What Alps is to Switzerland – Kanchendzonga is to Bengal. Queen of the Hills & home to the finest Darjeeling Tea on earth. Located at a height of about 6800 ft above sea level. Cool & pleasant climate of with a backdrop of mighty snow capped Kangchendzonga. The Toy Train (an UNESCO World Heritage site) with worlds highest built railway (Ghoom) station. A hideout in the hills, when it all started in the early 19th century, when a patrol of the East India Company, who were exploring an easy access to Sikkim during the Anglo Nepal wars, came across a sleepy hamlet atop a thickly wooden ridge with a brilliant view of Mt. Kangchendzonga. It’s strategic value aside, the collective British soul pinning for cold & rain instantly recognised a ‘hill station’ when it saw one. In its formative years, like most Raj getaways, Darjeeling was simply a scattered village of English cottages, confined to Birch Hill & Jalapahar.
But it had an earlier messy history too. Initially, Darjeeling was a part of Sikkim, which had been lost to Bhutan, then reclaimed and lost once again to Nepal in the 18th century. But then the Anglo-Nepalese war took place. After it ended in 1817, what Nepal had stolen from Sikkim was pawned over to the East India Company.
So, because of its location & the fluid political situation, Darjeeling became a sort of ‘frontier town’ in the 1840s & ‘50s, a haven for international misfits. Tibetan & East European refugees, fleeing Russians & displaced monarchs such as Emir of Afghanistan, were all found here. And this political compost burped up spies of every persuasion – British, of course, and then Japanese. Some working for the Chinessity, Kuomintang, some for the INA. And then there were also the independent strays with bad cases of curiosity, plotting secret entry into forbidden Lhasa.