Monsoon in the hills: Kurseong

This was not the title I had in mind. To begin with, I was really looking forward to a cool & sunny escapade in the Eastern Himalayas, our annual summer retreat.  The relentless 42 degree heat in Hyderabad was beginning to get to us and a holiday in the mountains seemed like the right remedy. On reaching the town of Kurseong, we were in for a surprise- claps of thunder and a sudden outburst heralded our arrival at our family hotel- Cochrane Place.  My initial response was “Our holiday is doomed!”, but how wrong I was! In the course of the next few days we discovered that  there is a certain magic when thunder roars through the valley, clouds float in, rain pitter- patters on your window and the sweet smell of the wet earth wafts when the clouds finally part….

Clouds floating in to the magical Dow Hill Forest in Kurseong
Clouds drift through pine trees in the magical Dow Hill Forest in Kurseong

There wasn’t much to do(as I suppose is the case when you visit a hill station the monsoons) I spent the days in a cozy nook of our hotel tucked into a book ( In my case 50 shades Freed), drank copious amounts of tea, dug into delicious steamed momos ( local dumplings) and when the rain settled, put on my walking shoes for a stroll nearby. Being surrounded by three famous tea estates- Makaibari, Ambootia Organic and Castleton,an ordinary early evening stroll takes on an exotic turn with scenic walking trails  snaking through picturesque tea estates, giving you a glimpse of the lives of the locals.

Sunsets in Kurseong, the view from the car park of our hotel- Cochrane Place
Sunsets in Kurseong, the view from the balcony of the family suite room- Cochrane Place hotel
A panoramic view of the Tea estates of Gopaldhara
A panoramic view of the Tea estates of Gopaldhara- on our drive towards Darjeeling
Two teenage monks head to a nearby field to play cricket
Two teenage monks head to a nearby field to play cricket
Panoramic view of tea gardens and pine forest
Panoramic view of tea gardens and pine forest in the background
a tiny glimpse of the Kanchenjunga as seen on Day 2 of our stay. Picture taken from our cafe
A tiny glimpse of the Kanchenjunga as seen through the thick blanket of clouds seen. Picture taken from our cafe
Shadows of clouds in the Ambootia valley as seen from Cochrane Place
Shadows of rainclouds in the Ambootia valley as seen from Cochrane Place

KURSEONG……where?
Kurseong literally means ” Land of white orchids”  Rightfully so there are plenty of wild white orchids strewn around fields and pots in the local homes.  This town was virtually absent from the tourist map till 2000, the year my husband’s family bought the ruined bungalow ( now hotel) Over the years visitors have been bowled over by its “small town” vibe; the fact that it is located an hour before Darjeeling, makes it a must stop now for travellers heading up or down from Darjeeling/Sikkim. The altitude of 4860 ft ensures that it never gets too warm or too cold in winters ( staying a couple of degrees above freezing point)

Lillies in one of the many nurseries in Kurseong
Lillies in one of the many nurseries in Kurseong
Wild Hydrangeas lined on  public roads add a charm to the town
These wild Hydrangeas lined up on roads add a certain charm to the town

Kurseong is mainly famous for 2 things:
1) Home to three world famous tea estates namely- Makaibari, Ambootia( Organic) and Castleton
2) Boarding point for the UNESCO World Heritage Toy Train

HOW TO GET HERE
The nearest train station is New Jalpaiguri and Airport is Bagdogra ( Both 1 hour 30 minutes drive to our hotel)
There are direct flights from Delhi and Mumbai daily, otherwise most flights are routed through Kolkata

WHERE TO STAY
I’m going to be extremely partial here and recommend our hotel- Cochrane Place, oozing with old world charm. What started as an ambitious family project with a mere 6 rooms has steadily grown to 31 rooms. Timeless memorabilia from the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways, antiques, artwork, lithographs and other knick knacks fill the walls of the hotel. Most of the rooms retain a certain individuality and are furnished with antique teak furniture. Our award winning cafe is the place to head to for food. Inspired by the colonial heritage, most recipes featured in the menu date back to the times of the British Raj. Must try:  Shepherd’s Pie, Mrs Framjee’s Chicken Curry, Steamed Ginger pudding with Chai sauce. The Tea bar features over 30 different blends of teas.

Cozy and affordable standard rooms in Cochrane
Sampling the paan chai
Sampling the paan chai at Chai Country
Cafe chai country- recipient of the TIMES NOW Foodie awards in 2011 for Best Experimental cuisine and Best Beverage
Cafe chai country- recipient of the TIMES NOW Foodie awards in 2011 for Best Experimental cuisine and Best Beverage

THINGS TO DO IN KURSEONG

Tea tours: Walk through the lush tea gardens to approach the tea factory of either Ambootia or Makaibari- should you want to visit the tea factory simply contact our Resident Manager Ravindra Kang who will make necessary arrangements. Understand the process of making  tea from the leaves to rolled and dried form. Finally head back to the hotel to unwind with a tea tasting session at Cochrane Place

One of the many tea walking trails outside our hotel
One of the many tea walking trails outside our hotel

Toy Train museum and Toy train ride: The Kurseong Railway Station houses an informative museum on the UNESCO World Heritage Toy train ( Darjeeling himalayan Railways) This is best visited before hopping on to the Steam engine locomotive train that goes all the way to Darjeeling ( mind you it takes a good 3-4 hours) For those that can’t fathom spending so much time on the train, its best to hop off in Sonada, wherein lies the Sonada monastery that contains the mummified remains of the Kabje Kalu Rinpoche.

UNESCO World heritage toy train
UNESCO World heritage toy train

Hiking Trails and Dow Hill Forest: there are many scenic hiking trails, a map is easily available from the front desk of Cochrane Place. Trails range from easy to difficult and may require drop off/pick up with car.  The Dow hill forest is worth visiting for a day picnic- with magnificent pine trees and peaceful setting makes it worth spending some time

Makaibari tea factory as seen from outside our hotel
Makaibari tea factory as seen from outside our hotel

WORD OF CAUTION FOR THOSE VISITING IN MONSOON
Monsoons in the hills appeal to the few that prefer relaxed and a slow approach to their holiday. It can rain non stop for hours at a stretch causing landslides thereby restricting your daily sightseeing itinerary. When heading out for walks, its important that you wear leach guards or knee high socks to prevent the blood sucking leaches from latching on to your dear ( juicy) legs. Its best not to go with a fixed itinerary as that is likely to change depending on the weather. Surrender yourself to mother nature and be pleasantly surprised with where your day will take you!

I’m going to leave you with an image of our hotel’s official dog- Chuggy. He greets visitors and is always available for a cuddle!!

Chuggy
Chuggy
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2 thoughts on “Monsoon in the hills: Kurseong”

  1. Kurseon sounds lovely, Cochrane palace even more. The mummified Rinpoche sounds interesting, I am going to read up that 🙂

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