“I’d love to do nothing” — that’s all I wanted from this holiday. Perhaps take some walks, breathe in the fresh air, and eat local delicacies. Moments later, we tugged our luggage into a homestay in an idyllic setting; I could hear the downpour outside. I sank into a chair near the window and watched the rain wash the entire town. Not a soul in sight. Even the scheduled toy train didn’t show up. But I was quickly calmed with hot roti, aloo dum, and soupy dal, as our host regaled stories of a nearby village. A plan was laid out! I could barely sleep that night, and the crickets agreed. I mean, the racket was nothing like what you’d hear in the city.
Kurseong — many will ask you to steer clear of it. You might even consider ditching it for Darjeeling because everything this town has, Darjeeling has and more (so it claims). Deluged in fog, the beauty of this town is best seen when you walk through the village area. Beaming faces (how is everyone so friendly here?), idle dogs, and train tracks barely held my attention. Sorry for the intrusion, but I looked at the colourful homes with snug kitchen gardens, bottles of glass upcycled into vases, and trees bearing moody flowers. The entire town appeared like a shapeshifter that could scamper between being too cheerfully green and gloomily grey. Both the moods, I was pretty okay with.
One way to explore this town is by taking a walk. If you're keen on ditching the crowd, it's obviously best to ask a local what they prefer to do or eat it. The first place anyone ever recommends is St. Mary's Grotto, which resembles the Lady of Lourdes, France. The path that took us to the Grotto is a gorgeous walk flanked by coniferous trees, pine, and fern trees. We caught a sweet panoramic view of the town from up above. The sunsets are quite something here, and we've been told one can spot rare birds during the mornings. We felt a little adventurous and walked towards Dow Hill, which is rather desolate and foggy. Honestly, a perfect setting for a horror movie, and upon some digging, I found out that locals say it's a haunted area. Apparently, a headless ghost meanders around, scaring the townsfolk. Well, that maybe a rumour. Or who knows?
The pockets of Kurseong are slow and calm — the only noise is that of a distant house playing music or a passing truck. But the market area is where all the hullaballoo happens. Dotted with tiny stores selling handicrafts, baked goods, vegetables and newspapers — this is where you'll spot the railway station. Tucked inside this station is the DHR Museum — a quaint museum of archives that offers a glimpse of how the first Himalayan railway track was built through photographs and artefacts. It stands a testament to the bygone era that had the nerve to do what some thought was impossible.
Now you cannot leave this town without visiting a tea factory, said our host, suggesting Makaibari. The spectacular roads leading to this place are fringed with rolling tea gardens, abandoned houses that are no longer homes, churches that offer shelter to strays. I have zero clue about tea or what first or second flush meant, so it was pretty interesting to take a tour at Makaibari. On stepping out, we found a store selling Makaibari's organic tea and packed some for home. Besides, the store allows you to sample some hot tea before making a purchase. After a meal at 33 Dream Cafe, it was time to return, but not without appreciating how well-dressed the fellow diners were!
Perhaps if it weren't for the stay and the hosts' warmth, I wouldn't have gone back to Kurseong. The enriching conversations made me look forward to breakfasts and dinners; from food and employment to government and monotonous seasons of life — we'd cover a lot of ground. And if you're keen on visiting this town, there's no way you can stay anywhere, but Sunnyside Eco Stay. With a train track right outside the stay, the passing train is the only clamour that breaks a gentle lull.
Kurseong has been on my mind for a while now. I'd gladly pack my bags and head over to this town again — like how I've done it twice. I would make myself a cup of chai and perch on a bench right under a tree. With Vikram Seth's poetry and gentle drizzle for company, there's not more I'd ask for. And then there's the remote siren of a far-off train. As I sit in my room recovering from a horrible case of sinusitis, Kurseong seems like a different time. A time where I went from longing for my home to finding a home in the people who welcomed me into our lives with open arms.
During the last meal at Sunnyside, our host said, "aise lag raha hai jaise koi ghar ka bacha jaa raha hai." Minutes later, he added, "But, come back! Trek to Sandakphu on your next visit."
Indeed, I'll go back for more. And, also cross Sandakphu from my list.