What’s three-inches long, shaped like a cigar, and made of condensed milk? The lollipops of Kalimpong in West Bengal, which have become a popular souvenir, synonymous with this hill station, and well known not only in India but in neighboring countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh.
The origins of “Kalimpong lollipops” trace back decades to a Swiss Jesuit. In the 1950s, Father Andreas Butty, then 35, was a missionary attempting to spread Christianity in Tibet. But when he was denied entry and stopped at a pass near Kalimpong, he decided to stay.
“Besides teaching English, Father Butty was skilled in farming and animal husbandry, so instead of returning back to his country he set up the Swiss Welfare Dairy,” said Elias Rai, whose father worked in the dairy. Father Butty’s goal, he adds, was to support a cash-strapped missionary orphanage.
The Swiss Dairy, which was near St Augustine’s, a popular all-boys public school, had a large farm, a dairy, a piggery, and a well laid out vegetable garden. “He used imported, modern machines to churn milk to make gouda cheese and yogurt,” reminisces Rai, who visited Butty’s farm as a kid. “But the lollipops were hand rolled after milk was boiled in large iron kadais (woks) and reduced to its dark condensed form.”
Devendra Basnet, a town resident, recalls peeking through the windows as a child to watch women armed with long wooden ladles stir the concoction and roll the dried condensed milk on large tabletops. “It was an instant hit among the school kids and tourists who visited the hill station,” says Basnet. “It is still the most in demand confectionary of Kalimpong.’”
The dairy employed many locals until it was shut in 1990, when Father Butty had to leave after his resident visa was denied renewal. He was 66 years old and died soon after leaving India.
“The Swiss Dairy and the legacy of Kalimpong lollipops has been retained by the former workers of the dairy,” says Pappu Mangar Thapa. Former workers started their own smaller dairies, making lollipops and cheese. Thapa learned to make both from his father, who was head chef in the Swiss dairy kitchen. He now exports Kalimpong lollipops internationally, although they remain most popular as a souvenir of Kalimpong, enjoyed by both the new and old generation.
Where to Try It
Lark’s Provision StoreShaheed Dal Bahadur Giri Road, Kalimpong, 734301, India
This shop sells Kalimpong products such as gouda, pickles and spreads, noodles, tea leaves, and, of course, condensed-milk lollipops. A packet of Kalimpong lollipops costs 35 to 100 INR depending on the number and quality.