Kalimpong is a hill station (a hill town) nestled in the Shiwalik Hills (or Lower Himalaya) in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is located at 27.06° N 88.47° E at an average elevation of 1,247 m (4,100 feet). The town is the headquarters of the Kalimpong subdivision, a part of the district of Darjeeling. A major forward base of the Indian Army is located on the outskirts of the town.
Kalimpong is well-known for its many educational institutions, which attract students from all over North East India, West Bengal, Bhutan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. In recent times, Kalimpong has become an important tourist destination owing to its temperate climate and proximity to popular tourist locations in the region. Kalimpong is also famous for its flower market, especially the wide array of orchids. It also houses several of Buddhist monasteries which hold a number of rare Tibetan Buddhist scriptures.
The precise etymology of the name Kalimpong remains unclear. The most widely accepted origin of the name Kalimpong is "Assembly (or Stockade) of the King's Ministers" in Tibetan, derived from kalon ("King's ministers") and pong ("stockade"). Another possible origin to the name comes from the translation "ridges where we play" from Lepcha, derived from the region's traditional tribal gathering for summer sporting events. People from the hills also call the area Kalibong ("the black spurs").
According to K.P. Tamsang, author of The Untold and Unknown Reality about the Lepchas, the term Kalimpong is deduced from the name Kalenpung, which in Lepcha means "Hillock of Assemblage"; in time, the name was distorted to Kaleebung and later corrupted to Kalimpong. Another possible derivation points to Kaulim, a fibrous plant found in profusion in the region.
Morgan House, is a classic example of colonial architecture in Kalimpong.Until the mid-19th century, the area around Kalimpong was ruled intermittently by the Sikkimese and Bhutanese kingdoms. Present-day Kalimpong is believed to have once been the forward position of the Bhutanese in the 18th century, overlooking the Teesta Valley. The area was sparsely populated by the indigenous Lepcha community and migrant Bhutia and Limbu tribes. After the Anglo-Bhutan War in 1864, the Treaty of Sinchula (1865) was signed in which Bhutanese held territory east of the Teesta River was ceded to the British East India Company. At that time, Kalimpong was a hamlet, with only four families known to reside there. The first recorded mention of the town was a fleeting reference made that year by Ashley Eden, a government official with the Bengal Civil Service.
After the war, the region was made into a subdivision of the Western Duars District, and the following year it was merged with the district of Darjeeling. The temperate climate prompted the British to develop the town as an alternative hill station to Darjeeling, to escape the scorching summer heat in the plains. Kalimpong's proximity to the Nathula and Jelepla passes, offshoots of the ancient Silk Route, was an added advantage and it soon became an important trading outpost in the trade of furs, wools and food grains between India and Tibet. The increase in population attracted large numbers of migrants from Nepal, leading to a sudden population increase and economic prosperity.
The arrival of Scottish missionaries saw the construction of schools and welfare centres for the British. The Scottish University Mission Institution was the first to be opened in 1886, followed by the Kalimpong Girls High School. In 1900, the Reverend JA Graham founded the Dr. Graham's Homes for destitute Anglo-Indian students. By 1907, most schools in Kalimpong also started offering education to Indian students. By 1911, the population had swelled to 7,880.
Following India's independence in 1947, Kalimpong came under the state of West Bengal, after Bengal was partitioned between India and Pakistan. With China's annexation of Tibet in 1959, many Buddhist monks fled Tibet and established monasteries in Kalimpong. These monks also brought many rare Buddhist scriptures with them. In 1962, the permanent closure of the Jelepla Pass after the Sino-Indian War led to a slowdown in Kalimpong's economy, which relied heavily in trade between Tibet and India. In 1976, the visiting Dalai Lama consecrated the Zang Dhok Palri Phodang monastery, which houses many of the scriptures.
Most large houses in Kalimpong were built during the British era. In the background is Mount Kanchenjunga. Between 1986 and 1988, the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland and Kamtapuri based on ethnic lines grew strong. Riots between the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), led by CK Pradhan, and the West Bengal government reached a standoff after a forty-day strike. The town was virtually under a siege, leading the state government to call in the Indian army to maintain law and order. This led to the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, a body that was given semi-autonomous powers to govern the district. Though Kalimpong is now peaceful, the issue on a separate state still lingers. In July 2004, the generally tranquil town was catapulted into national and international headlines after Maninder Pal Singh Kohli, a murderer wanted by Scotland Yard, was traced to be residing in Kalimpong.