Kurseong is a sub-division of Darjeeling district. In 1835 it was handed over to the British by the King of Sikkim. It was a small village then. However it gained importance when the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) Toy Train service was extended to Kurseong in August 1880. It then became the Head Quarter of the subdivision.
So is Kurseong a place worth a vacation stay for tourists? We would certainly say yes. Although from the face of it, it looks like a congested township which has grown predominantly along the Hill Cart Road that passes through the mountains. But if you start exploring the spreads of Kurseong, it starts exposing its charm.
The Name Kurseong means "The place of white orchids". So as expected, white orchids grow in abundance in this area. The area is also full of beautiful tea gardens, forests and year round vegetation on the hill slopes. From some parts of Kalimpong, you get magnificent views of Mt. Kanchejunga, Kabru and Jannu, and the meandering rivers Teesta and Mahananda flowing downwards to the lower plains & medows.
The toy train track runs on level with the road. The whistling sound of the steam engine can often be heard from your room and you can come out to see the mini train negotiating its way through the mountains. Overall a very romantic feeling.
Kurseong is located in Darjeeling district and is on National Highway NH 55 (I.e. Hill Cart Road) that originates from Siliguri and goes all the way to Darjeeling. It’s about mid way to Darjeeling and you can easily combine a couple of nights stay here when you plan a vacation in and around Darjeeling. The altitude of Kurseong is moderate 4,864 ft and therefore the climate for most part of the year also remains temperate. However it can get quite cold during the winter.
From Siliguri, the distance to Kurseong is 51kms. From New Jalpaiguri (NJP) station, the distance is about 57 kms and from Bagdogra airport Kurseong is 60kms. From Bagdogra the usual route is via Matigara and Rohini. From NJP and Siliguri, the public transports would usually take the Hill Cart Road unless it’s closed for some reason. It takes about 2 hours to reach Kurseong from both Bagdogra and NJP. Darjeeling is about 33 kms from Kurseong and takes about 1 hour 15 minutes to reach.
Kurseong Attractions & Local Tours______________________________________________
Many of you may not be familiar with Kurseong and think this might be another small roadside village on the way to Darjeeling. Well many years back it was actually a small hamlet, but over the years its has grown into a bustling township. Today it’s a subdivision of Darjeeling district. Spread of Kurseong is much more than what it may seem.
And the spread is beyond the township to lovely tea gardens along the mountain slopes, forests with many different flora & fauna, quaint villages and so on. And expectedly, there are many view points, tea estates, temples & churches, museums, as well as famous historic schools that were setup during the British colonial days.
You can easily spend two to three days in Kurseong and remain immersed with its attractions. There are plenty of local taxis available near the station and market area all of who will be willing to take you for local sightseeing tours. There are half day and full day local tours depending on what you want to cover. Talk to a couple of local drivers before you finalize one ... the rates vary and some can and do ask for too much.
This is a lovely view point and a garden on top of a hill. You can actually take the narrow lane next to Kurseong station and walk up to Eagle Craig. It will take about 25 minutes of walk. The view point and the park land is located at the end of the road which is the highest point on this mountain.
A small concrete stairway leads up to the garden above. The garden is full of hedges and flowering plantations. There is also a watch tower on one side of the garden. The views of the mountains on the opposite side and also that of the lower plains from here is awesome. You need a clear day though to get great views.
There is a concrete altar here and a Khukri (traditional Nepali knife) placed on it. It serves as a monument which was constructed by the erstwhile DGHC in memory of the Gorkhas who lost their lives in 1988 agitation in the hills. . Eagle Craig is open on all days from morning till sunset. There is no admission fee.
Kurseong is spread across several hills of mountains. Dow Hill is one of them. A large section of the hill is covered with dense forest and the locals will vouch on the fact that there are leopards in the forest. While no lives have been lost, the leopards seem to be targeting the sheeps and goats. The hill is also famous for its many attractions including forest museum, excellent views, historic schools, parklands etc. Some of the attractions of Dow hill are described below.
Dow Hill Park:
Earlier this was known as Deer Park since you could see lot many deers here. However with deforestation, such sights are now rare and hence the change in name. In the adjacent forest there is a large fenced area where you can still see some deers. But venturing into the forest is not allowed, you can only look for the deers from outside the fence and often they can be seen moving around, but not in the park.
Dow Hill park is located on top of Dow Hill. The fenced park itself is quite small. There are hedge and other different kinds of plantations. There is a gazebo in the park where you can sit and relax. There is also a small children playground with swings and slides. The park is open from 10am to 4pm. Closed on Thursdays. A nominal entry fee needs to be paid to enter the park.
Dow Hill Forest Museum:
It’s a large two-storeyed museum in Dow Hill that stores many exhibits of flora and fauna of the region. It has been recently renovated and restored.
Next to it is the Forest Training School. The museum is open daily.
Dow Hill Forest Rest House:
Close to the Forest Museum in Dow Hill is the Forest Rest House. You can book this rest house through the forest department in Kurseong and stay amidst the nature and surrounded by dense Dhupi forest ... all you can hear is the chirping of the birds.
Dow Hill Girls School:
This is a heritage boarding school on Dow Hill with a lovely colonial architecture. It came up during the British era when Governor Sir Ashley Eden had set up this school in 1879 for children of government officers. Initially it was a small school for boys only. Later the boys section was shifted to Victoria School and it became a girls school. Apart from its attractive architecture, the school is also located in a scenic setting with wonderful view of the Himalayan range and surrounded by lush vegetation. The school runs under the state government and offers a good standard of education.
Victoria Boys School at Dow Hill:
This is the boys school in Dow Hill which was also set up during the British colonial time. Very well known for its high standard of education and run under the state government, the school has both boarding and day students. Currently there are about 350 students in the school out of which about 200 are boarders.
One of the great features of the school is its large play fields for the students. The play field at the lower level is the largest in Kurseong.
There is a chapel in Victoria School premises just nest to the entrance. It has been lying closed for many years, a clear indication of the fact that there are hardly any Christian students or staff left in the school who require services of the church.
Dow Hill Water Reservoir:
There is a large reservoir in downhill where rain water is stored. It acts as a water source to many areas of Kurseong sub-division. The setting is picturesque as you can see in the picture. The reservoir is surrounded by lush pine and coniferous trees. There is also a picnic area here at an elevated level. The view of the water from here is great.
Giddapahar View Point:
One of the other hills in Kurseong is Giddapahar. This view point is located few kilometers from the town (takes about 15 minutes by car) along Hill Cart Road towards Siliguri. The view point is accessible by stairway right from the roadside. You will need to enter through a gate and then climb the stairs.
The view of the mountains, the snow peaks (including Kanchenjunga) and the valley is awesome. However it should be a clear day to get good views.
If you look towards the Hill Cart Road below, you can see the road winding down side by side with the toy train track. Giddapahar view point is open daily during the day time and there is no entry fee. You can park the car by the road side.
Giddapahar Seti Mata Temple:
This is a Hindu temple of goddess Durga. The idol is an ancient carved stone. The temple can be accessed by a stairway from the Hill Cart Road and is located at a higher level from the road. It’s considered very sacred and quite popular with the locals.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Museum:
This museum is located in Giddapahar area. It was originally a private house purchased in 1922 by Sarat Chandra Bose, the writer and veteran freedom fighter. Later between 1933 to 1935 Sarat Chandra and subsequently Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose were kept here by the British under house captivity.
With lush greenery and gardens all around, the atmosphere is tranquil and serene. It has been now converted into a museum. You can see many original furniture used by Netaji including bed, chairs, tables etc. This is where Subhash Chandra Bose wrote his speech which he delivered as the president of Haripura Congress in 1938. The museum also stores many articles, letters and artifacts that reflect the story of the leader.
Ambootia Tea Estate:
This is a sprawling tea estate with lovely gardens on the mountain slopes that produce black, green, white Darjeeling teas. It’s located about 10kms below the Kurseong town and takes about 35 minutes to reach by car. This is usually not a part of standard sightseeing tour. You will need to pay extra to the driver to get there, but it’s worth the money. The estate spans across an area of 350 hectares and employs over 900 workers. It has been operating since the British time of 1850s. You can get wonderful view of Kurseong township from the tea gardens here.
Ambootia Shiv Temple:
Further down from the tea estate and along steep dirt road through the forested area you will reach the famous and one of the most revered temples. It takes another 20 minutes or so. It feels like a long bumpy ride on a treacherous road. This is a Hindu temple of Lord Shiva. The idol (i.e. the Shiv Linga) is an old dead trunk of a tree. While the temple has many devotees who are mostly garden workers families, the driver mentioned that this temple is a wish fulfilling temple and one who offers prayers, gets blessings of Lord Shiva that helps solve one’s problems in life.
Makaibari Tea Estate:
This is one of the most famous tea estates in Darjeeling district. It’s located 3kms from Kurseong town and on Makaibari road. This is one of the oldest tea estates in the district producing some of the finest tea varieties and also one of the first to set up a tea processing factory. Owner Rajah Banerji is also the first in the area to introduce organic farming. With his support, the tea garden workers and their families have extended their homes and now offer homestays for tourists. This is an excellent opportunity to experience tea garden life and the local village culture of Kurseong. You can visit the factory and also the tea gardens below.
Castleton Tea Estate:
This tea estate is owned by the Goodricke Group and is one of the most well known ones that produce fine black, green and white Darjeeling tea from authentic Chinese bushes. The estate was set up by Dr. Charles Graham in 1885. It spans over an area of about 170 hectares. The factory gate is near Kurseong town and on Pankhabari Road. You can visit the factory and observe tea processing.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Museum:
This is one of the three DHR museums of Darjeeling district which is located in Kurseong station premises. You will need to first visit the station office and buy the entry ticket. A staff will then come with the keys and open the museum room next to the platform. It’s all yours then. What do you see in the DHR museum in Kurseong?
The museum houses many treasures, historical artifacts and exhibits of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, how the toy train was created to overcome the steep mountain gradients, pictures of the loops & engines, and parts of the original rails as well as machinery and accessories used to set up the tracks.
Toy Train ride between Kurseong and Darjeeling:
From Kurseong station, you can make a day trip to Darjeeling. One of the best ways to do so is by taking a toy train from Kurseong station. There are two trains every day between Kurseong and Darjeeling. One leaves Kurseong in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Both take about 3 hours to reach Darjeeling and then return. You can also take the train one way (up or down) and use a private or shared taxi the other way for saving time. It only takes little over one hour by taxi between Kurseong and Darjeeling. For Toy Train schedule, train numbers etc, check Toy Train Service and refer to the section under Route #3.