Darjeeling’s tiny, lesser known cousin, Kurseong is a bustling hill town best known for its tea gardens and boarding school
A blanket of fog that takes over the hilly roads, lush green tea gardens that date back to the 1860s, a historic toy train that runs right through its busy streets; this is not even half of what Kurseong has to offer. The first thing you notice as you drive to Kurseong hill station in Darjeeling, West Bengal, is the stunning landscape. As soon as the car starts to climb up the hills, you pass enormous tea plantations on both sides of the road.
AN OFFBEAT HEAVEN
Kurseong, which means the land of the white orchids, is often overshadowed by its glamorously popular neighbour Darjeeling, which is a tad unfair because this quaint town has all the makings of a weekend of undisturbed bliss. With a rich history, picturesque churches and monasteries, magnificent tea gardens and a spectacular view of the Kanchenjunga, Kurseong is an offbeat heaven that is teaming full of varied experiences.
There are plenty of options for those who want to stay in Kurseong for the weekend. From old colonial bungalowlike establishments to the basic but very well-maintained and comfortable tourist lodges run by the West Bengal government. Whatever you choose the view will be gorgeous. That’s the beauty of Kurseong.
WARMTH AND COMFORT
‘Where there’s tea, there’s hope’, said actor-director Arthur Wing Pinero, and tasting the liquid gold from the tea gardens of Kurseong will definitely fill you up with hope, warmth and comfort. Kurseong is surrounded by a myriad of tea gardens. The most popular ones include Castleton, Makaibari, Ambootia, Goomtee and Margaret’s Deck, a giant ship deck overlooking the massive expanse of Margaret Hope Tea Garden. All of these can be visited by the famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), which is a UNESCO Heritage Site, the second railway in the world to be given the status. Remember to wake up early to catch the DHR, or to just watch it run past you – because this is a sight you’ll remember for long. And if you’re lucky, you’ll see the famous steam engine (it runs only on special occasions). Running between New Jalpaigur (100 mts) and Darjeeling (2200 mts), the train is a delightful part of Kurseong that adds to the charm of the town.
Exploring Kurseong at a relaxed pace is the best advice for travellers, because this quaint town literally demands your attention in ways that tight itineraries and quick sightseeing cannot warrant. Walk along the narrow gauge railway tracks of the DHR and grab a plate of momos from the market. Drive to witness Kurseong’s highest point called Dow Hill and stay under the spell of a constant mist and exquisite views (when skies are clear). Dow Hill is said be haunted and wading through the pine trees here is almost eerie, yet heartbreakingly beautiful.
The Netaji Museum, which is about 4 km from Kurseong, is another example of the town’s rich history. The museum showcases parts of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s life, one of India’s most revered freedom fighters and leaders. The house belonged to Netaji’s brother from 1922, and was taken over by the Netaji Institute of Asian Studies in 1996. The museum was opened in 2005.
A trip to the Kurseong Monastery is highly recommended. With a huge Buddha statue gracing the main alter, this monastery is also a lama training school. The bright walls tell stories of the Lepcha folk culture.
Also noteworthy are the Dow Hill School, which is a grand colonial building, and the Goethals Memorial School. By now you will discover that Kurseong is like an education capital with many schools, most of which boast of majestic colonial buildings.
ON YOUR PLATE
You can buy a variety of yak cheese, egg noodles and tea blends at the local markets here. End your trip with scrumptious food and a slurp of tea, and go to sleep knowing that you will wake up to a view that is sure to spellbound you in the morning, yet again.
Text: Aditi Mathur Kumar