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The History of Kalimpong

(The two sketches have been excerpted from the book, ON THE THRESHOLD OF THREE CLOSED LANDS
 by Rev. J. A Graham and shows views of Kalimpong circa 1905)


Until the mid-19th century, the area, which is now Kalimpong, was ruled in succession by the Sikkimese and Bhutanese kingdoms and in 1865, the Bhutanese ceded this territory to the British. Overlooking the Teesta Valley, Kalimpong was once the forward position of the Bhutanese in the 18th century. Indigenous Lepcha tribals and people from Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim sparsely populated the area for the region had, in the 18th century been under the dominance of these countries.  At that time, Kalimpong was a small hamlet.

 Kalimpong main street circa 1900
from the book ON THE THRESHOLD OF THREE CLOSED LANDS published in 19-- by Rev. James Anderson Graham, founder of Dr. Grahams Homes School, KalimpongIn his book Bhotan and the story of the Doar War, David Rennie writes about Ashley Eden's trip to Bhutan as leader of the British Mission to Bhutan, " On the 4th of January (1864) the mission left Darjeeling and the same day overtook the coolies just as they arrived at the Teesta, twenty-two miles from Darjeeling and upwards of 6,500ft below it. There the coolies left in considerable numbers, being afraid to cross the frontier...... After a delay of three days he succeeded in getting camp established on the Bhotan side of the Teesta, which had to be crossed on bamboo rafts. The mission then commenced the ascent of the mountains of Bhotan, and reached a hamlet called Kalimpoong, 3,733 feet above the level of the sea. "Here", observes Mr. Eden, "we were obliged to halt one day to muster the coolies and re-arrange the baggage, which had got into confusion in consequence of frequent desertions. Whilst here, we visited a number of villages; inhabitants seemed delighted to see us and made us presents of eggs, fowls, oranges and vegetables. This part of the country is fairly cultivated, and has a number of inhabitants; it is so close to our frontier that the villagers set their chiefs at defiance, and are the only people under Bootan Government who are able to carry on any sort of trade. They were vehement in their abuse of their own government and loud in their praise of our administration in Darjeeling; their only wish seemed to be that they should come under our rule......"

In the same book, Rennie writes of his own visit to the Bhutanese fort of Dalingkote (which had witnessed a battle or, should we say, skirmish on 6th December 1884 between the British forces and the Bhutanese occupants of the Fort in which the British had captured it). "We now commenced the ascent of the Bhotan mountains, and most fatiguing it proved; owing to the heat, the absence of anything like a road, and the extreme steepness of the narrow footpath we had to follow through the forest jungle. About two o'clock we reached a few huts constituting the hamlet of KalimpoongA View  at an elevation of between three and four thousand feet. The huts were supported on piles about four feet from the ground. The flooring formed of roughly hewn planks, and their wall of matting spread upon a framework of bamboo. The roofs were thatched. The huts contained no furniture, with the exception of a series of bamboo shelves suspended in three tiers from the roof. The first, the lower one, being used for smoking meat on; the second, for winter store of wood; and the third, as a general receptacle for domestic articles not in immediate use, such as baskets, earthen vessels, &c. The fireplace is an open hearth in the center of the room, formed of clay and raised about three inches above the floor. The cooking utensils appear to be sometimes placed on a rude tripod formed of three stones, sometimes suspended over fire. Wood is the only fuel used. The population of the hamlet consisted of two or three families looking very dirty and smoky. They were civil, but did not seem to be anxious to be on intimate terms with us, and kept as much aloof as possible. They declined to sell us fowl or eggs, but allowed us to occupy one of the houses, which was empty, as a dormitory for the night. Towards sundown the cows belonging to the hamlet, eight in number, came home; having been loose in the jungles since the morning.

Each one, prior to being milked, was tethered to a bamboo stake, by a rope passed round its horns, and thus secured for the night. They were then milked into bamboo tubes. These cows were the finest have seen in the East, closely resembled English ones. The mountain slopes about Kalimpong is partially cleared, and a few plantain trees were growing near the huts. The soil is a rich black loam, capable of being rendered very productive. The only crop we saw, was a little rice, growing in small isolated patches....."

History of KalimpongToday, after crossing the Teesta River over a modern bridge, one still has to experience the steep winding uphill drive to Kalimpong and the few huts have turned into a growing, sprawling little metropolis. From the time of Ashly Eden and David Rennie's first recorded mention of Kalimpong in 1864/1865, Kalimpong was added to district of Darjeeling in 1866. In 18661867 an Anglo-Bhutanese commission demarcated the common boundaries between the two, thereby giving shape to the Kalimpong subdivision and the Darjeeling district. Kalimpong sub-division of Darjeeling District is the largest sub-division covering an area of approximately 1100 sq. km.

The town center is located on a ridge at an elevation of 1,247 m (4,091 ft)and connects two hills, Deolo Hill and Durpin Hill. Deolo, the highest point within Kalimpong municipality limits, has an altitude of 1,704 m (5,591 ft) and Durpin Hill is at an elevation of 1,372 m (4,501 ft). The River Teesta flows in the valley below and separates Kalimpong from the state of Sikkim. The hills are nestled within higher peaks and the snow-clad Himalayan ranges tower over the town in the distance. Mount Kanchenjunga at 8,598 m (28,209 ft) the world's third tallest peak, is clearly visible from Kalimpong during the autumn, winter and spring seasons.

Kalimpong has five distinct seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter and the monsoons. The annual temperature ranges from a high of 30 C (86 F) to a low of 9 C (48 F). Summers are mild, with an average maximum temperature of 30 C (86 F) in August. Summers are followed by the monsoon rains which lash the town between June and September. The monsoons are severe, often causing landslides which leads to temporary break in motor traffic. Winter lasts from December to February, with the maximum temperature being around 12 to15C (59 F).

Kalimpong has an agricultural based economy and besides crops like rice, corn, millet, winter and summer vegetables, other agrarian produces includes floriculture, spices like large cardamom, ginger, turmeric, oranges and many other products for local use. There are many excellent and well known educational institutions which get a large number of students from different part of the country and neighboring countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh. Of course, tourism is a growing activity that is adding to the economy.