Kurseong: The Land of White Orchids with mix of nature and heritage

Kurseong in the local name is called “Kharsang”, which in the Lepcha language means “Land of White Orchids”.Though it lived in the shadows of her more illustrious sister Darjeeling considered the hills’ queen. Kurseong is an exciting mix of nature and heritage, from the rolling tea gardens to the towering Kanchanjunga and magnificent churches to the quiet little monasteries. This place was my mother’s choice of visit hence we had to go. And today the weather was sultry cloudy and misty since it was raining from last night. Initially, I planned to travel to Kurseong via the DHR, but COVID did not allow this wish. Hence we took to the roads to Kurseong. 

Kurseong: The Land of White Orchids with rolling tea gardens
Kurseong

I woke up early, had a quick shower & left for Kurseong after morning tea, around 8 am. We were all set to explore the misty schools and environs of Kurseong. Hari, my cab driver, was on time as usual, & we hit the wet roads. Talking about Kurseong, it was initially a part of the Sikkimese Kingdom. Later was acquired by Nepal sometime in the 18th Century. In 1835 the British took charge of Kurseong and transformed it into another hill station. 

Rain and clouds at length swept on, and the tranquil valley was swaddled in a veil of poltergeist-white mist. We drove along the narrow gauge rail lines, with eerily silent in the valley. We decided to visit Chimney first its almost 8 kilometres away from the town of Kurseong. On the way, we stopped for breakfast, had a cup of coffee & steaming hot momos. We drove along the luxuriant alpine forest in the foggy stretch where perhaps the visibility was hardly 10 feet. Chimney and Bagora village is nestled in the cloud, heaven for true nature lovers. And I did witness it. It was simply mesmerising!

Chimney’s name is derived from the 100 years old Chimney, built during World War I by the Britisher. The Chimney is almost 24 feet, and it is also one of the tourist attractions of Kurseong. By the time we reached Chimeny, it was around 10 am, and few tourists were flocking around. What caught my attention was the gigantic Chimney in red colour and the eerie silence. The clouds were flowing in and out over me, with the sound of chirping birds was filled in the air. I walked up to the Chimney, look at the structure, and click few photographs. 

Kurseong: The Land of White Orchids with rolling tea gardens
Chimney

I took a walk in the lush green forest surrounding the village; pavements are carved for tourists. The serenity of this place will calm you like the dense green forest, the chirping of countless birds, the breathtaking view of Kanchendzongna peaks. I regret that I should have spent a night here; anyway, we always have the next time. Spending an hour or so, we drove towards Kurseong.

Kurseong: The Land of White Orchids with rolling tea gardens
walk in the wood

Kurseong is 53km from Darjeeling, famous for its rolling tea estate, well-known convent school, white orchids & magnificent views of Mt. Kanchenjunga, Kabru and Jannu. And somewhat, the clouds were hovering all over me, making it impossible to get the picture of Mt. Kanchenjunga, Kabru and Jannu. But the mist danced upon the valley as if it were in some magical daydream. We spotted the places to visit, and drove along the curvy road and reached our first destination. 

Dow Hill: Our next stop was Dow hill-a a forest with quite serene and moist adjoining Dow Hill School, boasting legacy and glory. Grand and beautiful structure, beautiful to look at with the lovely colour palette and misty atmosphere. Thickly forested with towering pine trees, the hill remains eternally covered with mist. Honestly, the place gives a ghostly effect; no wonder several stories of paranormal activities are centred around Dow Hill.

Downhill forest

Though it’s pretty unlikely you will spot a ghost but passing through the shadows of the towering pine trees, the experience will have a magical effect. And my mother, who is fond of the forest, had to talk a walk in the woods, trust me, the flowing air seems like whispering in your in the stark silence. However, there are wooden benches and bamboo stools beneath the colossal pine and deodar trees in those dense wood, along with a tea stall. It reminded me of my Mcleodganj morning walk.

Kurseong: The Land of White Orchids with rolling tea gardens
Tea stall

I walked down further to reach an abandoned Church that is in yellow colour and was deserted. It is near the entrance of the Victoria Boys School, and the watchman did not allow me to go inside. Quite Strange! But I requested him to click a picture for me, which he did. I thanked him & moved on.

Kurseong: The Land of White Orchids with rolling tea gardens
Victoria church

Eagle’s Craig:  It is a popular tourist destination perched on a cliff, at a short distance from Kurseong Railway Station. This place houses the water reservoir for the entire town of Kurseong. The site is built like a park with a concrete altar built in the park with a Khukri on top called ”ShahidSmarak”. after I climbed few steps, I realised from here you get the sweeping view of the surrounding mountain, hills, hamlets and slopes from here. It has a cafeteria, a watchtower and a flower garden. Eagle’sEagle’s Craig is a panoramic viewpoint for sunset along with the fascinating views of the diverse landscapes, misty mountains, rivers and Siliguri plains. But we could not see anything due to the clouds, but felt the cold breeze on our face. 

Kurseong: The Land of White Orchids with rolling tea gardens
Eagles’ Craig

We further drove down, passing through the colonial houses & multiple schools, to reach our next destination.

Netaji Museum: Located in Giddhapahar, Kurseong shares the history of India’sIndia’s freedom struggle. This museum showcases the life of the great leader Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Sarat Chandra Bose, brother of Subhas Chandra Bose, bought this house in 1922. In 1996, the Netaji Institute of Asian Studies took over the house. And 2005, the house was converted into a museum. The museum exhibits several documents belonging to Netaji and the Bose family; sadly, photography is prohibited.

Kurseong: The Land of White Orchids with rolling tea gardens
Netaji Museum

The attraction of Kurseong is not just restricted to natural scenes and colonial structures. The Lepchas, the original inhabitants of Kurseong, also have their share.

Kurseong Monastery: The walls of the monastery are brightly painted, depicting legends of Lepcha folk culture. It doubles up as a nunnery and also houses a lama training school. The main altar of the monastery contains a giant Buddha statue, flanked on the sides and top by other smaller statues. 

Kurseong: The Land of White Orchids with rolling tea gardens
Kurseong Monastery

Forest Rangers Training College: Another magnificent piece of colonial architecture. Built in 1889, it originally served as a training centre for the Christian brothers of St. Mary’s. The Indian Government took over in 1974 when the Eastern Forest Rangers College was established. This three-storied building comes in with a basement and attic. That covers a floor area of about 60,000 square feet. It has a total of 121 rooms which have been converted into an office, classrooms, library, computer room, hostel rooms and dining hall. 

Kurseong: The Land of White Orchids with rolling tea gardens
Forest ranger training College

Continue along the road toward Grotto; you will see a small hermitage with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Natural spring water sweeps through a small cave. Locals, both Christians and non – Christians, drink it. 

We drove towards the Railway station, as I wanted to visit two churches nearby. 

St. Paul the Apostle Church: One of the prime attractions of Kurseong, for its long and elegant spire and richly decorated interiors. I went inside & sat in the calmness of the place to sink in it. The first stone for the church was placed on 9th March 1904 and was ready by 15th January 1905. Dedicated to St. Paul, the patron saint of the former Archbishop Paul Goethals. With its beautiful spires, the church makes a pretty picture with tall pine trees in the background. 

Kurseong: The Land of White Orchids with rolling tea gardens
St Paul Church

St. John Berchman’s: The church marks the starting point of the pilgrim’s trail to the holy shrine of Grotto. Unfortunately, I started backwards from end to create, a little weird but okay, I guess. The exterior, with its towering structure, has been demolished. And replaced by a new square structure with a sloped corrugated metal sheet roof. However, the interiors still have a century-old look, with its antique furniture. The church walls are decorated with wooden framed coloured tablets, with Nepali captions, of the 14 Cross Stations of Christ. Quite an Art! I spent some time observing the decor & clicked few photographs.

Kurseong: The Land of White Orchids with rolling tea gardens
St John Berchman’s Church

My last destination was Cochrane Place, but before that, I wanted to visit the Makaibari Tea Estate, but the entrance was closed due to COVID restrictions. Alas could see the tea processing & cross 1903 established St. Andrew’s. There is a homestay in Makaibari Tea Estate run by the estate worker.

Makaibari tea Estate

I also crossed the beautiful Carlton House – A colonial establishment with an imposing entrance and tea gardens visible from the gate. Tall trees line up the path inside the estate property, beautiful Victorian lamps decorate the front view, and Carlton House looks even more serene in the fog! The colonial establishment s now converted into a homestay. Finally, I drove towards my last destination.

Carlton House

Cochrane Place: A boutique heritage resort located on Pankhabari Road. It is one of the best options for exploring the sleepy hamlet of Kurseong. Cochrane Place is sandwiched between the two famous tea estates of Makaibari and CastletonAmbotia. It’s beautiful; the old colonial essence is still held high despite the restoration and recreation. It was initially the residence of Percy John Cochrane, MBE (1866 – 1944), Honorable Magistrate and Barrister of Kurseong Town. And It is also called “the Hermitage”.Because of its splendid vista and tranquillity, with a unique blend of tea and trains. Cochrane Place offers breathtaking views of the mighty Kanchenjunga and the rolling tea gardens high up on the ridge. Alas, the entire day, Kanchanjunga remained invisible behind the clouds.

Kurseong: The Land of White Orchids with rolling tea gardens
Cochrane house

I was awestruck at the beautiful structure; I visited the  Chai Country is Cochrane Places. An exclusive open-air tea salon and restaurant offering panoramic views. An exciting mix of tea from Darjeeling, Assam and Dooars is provided here.

Chai Country

We tried a few hot & cold tea, with some snacks. The fog filled in the place, obstructing the view of the valley as well as the Himalayas. But I enjoyed my tea & snack along with the weather. 

Tea of the evening

It was time to return as the clock struck 5.30 pm & rain was about to start pouring. And just a couple of yards from Cochrane Place is a small graveyard. This Graveyard also houses the grave of Percy John Cochrane, but looking at the weather, I skipped it. We drove back to Darjeeling, and the mist followed us. A thought hit my mind, most consequential choices involve shades of grey, and some fog is often helpful in getting things done-Just like my trip to Kurseong. 

How to Reach.

By Air: 

The nearest airport is Bagdogra, approximately 41 km away from the Kurseong. At the airport, hire taxis to reach the city.

By Rail:

The New Jalpaiguri is the nearest railway station to Kurseong. New Jalpaiguri connects the city in India. You need to hire private cabs or take a shared taxi from the station to reach Kurseong.

By Road:

Kurseong is well-connected via road with Kolkata city & other closeby cities such as Gangtok and Kalimpong. Buses, private cabs, shared taxis ply to Kurseong from these places. However, you can also take a private cab or a shared taxi.

 

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