The Untold Stories Of Kurseong And The Spirits That Haunt Your Tea
One of the biggest draws to Kurseong has been the number of ghost stories that I had heard of the region. From the misty apparitions that dwell in nearby Dooars, considered one of the most haunted places in India, to the Colonial hangover that looms quite clearly in the fog in and around Darjeeling district.
The city of Kurseong has been the unofficial hub for several ghosthunters through the years. A popular hangout of British spirits, a few local spirits have also got the celebrity status for scaring late night drivers in the mountainous roads. Yes, some of them are really scare and I am quite faint-hearted. It was quite a relief to know that Selim Hill Tea Bungalow, which I had been invited to stay at, is believed to be haunted by the Headless Britishman.
Please don’t be alarmed! The Headless Britishman is, in fact, one of the most calm spirits you’ll find in the Darjeeling district. He doesn’t harm you. Although I have to agree that a sighting of him, seated headless on his horse, with his shiny sword dangling by the side is not one recommended for the faint-hearted.
‘The Headless Britishman’ is believed to have been a British officer who was stationed at Darjeeling although no one knows his name. He is said to have been killed around the Sepoy’s mutiny of 1857. The only information I found of him was that he has been reported to have been spotted across several sites in Kurseong. However, he is not believed to be a scary ghost and there are no reports of him having caused any harm, aside from the sheer scare of sighting a misty apparition of headless body riding his horse around in the dark, his sword still dangling by his side.
Darjeeling is quite the region of spirits, and it is better to share space with a nobleman than with one of the screeching white witches you’d come across in the old dilapidating schools in Kurseong.
It is hard to put into words how a perfectly beautiful image by day can turn so easily into something not so beautiful as the sun begins to set. The 150-year-old Selim Hill Tea Bungalow, is no different. By day, I regaled in the sight and sounds of the many birds and the beautiful garden on the estate. Owing to poor mobile phone network service, I remained largely undisturbed and took in the splendid views of the valley below. I played with the estate manager’s Dalmatian and witnessed the final touches of the renovation being provided to the bungalow.
Soon, the sun was setting. Like a poorly made horror film, I realised that my mobile phone network dropped exactly as I entered the large iron gates that led to the bungalow.
This was not going to be an easy night.
Despite the visible effort of maintaining this heritage building, it has some obvious challenges. The wooden floors creaked every time I walked across the room. A sound, now accentuated by the silence of nightfall.
Might I mention that I was the only resident in this building for the night. The other five bedrooms were unoccupied and I was calmly informed that two chowkidars (gatekeepers) who stay around the bungalow. The rooms on the ground floor, were still in a creepy state of disrepair. And with night, like any other mountainside, rose the misty smell of the damp.
An early home-cooked dinner was put together by my gracious estate manager and his wife. The estate manager had taken up his position a fortnight ago and was still settling in. His wife, a lady with kind eyes, enquired if I had everything I need. Did I, I wondered? After dinner, the chowkidars escorted me back to the bungalow. And then suddenly, I was all alone.
Knowing better than to give in to panic, I took refuge in the sound of the continued knocking of the chowkidar’s staff, to let me know that he was there. I plugged in some music and stayed firmly on the large double bed overlooking the cemented fireplace in the centre of the room, determined not to place even a single step on the creaky wooden floor. By the end of the third track or so, I was asleep.
Nights can be quite cold in Darjeeling, even in the end of March. I was comfortable in the double-layered quilts, but I did need to use the bathroom. Aware, that morning breaks much earlier in the mountains, I woke up quite happily at about 5 am. I was instantly surprised to see that it was still quite dark outside. I quickly used the restroom and then, with a considerable building up of courage, peeked out from one of the two large windows in the room.
The clear skies of yesterday were gone. A menacing dark grey covered the sky and in the few seconds that I had been peering out, a thunderclap sounded. In the mix of the lack of clear light, the oncoming storm and a heady mix of my fears, the undergrowth just beyond the gardens began to spring to life. With the light of every thunder, I seemed to see forms. But, no sight of a horse or its headless rider. I stayed at the window for a few minutes and then returned to the comfort of the quilt and quite uneasily returned to a light slumber.
I was next awoken by the sound of one of the staff members who walked in smiling, with my bed tea. It was 7.30 am.
The storm had already cleared, leaving everything shivering in the grey light of the morning. The last of the clouds were rolling out as I walked to the estate manager’s quarters for my breakfast.
A leisurely walk through the Selim Hill tea estate, looking at the tea plants that had been planted as early as 1860, I took in as much of the ambience of it all and wondered where the Headless Britishman had been through the storm and if he exists at all?
The esteemed guests who have stayed at the Selim Hill Tea Bungalow include the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Other places of interest around Selim Hill include the former residence of Subhash Chandra Bose’s brother, on Giddapahar, where Bose is said to have stayed for a few years when placed under house arrest by the British. The house has since been turned into a museum and houses many of photographs chronicling his life and work.