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Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Hills Aren't Alive with the Sound of Music!!!

Darjeeling is again in the news. For all the wrong reasons!

Darjeeling has been voted, time & again, one of the most popular tourist destinations of the country. Yet Darjeeling has been the hot-bed of disruptive politics from the fag end of the last century.

Looking back:

Darjeeling has been popularly known as the Queen of the Hills, and the name itself has two very important associations. The first of them is the famous Darjeeling Tea, one of the finest varieties of tea that is produced here, and the other is the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a world heritage site. Mount Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world, is very close to darjeeling, from where one can get a very clear view of the same. Satyajit Ray, the master filmaker, had filmed his first colour feature film 'Kanchanjangha' in Darjeeling and the place had been an integral part of the screenplay, supplying a superb atmospheric. In the recent past, Darjeeling has also gained popularity to young tourists from around the world on account of White Water Rafting, an intense adventure sport.

The three hilly subdivisions of Darjeeling disrict are Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. Darjeeling, the Queen of Hill Stations, owes its eminence to the British, who built the Eden Sanatorium here in the early 19th century. The name Darjeeling is derived from the Tibetan Dorje-ling of the Thunderbolt Dorji. Some, however, believe that it was the thunderbolt of Lord Indra, the ruler of the skies. In 1839, when the East India Company took over Darjeeling, situated in the Himalayas at a height of 7,500 feet, and termed it The Observatory Hill. Only 20 mud huts existed on the hill then but now the town boasts of a population exceeding 9 lakh.

The agony:

Everything hasn't been well for the Darjeeling hills and the people of that part. They have been seething in anger for quite sometime. There has been a rise in their resentment against the people of the North Bengal plains. During the eighties, the separatist movement troubled the hills. The demand for a separate state 'Gorkhaland' was at its peak then, the residents of the Darjeeling hills felt insecure, thraetened and, needless to say, were persecuted too. The CRPF battalions carrying arms move to every nook and corner of the town and villages; bandhs were rampant; loss of lives, property, dignity & dreams resulted. Tourism was badly affected back then and the people of Darjeeling bent backwards in order to seek respite from the spiralling of woes.

As things calmed down, it was felt by many short-sighted politicians of West Bengal that the Gorkhaland Movement was on its way to die a slow natural death. Alas! It was not to be!

The discontent kept brewing, the people of the hills were boiling with agitation, conveniently unnoticed by many with an air of brash dismissal. Recently, the politics of bandhs have returned to Darjeeling with a vengeance. The brandishing of the khukris by the local activists threaten to disturb the peace for good, and hark back to the terrible days of violence. In protest against the bandhs, a civilian movement was formed demanding not to turn Darjeeling into a battlefield again, it was spearheaded by cilvilians who did not want to be penalised, having to bear the cost of loved ones.

Thus, on one hand, Bimal Gurung - who has been able to inflame peace-drenched hills with his rapid rise to fame - has snatched the baton from the former Gorkha National Liberation Front supremo, Subash Ghisingh, his mentor, and the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha has called for an indefinite bandh to put pressure on the State and the Centre to seriously moot the formation of a separate state, and, on the other hand, three anti-Gorkhaland organisations - Amra Bangali, Bangla Bhasa Bachaon Samity and Janajagaran Mancha have started to put an inverse pressure on the separatist movement. There has been backlash on the innocent tourists, who have been made to flee, and the bandhs and the counter-strikes, and civil unrest are back to throttle the voice of sanity. The hills aren't alive with the sound of music...... apologies to the creators of the immortal track from 'The Sound of Music' - that obviously resonate in me when I see in my mind's eye the quaint beauty of Darjeeling..... the hills are ablaze with people with selfish motives who want to make mischief and usher in pains & sorrows. Darjeeling bleeds, as we watch the beauty of Darjeeling captured in the splendid visuals of recent films like 'Anuranan', 'Chalo... Let's Go' and 'Via Darjeeling'. What a cruel irony!


abhishek said...

The Darjeeling hills had earlier witnessed a prolonged spell of violence and unrest, when in the mid-1980s GNLF leader Subhas Ghising had come to the forefront with the demand of statehood. However, the current turmoil is turning worse because it is the harbinger of bigger mischief by outside forces who simply want to destabilise the state and the nation.

ranjan said...

Darjeeling reminds me of Satyajit Ray's 'Kanchanjungha', the sunrise viewing at Tiger Hill, the pony rides, the sipping of hot chocolate, the adda sessions at the Mall, the warmth of the local people, and the throng of fellow Bengali tourists.
It is pitiable indeed that we won't be able to revisit Darjeeling with the same cherished memories, the bitter taste of strife shall be ever-present. We all know how the political bigwigs look with indifference to the plight of the poor folks of the region, and we also know how the opportunists are harbingers of hate-crime, of violence and are eqally apathetic to the progress of the land or the native people as such. But can we weed out the evil nexus? Can we shield the hills from threats of a different kind?
Thanks for this timely article. I hope we all keep looking for answers to these relevant questions and do our bit at least.

manab said...

DARJEELING for all Bengalis is steeped in nostalgia. The place will never be the same again. Hope things do not go completely out of control as it happened in Kashmir.

sudipto said...

Nice post. Very insightful. Very topical. Keep up the good work.

manab said...

This Darjeeling blog is a lot more engaging than the movie 'Via Darjeeling' an inanae pretender in the avant garde genre!

harshad said...

Darjeeling Jamjamaat was the title of one of the ever-popular Feluda stories by Satyajit Ray...... Darjeeling Doomed is the glaring caption that I see in my nightmares (after a recent nightmarish experience there) and it makes perfect sense to me, considering the current imbroglio in the violent hills!

shinto said...

Only the die-hard Darjeeling addicts like Mr Anjan Dutt would feel like revisiting the place.... for the rest of us, who want to explore newer and more exuberant options when it comes to visiting hill-stations, the safe option would be to strike off Darjeeling from the itenarary after the freedom brigade's shenanigans.

jeet said...

Darjeeling will never be the same.
Despite the current West Bengal CM, Mamata Banerjee, screaming from rooftops that the hills are smiling, singing, and dancing in glee, peace and happiness in the hills are a far cry.

LoverBoy said...

Darjeeling will never be the same again. The colonial hangover loomed large over this tourists' haven for the longest period of time. In the hills the slumber is usually for a longer duration, and Darjeeling was no exception to this. But, now that the politics of unrest has taken over, there's no escaping the realism of the lackadaisical tourism mechanism. The cookie has indeed crumbled.