White Orchid 2022
Kurseong: Land of White Orchid
On the third day, 15 September 2022
It was our third day at White Orchid in St Mary’s Hill village of Kurseong. In part one of this Travel story, I wrote we could not get out of White Orchid for the first two days because of heavy rain. But from the balcony of White Orchid, we enjoyed the rain and nature.
It was Thursday. The sky was clearer in the morning except for a few clouds floating in one corner of the sky. And far off, the snow-capped peak of Kanchenjunga was shining with sun rays. Our Home Stay-White Orchid has a view of Kanchenchunga. I took the picture with my mobile camera.
There is no certainty of weather in the mountains. And we have had the experience of it. First, the sun shone; the next moment, the sun went behind the cloud, and a veil of mist lay over the rich green hills. Nevertheless, I was so happy as I walked past St. John Berchman’s Catholic Church through a lush and beautiful area amid wispy clouds.
The simple, sober and smiling hill people.
The people are amicable. Their face is always smiling. They will greet you wherever you meet them, even if you don’t know them.
I have a habit as well. I talk to the locals about their living style and specialty of the place where they live when I go on a tour. For example, I saw an older man near the Church- 89 years Andrew Chetri. Chetri was a railway employee. He is from the village of St Mary’s Hill.
“In this small village, we all live together. Nature is our greatest gift. Away from the hustle- bustle of town, our village nestled in the soothing charm of nature. There is a place where you can go called Grotto. If you take a straight walk from here, you can find it. It is hardly 1 kilometer from here,” said Chetri.
Experience on the way to Grotto
To reach the Grotto, you have to climb higher. I was taking a deep breath as I was climbing up. In between, there are stairs as well. I was tired of climbing, but long breaths and scenic beauty made me feel better. The people were smiling and passing by. Most of them are fair and have square faces. People were well clothed. I saw only a few in rags.
Most of the people I met in St. Mary Hill village are Christian, and the Church has a lot of influence in this area.
A bunch of dogs with thick black fur stared at me. But, as soon as I called them, they wagged their tail. Maybe they thought I was a tourist. So, they welcomed me in their way.
The surrounding silence struck me as I passed the Central Academy of Forest Education and the ruins of the dilapidated building. The place appeared haunted.
I entered the Central Academy of Forest Education. An official permitted me to the Academy of Forest. “It’s a building from 1885. The Government established the Academy in 1974. So the Academy’s training has not started yet after Corona”, said Sumit Thapa. Thapa is a security person. The architecture is reminiscent of British imperial days, with the luxuriance of the Verandah, rooms, and the beamed iron roof. Before the Academy, the building was a seminary under St. John Berchmans Catholic Church.
The end of the stone-chips road is where the Grotto stands.
The Grotto presents a beautiful view of the mountains. You can see the sun setting in Grotto if the weather is nice. Unfortunately, the climate turned misty when I was inside the Grotto. There are Pine trees in the Grotto. An artificial cave-like structure made of stone houses the statue of Mother Mary. You will also find natural spring beside the craving.
Oh well! The Grotto is breathtaking. But I was curious about the history of the Grotto. I wanted to know how Grotto came up in the corner of St. Mary’s village. Of course, the internet can resolve all your queries. But somehow, I could not find a reply to my question on the internet.
For generations, Lawrence Tamang’s family has lived in this village. So, I met 77-year-old Lawrence Tamang.
“Grotto is a pilgrimage. It means a small area with grass, trees, stones, and rocks,” said Lawrence Tamang. According to Lawrence Tamang, Grotto is Mother Mary’s place outside the Church where people pray.
Lawrence doesn’t know the exact period when the Grotto has come up in St. Mary’s village. “My parents used to say that it was situated a short distance away from the current location. After a landslide, Grotto was rebuilt in the present spot near the stream. Our Grotto is a replica of the original Grotto Lourdes of France”, added Lawrence.
Father Andrew Lama is the pastor of St. John Berchmans’s Catholic Church. I also spoke to him. “A Christian missionary from Belgium came here about two hundred years ago, maybe around 1850. At that time, the settlement of people here was negligible. The entire village was then a jungle. Father Andrew Lama said the missionary built the Grotto after 1858.
“In 1858, in the village of Lourdes in France, Mother Mary appeared in the vision of a poor village girl Bernadette Saubrious when she went out to collect firewood from the jungle. The people of Lourdes built a shrine in honor of Mother Mary in Lourdes. Our Grotto here is a photocopy of Lourde,” said Father Andrew Lama.
Interaction with the Principal of St. Mary’s Primary Government school of St. Mary Hill village, Kurseong.
I met the Principal Abhitchit Ray of St Mary’s Government Primary school on the way back from the Grotto. The school runs standards one to four. You can find the school opposite the Church and nearer to our homestay ‘White Orchid.
I went to the school out of curiosity. The shocking thing is the school has only three students on its roll. When I asked why the depletion of strength was, the principal attributed the decline in strength to the mushrooming of private schools in St. Mary Hill village. “Parents preferred sending their children to private schools. But they charge hefty fees. Our school is a government school. We provide a mid-day meal and free education”, said the Principal. The Principal rued, despite this, that this is the situation today.
When I went, Principal Ray was teaching maths. He was once a student at this school. Established in 1935 during British rule, the school was of repute once. “The school those days used to be run by missionaries. After independence, the Government took over. “We have another government school for boys, but its condition is no better than this school,” Ray said.