Darjeeling a Brief HistorySamanden - the lost valley, in Darjeeling

A brief history of Darjeeling by Dr. Sonam B Wangyal was a paper read on 12th July, 2008 in the seminar organised by the Gorkha Janamukti Secondary Teachers Association, Kurseong Chapter, at Gorkha Library. The post was originally uploaded in Darjeeling Times.

Namastay, Nomoshkar, Khamri, Kuzo-zangbo, Tashi Deleg and Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to express my hearty congratulations to the members of the Gorkha Janamukti Secondary Teachers’ Association for holding this seminar and inviting me to say a few words.

I will be reading this paper in English, not because I cannot read, write or speak in Nepali but because I can do it better in English. Ho, Nepalima yo paper parayko bha ajja mitho ra suwaudo hunay thiyo. Ma chhama chanhanchhu. Tara yuddama jasari jun hatiyar chalaunu subista hunchha tyahi chlainchha yaha malai Angrezi mero subhistako hatiyaar ho jasto laagchha. When I was a schoolboy about 40 years ago my school Dr. Graham’s Homes, Kalimpong, did not have a Nepali Master. It was in my Senior Cambridge year that Mr Loben Lama was appointed to that post. So with just one solitary single year of Nepali classes I sat for the Senior Cambridge in 1968. My answer script was a total disaster, khatam bhanda pani khatam thiyo, but when the results came: I had passed with the skin of my tooth: junday ra pass bhayechha, actually examinerko daya amayalay malai pass garai diyekoho jasto laagchha. So that is my Nepali education, and now at this age I am learning the finer nuances of the language, the basics of grammar and I hope in a year or two things will change. My paper relates to the history of Darjeeling but it will not touch on the tea and cinchona industries, it will avoid development of education, local self-government and I will not even touch upon the thirteen or fourteen times we have petitioned for a homeland of their own. But before I commence I would just like to state that 1907 petition for a separate homeland is the oldest, the senior-most of its kind in India. Ek saya barsa katyo, tyo demandko chhora-chhori, naati, panatiharulay pani statehood paisakyo tara hami aaja pani banchit chou. Anyway this paper will keep track of the early history of Darjeeling, its incorporation into the East India Company or the British Empire and the paper will end at when Darjeeling is joined to Bengal.


The history of Darjeeling has intimate relationship, nang ra masukojasto, to the history of Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan, and the East India Company and thereby to Britain. It will be appropriate to start from Kharsang for it was here that Maharajah Thodup Namgyal and Maharani Yeshay Dolma were imprisoned. jailed, locked up by the British and it was here that they wrote a historical book on Sikkim.

It was translated into English by Kazi Daosamdup and he called it History of Sikkim. I have a copy of this rare document and therefore I will be extensively, freely and purposely quoting from it. In the manuscript the boundaries of Sikkim is defined as follows: “They were Dibdala in the North, Shingsa Dag-pay, Walung, Yangmak, Khangchen, Yarlung and Timar Chorten in the West, down along Arun and Dud Kosi Rivers, down to Maha Nodi, Nuxalbari, Titalia in the South. On the East Tagong La, and Tang La on the North.” These boundaries were defined after the enthronement, coronation, the appointment of the first Chogyal of Sikkim, Phuntshog Namgyal, 1642 CE.

The first things the new ruler did was to construct forts called dzongs which operated as the military and administrative units. To these dzongs he appointed dzongpens, or fort masters, the local administrators or chiefs and they were all Lepchas, thus the Lepchas were appeased, made happy, made content. But that left out the Limbus and the Magars. The Magars staunchly resisted Bhutia incursion and political domination, and they actually went to war against the new rulers. The fact that the Magars were pretty well organized can be assessed from the forts they built which the ruling community in Sikkim called them Magar-dzongs.

Mangardzong, at Suldung Garhi village, Sikkim.

Eventually, the Magars lost and a large part of them got pushed westwards.

As far as the Limbus were concerned the Chogyal made a pact called Lho-mon-tsong-sum (lho-Bhutias, mon-Lepchas, tsong-Limbus, and sum-three), thus giving us the Bhutia-Lepcha-Limbu trinity.

The Loh-Mon-Tsong-Sum treaty text Full translation here

Now what importance this patch of history has for us vis-à-vis the present political scenario! (1) The boundaries demarcated clearly shows that Darjeeling, Kharsang, Kalimpong and Siliguri were all in Sikkim and that the kingdom stretched all the way to Purnea in the south. (2) The Gorkha population was in sufficient numbers to wage a war against Sikkim, as in the case of Magars, and large enough for the Chogyal to seek allegiance (Lho-mon-tsong-sum), as in the case of the Limbus. And (3) This is the most significant of the points mentioned so far: that the Maharajah’s History of Sikkim makes it absolutely certain that the Gorkhas were in the region even before the creation of Sikkim.


Tensung Namgyal became the next Chogyal. (1670) Most historians, looking for wars, coups, assassinations, and political intrigues insult and degrade his reign claiming nothing important or interesting happened. Actually something very important had happened. He married three times. History of Sikkim states that his first wife, Nambi Ongmu, was from Bhutan, and she gave birth to a daughter, Pande Ongmu.

The second was from Tibet and she gave birth to a son, Chagdor Namgyal. The third Rani was the daughter of a Limbu chief named Yong-Yong Hang. The royal History also says that along with the daughter of Yong-Yong Hang seven other Limbu ladies got married to “highest kazis and ministers of Sikkim.” When Tensung Namgyal died the daughter of the Bhutanese Rani staked her claim to the Sikkim gaddhi, after all, the male contender, Chagdor Namgyal, was a minor and she was an adult besides she was also the child of the first queen. The princess sought the help of the Bhutanese who willingly obliged. In 1707 the Bhutanese withdrew but retained all Sikkimese territories to the east of the Tista River whereby our present day Kalimpong became a part of Bhutan.

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Now let us go back to this portion of the history. (1) Tensung Namgyal by marrying daughters of important people indirectly purchased peace for Sikkim, after all uttarpatti haray ta Bhotko juwai sahib, paschim tira haray ta Limbu haruko juwai, ani Purba haray ta Bhutan ko juwai.

Sikkimlai kaslay chai akraman garnay. So, kinachai Sikkimma shanty na hunu ra. Taraipani it is ironic that historians still ignore and even refuse to give him credit for winning …. peace. (2) It is said the too many cooks spoil the broth and Maharaha Tensung had two wives too many and Sikkim paid for it dearly. (3) It is most probable that Limbus were not too happy with the prevailing situation, despite the lho-mon-tsong-sum pact.

Therefore besides making a Limbuni a Rani of Sikkim seven other ladies were also taken as wives by highest kazis and ministers of Sikkim. And finally, (4) Most people think that Kalimpong originally belonged to Bhutan but we now know that it was originally a part of Sikkim. Chotkarima, Kalaybung Sikkim bata Bhutanlay gavayko ani Bhutan bata Angrejlay pach pareko ho.


Now we move on to the 6th Chogyal, Tenzing Namgyal who ascended the Sikkimese throne in 1780. His reign was punctuated, interrupted and disturbed with skirmishes and battles with the Gorkhas. Then there was a period of lull and quiet and the Gorkhas used this period of calm and peace to launch a surprise attack. Sikkimese were completely taken aback by the sudden shock raids. Purna Ale led a group of Gorkhas who came through Ilam and penetrated as far as Reling, Karmi, and Chakung (1788).

Another Gorkha force under the command of Johar Singh stealthily advanced through the Singalila and in a complete surprise swoop took over the palace at Rabdentse: Yaspali pani Raja, praja ani mantriharulay taap kasay, tara Bhot tira hoina, kholsa, orar, gufa, khola-nadiko bagar ani junglema sharan lina pugay. History of Sikkim mentions, “Thus the Gurkhas remained masters of Sikkim, beyond the Teesta, while the Raja took flight and all Sikkimites were compelled to take refuge in the valleys of the rivers, hills and caves, suffering privations and hardship.”

Rabdentse Fort ruins today

In 1790 Chogyal left his hiding and went to Tibet where he died three years later, and a boy of 12 years, Tsugphud Namgyal, was proclaimed the new Maharaja. It was during Tsugphud’s kingship that the Anglo-Nepal war broke out. The British eventually challenged the Gorkhas through a five pronged attack and Sikkim sided with the British.

We must pause here to reflect on a few points.

(1) Prithwinarayan Shah never wanted to attack Sikkim for the fear it might open up a fresh frontier of war with Tibet. However, the 1788 Gorkha move to penetrate deep into Sikkim signifies that the Gorkhas had grown confident enough to handle Sikkim and withstand a Tibetan attack.

(2) The Gorkhas did not bother the Sikkimese hiding in the ravines, jungles and caves as long as the strategic posts like Rabdentse, Dorje-ling and Na-gri were secure.

(3) Alliance with the British was the only hope for the Sikkim ruler to regain his lost territories and so he sided with the British. At the same time the British accepted Sikkim’s gesture because

(a) in the five-pronged British attack, the eastern front was the weakest and Sikkim’s assistance would offset that disadvantage to some extent.

(b) With Sikkim as an ally any future alliance/intrigues between Nepal and Bhutan could be checked. And

(c) It promised a possibility of trade with Tibet through Sikkim. After all East India Company was a trading company, the biggest ever in history.


After the war the British restored to the Sikkim Maharaja the lands between Mechi and Tista Rivers through the treaty of Titalya. This treaty has nine functional Articles and the tenth one is just a protocol fulfillment. The first and the last operative or functional articles talk about restoring to Sikkim in full sovereignty and of the Company’s guarantee to the Raja and his successors the full and peaceable possession of the tract. Each and every other Article in between took away from Sikkim, piece by piece, the basic entitlements of sovereignty, independence and freedom to function as an absolute nation .

Nepal After the treaty of Sagauli, 1816

What became important to Darjeeling’s history was Article Three which required, stipulated and stated that Sikkim was “to refer to the arbitration of the British Government any dispute or questions that may arise between his (i.e. Chogyal’s) subjects and those of Nepal, or any other neighbouring State, and to abide by the decision of the British Government.”

This Article Three became operational when the Chogyal asked the East India Company to arbitrate on the Ontoo Dara dispute because both Sikkim and Nepal claimed the dara as its own. So as per the stipulation of Article Three Captain George Alymer Lloyd and J. W. Grant, the Commercial resident at Malda, were deputed to investigate and resolve the matter.

It was on the journey to Ontoo Dara that the two men, in February 1829, stayed at Darjeeling for six days at “the old Goorka station called Dorjeling” and were “much impressed with the possibility of the station as a sanatarium.” On 18 June 1829 Lloyd communicated to the government regarding the possibility of Darjeeling serving as a sanatarium while about the same time Grant also urged the government to possess the tract.

Now reflecting upon this chapter of history we note the following

(1) The British kept their word and gave back to the Chogyal the lands between Mechi and Tista rivers.

(2) This transfer of land was effected through the Treaty of Titalya in which the beginning and the end of the treaty were sugarcoated to make the Sikkimese happy. In between the British squeezed out much more than what they had given. Angrejlay gulchay khaylyo. And finally

(3) A future Hill Station had been discovered by Lloyd and Grant and that hill station was called Dorje-ling and later as Darjeeling.


Lord William Bentinck, in June of 1830, proposed to commence negotiation with the Chogyal but this and another subsequent attempt were both struck down, stopped, by Sir C. Metcalfe, a Member of the Supreme Council, on the grounds that the neighbours might look at it with suspicion. Bentinck waited for almost four years and then ordered Major Lloyd to meet the Chogyal and negotiate the cession of Darjeeling “offering such equivalent either in land or money.” To cut short the story Lloyd conveyed the Governor-General’s message while the Chogyal placed three conditions viz

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(i) The Chogyal would quote a price and that should be paid,

(ii) Sikkims border would be extended and

(iii) Kummoo Pradhan, the tax collector who had fled to Nepal would be brought to Sikkim for the execution of justice. What happened in between is rather vague but in a later meeting the Chogyal gave a short deed of grant. Since it did not define the boundaries of the land to be handed over, Lloyd produced his own deed on which the king stamped his lal mohar.

The area defined in this deed became known as the Darjeeling tract and the British claimed it as their new asset. They were under the impression that the grant was unconditional but the Chogyal kept on complaining/ that he had not been compensated, in other words, the grant was conditional. It might interest this august house to know that the original negotiation was to be only for the area of present-day Darjeeling town, i.e. the Observatory Hill and the surroundings, but in the stamped deed the area was, about 30 miles long from top to bottom and about six to ten miles along the sides. Now, when the sahibs began building roads and houses the Chogyal began to protest, and with the progress of development the protests grew stronger and louder.

Eventually when the Company realized that the Chogyal had been wronged they sent a compensation consisting of: One double-barrelled gun, a rifle, 20 yards of red broad cloth and two shawls.

Yeshlai bhancha asal helchyakrai: besharam Angrejlay andaaz 240 barga mile jaminko sattako laagi duiwata bundook, ek than luga ani duiwata shawl kun hisablay diyeko hola. Yo hamilay Gorkhaland mangda DGHC diyeko jastai ho, abha aeuta “Chhakka” Schedule pani dinchhu bhandaichha.

The Chogyal’s pleadings for a just compensation now grew even louder. Eventually the Sikkim ruler threw a devastating bomb, in the form of a letter, to Campbell, who had now taken over from Lloyd as the First Superintendent of the Darjeeling tract. The letter still exists and it claimed in no uncertain words that his three conditions had been accepted by Lloyd. The following is a part of the letter: “Lloyd promised that whatever money I should desire in return should be granted, that my territory should be extended the west to the Tambar River; that Kummoo Pradhan and his brother be delivered to me; and that the deficit in my revenue in their hands should be made good.” The East India Company hurriedly offered a compensation of Rs 3,000 per annum which the ruler accepted with certain amount of displeasure. Nevertheless, the British now knew that the deed that they possessed, and the land they had acquired, were suspect, subject to questioning or of doubtful legality and that history would not treat it kindly.

Another important fact that they realized was that the tract granted by the Maharaja was totally surrounded by Sikkimese territory and the approach road they were making was illegal because it went through Sikkim. The Chogyal could technically prohibit the British to make the road or even disallow them to pass through his Sikkim. Now with a suspect deed of grant and access to Darjeeling being only through Sikkimese soil the situation was not good at all. Something had to be done.

In examining the just mentioned episodes we find that

(1) The deed of grant of Darjeeling could not become operative since the British had not met the conditions laid down by the Chogyal. Meet garnu saknay awastha panita thiyayna. Kummo Pradhan Nepalma guhar liyayra basako thiyo ani Angrez-Nepal majha kunai extradition treaty thiyayna. Chogyallay Sikkimko simana Tambar kholasamma baraidinay dawa rakheko thiyo tara tyo chhetra Sugauli Sandhima Nepallai deisakeko thiyo. Therefore these two conditions were impossible to meet and so the treaty was in effect invalid.

(2) The best thing to do would have been to return Darjeeling tract to Sikkim. It was not done so because of three reasons

(a) a lot of money had already been spent on the construction of the road, houses and staging posts,

(b) a large number of Darjeeling plots had already been sold off, in Calcutta, and most of the buyers were men of money, matter and political muscle

(c) the British desperately needed Darjeeling.

Before Darjeeling was discovered the Himalayan region had Shimla, Chail and Mussoorie as hill stations serving the Europeans in North India, Central India had Mount Abu and Hazaribagh, South India had Mandapalle, Bangalore, Kotagiri, Ooty, and Kodaikanal, West India had Purandha and Mahabalshwar but Eastern India had no hill station. When Cherrapunji was taken over in 1829 the British thought they had that much sought after hill station but Cherra was the world’s rainiest place and all hopes got literally washed away. Shillong was a close option but the Khasis refused to surrender, they were giving the British a hard time. So, every officer in India could rush off to their own hill station be he from North, south, west or central India, but the capital of India, the second city of the British empire, had nowhere to go to. Imagine the frustration, imagine the embarrassment, and imagine the desperation and you can imagine why the British would not give back Darjeeling.

Finally point number (3) The Chogyal had in good faith blindly put his seal on the document produced by Lloyd. Yaha auta sanu kura bhannu chha. Lloyd chalak manchay thiyo. Uslay pesh gareko dalil Lapchay bhasama thiyo tara Raja thiyo Bhotay. Parnay echchha bhayetapani parnu nasaknay. So, Saheblay kinachai chhal-kapat garchha hola bhannay biswasma Sikkimpatti Maharajalay lalmohor thoki baakshinu bhayo.


Yes, now the only option left for the British was to militarily annex the areas south of the Rumman and Rungit Rivers and thereby get free access to the tract and also make the deed of grant a document of no importance, because Darjeeling would now be British through military victory and not because the Maharaja had granted it.

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The opportunity to strike at Sikkim came when Joseph Dalton Hooker, a botanist, and Campbell were arrested in Sikkim. Sikkim claimed that their entry was illegal and the British claimed that the Chogyal had issued them entry permits.

Over this issue the British troops marched into Sikkim. Campbell and his soldiers crossed the Rangit River and stayed for several weeks along the northern bank. Sikkim did not contest and the troops returned and the British announced to the villagers that the area was now a property of the British government. This annexed area consisted of the Sikkim terai, and hill areas south of the Rumman Nadi, west of the Bara Rangit and Tista rivers and the hills to the east of the Nepal frontier.

Yaha auta thulo prashna aucha, question chha: Kay Hookerkoma Chogyallay diyeko permit sachinai thiyo ra? Permit raheko bhayay Sikkimko sarkari karmachari harulai kina dekhaunu sakena ya dekhayayna? Hamro paharko bisaya liyera Hooker saheblay dui wata moto moto kitabharu lekhnu bhayo jaha gumbako, phoolko, padam baas etyadiko assi wata jasto chitra chha tara tyo mahatapurna permitko kunai chitra chhaina. Permit nai thiyena bhanay chitra kaha bata chhapaunay.

In 1983, 135 years after his arrest there was great excitement in England because some hand written manuscript in vernacular was found amongst some old papers of Sir Joseph Hooker. Could they be the permit issued by the Maharajah of Sikkim? Unable to read the script Xerox of the same was sent to my teacher and friend, the world famous linguist, Professor Richard Keith Sprigg.

Eeesh, pramaan chha bhanna lai Angrez haru tayar bha-ay.

Professor Sprigg had to inform his fellow Englishmen that the papers were not the permit but the accounts of daily purchases and other expenses. Tyo kaagzharu ta Hooker sahibko baidarbabulay prati dinko kharcha, samanko daam etyadi, Lepcha lipima lekhekopo raicha. Angrez haru aja pani praman khojdai chha bhanchha. Khojos! Paunay kaha bata!


The present-day sub-division of Kalimpong along with the Duars became British property following the defeat of the Bhutanese in the Anglo-Bhutan war in November 1865. It was first put under the Deputy Commissioner of Western Duars but in 1866 it was transferred to the District of Darjeeling giving the district its final shape. Initially, this new district was treated differently and was designated as a “NON- REGULATION District” meaning any Act or Regulation passed in the Bengal Presidency did not come into force in district unless they were specially extended to it. In 1919 when the Government of India Act formed the Legislative Council, Darjeeling was not required to send a member to it. The district was excluded and declared a BACKWARD TRACT and the administration was under the Governor in Council.

Even the administrative expenses were not required to be passed by Bengal Government. Furthermore, any Act passed by Bengal Government, which automatically extended to whole of Bengal, would not apply to Darjeeling if the Governor in Council decided to reject it. This in a very subtle way brought our hills a little closer to Bengal, because it also meant that any law passed by the Bengal Government could be applicable to Darjeeling if the Governor did not reject it. This arrangement lasted for another 15 years. Then the black year came and ironically that was Darjeeling’s centenary year under the British. The British Government passed an Act in 1935 requiring the three hill subdivisions to send a representative to Bengal Legislative Assembly and Dambarsingh Gurung became Darjeeling’s MLA to Bengal. Darjeeling was now pushed into Bengal.

Now we come to the final review: It is patent and historically authenticated that Darjeeling was never a part of Bengal. When Bengal was partitioned in 1905 our Bengali brothers claimed that no one was consulted, no opinion was entertained, no fore-warning was given and no explanation was provided. Bengal and the intellectuals of India rose up as one against the partition. Let our friends not forget that when Darjeeling was merged to Bengal no one was consulted, no opinion was entertained, and that no fore-warning was given and no explanation was provided.

Keeping these facts in mind would it not be logical if Bengal joined us in saying “Gorkhaland hunu parcha“, “Shatyi, Gorkhaland huwa uuchit” po bhannu parnay. Why do Bengal politicians keep harping and shouting that Bengal will not be partitioned again. Creating Gorkhaland is not a partition but a just, realistic and honourable act of giving back what was never part of Bengal. Instead Bengal should apologize for holding on to the hills for so many years.

Our language is different, our physiognomy or physical structure is different, our food habits, music, drama, dances, and clothes are different, the whole cultural milieu is different, even the Hinduism and Buddhism practiced by Bengal and Gorkhaland are different.

Geographically we are in the hills and mountains and Bengal is in the plains and so our biology, zoology, climatology and even the associated benefits and disasters of the two regions are different. We do not share the same script, we do not share the same mentality and most of all we do not have a shared history. If we look back to the period before we were pushed, forcibly joined, attached without consent, and made a part of Bengal merely for the sake of administrative convenience we find that we shared no connection with Bengal.

How can we share a common future when we do not share a common past! No amount of legislation, state power, gentle cajoling or even brute force can bind two people with uncommon history: Soviet Union is an example, Yugoslavia is an example and Gorkhaland will be another example.

Finally, mailay hazurharuko dherai samai liyay, I would like to end with the words of a Bengali intellectual:

“Happy Gorkhas in Gorkhaland are any day better for Bengalis than angry Gorkhas in Bengal.”

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