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Kalimpong is a hill station (towns established by the British colonial rulers for escaping from the heat of the plains) in the Shiwalik Lower Himalayas in West Bengal. The average elevation of Kalimpong is 1247 square meters or 4100 square feet above sea-level. It is administratively a sub-division of the Darjeeling district. Being near to the border of India with Bhutan, it is forward base of the Indian Army. The army base is located on the outskirts of the city. The center of the city is located on a ridge connecting the Deolo and Durpin Hills. Deolo is the highest elevation in the area with an altitude of 1704 square meters or 5590 square feet above sea-level. Durpin Hill is slightly lower at 1372 meters or 4501 feet above sea-level. Teesta River forms the boundary between Kalimpong and Sikkim State. The Shiwalik Hills like most Himalayan foothills are quite steep with soft and loose topsoil that tends to promote landslides during the heavy monsoon season. Mount Kanchenjunga at 8591 meters or 28185 feet above sea-level is the third highest mountain in the world and is clearly visible from Kalimpong.
The precise Etymology of the name of Kalimpong is not certain. Most scholars believe the name is derived from the Tibetan word Kalon that means ministers king and the Tibetan word pong that means an assembly or stockade. The Lepchas believe the name originated from a Lepcha word that means ridges where we play because the region has a traditional tribal gathering in summer for sports events. People from nearby hills call the region Kalibong that in their dialect means the black spurs. K. P. Tamsang, the author of The Untold and Unknown Reality about the Lepchas believes that the name has a Lepcha origin from the word Kalenpung meaning a hillock for assemblage. According to him the word was distorted to Kaleebung and Kalimpong before it eventually became popular as the present name. There is a fibrous plant called Kaulim very abundant in the area and some believe that the name of the place is derived from this plant.
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and the Monsoons are the five very distinct seasons of Kalimpong. The temperature in Summers, which are during the months of May and June, reaches to a maximum of 30 degrees Centigrade or 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The minimum temperature in Summer months can be 15 degrees Centigrade or 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Monsoons from June to September are severe. The annual rainfall is 200 centimeters or 78.74 inches. December to February is winter with maximum temperature being 15 degrees Centigrade or 19 degrees Fahrenheit. The minimum temperature in Winter can be -4 degrees Centigrade or 24.8 degrees Fahrenheit. During Monsoons and Winter it is often very foggy. March, April, October and November are the best months to visit Kalimpong when the weather and consequently the visibility is very good.
The nearest airport is Bagdogra near Siliguri that is 80 kilometers or 50 miles away. The nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri, which is also on the outskirts of Siliguri. Kalimpong has a connecting road to the National Highway 31-A which links Siliguri to Gangtok. Many localities in Kalimpong are named by the distance in number of miles from Teesta Bazaar, a small town situated in the valley below Kalimpong. For example, there is a place in Kalimpong called 13th mile. It is 13 miles or 21 kilometers from Teesta Bazaar. Most of the population of Kalimpong lives near the main market and people can walk from their homes to the market. People living away from the market, downtown of Kalimpong, have to use cars, scooters or motor bicycles. If they do not have their own vehicle, they would use share taxis, which are four-wheel drive vehicles. The private taxis are also four-wheel drive vehicles because of the mountainous terrain.
There is quite a large range of flora in the Kalimpong region. Acacia Trees are very common at lower altitudes. In the hilly mid-altitude areas cinnamon, cardamom, ficus, bamboo and quite a large variety of cacti flourishes. In the mid-level forested areas deciduous trees like oak, birch, maple and alder are found. Pine and various other Alpine vegetation is found in the dense forests at higher altitudes in the eastern Kalimpong. The city and its surrounding areas have about 300 species of orchid. Poinsettias and sunflower grow wild along the roads.
The wild fauna of the region include the Red Panda, Himalayan Black Bear, Clouded Leopard, Siberian Weasel, Asiatic Black Bear, Barking Deer, Himalayan Tahr, Goral, Gaur Buffalo and Pangolin. Among the birds of the region are Himalayan Griffon Vulture, Monal Pheasant, Hornbills, Black Baza, Besra, Eurasian Sparrowhawks and the Kalij Pheasant.
Gladioli and Orchids are cultivated on large scale by over 46 large scale nurseries for sale in various parts of India and also for export. The Nature Interpretation Centre and the Rishi Bankim Chandra Park are two ecological museums in Kalimpong.
During the British colonial period a lot of ethnic Nepali laborers migrated to Kalimpong in search of jobs and they form a majority of the local population of Kalimpong. People from the Buddhist Gorkha region in Nepal like the ethnic Tamangs migrated to Kalimpong but had almost no contact with the Buddhist communities of Darjeeling and surrounding areas. They settled in these areas with the permission of local Lepcha and Bhutanese rulers and tribal chiefs. Oppressed ethnic communities of Nepal like the Kami, Damai and Sarki fled from Nepal to escape the tyranny of Gurkha Brahman rulers of Nepal. The indigenous ethnic groups in this region are Newars, Lepchas, Bhutia, Sherpas, Rais, Tamangs, Yalmoos, Bhujels, Sunuwars, Gurungs, Damas, Kamais and the Limbus. People from other regions of India also migrated to this region to trade or for other professional reasons. These minorities include Bengalis, Marwaris, Biharis and Anglo-Indian. Tibetans fled to this region like elsewhere when Chinese occupied Tibet. Some Chinese also live in the region. Hindus form the majority of the population of Kalimpong followed by Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Muslims in the region are very few and there is only one mosque in the Kalimpong Bazaar area. The local festivals reflect the religion of the population. Diwali and Dussera are the most popular festivals followed by the Buddhist Losar and Christmas. Nepali is the most popular language of the region followed by Lepcha, Limboo, Tamang, Kirat, Hindi, English and Bengali. Soccer, Cricket and Archery are the most popular sports of the region.
The most popular snack in Kalimpong is the Momo - steamed dumplings made up of pork, beef or vegetable cooked in a wrapping of flour and served with watery soup. Wai-Wai is a packaged snack comprising of noodles which are eaten either dry or in soup form. Churpee, a kind of hard cheese made from milk of cow or yak is sometimes chewed. A form of noodle called Thukpa, served in soup form is also popular in Kalimpong. There are a large number of restaurants which offer a wide variety of cuisines, ranging from Indian, ethnic to continental, to cater to the locals and tourists. Darjeeling Tea is the most popular beverage in Kalimpong.
The local culture is represented by the Lepcha Museum that is situated about one kilometer from downtown Kalimpong. Zang Dhok Palri Phodong Monastery has a collection of 108 volumes of Kangyur texts belonging to the Yellow Hat Sect of Buddhism. There are several very interesting Buddhist monasteries in Kalimpong apart from this one. Kalimpong is traditionally a popular education center. The co-educational Dr. Grahams Homes is a high school that is more than 100 years old. The school campus is spread over 500 acres of land. St. Augustine School for boys, St. Josephs School for girls and the co-educational Rockwale Academy are other very popular schools. Children from upper middle class families from all over North-East India especially from Bengal. Foreign students from Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh also seek admission in these prestigious schools.
History of Kalimpong: Before middle of 19th century the area around Kalimpong was ruled intermittently by the Sikkimese and Bhutanese kingdoms. The region overlooking the Teesta River is believed to have been the frontier region under control of Bhutanese in 18th century. There was a very small population of indigenous Lepcha and migrant Bhutia and Limbu tribes. The Treaty of Sinchula was signed in 1865 after the Anglo-Bhutan War in which the Bhutanese ceded the territory east of Teesta River to the British East India Company. Kalimpong was a tiny hamlet with only two or three families at that time. Ashley Eden , a government official with the Bengal Civil Service made a fleeting reference in an official record of the Company. Subsequent to the war this region was assigned to a sub-division of the Western Duars district. The next year it was merged with Darjeeling district. The British developed the town as an alternative hill station to the larger city Darjeeling because of its wonderfully mild and temperate climate.
Because the town was close to Nathu-La and Jelep-La mountain passes on the ancient Silk route, it attracted traders of fur, wools and food grains between India and Tibet. The large numbers of Nepalese migrants who initially were invited by the British soon developed the town into a prosperous and vital center.
Reverend W. Macfarlane started the first school in the town in 1870s. The Scottish missionaries started the schools and welfare centers for the British civil and military employees of the company. The Scottish University Mission Institution was established in 1886. The Kalimpong Girls High School followed soon after. Reverend J. A. Graham started the ‘Dr. Grahams Homes’ for the destitute Anglo-Indian students in 1900. Most schools opened their doors to wealthy Indian students by 1907. In 1911 the population of the town was 7880. Kalimpong was assimilated in the neighboring West Bengal State after independence of India when Bengal was partitioned between India and Pakistan. When the communist Chinese annexed Tibet in 1959, many Buddhist monks fled Tibet and some established monasteries in Kalimpong which hold some of the very rare and precious ancient religious manuscripts. The trade between India and Tibet stopped completely when Jelep-La Pass was shut down consequent to the 1962 Sino-Indian War. The Zang Dhok Palri Phodong Monastery was consecrated by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama in 1976. In the period between 1986 and 1988, C. K. Pradhan led rioting and fights for the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) against the West Bengal government. There was a standoff after a 40-day strike when the town was virtually under siege and Indian Army had to be called in to maintain the law and order. Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council a semi-autonomous body was given powers to govern the district. Despite some grudge still lingering, Kalimpong is now a peaceful and prospering small city. Tourism, both domestic and foreign is the largest contributor to the city’s economy. Spring and Summer seasons are the most popular tourism periods. The tarraced slope farming of fruits and vegetables is the major source of income for rural population. Education Institution used to be the major factor in local economy but that role is now taken over by tourism. Many local companies cater to the Indian Army base near the town. Traditional arts and crafts of Sikkim and Tibet also contribute to the local economy. The government institutions are developing sericulture, seismology studies, fisheries and these organizations also provide employment to local people. Orchid and Gladioli flower export is quite an import industry of this area. The Chinese and Indian governments agreed to re-open the Nathu-La and Jelep-La Passes in April 2006 and this has led to a big boost in the economy of Kalimpong.
Hotel Silver Oaks – 23 rooms
Holumba Haven - 6 cottage rooms
Himalayan Hotel - 16 rooms
Kalimpong Park Hotel - 27 rooms
Garden Reach Hotel - 25 rooms
Orchid Retreat - 6 cottages & 4 rooms
Windsongs - 1 cottage & 2 rooms
Sood's Garden Retreat - 18 rooms
Distance from Kalimpong in Kilometers and Miles:
Bagdogra: 80 Kilometers or 50 Miles
Darjeeling: 51 Kilometers or 32 Miles
Phuntsoling: 158 Kilometers or 98 Miles
Gangtok: 75 Kilometers or 47 Miles