Initially I was keen on travelling to Kurseong via the DHR (Darjeeling Himalayan Railway) and had even booked a ticket for the journey from Darjeeling to Kurseong on the Red Panda Express that departed from Darjeeling at a reasonable time. The fare for the same was a meagre 50-60 Rupees and made me book the ticket without thinking twice. Hemant Pradhan uncle (of Joshi Homestay) had told me that the train line near Sonada had broken down a few days/months ago and that the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway wasn’t operating to Kurseong. It was only operating from Darjeeling to New Jalpaiguri and in the opposite direction too.
Since I had prior information about this matter, I had already made my mind to not wait for news about the train and to just leave by the shared sumo to Kurseong. Anyway, the Darjeeling railway station was even farther away from the shared taxi stand which was quite a long walk away from Mall Road where Joshi Homestay was located.
IRCTC showed that the Red Panda Express daily train from Darjeeling to Kurseong was cancelled daily but it still allowed me to book a ticket. I received a message sometime in the night indicating that the train was cancelled and that the amount will be refunded in my bank account. I woke up early, got lucky with a majestic view of Mt. Kanchenjunga; had a quick breakfast and tea at Joshi Homestay. Thanked Hemant uncle and Anjana aunty for the wonderful time and waved goodbye.
It must have been around 8:30 in the morning when I left the mall road to begin the steep descent to read the Darjeeling shared taxi (Sumo stand) syndicate. The weather was a bit humid but thankfully it did not rain as I was walking on the road. It hardly took me 20 minutes to amble down to the sumo syndicate. The distance wasn’t much and while the uphill climb was excruciating in the sun, the downhill walk was fun! The shops and touristy gimmicks of Darjeeling were just getting ready to open.
A shared sumo from Darjeeling to Kurseong was stationary and available and I quickly took the receipt for a good seat in the same. If memory serves me right, the shared sumo fare was 60 Rupees. The distance from Darjeeling to Kurseong is only 30 kms. I quickly grabbed a puff and a pastry from the nearby branch of Glenary’s which was just opposite to the taxi stand on the Hill Cart Road.
I had only a day to explore Kurseong, since I had spent an extra day in Darjeeling than originally planned! My flight from Bagdogra to Delhi was scheduled for the next day, late in the afternoon and basically it meant that I had an entire day to wander around Kurseong. Kurseong (pronounced Korsong) in the local Lepcha language literally translates to ‘The land of white Orchids’.
The journey from Darjeeling to Kurseong was incident free (hardly an hour) and I reached Kurseong Main Bazaar (near Kurseong Railway Station) at around 10 am. The weather in Kurseong was sunny and humid. I had almost no idea about a staying place in Kurseong and thereby asked for help from locals in finding a reasonable place to stay in Kurseong. I was ok with staying either with staying in a hotel/guest house or a homestay since it was only for a day and I would spend most of the time exploring the misty schools and environs of Kurseong.
There were a few cheap and run-down hotels in the bazaar area but some local leader was visiting Kurseong the same day and these cheap hotels were either booked or were being currently occupied by the security police guys. Someone took me to a smelly room and that resulted in me thinking about heading to Bagdogra the same day if I could not find a place to stay in Kurseong!! Yes, it was that bad.
Kurseong Railway Station is located at an altitude of 4864 ft and the town is located on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) UNESCO World Heritage line. There is a Railway Museum with souvenirs, memorabilia and exhibits from the old times but it was closed. Asked the station master for help in opening it, and he asked me to buy a 20 Rupee admission ticket. He had the keys and opened it as soon as I paid. Wonderful exhibits and information about DHR and Kurseong.
After an hour or so of trying to find an ok place to stay in the sultry weather, the weather gods intervened and it became cloudy and misty in Kurseong. I felt much better now since my backpack had become quite heavy with all the shopping done in Kalimpong and Darjeeling. It was quite clear now that I would have to walk to the outskirts of Kurseong and find a room in one of the peaceful homestays in that region.
When I started walking, the locals remarked that there is 1 homestay on the way around 1 km after Kurseong and a sort of guaranteed place to stay – Makaibari Tea Estate Homestays around 3 kms from Kurseong main bazaar. Crossed pretty colonial buildings on the way, little tired but the refreshing and cool air invigorates me. I am jumping in delight in the mist and the fog; cross the 1903 established St. Andrew’s Church.
Also cross a very pretty house, Carlton House – A colonial establishment with an imposing entrance and tea gardens visible from the entrance. 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! I remember doing an instagram live broadcast while walking on this foggy stretch where perhaps the visibility was hardly 10 feet!
The Darjeeling Tea Research Centre is to my right; I think about going in but realise that it is already close to noon and I better hurry up and quickly settle on a place to stay in Kurseong! The walk continues, the homestay recommended by the locals is good but costs around 2000 Rupees. I decide to just go to Makaibari Tea Estate Homestays run by the workers at the Makaibari Tea Estate.
Makaibari Tea Estate Homestay
I reach the main gate of Makaibari Tea Estate and contact of the main guy managing the homestays; he takes the money (can’t remember if it was 500 or 800 Rupees) per person per day and makes me meet up with a local in whose home I am supposed to stay! This exchange was quite smooth and I walk with the local to his home. It is a small family home located in the Makaibari Tea Estate area where the staff lives.
It is a very nice initiative taken by the tea estate workers to start this homestay concept in Kurseong and let travellers experience the authentic local life. It is a simple home and a meagre room. But thats all you need to stay when there is a moving family to take care of you. The room has a single bed on one side, a sofa set for 2 people, another single bed on the other side and Chinese fans as decoration. The family lives in the 2 other rooms in the house.
The family comprises of old grandparents, parents and a young kid who is very bright and speaks proper English. He is the de facto communicator for the family when they have guests who speak English. I learn that the family has hosted many international travellers too and maintain a log book with messages and experiences written by people of various nationalities. I am served Darjeeling tea as a welcome drink.
The Makaibari Tea Estate Homestay system is simple, 5-6 families in total function as homestays and the homestay is assigned at random through a turn-by-turn system by the manager in charge of the whole system. This way, every family has equal opportunities to host travellers and make some money as well. The manager takes a small cut for every transaction (which I personally didn’t like but guess it is the only system that works).
There are creepers growing near the homestay; I spot a few plump squashes growing on the creepers. The kid discusses many topics with me and takes me for a walk as lunch is being prepared. There are lush and misty tea gardens nearby; I wish they were surrounding the homestay where I am at! We come back and lunch is ready.
I am famished. The search-for-accommodation walk has left me drained of energy and the knowledge that I only have a few hours to see whatever I can of Kurseong is already proving to be a lot of pressure! Lunch is served – Rice, omelette, green vegetables, dall, 2-3 types of home made pickles, dips and snacks. It feels like a feast. The grandma gets her questions translated through the kid and I have a wonderful time sitting with the family and eating my lunch.
The bathroom is outside the house; when I ask to use it they hand me the keys. It is around 1:30 pm and I decide to rush back to Kurseong after lunch. Luckily, there are shared vans plying this route till Kurseong Railway Station. They charge around 20 Rupees per seat. Happy I don’t have to walk all the way back!
History of Kurseong
Kurseong was originally a part of the Sikkimese Kingdom and was acquired by Nepal sometime in the 18th Century. After the British came; in 1835 the British took charge of Kurseong and transformed it to another hill station for them.
Walking Around in Kurseong
I reached Kurseong main Bazaar at around 2 pm. I was on the Pankhabari Road which meets the Hill Cart road just in front of the Kurseong Rail Station. The Hill Cart Road continues uphill to the more loftier parts of Kurseong.
Dow Hill School
Got into a shared cab that dropped me close to the school area. At the outset, someone stopped me from entering the school premises but a few locals came to the rescue and urged them to let me see the school and photograph it. Grand and beautiful structure, very pretty to look at with the nice colour palette and misty atmosphere. Just outside the school, I meet some auto guys and locals who recommend I take a walk and go to the other places.
I take the directions from them and start walking on the road; it is through a dense forest and I totally enjoy the scenic beauty of Kurseong. After 5 odd minutes, there’s a turn and a tiny stall that serves chai and snacks. I spot many young kids and school guys who crowd the snacks stall! After all the setting is quite impeccable; there are wooden benches and bamboo stools beneath the humongous pine and deodhar trees. This school area is located at a much higher altitude than Kurseong town, and thats why its cool and misty! Feel fresh and invigorated with the walks.
The road is nostalgic with fallen leaves covering the road path; there are hardly any vehicles to be seen and only school kids seem to walk this path! Reach an abandoned Church that is in yellow colour and seems to be deserted. It is near the entrance of the Victoria Boys School and the watchman doesn’t want me to go inside.
Victoria Boys School
I am asked to get permission to go inside from one of the teachers living in the nearby quarters. I plead for help from the guard and he sends one of the school kids with me to get the permission. The teacher asks me the purpose and I just tell I am travelling; he asks the kid to let me photograph the building etc. Victoria Boys School looks even grander than Dow Hill School. It is painted in shades of yellow and was built around 1905. Kids are playing football in the massive playground.
I am a little off mood due to the drama involved in taking permission and decide to walk back to the snack guy. Luck intervenes. A young local on a motorcycle randomly speaks to me and offers to show me around the most scenic parts of Kurseong! I am delighted. There are a few other guys with him, so he seems like a dependable guy and I am going in front of the snacks stall so there is hardly any chance of anything going wrong!
We vroom on the motorbike and he shows me the West Bengal Forest School on Dow Hill and a lake located high somewhere on Dow Hill (which I had no idea is said to be haunted). We take a short walk through a park to reach the lake. Lovely road as we ascend higher, very misty and foggy with almost no vehicle in sight. The guy who is showing me around and is working with someone and they are constructing some bamboo cottages for tourists. I can’t thank him enough for taking me to some beautiful places in Kurseong where I most definitely would not have reached with public transport.
Other Prominent Places to Visit in Kurseong :
St. Paul the Apostle Church
Saint Andrews Church
St. Mary’s Grotto
St. Helen’s School
Netaji Museum & Institute of Asian Studies
Ambootia Tea Estate
Makaibari Tea Estate
Tashi Samtenling Monastery
Goethals Memorial School
Around 5-530 pm, it starts raining – I still want to try and go to St. Paul the Apostle Church and some nearby places that I have missed. Alas, I can’t find a shared cab. Run here and there! Haha, a little excited about going and try to explore my options if it is actually possible to see those places. Since it continues raining, I decide instead to walk to Makaibari Tea Estate Homestay before it gets dark. See more pretty buildings on the way.
Reach homestay and have dinner at 7 pm. Request the family for roti if they can make it. Maybe I am feeling a little homesick. The homestay grandma is a kind person; she makes potato fried curry, squash vegetable, dall and roti. Tea is also served with dinner. More conversations with the family and relax. I also fill their visitors log book and the young kid staples my card in the book with my review.
I go to bed and keep the window open in the night. It is slightly humid but I manage to sleep well and keep sleeping till late. Cosy bed. In the morning, I don’t want to go anywhere and just stay at the homestay, spend time walking around and then leave for Bagdogra airport at around 9 am. Thats the plan.
Morning tea; lovely misty morning. Homestay family says keep 2 hours for Bagdogra and that shared cabs keep running regularly in the morning hours. Makaibari Tea Estate Homestay location is anyway on the road itself. I finish my breakfast and the little kid takes me around. Some youngsters are playing cricket and football in the midst of lush greenery while mist emanates from the tea gardens.
Thank the family many times for the lovely stay experience and hope to come back someday for a longer stay.
Shared cab drama, 9 am no cab. There is no cab that comes for more than 1 hour. I finally decide to hitchhike. 5-10 kms in a truck. Then get an auto carrier and I agree to pay Rs. 350 to drop me directly to Bagdogra airport. Heart in my mouth many times. Hehe, but all’s well that ends well.
I still have to collect the 4 liquor wine bottles from Namrata Restaurant (courtesy of Bijoy Da of Our Guest Travels, Sikkim trip) near Bagdogra Airport. Pick the bag after communicating with Bijoy Da – the auto guy really helped in finding Namrata Restaurant. Reach the airport at 1-1:30 pm. Lot of time on my hand.
Liquor bottles drama. Bagdogra is a military airport. I had transferred the liquor content into plastic bottles so that the glass bottles don’t break in transit. Security guys say can’t carry. They demand that I show the receipts of buying the juice / wine bottles. I say its juice. Cancer juice for a patient, my grandmother. Drama. Huge drama. Main army officer CISF guy is the chief here. He asks the staff to taste and the staff says startled its wine.
Some kind people see the commotion and my (seemingly) crying face and the security guys relent. The CISF chief asks the security guys to pack and seal the bottles separately and allow me to take them as check-in luggage.
Very lucky for me as my baggage is already overweight. 13.7 kilo backpack has already been checked in and this handbag with cardamom weighs around 5 kilos. I call Bijoy bhaiya just in case the bottles are not allowed. He is in Bagdogra and quite close to the airport. Even in the worst case scenario, I don’t want to throw away these 4 precious bottles brought all the way from Dzongu.
The CISF chief tells the AirAsia guys to keep it separately in check-in bag and issues a special order and sends one person with me. Since there is not much time remaining for the AirAsia flight, one security guy accompanies me to help in putting me in front of the queue and finish the ordeal. Cant thank these guys enough!
Apparently the official rules mean that one can carry 5 litres of alcohol on domestic flights in India. The Sikkimese guys at the AirAsia counter are very happy I had managed to fight and take cack these precious cultural souvenirs! All in the rules, timber wine, rhododendron wine, raspberry wine and some other fruit. Reminisce about memories while sharing it with numerous friends in Delhi! Yay.