Nepal to Darjeeling (India) overland – what to avoidTim McDonald
Back in London before our trip began, I began to look at overland routes in and out of Nepal. It didn’t seem easy, and most of the advice was about trying to avoid the rickety state buses bumping their way in from Uttarakhand over the Western border.
We ended up flying in from Delhi to Kathmandu, but with Darjeeling next on our list after our Annapurna trek, we decided to be a little more adventurous and exit Nepal by bus from Pokhara to West Bengal.
Obtaining a ticket to the border from the travel office opposite Hotel Be Happy in Pokhara was easy enough. 800 Rps bought us a seat on the bus to the Kakarbhitta border crossing. It was an overnight coach and took about 15 hrs (leaving at 5pm) to cover the 600km across the country.
The journey was a lively one. The obligatory Bollywood films were turned up to full volume and the lack of suspension meant there was little chance of using a laptop (or getting much sleep).
There are enough stops at roadside cafes with the usual fried snacks, despite the seeming Nepalese obsession with hard-boiled eggs, and the frequent pauses by the road for anyone who wished to relieve themselves in the bushes.
Now, a word of advice, don’t listen to anyone who tells you to change at Birtamode and travel North to Pashupatinagar to save time. Despite what you may be told, this is a border for Indian and Nepalese nationals only. So if you see this, you’ve done it wrong…
We made this journey and found out to our cost that it has no immigration office and were turned away, costing us almost 1000rps for a (squashed) bus and taxi and 4 hrs back down to Kakarbhitta.
After checking in with Nepalese immigration there, the crossing was simple enough. I would advise hiring a rickshaw rather than braving the kilometre walk over the bridge that separates the two borders.
We needed photocopies of our passport and visa on the Indian side, though these were obtained across the road from the immigration office for a few rupees.
From there, an hour long bus journey took us to Siliguri for 80rps.
In Siliguri there are hordes of shared jeeps that speed their way from there to destinations all over the West Bengal hills. The most common route is north to Darjeeling (130-150rps – 2½ hours).
The competition is pretty rife, so avoid getting pulled in by the first driver you meet. Before you know it he’ll have your bags on his roof (the roof racks seem inadequate but we’ve never had a bag fall off yet!) If the jeep is full, then that is a good thing. While you sit there squeezed in it may not seem like it, but if there is any space at all likely you will just have to wait for it to fill up anyway.
It was a pretty hairy journey up into the hills, careering around bends with sheer drops to one side, but time for these jeeps is apparently of the essence.
If you make the trip, my advice is try and sit back and enjoy the view, if you can. Personally, I kept my eyes closed.