The Teething Years

-Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal

At the time of the British take over of Kalimpong (1865) the population of the present day Sub-Division was estimated to be around 3536 souls only. Following the annexation immigration was actively encouraged and the industrious Nepalis happily crossed the Tista to populate and terrace the virgin soil. By 1881 the population had risen to 12,683 and the annual revenue from poll tax had also increased from a paltry Rs 640 to a respectable Rs 11,800. In the next decade the population more than doubled to 26,631 and the bazaar had, beside the Nepalis, Lepchas and Bhutias, several Marwaris, Mohameddans, and other plainsmen. When Britain extracted a trade convention in 1893 allowing for a trade mart at Yatung it was expected to boost trade through Kalimpong. However, nothing worthy of statistical records materialized and people, by then well over 45,000, went about their normal chores waiting for a bonanza called Tibet Trade. Then towards the turn of the century a man arrived who was to change the face of Kalimpong. This man, Rev. Dr. Grahams, in the opening year of the twentieth century contributed considerably to Kalimpong’s population, prestige and pecuniary development by commencing the St. Andrew’s Colonial Homes. The empty hillside below the Daelo then became the sight of sustained construction. Expecting many more Europeans to follow Dr. Graham, Daelo was made the preserve of the Europeans with the government earmarking ten residential sites of two acres each for European settlement. Far away on the opposite side the ‘Development Area’ was reserved for the hillmen with the ruling that no one else could occupy it. Later matters would end the other way around with Europeans and Bengalis living at the Development Area and the hillmen on the Daelo slopes.

The next spurt of development came when many of the soldiers in Younghusband’s Mission to Tibet passed through Kalimpong in 1904. The Mela Ground was increased to accommodate the soldiers, numerous coolies and suppliers arrived (many of whom never went back) and the crude road to Jelep La was improved upon. Incidentally, the temporary armoury of Younghusband containing some canons (Nepali: tope pronounced as in ‘rope’) became our present day ‘Top-khana’. This Mission profited the British with two more trade marts at Gyantse and Gartok and with that the chances of Kalimpong becoming a bustling trade centre increased. But hope was belied for the road communication was still primitive and most of all the Tista was yet to be bridged sufficiently strong for the expected commerce. It was during this difficult phase that a European wool trader, Mr Korb, finding that all suitable lands being either reserved forest or reserved for hillmen, applied to the government to purchase a plot. This became a sounding bell that there were people, besides the highlanders, who were interested in settling in Kalimpong. With Darjeeling becoming rapidly overpopulated the government now weighed Kalimpong as a possible alternative.

Mr. C. J. Stevenson-Moore, a Member of the Board of Revenue, along with the Commissioner of the Rajsahi Division and the deputy Commissioner of Darjeeling accordingly visited Kalimpong in the first week of June 1914. Kalimpong was found suitable for a hill station but Stevenson-Moore set three prerequisites: (1) the area east of Tista be declared a Sub-Division, (2) provision for potable water supply be made and (3) the road to Jelep La be improved. In 1915 the Tista Valley Extension Railway opened with Gaillekhola as a terminus and effort was made to improve the existing cart road between Tista and Kalimpong including the road to Jelep La. In 1916 Kalimpong was declared a Sub-Division and in November 1917 the Governor of Bengal visited Kalimpong and approved Rinkingpong as suitable site for a new Civil Station. The rules were revised to allow fresh settlers at Ringkingpong and the hillmen living there walked away with compensation for land, crop and building with an additional bonus in the form of cash for shifting. Kalimpong was now to become a hill station.

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