Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Darjeeling Historical & Heritage Buildings


Darjeeling long recognized as “Queen of the Himalayas” can also boast of a number of historical buildings, manifestations of the British Raj’s interest in this hill station.

In 1839 there were only ten huts and a hundred people in Darjeeling. But as the British realized its potential as an ideal summer retreat and health resort, things began to move fast. The Lt. General GA Lloyd recommended that a building project be undertaken to develop Darjeeling into a home away from home, complete with snow and mist.

Lord Napier of Royal Engineers laid out architectural plans and by 1843 Darjeeling flaunted thirty grand buildings. There was ‘Mount Pleasant’ the house of Lt General Llyod, ‘Bryan Stone’ where Sir Joseph Hooker lived, ‘Oak Lodge’, ‘Vernon Lodge’ etc. the Town Hall, which now hosts the present municipality of Darjeeling, was established in 1850.

The 19th century indeed saw hectic constructional and engineering activity in Darjeeling and some of the most beautiful heritage buildings date from that era. The Renaissance philosophy and Greek-Roman architectural designs dominated, skillfully adapted to local geographic and climatic conditions.

The public works department, formed in 1862, started constructing with new zeal. Among its best achievements were the Secretariat Building, Thorn Cottage, Raj Bhavan, Kutchery, Richmondhill, Rivershill, Old Kutchery Building, The Natural History Museum, Bloom Field Barrack, Eden Hospital Louis Jubilee Sanatorium, Dowhill and Victoria School.

Many of these buildings though recognized as heritage sites are still in use.

Take for example the Bengal Secretariat Building. It is easy to locate this three-storied building west of the Bandstand on the Chowk. It was erected in 1898 and houses the following offices: Ground floor – Offices of the chief secretary to the government, under secretary of political appointment departments and secretariat library. First Floor – offices of secretary of consulting architect to government and revenue department. Second Floor – offices of secretary and under secretary of financial and municipality department.

The Thorn Cottage, built in 1868, initially formed a meeting spot for the Planters Club. Later for a while it functioned as a PWD office. It now serves as staff quarters of various government departments.

Government College: Miss Roby’s School was built in the 19th century, just beyond the old cemetery on Lebong Cart Road. In 1904 the clewer sisters turned it into the Diocesan Girls High School. But in 1948 the Government took over this building for higher education. Presently it is a college known simply as Government College.

Government House: The site was granted to Edward Hepper around 1840. It then passed on to Brine and Martin, contractors, who sold it to Sir Thomas E Turton.

Turton built Solitaire on the site, which soon became one of the houses of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar. On 31 October 1877 the British Government purchased this building from the Maharaja.

And it subsequently functioned as the residence of successive governors of Bengal. It was renamed The Shrubbery in the summer of 1880. Many additions and alterations were made to the building during the tenure of each Governor. Sir Ashley Eden for example added a porch and tower. Sir George King (who had earlier given shape to the Royal Botanical Garden, Calcutta), artistically redesigned the garden in 1878. The Durbar Hall was built during the tenure of Sir C Elliott.

Sir Ashley Eden established Victoria Boys School in 1879 for the education of the children of government servants. Situated at an altitude 6000 ft, on a hundred acres plot.

Dowhill School was also established by Sir Ashley Eden in 1898. But this school was meant only for the daughters of persons of European descent and those employed in any branch of government service. There were 120 resident pupils on its roll when it started. Today it has some 207 residential girls and boys in the junior class and about 400 day-scholars.

LORETTO Covent established in 1846, is administered by the Sister of the Institute of Blessed Virgin Mary, a congregation of Catholic Sisters. It was founded for the education of Catholic students but today it extends its services to members of all communities, irrespective of caste or creed.

St. Joseph’s School was established in 1877, for Catholic boys by the Capuchin Fathers, in a bungalow called ‘Sunny Bank’ (probably close to what is known as Bishop’s House today).

In 1879 the school got a new building and was renamed St. Joseph’s Seminary under the Rectorship of Father Joseph Peacock assisted by five assistant-masters. This was presumably the predecessor of North Point. By 1881 the school was enlarged to a building measuring 150 X 40 ft, a very large structure for the Darjeeling of those days.

St. Paul’s School was established in 1864, for the education of the children of government staff. It is situated at an altitude of more than 6000 ft.

The Natural History Museum is a three-storied ferroconcrete structure (including basement). It was constructed in the year 1915. Lord Carmichael allotted funds for this building and the design was conceived by Crouch.

Windamere Hotel was originally a 19th century boarding house, built for bachelors and British and Scottish tea planters. It was converted into a hotel only in 1939.

A complete list of historical buildings in Darjeeling would be impossibly long but one can’t but mention a couple more. There is Park Hotel, which has now been converted in to St. Robert’s School, there is Bishop’s House, Loreto College etc. All of these replicate Scottish and English architectural styles. When travelers to England and Scotland see historical buildings like Winchester Castle, Clifton Terrace, Callendar House, Blackness Castle, Battle of Falkirk memorial etc they cannot but be reminded of the buildings they see everyday in Darjeeling.

Many historic buildings have also been destroyed in fires. It is certainly important to ensure fire protection to occupants of historic building but steps should be taken to protect the structure as well.

The Public Works Department (PWD) has made an effort to preserve historic architectural documents in a special museum. Documents, photographs, instruments, original plans, blue prints and other related materials are displayed here. They represent the cumulative engineering skill, sincerity and sacrifice of all those who have worked on this hilly terrain in the hundred years from Napier to John Chamber. The museum is located inside the PWD Inspection Bungalow, Darjeeling.

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