This article posits that the hill station of Darjeeling was a unique form of colonial urbanism. It shifts historiographical interest from major urban centres in colonial India (such as Bombay or Calcutta) and instead attempts a greater understanding of smaller urban centres. In the process, it also interrogates the category of hill stations, which have been understood as exotic and scenic sites rather than as towns that were integral to the colonial economy. In arguing that hill stations, particularly Darjeeling, were not merely the scenic and healthy ‘other’ of the clamorous, dirty and diseased plains of India, it refutes suggestions that the ‘despoiling’ or overcrowding of Darjeeling was incremental to the purposes of its establishment. Instead, it suggests that Darjeeling was part of the colonial mainstream; its urbanization and inclusion into the greater colonial economy was effected from the time of its establishment. Therefore, a constant tension between its exotic and its functional elements persisted throughout.