It was supposed to be a short layover. We were in Kurseong to rest our legs before heading on to visit Darjeeling, it’s famous cousin. The hill town, however, surprised us from the outset. The steep gradient, hairpin bends, deep valleys and a less-than ideal driver made it a more adventurous ride than we had bargained for. A sigh escaped our lips at each turn as the cab landed mere inches from the edge, followed by a silent prayer for us to reach our destination. The anxiety, punctuated ever so often to curse the lack of barriers, as the mist rolled in and made things worse. It was only when our eyes sighted tea, we knew our precarious hour was at an end. We had arrived.
Kurseong, ceded to the British Empire by the king of Sikkim in 1835, is surrounded by tea estates. The hills roll on far and wide, with different nomenclatures – Ambootia, Castleton, Makaibari, Goomtee and more – offering factory and estate tours, Darjeeling brews and in some cases premium stays. At Makaibari, a few villagers and workers have also set up simple homestays, where you can learn about local culture firsthand.
Our stay was perched on a hillock called Giddapahar. If you can shrug off the ‘I love banners’ sprouting up faster than mushrooms in the country, it offers mesmerising views. The town is laid up before you, along with a part of the Castleton estate. A Hanuman temple and a towering rendition of the deity complete the picture. Though crowded, it offers a better vantage point that Eagle’s Crag. Close by is the Netaji museum, which houses articles, letters and artifacts of Subhas Chandra Bose.
The winding roads feel less of an enemy with a local driver. The small hamlet of Bagora offers a short trail through a dense pine forest. While unlikely that the Kanchenjunga will drop its misty cloak, the point is said to offer a view on clear days. There isn’t a long to-do list really, Kurseong is a laidback town, best explored on foot. One of the trails is a walk down Dow Hill, which passes through several British-era boarding schools, forest museum and park. It’s a lonely walk, probably why it’s rife with tales of paranormal sightings.
A little further away from Kurseong is Margaret’s Deck, run by Castleton. It’s a tea lounge, where you are lulled into thinking you are sipping tea on a cloud. So thick is the mist on the outer deck, so breezy the area that you just don’t want to leave. The famed Darjeeling toy train runs parallel to the road, with a stop at Kurseong. It’s a slow ride, harking back to the past. The best bit is to walk the winding roads, letting the mountain air fill the lungs even though the feet grumble.
We did just that for two days. Amid misty mornings, cooler evenings, brief drizzles, early sunsets, we walked alongside trees with the prayers flags fluttering in the wind, spotting white orchids before retiring for a cup of tea – jasmine, peppermint, lemongrass. Maybe the only routine that could get us off coffee. Darjeeling, in retrospect, was all about battling crowds. It’s better to be out and about in Kurseong.
Allita: Located near Giddapahar, the luxury hotel offers good views and amenities, including dining under a glass canopy built around an old banyan tree. Website : https://www.allitaresorts.com/
Goomtee Retreat: An old-world English bungalow, within the Goomtee tea estate, the property offers heritage stays. A short walk from here is the Mahanadi waterfall. Website: https://kanoriatea.com/goomtee-retreat/