Darjeeling: A Cultural Haul
Posted: Nov 27, 2017
If one wants to enjoy the real Darjeeling, one must understand its culture and lifestyle. Darjeeling is a district in West Bengal and has significant influence of Tibetan and Buddhist culture. It has a fair share of immigrants from Europe, Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan, which makes it incredible. The queen of hills was controlled by Chogyal kingdom of Sikkim and had tribal settlement consisting of Kirati and Lepcha people. The Anglo-Gorkha war ended up defeating Gorkhas and resulting in the Sugauli treaty that left Darjeeling with a few tribal people and dense forests.
Darjeeling was considered as a suitable place for British settlement initially, as it has a favourable whether condition for them to survive. The tea estates of Darjeeling too, were of their interest. Once they settled down there, they tried to improve the education system by establishing few English medium schools and other training institutes. Many international mountaineering groups and organizations too, were interested in investing there.
British people encouraged immigrants to work in their tea gardens as laborers. These immigrants were also appointed for the construction works. Slowly and gradually, the population of the immigrants increased and contributed to the cultural heritage of Darjeeling.
Nepalese population is more in the areas of Mirik, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, while Siliguri is inhibited mostly be the Bengalis. People here speak languages like Nepali, Bengali, English and Hindi. Tibetan language is spoken by the Tibetan immigrants. Most of the people can speak Hindi.
Lepcha tribal community
One of the earliest inhabitants of Darjeeling is the Lepchas. They are of Mongolian origin and that makes them look more like a Mongolian and less like a typical north-eastern. Their language of communication is- ‘Rong-Ring’, and they are also known as Rongpas. They feel they have been blessed by the Mother Nature, so they call themselves as ‘Mutanchi Rongkup’, which means ‘blessed by the Mother Nature’. They follow Buddhist religion, but recently, many of them have adopted Christianity.
Lepcha or Rompa tribes
The Lepchas or Rompas are basically shepherds who are involved in the occupation of rearing cattle. They are also engaged in cultivation and grow crops like rice, wheat, cardamom and maize. Many of them are engaged in making bamboo crafts. The Lepcha women wear a skirt and a top and adorn themselves with beaded accessories.
Khampas are recent Tibetan immigrants who hail from the Lepcha tribes. Khampas follow Buddhist religion and dress like the western people. Unlike Lepchas who love to stay peacefully, Khampas are a warrior tribe.
The Nepali immigrants came here long back for employment, and settled down in and around Darjeeling. There are many Nepali clans who speak different dialects. They are mainly Brahmins, Khritiyas and tribal people who follow various cultures. However, the prime religion they follow is Hinduism.
Gorkhas are one of the most influential tribal groups of Nepal and they are in majority when it comes to population contribution in Darjeeling. They have a significant contribution in Indian Army and are known as a warrior race. They wear a traditional weapon called ‘khukhri’ that they use to kill enemies. They received the most prestigious "Victoria Cross" award from the British army for their significant contribution as Gorkha regiment.
The Tibetan immigrants wanted freedom from Chinese interference, and for that, many refugees from Tibet came to Darjeeling and settled here. They speak their regional language and have settled down in the lands of lesser Himalayas. Many Tibetans in Darjeeling have established themselves in various sectors and own many hotels there. Many have owned luxury Darjeeling tea garden resorts too.
Sherpa tribal communities
Sherpa tribal communities are the ethnic group that is known for their stay in the higher altitudes. No one can dare to explore Himalayan range without a Sherpa guide. Tenzing Norgay was a Sherpa mountaineer who dared to conquer the Mt. Everest for the first time in the world.
No matter how much north-eastern influence Darjeeling has, one must not forget that Darjeeling is a part of West Bengal. There are many Bengalis who own tea estates in Darjeeling. Darjeeling also attracts many Bengali tourists over the year. Many prefer to buy a property here so that they can stay there in their leisure time. There are many people from Santhal Parganas and Adivasis from the plains staying here.
Darjeeling is the land of diversity, and people from all ethnic groups stay here peacefully. One can enjoy various local foods while their stay in the queen of hills. However, Nepali has a lot of influence on the local culture, food and lifestyle. One needs to stay here as a traveler and stay in the remote areas to understand the cultural aspect of Darjeeling, and not a tourist whose target is to take a break from mundane chores and enjoy the scenic beauty only.
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