development of the region. In 1899, Darjeeling was rocked by major landslides that caused severe damage to the town and the native population.

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The two most significant contributors to Darjeeling's economy are tourism and the tea industry. Darjeeling tea, due to the unique agro-climatic conditions of Darjeeling, has a distinctive natural flavour, is internationally reputed and recognised as a geographical indicator. Darjeeling produces 7% of India's tea output, approximately 9,000,000 kilograms (20,000,000 lb) every year. The tea industry has faced competition in recent years from tea produced in other parts of India as well as other countries like Nepal. Widespread concerns about labour disputes, worker layoffs and closing of estates have affected investment and production. Several tea estates are being run on a workers' cooperative model, while others are being planned for conversion into tourist resorts. More than 60% of workers in the tea gardens are women. Besides tea, the most widely cultivated crops include maize, millets, paddy, cardamom, potato and ginger.
Darjeeling had become an important tourist destination as early as 1860. It is reported to be the only location in eastern India that witnesses large numbers of foreign tourists. It is also a popular filming destination for Bollywood and Bengali cinema. Satyajit Ray shot his film Kanchenjungha (1962) here, and his Feluda series story, Darjeeling Jomjomaat was also set in the town. Bollywood movies Aradhana (1969), and more recently Main Hoon Na (2004) have been filmed here. Tourist inflow into Darjeeling has been affected by the political instability in the region, and agitations in the 1980s and 2000s have hit the tourism industry hard.

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Apart from the major religious festivals of Dashain (Durga puja), Tihar (Diwali) and Christmas the diverse ethnic populace of the town celebrates several local festivals. The Lepchas and Bhutias celebrate new year in January, while Tibetans celebrate their new year, Losar, in February–March. The birthday of the Dalai Lama is celebrated in mid-June with processions. Darjeeling Carnival, initiated by a civil society movement known as The Darjeeling Initiative, is a ten day carnival held every year during the winter with portrayal of the Darjeeling Hill's musical and cultural heritage as its central themeA popular food in Darjeeling is the Tibetan momo, a steamed dumpling containing meat cooked in a doughy wrapping and served with clear soup and achar. A form of Tibetan noodle called thukpa, served in soup form is also popular. Other commonly eaten dishes include alu dum, a potato preparation, and shaphalay, Tibetan bread stuffed with meat. Fermented foods and beverages are consumed by a large percentage of the population. Fermented foods include preparations of soyabean, bamboo shoots, milk and Sel roti, which is made from rice. Tea is the most popular beverage, the Tibetan version is also drunk. Alcoholic beverages include Tongba, Jnaard and Chhaang, variations of a local beer made from fermenting finger millet

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There are 52 primary schools, 21 high schools and 4 colleges in the town. Darjeeling's schools are either run by the state government or by private and religious organisations. Schools mainly use English and Nepali as their media of instruction, although there is option to learn the national language Hindi and the official state language Bengali. The schools are either affiliated with the ICSE, the CBSE, or the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education. Having been a summer retreat for the British in India, Darjeeling became the place of choice for the establishment of public schools on the model of Eton, Harrow and Rugby, allowing the children of British officials to obtain an exclusive education. Institutions such as St. Joseph's College (School Dept.), Loreto Convent, St. Paul's School and Mount Hermon School are renowned as centres of educational excellence. Darjeeling has four colleges — St. Joseph's College, Southfield College (earlier known as Loreto College), Darjeeling Government College and Sri Ramakrishna B.T. College — all affiliated to the University of North Bengal in Siliguri.

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Darjeeling can be reached by the 88 km (55 mi) long Darjeeling Himalayan Railway from New Jalpaiguri, or by National Highway 55, from Siliguri, 77 km (48 mi) away.[52][53] The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is a 60 cm (24 in) narrow-gauge railway that was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999 for being "an outstanding example of the influence of an innovative transportation system on the social and economic development of a multi-cultural region, which was to serve as a model for similar developments in many parts of the world",becoming only the second railway in the world to have this honour. Bus services and hired vehicles connect Darjeeling with Siliguri and Darjeeling has road connections with Bagdogra, Gangtok and Kathmandu and the neighbouring towns of Kurseong and Kalimpong. However, road and railway communications often get disrupted in the monsoons because of landslides. The nearest airport is in Bagdogra, located 90 km (56 mi) from Darjeeling. Within the town, people usually traverse by walking. Residents also use bicycles, two-wheelers and hired taxis for travelling short distances. The Darjeeling Ropeway, functional since 1968, was closed in 2003 after an accident killed four tourists.[55] It was proposed to be reopened in 2007, but remained closed as of November 2009[update] due to absence of patronage as a result of the development of the road network in the region.

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