Darjeeling’s treks are short, comfortable and very scenic. The most popular trekking months are April–May for seeing the flora of the region, and October–November when you have the clearest mountain views). If you want an organised trek, complete with porter, guide and food, contact either Summit Tours, Indrani Lodge, 7 Chowrasta Road (tel 2710) or Tenzing Kanchenjunga Tours, 1/D.B. Gird Road (tel 3058). These agencies will set up everything. Most people go off trekking on their own, however, for the trails are well marked and there are good tourist bungalows and lodges all along the way. A popular short trek is up to Sandakphu(3536 m), which gives fantastic views of Everest and the whole range of Kanchenjunga mountains.
The return journey takes 4 days, starting with a jeep or taxi ride from Darjeeling to Manebhanjang (26 km; 16.3 miles) and proceeding to Sandakphu via Tonglu (3070 m), following the Nepalese border the whole way. The full trekking circuit takes 8 days: proceeding past Sandakphu to Phalut (3600 m) with its close-up views of Kanchenjunga, down through lovely terraced cultivations to the beautiful village at Lodhama River, and returning through several tea gardens, beautiful rhododendron, silver fir, camellia and magnolia forests via Bijanbari (762 m) down to North Point above Darjeeling. For further details of these and other treks, contact the helpful Tourist Bureau in Darjeeling. You may need a permit to go trekking so check the current situation. If so, this is issued on the spot at the Foreigners’ Registration Office in Laden-La Road. Potential trekkers are also advised to look in on the Darjeeling Youth Hostel before setting off: for cheap trek equipment hire, good information and maps, and lots of useful tips from previous trekkers in the visitor’s book.
During the time of the Raj, Darjeeling residents spent their spare time collecting flora and fauna, creating botanical gardens, playing sports, laying out tea plantations and scaling mountains.Today, visitors have a choice of walking, trekking, pony-riding, or playing golf at the Senchal Golf Course, near Tiger Hill. This enjoys the reputation of being one of the highest golf courses in the world, at 2484 m. During the spring and autumn seasons, there is horse-racing at the Lebong Race Course. Good fishing can be had at the Rangeet River at Singla (8 km; 5 miles), permits being issued by the District Forest Officer. The Darjeeling Gymkhana Club, Bhanu Sarani West (tel 2002/2020) is apparently great fun. Previously a sophisticated social club, it is now where travellers drop in for pukkah games of snooker and billiards, while Indian children rumble around on roller-skates and clamber over tennis courts.
Temporary membership is available on a daily or weekly basis for a nominal fee. There are two cinemas, the Capital in Laden-La Road and the Rink in Dr S.M. Das Road. Both occasionally show English films. So do the masses of tiny backstreet video parlours, though these tend to favour kungfu and disaster films. Cultural entertainment is thin, especially since the recent unrest put paid to the Nepali folk-culture programmes at Kala Mandir Hall, and the similar culture shows at the hotels. If you’re desperate to hear authentic local music and song, phone Badri and Durga Kharel (tel 2231). They’re the best home-grown talent in town, and even offer music lessons. Tibetan folk dances can be seen in the monasteries at festivals like the Tibetan New Year (mid-February), and local community groups hold their own celebrations, though these are rarely seen by tourists.