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Darjeeling’s British legacy: A journey in time

Hindustan Times chronicles some magnificent structures from the British era that have evolved into Darjeeling’s heritage landmarks

india Updated: Jun 11, 2017 15:33 IST
St. Joseph’s School, North Point started its journey in 1888
St. Joseph’s School, North Point started its journey in 1888(HT Photo)

Darjeeling, the queen of the hills, is on the boil again.

Sporadic violence since the inception of Gorkhaland movement in mid-80s has taken much of the sheen off the quiant hill station. It’s no longer as popular a tourist destination as it used to be when Rajesh Khanna crooned “Mere Sapno Ki Rani Kab Aayegi Tu”, driving a jeep across the picturesque hills dotted with tea gardens in the movie Aradhana.

But despite all odds, Darjeeling still offers old-world charm, thanks to colonial structures that withstood the test of time.

Here HT chronicles some magnificent structures from the British era that have evolved into Darjeeling’s heritage landmarks.

The Town Hall and Clock Tower: Located on Landenla Road, the main thoroughfare, the town hall houses the Darjeeling Municipality.

houses the Darjeeling Municipality. (HT Photo)

Its foundation stone was laid by Lord Ronaldshay in October 1917. The hall was built at an estimated cost of Rs 2.5 lakh, half of which was donated by the maharaja of Cooch Behar. The plan included a hall big enough for 600 people, a reading room, a square, a 100-ft-high stone clock tower, an octagonal gable roof and flag-staff.

It was inaugurated by Ronaldshay in 1921. A full- fledged municipality was set up in the build in 1850.

The clock has four faces, just like the Big Ben. It was set up by GT Gent and Company, England. The clock though survived a devastating fire in 1996, had stopped working. It was repaired in 2006, thanks to the efforts put in by the Darjeeling Rotary Club. The town hall has been declared a heritage site by the West Bengal Heritage Commission.

St. Andrew’s Church: This is arguably the most prominent and picturesque landmark of Darjeeling. The foundation stone of this old Anglican church was laid on November 30, 1843, the day dedicated to St.Andrew. The first visitors were mostly Scottish soldiers and tea planters. The building was built at a cost of Rs 9000 - a princely sum back in those days - to accommodate a congregation of around 150 people.

is arguably the most prominent and picturesque landmark of Darjeeling. (HT Photo)

The edifice was erected under the supervision of Captain Bishop, commander of the troops. The clock tower was erected in 1883 and the north and south transepts with porches were added in 1897. There are plaques set up in the memory of some of the famous residents, including Lt. General Llyod, the discoverer of Darjeeling who died in 1865 and Charlotte Canning, wife of Charles Canning who served as the Governor General during the Sepoy Mutiny. Charlotte came to Darjeeling in 1861 to sketch the landscapes. On her way back, she halted at the Terai where she contracted malaria and died in Calcutta.

St. Joseph’s School, North Point: This renowned school started its journey at Sunny Banks in 1888. It was shifted to its present location on Lebong Card Road in 1892. The property was procured by Fr. Henri Depelchin, SJ, the founder. The foundation stone was laid on April 27, 1890, and on February 18, 1892 the building welcomed the first batch of North Pointers. In 1908, Sir Andrew Fraser donated Rs. 21,000 which was used to complete the construction started by Brother Eugene Rotsaert.

The maharaja of Burdwan owned the Ladbrooke Farm just below the construction site. It was acquired on long-term lease.

In 1934, St. Joseph’s was severely damaged by an earthquake. The west wing was thoroughly shaken. The outdoor infirmary collapsed and the ornamental turrets at Fraser Hall were thrown down the slope towards Tukvar Road.

So severe was the damage that school holidays had to be extended till the property was deemed fit for occupation. A clock tower, swimming pool and an auditorium were added in recent years.

St. Luke’s Garrison Church: Located at the Jalapahar Army Cantonment, the church was founded in 1889 exclusively for the British army. However, in September 1948, it stopped functioning since few Christians were left in the army of Independent India. Also, the steep three-km walk discouraged town people from paying a visit. The magnificent gothic structure was subsequently converted to a multi-purpose hall for the army to hold parties. It also served as an indoor badminton court. In 2006, the army decided to restore the Church to its former glory. The single-storey structure suffered heavily in the earthquake of 1935 and extensive repairs were carried out.

was founded in 1889 exclusively for the British army. (HT Photo)

MacFarlane Memorial Church, Kalimpong: The most prominent landmark in Kalimpong is 125 years old. It is named after William MacFarlane, the first missionary from the Church of Scotland who visited Darjeeling in 1870. The structure is a visual treat.

125-year-old MacFarlane Memorial Church in Kalimpong is a visual treat. (HT Photo)

The foundation stone was laid in 1890 and it was opened in 1891. Designed in Scottish style, the church belongs to the Gothic revival school of architecture. It is said that the tower and pinnacles were added later. The structure was damaged in an earthquake in 2011 and it remained closed till 2013.