Darjeeling, the ‘Queen of Hill Stations’
Getting a sense of Darjeeling, the place and its people
Darjeeling, the ‘Queen of Hill Stations’, has been celebrated in films, books and songs. Satyajit Ray used the majestic Kanchenjunga and its hide-and-seek ways, the rolling mists and clouds and sunlight, to portray the underlying tensions in an upper class Bengali family vacationing in the hills in his eponymous film.
This book “No Path in Darjeeling is Staright” is a beautiful read and you can find the book review here at GoodReads.com
Kiran Desai set her second novel, the Booker Prize-winning The Inheritance of Loss, in Kalimpong with the hills in the throes of the Gorkhaland agitation.
American travel writer Jeff Koehler gave us a pot full of history as he traced the rise and decline of Darjeeling tea. As the hills are on the boil again with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-called shutdown on since June 15, Parimal Bhattacharya’s memoir gives us a sense of a place and its people.
For a few years in the early 1990s—the first round of the violent Gorkhaland agitation was dying down—he taught at the Government College there and scoured the iconic town trying to understand its history, linking past and present. The land of ‘incomparable beauty’ was originally inhabited by the Lepchas and other tribes; the British wanted it for themselves in the mid-1800s, building among other things the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in 1881 and the tea gardens replacing ‘dense primaeval forests’.
But one can’t really ‘draw the line straight through clusters of happenings’ and as the title suggests, Bhattacharya realises that ‘no path in Darjeeling is straight,’ and that to know the town ‘intimately, one must step out of the broad roads and take the twisting hill tracks and steep side trails.’ Local people, he says, call them ‘chor bato’ like they call the town ‘Dhorhzeling!’
Initially, his account is of an outsider looking in, troubled by the lonely, cruel ‘three months of ceaseless rains’ when ‘many fall prey to suicidal depression’; he is shaken by the lack of infrastructure, unavailability of water or healthcare, the sheer difficulty of day-to-day living. But the town grows on him; and as he makes friends he is able to take us to places off the tourist track, like the search for the Himalayan salamander, ‘a small unsightly amphibian’ which was long thought extinct.
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Bhattacharya draws up a map of the town: “…Darjeeling’s demographic pyramid interlocked with its vertical topography: the upper classes inhabited the upper and the working classes the lower part of the town…” He also maps the town’s underbelly, the spread of AIDS, the migration due to lack of jobs, the pull between tradition and modernity.
Credit Source: The Hindu