The sleepy little town of Kurseong, around 30 kilometres away from Darjeeling, is perfect for a slow holiday. Take it from the locals, who’ll direct you to authentic eateries, experiences, and views that are sure to melt your heart. By Kastoori Rai Dewan
After 60 minutes of an uphill ride from Siliguri via the Hill Cart Road highway, a small town called Kurseong comes into view. Kurseong or Kharsang, as the locals call it, is a predominantly Nepali-speaking town. Kharsang loosely translates to ‘the land of the white orchids’—in fact, the town is known to be the home of the flowering species. It sits on misty green hills dotted with tea gardens. The Siliguri plains fed by rivers glisten in the background on one side and Mt. Kanchenjunga peeks from behind another.
As a child I visited Kurseong every year to see my maternal family. Arriving from a big city, I felt a rush of adventure as the town’s pine trees and open spaces came into view. It’s been years since I last visited, so I catch up with Abhishek Lemo Gurung, born and bred in Kurseong, to fill me in. The frontman for two national rock bands called Gingerfeet and Stillwaters, he admits that Kurseong doesn’t yield its best easily. But drive a few kilometres outside of town to the hilltops of Deorali, Chimney and Third Mile and Kurseong’s serene beauty comes forth.
Where birds sing…
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In these pine-scented forests, bird songs and gurgling streams replace the sound of daily din. Locals often hike to daaras (edge of a hill) to savour uninterrupted views of the dramatic landscape. Gurung’s hideout is an unmarked spot in Deorali, where he goes to write songs while watching the flaming sunsets. Sunrises, on the other hand, bathe the curves and slopes of Kurseong in a mesmerising golden light. The many home-stays around here offer travellers front row seats to such spectacular scenes. For those who prefer to stay close to town, the chance to see panoramic views is still not lost. Gurung opines that if there is one must-visit view point, it is the famous Eagles Craig perched at the head of the town. Others like Heaven, Terrai View Point and I Love Kurseong viewpoint are quite close to town as well. For short hikes, Victoria Hill is perfect.
The flavour of Kurseong…
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Kurseong wakes up early to the aroma of the finest Darjeeling tea. By 8 am, porches are abuzz with neighbours sharing cups of chiya (tea) over morning chatter. Soon, Kurseong gravitates towards its centre, called the bazaar, which is packed cheek by jowl with shops, cars and people. As a child, I often ate lip-smacking momos and thukpa at hole-in-the-wall restaurants at the bazaar. While these are still around, Gurung updates me that hip cafes like 33 Dreams Cafe, Hungry Lion, and Kurseong Diaries have brought international cuisines to town. His favourite, however, are the famous meatballs from Paradise restaurant that sells out at a lightening pace. Local delicacies like sel roti (ring shaped bread made with rice paste), aloo dum (spicy potato curry), kinema (fermented soybeans) and gundruk (fermented reddish leaves) are served in many eateries, alongside home-made brews called chhang (fermented millet, rice or barley) and tongba (fermented whole grain millet).
By 9 pm, Kurseong signs off for the day. The only times bed times are ignored is during festivals and special occasions. Then people sing and dance the night away! Music runs in the views of the people—one is never far away from someone singing and strumming the guitar.
We both agree that a trip to Kurseong would be incomplete without a tour of one of its internationally-recognised tea gardens like Ambootia, Makaibari, or Castleton. Another must-do is taking the toy train, located at the centre of town, to Darjeeling—which is 32 kilometres away. This joy ride takes about three hours to the destination as opposed to one hour by car.
Finally, I ask him what makes Kurseong different from Darjeeling. He gives it a thought and notes that Kurseong is the quaint sibling of a bustling Darjeeling, and the perfect retreat for those searching for a spot of peace and quiet. I wholeheartedly agree!