Kurseong, The Land of White Orchid
The Land of White Orchid
Kurseong, has always lived in the shadows of his more illustrious sister Darjeeling, considered as the queen of the hills. Kurseong, literally meaning the land of the white orchid, has always been a quick stop for a bite of momo and a gulp of tea, for tourists heading for Darjeeling.
From the rolling tea gardens to the towering Kanchanjunga and from the magnificent churches to the quiet little monasteries, Kurseong is a interesting mix of nature and heritage and can be an ideal weekend destination for tourists from Kolkata.
Cochrane Place, a botique heritage resort, located about two and half kilometers south of Kurseong on the Pankhabari Road, is one of the best options of exploring the sleepy hamlet of Kurseong.
The resort of Cochrane Place is sandwiched between the two famous tea estates of Makaibari and Castleton. Ambotia, another well known tea estate, also lies nearby.
Cochrane Place provides a breathtaking view of the rolling tea estates crowned with the eternal snow peaks of Kanchanjunga.
Sadly, during my entire three day stay at Cochrane Place, Kanchanjunga remained invisible behind the clouds.
Cochrane Place is actually the restored and recreated residence of Percy John Cochrane, MBE (1866 – 1944), Honorable Magistrate and Barrister of Kurseong Town.
Just a couple of yards from the Cochrane Place is a small graveyard, which also houses the grave of Percy John Cochrane.
The best way to start the Kurseong tour is from the railway station. If you are a early raiser, you can witness the morning train of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) leaving the Kurseong station for Darjeeling.
The steam engine only operates on selected days, so you are most likely to find a diesel engine pulling two coaches, one first and one second class, along a two feet wide railway track.
The station contains several abandoned coaches and a steam engine. A small loco – shed nearby also houses a stem engine.
Once a summer hide out of the British, Kurseong has its share of colonial buildings, starting from churches with their towering spires to century old Gothic styled schools.
Short distance away from the Kurseong Railway Station is the St. Paul the Apostle Church, with its long and elegant spire and richly decorated interiors, is one of the prime attractions of Kurseong.
Next stop is the St. John Berchman’s Church. Located at the foot of St. Mary’s Hill, the church marks the starting point of the pilgrims trail to the holy shrine of Grotto, located at the top of the St. Mary’s Hill.
Sadly, the old structure of St. John Berchman’s Church, with its towering structure, has been demolished and replaced by a new square structure with sloped corrugated metal sheet roof. But the interiors still have the century old look, with its antique furnitures. The walls of the St. John Berchman’s Church are decorated with wooden framed coloured tablets, with Nepali captions, of the 14 Cross Stations of Christ.
Although the pilgrims take the winding trail to the pilgrimage of Grotto, the tourists can opt for the motor-able road. The motor-able road passes past the Forest Rangers Training College, another magnificent piece of colonial architecture.
The three storied building comes in with a basement and attic and covers a floor area of about 60,000 square feet. It has a total of 121 rooms.
Built in 1889, it originally served as a training centre for the Christian brothers of St. Mary’s Convent.
It was taken over by the Indian Government in 1974 and the Eastern Forest Rangers College was established.
Today the 121 rooms have been converted into office, classrooms, library, computer room, hostel rooms and dinning hall. But sadly the small old chapel lies in utter neglect.
Continue along the road toward Grotto, a small hermitage, with a statue of Virgin Mary. Natural spring water sweeps through a small cave. Locals, both Christians and non – Christians, drink it and even collect it in bottles.
Next stop is the Dow Hill, Kurseongs highest point. Thickly forested with towering pine trees, the hill remains eternally covered with mist. No wonder several stories of paranormal activities are centred round Dow Hill!!!
Apart from ghost and spirits Dow Hill has something more to offer, at the foot of Dow Hill is the Dow Hill School with its spectacular colonial facade.
Kurseong also houses several schools, with similar colonial architecture, like the Goethals Memorial and St. Helen, but with limited time, I was not able to visit them.
Dow Hill Park, a landscaped garden, is located just above the Dow Hill School. Next to the Dow Hill is the Deer Park, a small enclosure housing a few deers.
One can continue further up the Dow Hill, passing through the shadows of the towering pine trees. Its quiet unlikely you will spot a ghost, but the experience will no wonder have a mystic effect.
The down hill drive from Dow Hill provides a panoramic view of the town of Kurseong, with its rolling tea estates.
The attraction of Kurseong is not restricted to natural scenes and colonial structures only. The Lepchas, the original inhabitants of Kurseong, also have their share.
Located at a short distance from the station is the Kurseong Monastery which doubles up as a nunnery and also houses a lama training school.
The main alter of the monastery contains a giant Buddha statue, flanked on the sides and top by other smaller statues. The walls are brightly painted, depicting legends of Lepcha folk culture.
Kurseong also has its share of India’s freedom struggle history. Netaji Museum, in Giddhapahar, offers an insight into the life of the great leader Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Located about 4 km south of Kurseong, the house was purchased by Sarat Chandra Bose, brother of Subhas Chandra Bose, in 1922.
Both Sarat Chandra Bose and Netaji visited the house several times, both of them were kept under house arrest in the house. Desbandhu Chittaranjan Das also visited the house in 1925.
In 1996, the house was taken over by the Netaji Institute of Asian Studies and in 2005, a museum was opened in the house.
The museum exhibits several documents belonging to Netaji and the Bose family, sadly photography is prohibited in the Netaji Museum.
Finally its time to head for your hotel for a late lunch. If you are staying in Cochrane Place, an exotic meal of Rainbow Rice and Mrs. Framjee’s Chicken Curry will be waiting for you along with a cup of exotic blended tea.
This trip was part of a FAM (Familiarization) Tour of Cochrane Place, Kurseong
Contact details of Cochrane Place, Kurseong: