Rejuvenating in Cochrane Place at Kurseong

Scenic roads around Tea Gardens at Kurseong

Scenic roads around Tea Gardens at Kurseong

As the Indian summer was getting unbearable more and more each day in the metro city of Kolkata, an invitation to spend a weekend at the historic hill station of Kurseong (4860 foot from sea level) seemed as God send. I have never been to Kurseong and this seemed a suitable opportunity to take a break from the heat.

This little hamlet has been often ignored by the holiday makers who preferred to romp around 32 km away at the hustling and bustling Darjeeling during the summer holidays. And yet this small town has its own charm with its famous Tea Gardens, the serpentine scenic roads, forest infested hills with orchids blooming post monsoon and last but not the least the famous Himalayan Railway – The Darjeeling Toy Train. There are many famous schools at Kurseong where numerous students come to study from all over the country. You can visit some of the Churches and a Monastery, take a tea tour at Makaibari Tea Estate or take a long drive along scenic Ambootia Tea Gardens to a Shiva Temple which surprisingly looks like a Monastery! A walk on the Hill Cart Road breathing mountain air beside the toy train line can be extremely refreshing.

Walking down the Hill cart road

Walking down the Hill cart road

Kurseong derives its name from the Lepcha word kurson-rip, which refers to small white orchid which blooms in the region. Owned by the Sikkimese Kings, Kurseong was forcefully acquired by Nepal. The British drove away the invaders and handed over the place to the Sikkimese king. However in 1835, British took charge of the place and this ‘land of white orchids’ was converted to yet another hill station for them. The place gained popularity after railway line was built between Siliguri and Darjeeling during 1879 -1881.

My flight reached 10 minutes early at Bagdogra Airport, which was surprising. Not that I have anything against the particular airline by which I was traveling, but this is the first time it reached early instead of being fashionably late. The sun was shining brightly and it was hot though not as scorching as Kolkata.

The Darjeeling Himalyan Railway was built between 1879 -1881

The Darjeeling Himalyan Railway was built between 1879 -1881

Driving through the scenic Pankhabari Road

Driving through the scenic Pankhabari Road

I was actually missing a helicopter while driving through Pankhabari Road. With green tea gardens on both side of the road, the best view can be seen only from the aerial route. Keeping aside such frivolous fantasies, the drive actually refreshed me. Soon the car took an uphill route. The sun rays were fading away and we passed through several signs located strategically on prominent corners amongst the trees. One such sign said “Panther Point”. Quizzically I looked at Sabin, the gentleman who was driving the car. Sabin said in a reassured manner “ Aata Hain Sir… Dikh Jata Hai” {They (Panther) comes here… you can see}

Not interested in encountering a Panther in this fading light in a jungle road, I was relieved when Kurseong town was spotted on the horizon. The Sun was setting down when we checked into my residence for the weekend at Kurseong – Cochrane Place.

Tea Gardens besides Pankhabari Road

Tea Gardens besides Pankhabari Road

Cochrane Place

Located on The Pankhabari Road away from the hustle and bustle of Kurseong marketplace, Cochrane Place overlooks the Makaibari Tea Estate on its south-eastern side. A short walk towards the north takes you to the Castleton Tea Estate. On the western side of Cochrane down below through a scenic route is the Ambootia Tea Gardens. Cochrane place is at a rather peaceful area unlike most other hotels of Kurseong

Cochrane Place - View from entrance

Cochrane Place – View from entrance

I got a warm welcome from the Manager Ravindra Kang and my host Mrs Rita Arora. The Family of Mrs Arora runs the property since 2004. The property was originally owned by Percy John Cochrane, MBE, Honorary Magistrate in the early 19th century when it was known as “The Hermitage”. Later the property shifted many hands including Burdwan Maharajas until the Aroras recreated and restored this property into a heritage resort. There is a plaque at the reception mentioning these facts with photographs of the original structure.

From the exterior Cochrane looks like an old English Inn in a village. However, as I entered the dimly lit lobby I found it impressively decorated with antique furniture and paintings. There was a small book corner on one side, where one could spend some time browsing through books in the afternoon.

Description of the history of Cochrane Place

Description of the history of Cochrane Place

The dim Lit lobby at Cochrane Place

The dim Lit lobby at Cochrane Place

Reading Corner

Reading Corner

It was a delight to get into my double bedded room which had heavy wooden doors, windows and wooden panels on the walls, just like old colonial bungalows. There was some stonework on the walls which gave a nice impression. A back door to the room opened to a spacious sitting area, which I liked better than the balconies on the top floors. Sitting down on a chair, I observed the last rays of the sun setting behind the hills. It was a pity that this was not the best season to observe Mount Kangchenjunga.

After a round of steaming Darjeeling tea along with steamed momos refreshed me up, I went to take a stroll of the property accompanied by Mrs. Arora. There was a ramp instead of stairs to go up to the first floor from the lobby. It was good to see that the disabled were thought of. The lobby with the ramp looks very elegant even in the day time.

The room I stayed at Cochrane Place

The room I stayed at Cochrane Place

Sunset at Kurseong as seen from my room

Sunset at Kurseong as seen from my room

Wide angle view of lobby with the ramp at Cochrane Place

Wide angle view of lobby with the ramp at Cochrane Place

The ramp leads to a landing in the first floor which has a series of framed paintings of Hungarian modernist painter Hugo Scheiber (1873 – 1950) hanging from the wall. On the left, a door takes you to the terrace. A passage in between the terrace door and the wall leads to the dining room. On the left of the door, a flight of stairs takes you to the top floor where the suite rooms are located.We settled down on the well-decorated lounge located on the right of the landing. Besides it, there is a passage which leads to the top floor rooms.

We sat down at the lounge. “What can I Offer you? Whiskey, Rum or Vodka?“ asked Mrs. Arora like a perfect host. However coming to the tea country, I was in no mood of alcoholic beverages. I settled for a hot cup of Green Tea whose aroma was heavenly. Sipping the hot drink, we chatted for some time. “Who was your interior decorator? “ I asked, “The ambiance here makes me nostalgic.”

Landing in the first floor with staircase leading to the suit rooms

Landing in the first floor with staircase leading to the suit rooms

Framed paintings of Hungarian modernist painter Hugo Scheiber

Framed paintings of Hungarian modernist painter Hugo Scheiber

“No outsider” said Rita Arora with an amused voice “We did it all by ourselves, little by little.”

stepping out of the lounge she pointed at a painting high up on the wall just above the stairs to the top floor. “Any idea who is the painter?” She asked. The rectangular painting looked very colorful. I am no painting specialist, but the pattern looked like that of an Indian Painter.

Seeing me silent Rita Arora said “This was painted by Sanatan Dinda, when he visited our place last Holi.” I was definitely aware of the name of this famous artist from Bengal and took a photograph with my zoom lens.

The well decorated lounge on first floor

The well decorated lounge on first floor of Cochrane Place

Artwork painted by Sanatan Dinda when he visted Cochrane Place in 2013

Artwork painted by Sanatan Dinda when he visited Cochrane Place in 2013

The Dinner was a gastronomical affair. After helping myself to Carrot Soup, Rainbow Rice, Mrs. Framjee’s Chicken Curry and many other delicacies, I was feeling heavy enough even to try the dessert. The dessert was baked ginger pudding with a sauce made out of tea!

Besides my table a British family was enjoying themselves singing a song of Cliff Richard after a few drinks. A fellow lodger Alexandar D’souza joined them and soon they were all singing together. A gentleman was singing too with a guitar in the hall.”

“At Cochrane , you will find lodgers getting acquainted with each other very well. It is a like a second home to many. Many of our guests you see here have come for the fifth or maybe sixth time.” – said Mrs. Arora.

The Dining room has a tea counter, where the in-house Tea Blender Laltu Purakait prepares awesome tea blends! I decided to have a tea tasting session with him next day.

Dishes from colonial era - Rainbow Rice, Mrs. Framjee’s Chicken Curry

Dishes from colonial era at Cochrane Place – Rainbow Rice and Mrs. Framjee’s Chicken Curry

Ambotia Tea Estate and Temple

Next day it was a sunny morning! However the mist remained in the horizon and there seemed no chance of viewing Mt. Kangchenjunga. You cannot see the full massif like Darjeeling here, but with the green hillocks and the huts below it looks a bit similar to that of the view as seen from Gangtok.

After a leisurely bath followed by a sumptuous breakfast, I was ready to venture out. The dining room of Cochrane is decorated with many antiques too, including a model steam engine. I relaxed a bit on the terrace sipping Darjeeling tea. I found the Terrace to be one of the USP of the place.

“Would you like to visit Makaibari or Ambootia Tea Estate?“ asked Mr. Ravindra Kang. The obvious answer would have been Makaibari Tea Estate, since they allow you to take a tour of their tea manufacturing process and take photographs too. Plus it was very close to Cochrane place.

The spacious terrace of Cochrane place overlooking the Makaibari Tea Estate

The spacious terrace of Cochrane place overlooking the Makaibari Tea Estate

Tea gardens in front of Cochrane place with Makaibari Factory and Tea estate in the background

Tea gardens in front of Cochrane place with Makaibari Factory and Tea estate in the background

Having previously worked in a conglomerate which had 17 tea estates, Tea manufacturing process was nothing new to me. So I opted to visit Ambootia Tea Gardens , which was more scenic. Driving down the zig zag road with tea gardens all around was a pleasure to the eyes. Both Gardens has been running strong since Pre-independence. Established in 1859, Makaibari has the world’s first tea factory , Ambootia was established in 1861.

Crossing the Ambootia Factory, Sabin drove me to the Shiva temple. It was quite a distance from the factory. Though it was a Shiva Temple, the structure looked like a monastery. The deity was a Swambhu Shiva Lingam. The temple premises were peaceful and quiet. Far down I could see a bridge.

We drove through the scenic garden road back to Cochrane. The road reminded of such scenario cherished in many Hindi Films. Often I asked Sabin to stop the car and I busied myself shooting some photographs.

The scenic path around Ambootia Tea Garden

The scenic path around Ambootia Tea Garden

Driving through the scenic path through Ambootia Tea Garden

Driving through the scenic path through Ambootia Tea Garden

Ambootia Shiva Temple which looks like a Monastery

Ambootia Shiva Temple which looks like a Monastery

Driving through the scenic path through Ambootia Tea Garden

Driving through the scenic path through Ambootia Tea Garden

Tea Tasting Session with Laltu Purakait

Back to Cochrane, I went for a tea tasting session with the resident tea blender Laltu Purakait. Originally hailing from Chetla area at Kolkata, Laltu has been already featured in Lonely Planet Magazine. It was good to find a person so passionate with his work.

I had a taste of several Tea Blends at Chai Country, Tea Salon of Cochrane which included Tea blends that had ingredients as Apple, Passion Fruit, Caramel, Tomato and even Paan ( Bettle Leaves) ! Wearing a T-Shirt which features the logo “Chai Country”, Laltu meticulously explained me the recipes of his tea blends.

Laltu Purkait - Resident Tea Blender of Cochrane Place

Laltu Purkait – Resident Tea Blender of Cochrane Place

Laltu Purkait was featured in Lonely Planet Magazine, December 2011

Laltu Purkait was featured in Lonely Planet Magazine, December 2011

Apple Chai - A bit strong -Blended tea at Chai Country. Recipe by Laltu Purkait

Apple Chai – A bit strong – Blended tea at Chai Country. Prepared by Laltu Purkait

Caramel Tea - Blended Tea at its best - Blended tea at Chai Country. Recipe by Laltu Purkait

Caramel Tea – Blended Tea at its best – Blended tea at Chai Country. Created by Laltu Purkait

Passion Fruit Chai -Strong and syrupy - Blended tea at Chai Country. Recipe by Laltu Purkait

Passion Fruit Chai -Strong and syrupy – Blended tea at Chai Country. Handiwork of Laltu Purkait

Pan Tea - My favourite - Blended tea at Chai Country. Recipe by Laltu Purkait

Pan Tea – My favourite – Blended tea at Chai Country. Blended by Laltu Purkait

Laltu uses various types of tea for each blend to keep the tea aroma blended perfectly with the ingredients. I liked the Pan(beetle leaf) Tea blend the most. I am sharing the recipe here. Anyone can try it at home. Laltu loves to share his recipe.

Recipe of Pan Chai

Ingredients

1. 220 ml of Water
2. Finely chopped Mitha Pan Leaf ( 1/3rd portion)
3. 15 -20 Fennel seeds
4. 1 Pc Cardamom (crushed)
5. 1 Pc Clove (crushed)
6. 1 and 1/4 th Tea Spoon of Green Tea

Put all the ingredients from No 2. to 5. in water and allow to boil . After the water starts boiling, put off the flame. Add the Green Tea. Brew for 3 -4 minutes. Strain the drink and serve. A great drink to have after a heavy lunch or dinner.

I tried it at back home. Now it has become a habit.

Sightseeing at Kurseong

Thankfully lunch was not that gastronomical. I settled for good old soup, noodles and boneless chilli Chicken.

After lunch I took a drive to the places I wanted to visit at Kurseong. Sabin was replaced by another gentleman to whom I handed over my wish list of places.

Driving North on Pankhabari road, I crossed Castleton tea factory and gardens and a graveyard on my left. I had a hunch that John Cochrane was resting here. The earlier name of Castleton tea estate was Kumseri. The Castleton name was derived from a building located in the vicinity of the garden which resembled a castle.

The Pankhabari Road meets the Hill Cart road just in front of the Kurseong Rail Station. The area is chaotic . On my left was the part of Hill Cart road that goes towards the market. Here the road is narrow with several old and new houses on both sides. The Toy train Line passes through this road too.

We took right or rather hit straight from Pankhabari Road. Passing by the Loco shade which had the cute looking steam engine, we drove through the busy town with houses in cascading levels around. Soon we came to that part of Hill cart road where there was a hillock on our left and the town on our right.

Just below the hillock passed the Toy Train railway line. Here the road was scenic with good viewpoints around. Ideal for taking a stroll in the afternoon.

Castleton Tea Garden , Kurseong

Castleton Tea Garden , Kurseong

Driving through Kurseong Town

Driving through Kurseong Town

Toy Train Loco Shed, Kurseong

Toy Train Loco Shed, Kurseong

Netaji Institute for Asian Studies

My first visit was to the Netaji Institute for Asian Studies at Giddhapahar. Originally belonging to Sarat Chandra Bose, the premises houses the Netaji Museum and Centre for studies in Himalayan Languages, Society and Culture. Sarat Chandra Bose was kept in internment by the British Government in this house from 1933 to 1935. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose too was kept in internment here in 1936 for 7 months. It is here, he drafted his historic speech of the Haripura Congress, which he presided in 1938. The Bose family visited this house till 1954. The house lay in neglect over 40 years , until in 1996 the Government of West Bengal acquired the house and handed it over to Netaji Institute.

Extremely well maintained, the museum has some rare photographs and letters of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose. There are some photographs which I never thought existed. I took some time in reading the correspondence between Netaji and his wife Emily Schenkl. Reading them in this silent atmosphere was a different feeling. Photography is not allowed inside the museum.

Netaji Institute for Asian Studies, Giddhapahar, Kurseong

Netaji Institute for Asian Studies, Giddhapahar, Kurseong

In this house at Kurseong , Subhash Chandra Bose drafted his historic speech for the Haripura Congress

In this house at Kurseong , Subhash Chandra Bose drafted his historic speech for the Haripura Congress

St. Paul, The Apostle Church

My next stop was the St. Paul,The Apostle Church. Established in 1905, this church is one of the old and beautiful churches of Kurseong. Inside a musical programme was going on. One elderly gentleman informed me that the choir members of this Church sing at Kurseong Railway station during Christmas The church had been recently painted red and was sitting pretty with the backdrop of blue sky and tall trees. Just on the left of the church , ran the toy train line.

St Paul,The Apostle Church, Kurseong

St Paul, The Apostle Church, Kurseong

St. Helen’s School

During the British Regime, Kurseong had witnessed the foundation of some of the best schools managed by missionaries. The Victorian buildings still remind one of the bygone era.

A five minutes drive from the church took me to the first of such building – The St. Helen’s School. From a School in a rented house named “Charleville” in 1890 consisting of only 12 students, St. Helen’s School has grown up in 116 years to a “Lovely Mountain Home” for the students. The school was founded by sisters named Mother Marie Therese and Sister M. Winifred under the patronage of St. Helen, a British Princess and mother of the Great Constantine.

The sisters were the daughters of well-known Belgian Religious Sister Marie-Thérèse Haze who founded the “Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross” in 1833 for educating people in her country .

The Victorian styled building of St. Helen's School, Kurseong

The Victorian styled building of St. Helen’s School, Kurseong

I met a group of people at the gate of the school, one of whom was a former student. There were no students in the vicinity, maybe because of it being a Saturday. The gate to the premises was open and a chiseled pathway led to the interiors.

As I entered the path beside the long Victorian structure adorned with rows of the flower on its both side, a lady from the group asked me “Could you take a group photograph of us in front of the school? Perhaps you could mail it us later. Where do you stay?”

When I said Kolkata she said to the group “Hey, he also stays at Kolkata. So he can mail us the photograph.” A gentleman from the group who was well amused, replied -“He can always mail us, even if he stayed anywhere else”. A big roar of laughter followed and we walked on the path with the school on our left.

The first thing which caught my attention on the flower bed was the statue of Mother Marie Therese on a small platform covered with tin shed. On the walls beside the statue, it was written “Blessed Marie Therese Pray for us. Foundress of the daughters of the Cross 8th of September, 1833”.

Statue of Marie Therese in the campus of St. Helen's School, Kurseong

Statue of Marie Therese in the campus of St. Helen’s School, Kurseong

Painted with light green on its brick walls, the geometrical structure of the three storied building fascinated me. I admired some the windows design too, especially those on the portions near its entrance door. Some of the windows were having blue coloured glasses too. Just below the central blue glass window, the name of school was embossed.

Above this window on the top of the building was the statue of a figure with wings. The palm of the right hand was in a fist. On closure observation, I observed that it is the statue of a man. I had no clue about the statue until I checked it from the right side and found there is a shield on which it is written “Quis Ui Deus”.

Then it struck me that in all probability this was the statue of Archangel Michael {New Testament, Book of Revelation (12:7-9)} and the text was in actual “Quis UT Deus”. However, there was no sword in his right hand and no statue of Lucifer/devil/dragon below him, who he went to fight crying “Quis Ut Deus? Serviam!” (Who is like God? I will serve). But then the role of Archangel Michael is also to be of patron saint, which goes apt with the environment of a school.

I obliged the group taking a group photo and sharing my email id. I took off then for the next schools – Victoria Boys School followed by the Dow Hill School.

Archangel Michael's Statue at St. Helen's School

Archangel Michael’s Statue at St. Helen’s School

Victoria Boys School and Dow Hill School

In order to start a government School for educating wards of Government servants, Dow Hill school was opened in 1879 in a building named ‘Constantia’ as directed by Sir Ashley Eden, Lieutenant Governor of West Bengal. Due to lack of space, the school was shifted to Dow Hill in 1880. Mr. Edward Peglar was the first Headmaster of Dow Hill School followed by Mrs. Peglar as the first headmistress.

Dow school ceased to be co-educational in 1888, may be due to lack of space and the girls department was closed down for 6 years.

Eventually a twin school was opened for the boys at the new building in 1897. The year was the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. To commensurate with that the boys school was named Victoria Boy’s School. The New building of Dow hill School came up later and the Girls School once again came into existence.

The route to Dow hill is very romantic. A silent path trodden with trees on its both sides leads to this School. There have been several rumors of Dow Hill being haunted. With lights getting mellow, I hoped to catch the glance of a supernatural thing. However, I met only a few couples (human) walking on the way. It is a favourite hiking spot both for hikers and couples.

The mellow afternoon light was caressing the atmosphere when we reached the Victoria Boys School Campus. Just in front of the school, there is a huge but abandoned church. Though abandoned, the building seems cleaned up a bit as there were no trees growing on its wall or any undergrowth. There were electricity connection wires too.

The structure was impressive with tin roof and beautiful windows. With the evening light falling on its yellow walls, it made a pretty scene. Our driver told that the church was recently opened as some scenes in a Bengali film was shot there.

Road to Dow Hill, Kurseong

Road to Dow Hill, Kurseong

Abandoned Church in Dow Hill, Kurseong

Abandoned Church in Dow Hill, Kurseong

The Victoria Boys School was spread into a much wider area than St. Helens. I immediately recognized it as the School I saw in the Bengali film “C/o Sir”. The building was two storied and well spread out and the structure was simple but neat. Unlike St. Helens, there were no other buildings in the vicinity and the school area was surrounded by tall trees. There were two huge pine trees on two sides of the main entrance door of the school building. The building had two parts. Each part looked like a replica of the other.

Victoria Boy's School, Kurseong

Victoria Boy’s School, Kurseong

The huge playground was empty. Already the crickets were singing from the bushes as the light was slowly fading away. The atmosphere made me a bit nostalgic as I had always wanted to study in a school like this. I slowly walked back. There is an alternative route to come down which passes through the front portion of the church. The arched gateway with its wooden door makes one reminiscent about the forgotten eras. The door was locked with a fluorescent lamp hanging above. I remembered this light and the door which was shown in the aforementioned film.

Turning left, I saw a gentleman slowly coming up through a flight of stairs which in probability is a shortcut from the road to reach the area. It seemed the person was enjoying the hike.

Entry to Dowhill School Campus is restricted. Since the gate was open, I took few shots of the School from the Gate. Some students were on the campus who looked at me with curiosity.

Dow Hill School, Kurseong

Dow Hill School, Kurseong

Like the other two schools, The Dow Hill school building has a Victorian era flavor. The main building is more compact in structure than being spread out like Victoria Boys School. There is a pyramid shaped dome on the roof of the main building. The building has been constructed on an elevated ground inside the premises and one has to climb a flight of stairs to enter the main building.

On one side of the elevation one can see the school’s name and its emblem. On the top of the porch to the main entrance of the building, few letters welded in iron exists. With my zoom lens, I could read it as “Dow Hill School and Training College”.

On a clear day, one can see Kangchenjunga range from this school.

There is a landscaped garden above Dow hill school named Dow Hill Park which remains open till 5 pm. Next to this garden is a Deer Park.

Tashi Samtenling Monastery

On my way back I stopped at a small monastery on Montoviot Road. This was 1925 built Tashi Samtenling Monastery, perhaps the oldest Buddhist monastery at Kurseong. The building seemed to have lost its glamour. The beautiful drawings on the left wall on its entrance were missing. Instead, the area has been cemented.

Tashi Samtenling Monastery, Kurseong

Tashi Samtenling Monastery, Kurseong

Two young Lamas led me inside and I took a quick look at the main prayer hall. In the center was a statue of Buddha in Bitarka Mudra. In this Mudra, the index finger and thumb of Buddha’s right hand are touching at their tips while the left hand rests on his lap. This hand gesture is supposed to evoke the energy of teaching and intellectual discussion and/or argument.

Interior of the prayer hall was bit scattered with objects including two glass panes. The walls were decorated beautifully with Tibetan drawings as is generally seen in a monastery.

Buddha's Statue in Bitarka Mudra, Tashi Samtenling Monastery, Kurseong

Buddha’s Statue in Bitarka Mudra, Tashi Samtenling Monastery, Kurseong

Light was fading now and I was looking forward to a hot cup of tea. We drove down beside the Montoviot tea garden and passed by the Manager’s Bungalow of Castleton Tea Estate upon a hillock. There was an old ruined structure with wired boundary on my right.There might have been an emblem on its wall once upon a time as its imprint was still visible. I was left wondering whether it was an abandoned educational or religious institution.

Back in Cochrane Place, I witnessed another beautiful sunset. Later I took a stroll to the small Teddy Cochrane’s Garden on the back of the building through a gate resembling a steam engine. Some children were having fun in a tent over there.

As we sat down in the dining room, Mrs. Arora said “Would you prefer a cup of coffee instead of tea? Try our coffee”. Laltu never ceased to surprise me as he conjured a cup of hot Espresso coffee which he said has been prepared without using any coffee machine. It tasted heavenly and refreshing after the long sightseeing tour.

I had a light dinner and went to sleep early after spending some time on the terrace. The wind was chilly, but it felt good sitting on the terrace.

Kids having fun in a tent at Teddy Cochrane's Garden,

Kids having fun in a tent at Teddy Cochrane’s Garden,

Espresso Coffee made without any machine. Created by Laltu Purkait of Chai Country, Cochrane Place

Espresso Coffee made without any machine. Created by Laltu Purkait of Chai Country, Cochrane Place

Chasing the Toy Train

Originally a Toy Train ride had been planned for me. But I politely refused it and asked Mr. Ravindra Kang , if I could chase the train in a car ? My intention was to shoot the train in action. After Mr. Kang replied in the affirmative, a car was arranged and I got ready for my chase.

We reached Kurseong station around 06:33 in the morning. In front of the Kurseong station, there is a black emblem which describes the Toy Train’s UNESCO Status. The morning light looked good for photography. The only annoying factor in my train chasing script was that the Toy Train was not running with its legendary and photogenic steam engine, but on a diesel engine.

Soon the Engine chugged in from its shed towards the station where two coaches were full of passengers by now. It was a pretty but somewhat an amusing sight. The engine was chugging in on the tracks on a metal road and a railway guard with flags was gesturing a stop signal to a car coming from the opposite direction.

By 07:00 the engine was fixed with the rest of the compartment and the train was ready to go. The train chugged in backward to come out from the station onto the road. I ran for the car and we set off just as the train started its journey on the tracks. It was moving almost like a tram through Chitpur Road at Kolkata.

Chasing the Darjeeling Toy Train on the Hill Cart Road

Chasing the Darjeeling Toy Train on the Hill Cart Road

Kurseong Railway Station

Kurseong Railway Station

Toy Train passing through the market area of Kurseong

Toy Train passing through the market area of Kurseong

Toy Train passing besides St. Paul Apostle's church at Kurseong

Toy Train passing besides St. Paul ,The Apostle church at Kurseong

We kept sufficient distance as I went on shooting through the window. The train was moving through the narrow street of Kurseong Market. I took some shots and drove a bit faster and then stopped near the St. Paul, The Apostle Church. The Train passing there with the Church in the background made a pretty picture.

And then for around one hour and fifteen minutes, it was an entertaining chase. The Toy Train was passing through scenic roads with cars driving side by side. Sometimes the tracks went on a downward path allowing me to take a top shot. The train went on like a happy go lucky child basking in the morning light chugging on besides little tea gardens and colourful houses.

It took a break at the small station of Tung and I finally bid it goodbye at Sonada . It was time to turn back as the train chugged past Sonada Monastery. I was sweating a bit and all of a sudden felt very hungry.

View of Toy train from an elevation

View of Toy train from an elevation

Little toy train chugging through varied landscapes

Little toy train chugging through varied landscapes

Toy Train passing by pretty houses

Toy Train passing by pretty houses

The Toy Train reaches at Sonada Junction

The Toy Train reaches at Sonada Junction

Monastery at Sonada

There is a monastery at Sonada just beside the Railway station. With sun rays falling on its huge chortens, it made a pretty sight.The interior was well decorated with colourful pillars and Tibetan style paintings on its wall. There were organized sitting arrangements for people too. In the centre was a red coloured statue of Buddha with other deities around. The statue of Buddha was covered with a shroud, so it was difficult to understand mudra of Buddha’s hand. Also, the statue of Buddha was looking different than the Tibetan style of Buddha Statue which we see at Monasteries. It was looking like Mahavira Statue as you see in Jain Temples.

Colourful Chortens at Sonada Monastery

Colourful Chortens at Sonada Monastery

Interiors of Sonada Monastery

Interiors of Sonada Monastery

I took some photographs inside and came out after giving some donations in the donation box.

Goethel’s Memorial School

On the way back to Kurseong, I made a brief stop at Goethel’s Memorial School. Perched on the top of a hill the school has one of the finest colonial school buildings of Kurseong. The school premises area is very widespread and the architecture of the buildings was quite different from the schools I saw the other day.

Main Entrance of Goethals Memorial School

Main Entrance of Goethals Memorial School

The main building was made of light grey bricks adorned with blue framed windows. On the porch before the entrance door, the school’s name was engraved along with the logo.

There were several students playing on the ground. From a mere 110 students in 1907 in the building erected by the first principal Br. M.S.O. Brien, Goethals Memorial School has come a long way to be one of the finest school in the country.

This Boys School was established by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Calcutta to commensurate the memory of Paul Goethals, Archbishop of Calcutta who died in July 1901.

St. Mary’s Hill

At the foothill of St. Mary’s hill is the St. John Berchman’s Church, from where pilgrim walks to the top of the hill to reach the Holy Shrine of Grotto. The Grotto is a beautiful shrine of Mother Mary where people lit a candle and wish. There is a motorable road to up to the top of the hill bypassing the old and run down building of Forest Ranger’s School.

It was 10:00 by the time I got down from Goethals School, so I decided to abandon visiting St. Mary’s Hill this time and head back to Cochrane Place at Kurseong

Further Exploring of Cochrane Place

I was not sure whether any breakfast was left when I reached Cochrane Place. Thankfully, enough food was available and there were many late risers who had come for breakfast. Out of various delicacies in the breakfast, there were cupcakes and pancakes.

After breakfast I visited the suite rooms on the top floor of the property with Mrs. Arora. Like other rooms, they were tastefully decorated too with antique furniture and paintings. The suite rooms had a top floor above them which I liked the most. The walls were of heavy logs giving the feel of a log hut. It would be extremely cozy to sleep here, especially during winter. Standing on the balcony of the room and staring at the misty sky I gave out a deep sigh. This was the perfect setup to view Mt. Kanchenjunga. The only problem was that the range was nowhere in sight.

Wide Angle view of Cochrane Place , Kurseong

Wide Angle view of Cochrane Place , Kurseong

Chef serving Pancake in breakfast at Cochrane place

Chef serving Pancake in breakfast at Cochrane place

One of the Suite rooms at Cochrane Place

One of the Suite rooms at Cochrane Place

A suite room at Cochrane Place

A suite room at Cochrane Place

The cozy top floor room attached with the suit room.

The cozy top floor room attached with the suit room.

We came down the stairs and crossed the terrace to move to the other part of Cochrane Place. This part housed some more rooms and the spa. A corridor here adorns several colourful photographs of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.

There is a terrace here which is fondly referred as “Crow’s Nest”. The wind is so powerful here that sometimes it is difficult to stand while keeping your balance intact. Standing on this terrace when I saw Kurseong city stretched over the hill I realized how spread out and congested it is and how much peace and tranquility I am enjoying here sitting at Cochrane.

After having a very different kind of biriyani than what we generally have at Kolkata for lunch, I took a leisurely and well deserved afternoon nap. I felt like a lazy cat sleeping in this cold atmosphere under a blanket and snored loudly over my siesta till 8 in the evening!

Spa centre at Cochrane Place

Spa centre at Cochrane Place

Corridor adorning photographs of Toy trains at Cochrane Place

Corridor adorning photographs of Toy trains at Cochrane Place

Kurseong as seen from "Crows Nest" at Cochrane Place

Kurseong as seen from “Crows Nest” at Cochrane Place

Biriyani at Cochrane's Place tastes different from the conventional one

Biriyani at Cochrane’s Place tastes different from the conventional one

Visiting Grave of John Cochrane and a little child

There was one thing bothering me a bit, especially every time I passed the reception and looked at the photographs of old Bungalow of John Cochrane.

So, just after my siesta I straightway approached Mrs. Arora and asked would it be possible for me to visit John Cochrane’s Grave. I was not sure where it was located. But as I mentioned earlier I had a hunch that it was in the graveyard beside Castleton’s Tea Estate.

Mrs. Arora proved me right and said we can visit it next day morning with Sabin. She wanted to accompany too as it was a long time since she had visited it.

Sabin had previously told me that in the Castleton Tea Garden, there was a child’s grave, supposed to be the daughter of the person who originally owned the land where Castleton Tea Garden exists today. I was interested to see that well.

We reached the graveyard around 08:30 in the morning. Just before the graveyard, a metal road on the left went into the Castleton Tea Garden. There was a Castleton Organic Tea centre on the opposite side of the road.

We walked down that circular lane. In the morning light, the Castleton Tea garden was looking bright and colourful. Sabin led us to the grave which was surrounded by an iron enclosure and located on the right beside the road. A tall tree was standing erect beside the grave as if protecting it.

Grave of Baby Wathen, died on 10th June 1900

Grave of Baby Wathen, died on 10th June 1900

The letters on the grave was surprisingly readable even though some letters have eroded. It read “Baby Daughter of Alfred & Mary Wathen , 10th June 1900”. Castleton Tea, the world’s costliest tea was first planted in 1885 at Kurseong by Charles Graham. If Alfred Wathen indeed sold his land to the owner of Castleton Tea Estate, he surely stayed back in the area for at least another fifteen years. Sabin also informed that the village just adjacent to Castleton Tea Garden was named as Wathen alias Waten.

We walked up the road the graveyard.It was well spread out and functional. On the upper end, there were the age-old graves which lay unattended. On the lower end were the newer ones which seemed to have regular visitors.

The village Wathen alias Waten besides Castleton Tea Estate

The village Wathen alias Waten besides Castleton Tea Estate

Age old Graves of Kurseong Graveyard

Age old Graves of Kurseong Graveyard

It would have been almost impossible to locate the grave of John Cochrane without the help of Mrs. Arora and Sabin. One of the staff from the hotel who had accompanied us cleaned up the area within 10 minutes. Now we could read the text on the grave.

It was a small gravestone with two steps. Once there must have been a small cross on it, which does not exist anymore. Only a mark remains. The huge cross planted just beside it may have been put up later as it was not in perfect symmetry and it has been cemented freshly too as was evident from its base.

The text in two steps of the grave read “My Dear Husband. Percy John Cochrane M.B.E.”On the right of these texts, it was inscribed in the lower step “Born 5th Dec. 1866.” On the left, again in the lower step it was mentioned “Died 28th October. 1944.”

Grave of Percy John Cochrane

Grave of Percy John Cochrane

The lettering was in blue metal which seemed a recent job. The metal was not of very good quality. It was already withering up in many places. The thickness of the text was also not too much. I noticed that it was unlike other old graves around where the letters of the text were very much thick. The colours have faded there but the letters remain intact.

“Did any of his relatives visit the grave? The letters seemed to be of recent times and of low quality.” I asked Mrs. Arora. None of the graves letterings have maintained their original colors except the one of Edward Lindon Long just opposite an age run down hut. The lettering seemed similar. Lindon had a bigger gravestone, but he had died long before John Cochrane. 1877, to be precise. The letters here were getting discolored. I suspected the re-lettering of both graves may have been done during same time.

“The cross was put by us. I asked Sabin to do so in order to mark the grave. But this lettering is not done by us. I think the woman who takes care of the graveyard told me, maybe John Cochrane’s granddaughter visited the grave” said Rita Arora “I cannot see her around.”

She inquired a bit about the lady, but she was nowhere in the vicinity. We left shortly back to Cochrane Place.

Back to my room, I busied myself with packing up as it was my last day at Cochrane and Kurseong. After having a refreshing bath, I busied myself clicking some photographs.

Mrs. Arora has a small fluffy dog named Chuggy , who follows her wherever she goes. I spent some time clicking photographs with Chuggy and then had my lunch. It was time to leave though I was in no mood to return to the hot and humid weather of Kolkata.

I said goodbye to Mrs. Arora and thanked for her hospitality. “Remember, ours is not a star hotel. People come here to relax and rejuvenate. I hope you were rejuvenated.” She said.

She was so right. I was refreshingly rejuvenated and realized that at the back of my mind, I have started planning for a return visit.

Driving back to Bagdogra from Kurseong

Driving back to Bagdogra from Kurseong

Contact details of Cochrane Place, Kurseong

Mobile : +91 99320 35660
Landline: +91 354 2330703
Email: host@imperialchai.com
Website: http://www.imperialchai.com and http://www.cochraneplacehotel.com

Special Thanks

1. Mrs. Rita Arora and the staff of Cochrane Place for their hospitality and showing me around Kurseong
2. Somen Sengupta for briefing me about Kurseong in details

References

Websites of the Schools at Kurseong

1. http://www.gms.edu.in ( Goethals Memorial)
2. http://www.sthelenskurseong.com ( St. Helens)
3. http://aubpages.net/VADHA/ ( Victoria and Dow Hill School Alumni )

Going To Kurseong

If you prefer to travel by train, take any train which drops you at New Jalpaiguri Junction.From there Kurseong is at the most 2 hours drive in a hired car. If you opt for flight , get down at Bagdogra Airport and drive to Kurseong. It takes lesser time from Airport. Opt for Pankhabari road to get great scenarios and less traffic jam.

Advertisements

23 thoughts on “Rejuvenating in Cochrane Place at Kurseong

  1. Avishek Roychoudhuri says:

    Good writeup. Reminds me of Mulk Raj Anand. Was a great fan of his writing when I was in my teens.

  2. ranitasinha says:

    A very good write-up and going through your post I feel I know the place and will be easily roaming around..Was thinking of visiting Darjeeling but Kurseong seems a better option..glad that I found your blog..

    • AMITABHA GUPTA says:

      Glad to know you found my blog useful. Yes kurseong has its own secluded corners once you are out of the bazaar area. The tea gardens are too good and a walk to the Dow hill is must. I did not visit the view points like Eagle’s Craig as it was hazy in April….but if you get clear weather… try visiting there.

  3. uplandpete says:

    Thankyou Amitabha for posting such an informative description of your travels in and around Kurseong. I will have to visit one day to see where my ancestors lived!

  4. internet marketing says:

    Thanks for every other informative blog. The place else could I get that
    type of info written in such a perfect manner? I’ve a undertaking that I am just now running on,
    and I have been on the look out for such info.

  5. Bodhisatya Bhattacharjee says:

    Thanks to your Writing. Me and and my family will be at Kurseong on oct’14. And we are going to stay at “Cochrane Place”. So what is must do things ….

    • AMITABHA GUPTA says:

      I think I have mentioned it elaborately in my blog. But if you want a summary, here goes :

      1, Taste Blended Tea at Cochrane Place while relaxing on its Terrace
      2. Drive Down the serpentine lane to Ambootia, Check out tea manufacturing at Makaibari and take a stroll at Castleton’s Tea Gardens
      3. Visit Netaji Institute for Asian Studies at Giddhapahar
      4. Take a walk in the afternoon in the Dow hill and if possible check out the two schools there.
      5. Take a Toy Train Ride,,, or chase it like me …
      6. Visit some of the churches like St. Paul The Apostle on the Hill cart road and St. John Berchman’s Church at St. Mary’s hill. Walk or drive up to the holy shrine of the Grotto.
      7. Visit the view points like Eagle’s Craig

      And if you are tired after your trips, take a massage at the Spa of Cochrane Place.

      Laslty….. if you are lucky…enjoy the view of Mt. Kangchenjunga from your room.

  6. Madhu Nair says:

    Went there in February of 2013 and visited all the places which you had mentioned herein. I compliment you on a blog very well written.Indeed the place is worth many a return visit.

  7. Ujjal Maitra says:

    I heard about Cochrane Place from one of my friend and was planning a trip when I stumbled upon your blog. Man, you have written it so well. I have already mailed the hotel and planning a trip this June. Only hope the rains don’t spoil the trip

  8. Anunoy Samanta says:

    That’s really very informative and inviting!
    Amitabha, could you tell me whether Cochrane falls directly on the NJP-Darjeeling taxi route? Probably I’ll be visiting Kurseong this September and your blog would definitely help me a lot 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s