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19 Mar 2017

KALIMPONG- PAST AND PRESENT (1700 to 2017) (Journey from the Sikkimese Empire to Kalimpong District)

SANDIP C JAIN, March 14, 2017: The present day area of the district of Kalimpong with an area of 401 square mile (1056 sq km) was historically a part of the Sikkimese Empire. The Sikkimese Empire at that time was said to extend from the Arun River in the West to the Taigon Pass in the East and from Tibet in the North to Purnea in the South. The word Kalimpong can be roughly translated in the Lepcha language as “Ridges where we play”. 
This may have been due to the reason that during the rule of the Bhutanese, the officials from the forts of Dalim and Damsang used to visit this hamlet every year to collect taxes on behalf of the Bhutanese rulers. The locals are said to organize field sports and other entertainment events for these Officials while they were here. 
Hence the name, Kalimpong- meaning the ridges where we play. The Tibetan translation of the word Kalimpong roughly translates in “stockade of king’s ministers”, kolon in Tibetan meaning the high ranking ministers in the Dalai Lama government in Lhasa and pong meaning stockade. Others interpret the word as “Black spurs” and also as the “place where the plant kaulim grows”.
Kalimpong does not have a very long history- in fact this is just the 151th year of its incorporation into the Indian Union. Although its history is fairly short, it certainly has more dramas than a town of its size should have had.
In the year 1700, the Maharaja of Sikkim, Tensung Namgye (born 1644), died leaving behind three wives and four children. The first wife, called Nyem-bi-enmo, bore him a daughter named Pende Amo, the second wife was from a family near Tinki-jong to the North West of Sikkim and was named Desa-Sam-Serpa. The second wife bore him a son Chakdor Namgye (the future king). The third wife was a local Limbu Princess who had two children, a son named Shalno Guru and a daughter named Pendi Tchering Gyenu.
On his death in 1700, a tussle broke out within the family as to who should be proclaimed the new ruler of Sikkim- Pende Amo, staked claim to the throne on the basis of she being the eldest child of the family and also because her mother was the first wife of the former king but Chakdor Namgye, the oldest son of the king, though from his second wife, was crowned the king at the tender age of fourteen. Chakdor Namgye was the third king of the Chogyal dynasty. This angered the daughter who facilitated an invasion of Sikkim by the Bhutanese Army. 
The Deb Raja of Bhutan, Deb Naku Zidar, sent a force to Sikkim under his renowned General Nawang Thinley and Dewan Phenlai, who overran Sikkim and seized the palace at Rabdense. The child king fled Sikkim and entered Tibet via Illam in Nepal, where he stayed for a couple of years. It is believed that during his stay in Tibet he studied intensely and soon gained the respect and favours of the 6th Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, who was the ruler of Tibet at that time. The Dalai Lama also allotted a few villages to the Sikkimese king which remained with the Sikkimese rulers for the next two centuries. On coming of age, he with the help of the Tibetans raised a small army and succeeded in pushing the Bhutanese out of a portion of what was his rightful empire. Of course the Bhutanese version is that the Bhutanese made a voluntary retreat due to internal turmoil and power struggle in Bhutan. Most historians generally agree that it was in the year 1707 that Chakdor Namgye came back to Sikkim. Though the Bhutanese were forced to withdraw from the right bank of the River Teesta, they still continued to control the area on the left bank.
The area from which the Bhutanese withdrew is roughly the area of present day Sikkim and where the Bhutanese continued to remain, is roughly the area of present day Kalimpong.
The precise dates of the Bhutanese occupation and their partial withdrawal are still not too clear with scholars differing on the exact years. But most historians agree that it was between1700 and 1707.
This was the circumstance under which the present day area of Kalimpong came under the Bhutanese. But it is believed that although, technically the area was under Bhutan, the local Lepcha chieftains actually held sway over the area. The Bhutanese put the present day area of Kalimpong under the administration of the fort of Damsong, which was under the control of the Zongpen (Commander) of Dalim fort. 
The Bhutanese Officer at Damsong was titled as Neibu (Fort in-charge). Kalimpong contained to be under the Bhutanese empire for the next 160 years till 1865, after which the British annexed it into the British Empire along with the “athara duars”, after the Anglo-Bhutan War and the Treaty of Sinchula. It was only following the annexation by the British that Kalimpong set into the tracks of development.
Initially after the annexation, Kalimpong was put under the Deputy Commissioner of Western Duars District but a year later in 1866 it was transferred to the district of Darjeeling. Kalimpong was administered under the Sadar Sub-Division (Darjeeling Sub-Division) with a manager of “Khas Mahals” working under the Deputy Commissioner. Police work was controlled by an Inspector.
Although Kalimpong was annexed into British India in 1865, it remained in relative obscurity, anonymity and in the wilderness for the next two decades. There was almost no mention of this town in almost any official records or private documents during this period. Probably the lack of a substantial amount of population in this hilly tract of land was the reason for the neglect and for the lack of attention by the then rulers. This was all set to change by the mid 1880s with the coming of the Scottish Christian Missionaries into Kalimpong. Their zeal to work for the people of this newly acquired region coupled by their aspirations to spread the word of Christ, resulted in Kalimpong suddenly being propelled into the road of development. The work that Rev. Sutherland, Rev. Macfarlane, Dr. Graham and his wife Katherine Graham and others did and their constant representations to the Government for the various development works that needed to be done in Kalimpong saw the town slowly come into prominence as well as acquire the necessary infrastructures required for a modern town. By 1916 it had become important enough and big enough to be upgraded into a sub-division.
Although it was the efforts of the Christian missionaries which initiated the development of Kalimpong as well as creating all the infrastructure that a modern town required, it was the opening of the India-Tibet Trade through the Chumbi Valley that actually brought this little town to National and International prominence. This happened after Col. Younghusband forced his way into Lhasa in the year 1904 and compelled the Tibetan Government to sign a treaty. One of the main purposes of this expedition was the opening up of Tibet for trade and commerce with the outside world, mainly British India. Kalimpong offered the most direct and all weather route to the Chumbi Valley via the Jelep-la. 
Very soon this once quaint little town was converted into the bustling nerve center of trade between India and Tibet. Traders for across India and Tibet started making a beeline for Kalimpong to take part in this cross-border trade which came with huge amounts of adventure and considerable profits. Flocks of Marwari, Tibetan, Chinese and Newari traders thronged Kalimpong and made it their operating base as well as their new homes in order to cash in on the profits that the newly opened cross-border trade racked in. 
The newly opened trade required a huge influx of skilled and unskilled labour to take care of the import and export of goods. This increased the population of the town drastically with people of all back grounds congregating into Kalimpong making it their new home. Kalimpong became so prominent during that period that for the lay masses in Tibet, Kalimpong and India became synonymous. For them Kalimpong and India meant one and the same place. Kalimpong was definitely one of the most famous and popular small towns in India at those times.
Soon after the area was opened up for trade with Tibet it became a playground of a different nature- this turned into a playground for the rich and famous, the king and nobles, the scholars and historians, the lamas and the bhikshus, the spies and the renegades, traders and the missionaries…. It became a place of mystery and intrigue, it became a place of trade and studies and it became a place of conspiracies and religion. Its connections were such that very few towns of this little size could boast of.. it can brag of its association with the King of Bhutan, the King of Nepal, the King of Burma, the Prince of Greece and Denmark, the Prince and Princess of Afghanistan, the Dalai Lama, the King of Sikkim and his daughter who was the wife of Raja S.T.Dorji, the Queen of Bhutan who was the daughter of Raja S.T.Dorje and the Kazi and Kazinee of Sikkim. It can bask in the glory of having associations with Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore, Vinoda Bhave, Indira Gandhi and Jahawarlal Nehru.
Unfortunately like all good things, this had to end too. The start of the Indo-Sino War in 1962 saw the forced closure of this trade route through Kalimpong and all trade between India and Tibet through Kalimpong came to a grinding halt. The good times and Kalimpong’s privileged place under the sun was all set to be over. And over it was. With it’s over reliance on the cross border trade, Kalimpong had almost neglected the need to develop other industries like the education, tourism and the local handicraft industries. The closure of the trade route came as a shock to this town and it was rudely jolted out of its false sense of financial security. It was like the billionaire suddenly becoming the pauper. And with this many of those who had milked the once rich trade cow started to migrate out of Kalimpong, like rats abandoning a sinking ship, leaving it to the mercy of the big bad world outside the bubble that Kalimpong had created for itself.
In the next two decades Kalimpong faded into the background while its sister towns in the region gained in prominence and fame. The crumbling infrastructure and the remains of the old world edifices gave it the look of a place which had seen better times. Then came the mid 1980s and the creation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) after a violent two year agitation for the separate state Gorkhaland. Kalimpong was included in the new administrative set up and saw its share of infrastructural growth. The creation of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) in 2011 saw Kalimpong once again being included in it. 
Although political and socially Kalimpong was one with the rest of the Darjeeling District, there was always a growing amount of disillusion and resentment amongst the people of Kalimpong against what they considered “administrative apathy” towards this town. A feeling of disenchantment, rightly or wrongly, crept up steadily against the Darjeeling based District and GTA administration. This was further magnified when political leaders based in Darjeeling made a few demeaning and humiliating speeches against the people and leadership of Kalimpong. This fueled the demand for the separation of Kalimpong from the District of Darjeeling. The political leadership in West Bengal, for whatever reasons, acknowledged this resentment and this year, on the 14th of February, Kalimpong sub-division was upgraded into a District making it the 21st District in the State of West Bengal clearing the way for further infrastructural development of this town.
The former District of Darjeeling comprised of four sub divisions- Darjeeling, Kurseong, Siliguri and Kalimpong with Kalimpong being the largest of the four sub-divisions with an area of 1056 square km. The total area of the former Darjeeling District was 3149 square km which meant that the sub division of Kalimpong occupied more than one-third of the total land mass in the District of Darjeeling. Though collecting data on the size of sub-divisions in West Bengal for the sake of comparing the size of sub-divisions proved a very tedious affair, it may be claimed with much authority that Kalimpong was definitely one of the largest sub-divisions in the State. With three Blocks(Kalimpong 1, Kalimpong 2 and Gorubathan), 42 Gram Panchayats(Kalimpong 1-18 gram Panchayats, Kalimpong 2- 13 Gram Panchayats and Gorubathan- 11 Gram Panchayats), Kalimpong was a huge sub- division even by National Standards. 
Considering the remoteness of the far flung areas under the former Kalimpong sub-division, it was a logistic nightmare for the administrators based in the town of Kalimpong. There are places like Todaay and Tangta which are almost a full day’s drive away. Even places like Tinsimana in the Neora National Park, which is the border between Bhutan, Sikkim and West Bengal fell in the sub division of Kalimpong and it is about two days of walking from Lava, the nearest hamlet. Even in this age and time of technology, EVMs, superior road connectivity etc etc, there were places in the sub division of Kalimpong where Polling Parties who conduct Elections, had to leave two days in advance just to set up the infrastructure to conduct the Polls. 
As per Election Department published documents there were18 booths in the former Kalimpong sub division where the Polling Party had to be deployed on P-2 (means two days in advance). The furthest Polling Station from Kalimpong town being Tangta Primary School, which is 156km by vehicle and then a further 10 km by foot. The plight of people staying in these areas is pathetic to say the least- imagine yourself living in Tangta and having to correct a small mistake in your Ration Card or having to renew your Driving License. It takes you one day to come to Kalimpong, one day to get your work done and one day to return. Ok maybe you can return back the second day but even then, it’s a total waste of two full days and to cap it, it involves staying over in Kalimpong overnight. This fact is being pointed out only just to bring out the vastness and remoteness of this former sub-division. It was felt that had Kalimpong been a district with maybe two or three sub divisions under it, then things would have been so much more easier. The former sub-division of Kalimpong literally starts from Sikkim and ends in Bhutan. The area of Kalimpong boarders four Districts- three in Sikkim, and Jalpaiguri- I may be wrong but my assumption is that no other sub-division in West Bengal could stake claim to such a unique position. Considering this very fact, Kalimpong was a fit case for being upgraded into a District.
Consider all the positives that will emerge out of Kalimpong being upgraded into a District- 1. Consider all the job opportunities that will be thrown up- At least several hundred Government jobs will be created and probably an equal number of private job opportunities. 2. Consider the time that will be saved by Kalimpong residents not having to commute to Darjeeling for every single petty work at the District Headquarters. 3. Consider not having to go to Darjeeling several times just to attend a hearing at the District Court. 4. Consider the increased funding that will come into Kalimpong. The list is endless and considering all the above, the up gradation of Kalimpong into a new District was a push in the right direction.
West Bengal is a medium sized State in India- out of the 29 states in India; it is about 14th in order of size. Immediately after Independence, West Bengal was formed with 11 districts out of which Darjeeling was one. In 1950 Cooch Behar was made into a District, in 1956 Purulia was formed, In 2002, Midnapur was divided into East and West Midnapur, in 1986, 24 Pargana was bifurcated into North and South Districts and like-wise in 1992, North and South Dinajpur were reconstitutes as two different Districts. 
The last District to be made in West Bengal before Kalimpong was of course next door Alipurduar just last year. With the creation of Kalimpong as a District now West Bengal has 21 Districts and has a total of 72 sub divisions. This means that the average size of a District in West Bengal is about 4435 square km which is far larger than the present size of Kalimpong district. But then Districts in the States of Indian are created for the sake of Administrative convenience not on the basis of size. In fact Kalimpong District is definitely not the smallest District in West Bengal. Districts like Kolkata and Howrah are smaller in size to the new District of Kalimpong. The new District Alipurduar is actually just slightly larger than the area of present day district of Kalimpong.
Kalimpong has been fairly unique in many ways and has always been that spark that kick started almost all events, whether Political, Social, Literary or Intellectual, in the Hills of Darjeeling. Its uniqueness stems from the fact that Kalimpong has had a past very unlike Darjeeling or Kurseong. Darjeeling and Kurseong and most other parts of the present day District Darjeeling, except Kalimpong district, have their history linked to Sikkim and Nepal while Kalimpong has its history linked with Bhutan. It was only after the Anglo- Bhutanese War of 1864 and the subsequent Treaty of Sinchula that Kalimpong became a part of British India while Darjeeling and Kurseong had already been incorporated into the British India Empire thirty years earlier. 
After being annexed from Bhutan, Kalimpong was actually put under the Western Duars District and only later was Kalimpong merged into the District Darjeeling. In fact even after being merged into the District of Darjeeling, there were several rules and regulations which were unique only to Kalimpong. Several sets of rules and regulations which were applicable in Darjeeling were not applicable to Kalimpong. Even the British Rulers of that time had realized the uniqueness of Kalimpong.
In present days too, Kalimpong has retained its exclusivity as well as its reputation as the Engine of the Darjeeling Hills. It is still the place wherefrom most intellects, artists and ideas come out. It is still the place wherefrom most of the creativity in the Hills of Darjeeling emerges. It is still the place which sustains all Political agitations and activities in the Hills of Darjeeling.
The creation of Kalimpong District is a step in the right direction and it can be assumed that much development will now take place. The long due development demands of this town can be expected to be addressed promptly and more compassionately now without the erstwhile long serpentine process of being routed through the District Magistrates office in Darjeeling. All this can only argue well for the future Hills of Darjeeling of which Kalimpong was, is and always be a part of.
What has to be kept in mind by the rest of the Hills of Darjeeling is that Kalimpong has separated from them only so far as the District administration is concerned. In all other respects, Kalimpong is one with the rest of them. 

SANDIP C JAIN, THE AUTHOR OF THIS ARTICLE IS THE EDITOR OF HIMALAYAN TIMES, KALIMPONG.
Source and Courtesy: https://himalayantimesblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/kalimpong-past-present/

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