A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee
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Munsong, a beautiful hamlet around 95 kilometres from New Jalpaiguri station, is an upcoming hill station in the Kalimpong district of West Bengal. It is perched at an altitude of 5800 feet above sea level and surrounded by untainted Pine Dhupi (forest as they mean in Bhutia language). Soon after crossing Algarah bazaar, just one sharp hilly bend and we suddenly discovered ourselves within a thick canopy of cedar and pine woodland. Landscape changes so fast here. Driver said, we were passing through the Munsong Forest.
There are no luxury hotels in Munsong hitherto, but it offers an array of Bhutia homestays to the handful of tourists who land on this little paradise. Needless to say, the hosts are yet to learn the basic art of hospitality which any vacationer would expect.
There was a very thrilling destination within a couple of kilometres of our stay. It’s a vintage British bungalow whose original name is not known to anybody. The place around the bungalow was rich in flora and fauna, especially Himalayan medicinal plants like Cinchona. In those days, malaria had taken the shape of an epidemic and hence its remedial supply was extremely crucial.
During 1901, the Munsong Cinchona Plantation was established for commercial cultivation of the plant. Few years before the break out of World War II, in 1930, a lavish British bungalow was built within the plantation campus for the Director’s stay. It is said that Sir Ronald Ross had also been here. When the British deserted the bungalow after India’s independence, it was taken over by WB Government, renaming it to ‘Jalsa Bungalow’ – the name by which it is known today. Even after the handover, it continued to be the Cinchona Plantation Manager’s family quarter; but ever since a series of spooky incidents took place around the cottage, it started being professed as a haunted shelter by the local people.
We reconfirmed the myth from our driver before starting our trek. Villagers who had experienced eerie incidents inside the bungalow said that there stays a spirit inside the bungalow who often takes the shape of an old caretaker to the visitors. He offers information about the rich history of the quinine factory of Munsong, takes order for dinner, prepares the table but never comes back with the food. Upon investigation it had been found that there are no such custodians employed for the daily maintenance of the bungalow. Only a few gardeners from the quinine factory, couple of housekeeping staffs and handful of plantation workers frequent the campus as of today. However, nobody prefers to be there after sunset, neither anyone dares to stay at night.
What could have been a better motivation to visit the bungalow? It was 2.30pm and was the perfect time to overlook a mesmerizing view of sunset from the bungalow. After about an hour’s trek, we reached the Munsong Cinchona Plantation entrance. On our left was the gurgling sound of Teesta River, while on the other were the sounds of whistling cedars, and a corroded shoulder height half-open grill gate in front – beckoning us inside. Chills ran through our spine as we gently pushed the gate to step in.
The hissing sound of the heavy cold air created a mystic environment. After walking for another half kilometre inside the plantation area, there was a steep bend and ‘The Jalsa Bungalow’ was right in front of us. It was such a beauty. Every bit of it was expressing the grandeur of its past. The remarkable woodworks which could pass the test of time still looked impressive.
As expected, the main door was locked from outside. But we could not resist ourselves from exhibiting a weird activity, very unusual of us. We peeped in through the dusty glass panes to sneak a quick look of the bungalow’s interior. It was quite dark, but still lighted enough to glance through. The area we were peeping into was the hallway. There were beautiful antique furniture of British time scattered here and there, did not look like in regular upkeep though.
The outside temperature was dropping sharply, creating a mist of our breaths on the glasses. The moment we imagined an unworldly company in the surrounds, our fingers trembled and cold bodies jerked away from the window just like an electric shock throws you off.
The experience was enough to satiate our spooky hunger. It was already twilight time. We did not go back towards the bungalow again. The adjacent gardens were full of colourful Himalayan flowering plants and tall cedars. At one side of the garden, there was an old wooden lounge overlooking the Teesta River, which perhaps served as a panoramic view point in those days. Lack of maintenance made it look all tarnished today. Nevertheless, the grand view of twelve turns of Teesta River, longest as they say, with the setting sun behind the blue mountains was a treat to our eyes.
Taking a stroll around the complex, we did not wait further. The trail back to our homestay was through a dense pine forest and leopard sighting was quite common after sunset. Even so, no harm in saying, to get the widest bird’s eye view of meandering Teesta River, a vintage British architecture, Cinchona plantation, dense Pine Dhupi along with Mt. Kanchenjunga in one frame, one must be at Munsong’s historic British made Jalsa Bungalow.