We are a family afflicted by wanderlust! Of all Covid-19 restrictions, the most difficult to abide by was, and still is, the lockdown. After a long stint at home, the family was getting restless and bogged down by boredom. There was an urgent need to recharge our batteries and retain sanity.
So, we decided to explore Kurseong, a hill station that is just an hour’s drive from our home in Siliguri. And that is when we realised what we take for granted – the beauty and treasures close by. Instead, we go off to faraway lands unnecessarily.
Kurseong is a small quaint town situated in the hills of North Bengal, midway between Siliguri and Darjeeling. It is just three-square miles in area but packs in 78 tea gardens, over 10 religious sites, natural viewpoints like Eagle’s Crag, a rock garden, the deer park, and many kholas (waterfalls). There also several schools and colleges.
True to its name, which means ‘small orchids’, Kurseong is covered with these white blossoms in spring.
Places to visit
Eagle’s Crag is a short walk from the iconic Kurseong railway station in the town centre. From this vantage point, we were treated to mesmerising views of the Kanchenjunga, the plains of Siliguri, the surrounding tea gardens, and Nepal’s hills.
The rock garden is about two kilometres from the town and lies on a bed of rocks also known as Giddapahar. Needless to say, the views from here are stunning as one can see both the beauty of the hills, and the plains below, simultaneously!
We learnt Kurseong also has the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s most haunted hill stations.
The forested slopes near Dow hill have something called a ‘death road’. There are claims of ghost sightings, especially of a headless boy and a lady in grey clothes.
We took a walk along the road leading to an abandoned church and saw the 100-year-old Victoria Boys school. Locals claim they have heard whimpers and cries of children in winter when the school is closed.
The cool air, the low light, the mist and the shadows–thanks to the tall trees all around–rendered an eerie air to the place. I must confess I was quite convinced about the mystery behind it all.
A slice of history from India’s freedom struggle
Kurseong has a fascinating connection to India’s freedom struggle. Netaji Subash Chandra Bose’s brother owned a home in Giddapahar.
Subhash Bose was placed under house-arrest, at this home, for seven months by the British Raj. It is from here that he directed matters of the Indian National Congress, discussed about the formation of the Indian National Army and even communicated with his wife, Emilie Schenkl.
This house bears testimony to his various correspondence with Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru on the controversy of whether Vande Mataram or Jana Gana Mana should be the National song.
All this information is exhibited in his house, that has since been converted into a museum, called the Netaji Institute of Asian studies.
It is intriguing to realise that Netaji managed to communicate his thoughts and ideas from such a remote town in the hills at a time when there was no internet or mobile phones!
A glimpse into nirvana
Kurseong has developed greatly as a tourist destination, with delightful resorts that highlight the local flavours to advantage.
Exotic flowers, rooms overlooking valleys and mountains, birding trips into the forest and of course, sampling of the world-renowned Darjeeling tea, are all part of the package. Our resort had a cute little tree house serving exotic teas and locally made brownies.
With such natural splendour, birds can never be far off. It was immensely soothing to hear the myriad bird calls among the pine trees that dotted our resort. Early morning a local guide took us on a trek to spot some birds. For the first time in my life, I saw birds that I had earlier seen in pictorial books only.
From spotting a fire breasted flowerpecker to a scarlet minivet, a chestnut crowned laughing thrush to a red billed leiothrix, a blue whistling thrush to a blue winged minla, I saw them all! A bonus came in the form of a mountain squirrel that scampered away when he saw us!
Birds, mountains, rivers, pine trees, exotic resorts with a splash of history and intrigue and to top it all, a hot cup of Darjeeling tea – what better way to spend a weekend than to take a trip to Kurseong!