There are few road drives to match the one across Nepal. Whatever you seek as a traveller is on the menu. Wildlife, adventure, mountains, rivers, history, religion, culture and more. You will never have the time for all the surprises Nepal has in store for you.
The following is a driving guide across on Kunzum Route K15 in Nepal based on my own journey recently. You may also click here to read posts I have already written on Nepal. Click here for more routes.
Distance / Time Chart: A Summary
· Delhi – Shuklaphanta Wildlife Park (in Mahendranagar): 360 km / 9 hours
· Shuklaphanta Wildlife Park – Bardia National Park: 160 km / 2:30 hrs
· Bardia – Lumbini: 340 km / 6:30 hrs
· Lumbini – Tansen: 80 km / 2:30 hrs
· Tansen – Pokhara: 130 km / 3:30 hrs
· Pokhara – Bandipur: 78 km / 2 hrs
· Bandipur – Gorkha: 50 km / 1:10 hrs
· Gorkha – Kathmandu: 150 km / 4 hrs
· Kathmandu – Chitwan National Park (Meghauli Airport): 180 km / 4:30 hrs
· Chitwan – Janakpur: 290 km / 5 hrs
· Janakpur – Koshi Tappu: 180 km / 3:30 hrs
Leg 1: Delhi to Banbassa (the western entry point into Nepal)
* Delhi – Gajraula: 2:20 hrs, 212 km (This is not distance to Gajraula town but a few miles after that – you have a highly recommended multi-cuisine restaurant Meritone and a McDonalds here. Took a pitstop here)
* Gajraula – Café Coffee Day (CCD), Moradabad: 0:55 hrs, 67 km (Take a bypass on the toll road before Moradabad or you could get stuck in traffic. The café is a few miles after Moradabad. I took a caffeine break here.)
* CCD Moradabad – Rampur: 0:22 hrs, 14 kms (Watch out for left turn pointing to Nainital – very easy to miss. Ask people if not sure)
* Rampur – Rudrapur: 1:00 hrs, 44 kms (The point measured is two miles before Rudrapur town – I stopped here for fuel. Good idea to tank up here – I was almost stranded once on this same route as I did not get fuel later on the way to Abbott Mount. Very cheerfully, the attendant wished me all the best for my journey when he heard I am off to Nepal and the North-East. Stopped for lunch in Rudrapur – again, a good idea; not too many options after this)
* Rudrapur – Khatima: 1:30 hrs, 72 kms
* Khatima – Banbassa: 0:27 hrs, 13 kms (stopped to tank up again – I was paranoid not knowing what the fuel position in Nepal is)
* Banbassa – Crossing over point to Nepal: 0:10 hrs, 5 kms.
Total Time / Distance: Effectively reached the Nepal border in 6:50 hours driving time (stops not included) covering 427 kms. It took another 3 hours at the border though. Out of this, 45 minutes were spent waiting for gates to open (they open at specific times only) and the rest for the formalities.
Formalities for crossing the border into Nepal
This is my personal experience when going over the line into Nepal; remember, these rules apply to Indians only:
On the Indian side:
* Was asked to look for a blue box – a guy busy chatting on a mobile gave me a ‘parchi’ (ticket) for Rs. 35.
* Waited at Sharda Barrage – gates for 4-wheelers open from 6-7 am, 12-2 pm and 5-6 pm (6-7 pm in summers, months not defined). Pedestrians, cycles and anything else that can go through a gate are allowed all day. Rule goes back to the British Raj days only at this point – all other border crossing points are open all day.
* A market here has been set up mostly for those going into Nepal and needing to buy household goods, construction materials, groceries and even religious symbols.
* The border is full of people travelling between the two countries for personal, work or religious reasons (Hindus always seem to have some religious fair or event going on – and India and Nepal have no dearth of holy spots)
* Gates open, drove across the bridge on Mahakali river, handed over ‘parchi’ at check post and reached customs. They check car, make me get a customs declaration for my cameras and laptop (so I can re-export it duty free when I leave Nepal) and take a bribe of Rs. 100. They ask if I am carrying any Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 bills? I am prepared for this – the rules do not allow these to be taken out of India. No, I said. “Are you sure? If yes, we can exchange these for smaller denominations. (The customs guy obviously wants to make a commission on the transaction.) The police post further on might take it all away later,” the official emphasizes again. No, I reply confidently.
* The SSB (Sashastra Seema Bal), the border police, try their best to find something in my car to incriminate me – no luck. I am flagged off and touch Nepali soil.
On the Nepali side:
* Have to get Nepal permit now. Charge Indian Rs. 300 per day of stay – must tell them in advance. Permit is granted for a maximum of 30 days. Driving on an expired permit means I pay a penalty of Rs. 1,130 per day. Do estimate how long you will be in Nepal as there are only a few places where you can extend your permit and also wastes time. Your papers will be checked very often at check posts all over Nepal.
I Pay for 20 days, sent to a traffic guy who gives me another paper and a temporary number plate – he borrowed my pen, liked it, insisted he is going to keep it, I let him and also pay Rs. 50 fee and Rs. 50 ‘gift.’ No regrets about pen – ink was running low.
* A Nepali cop wants to go through all my bags – paid Rs. 100 to get him off my back; I wanted to get to my hotel fast enough and crash.
* Sent to RTO (Regional Transport Office) for yet another paper – it was late evening and had to get guy from his home nearby. Paid Rs. 250 fee and I was home free.
Formalities for Indians and their personal vehicles
* There is no restriction for Indians to go to Nepal. You may be asked to produce a valid photo ID. Passport is always a safe bet to carry though not mandatory.
* You are not allowed to carry Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 currency notes into Nepal. Indian customs may create problems. But Indian currency is freely used in Nepal. 1 INR = 1.6 Nepali Rupee.
* Owners of cars have to be in the car when it crosses the border into Nepal.
* Carry these papers with photocopies when you take your car to Nepal: Registration Certificate, Insurance, Driving Licence, Passport size photographs, Passport (not mandatory). Keep these papers and permits handy – there is a checkpost every few miles in Nepal.
Leg 2: Banbassa – Mahendranagar / Shuklaphanta Wildlife Park
Mahendranagar in Nepal was 13 kms from the Indian side of the border – did not take much driving time for that though. This is the town where you actually sleep. Not many choices of hotels though – only Hotel Opera actually if you want a ‘comfortable’ place. Spend a full day here visiting the Shuklaphanta Wildlife Park, Lake Betkot and the Suspension Bridge before heading out to the Bardia National Park.
Leg 3: Mahendranagar – Bardia National Park: 160 km / 2:30 hrs
You can spend any amount of time here on the trail of the tigers, rhinos and other animals and birds. Recommended you go for at least three safaris of half day each.
Leg 4: Bardia – Lumbini: 340 km / 6:30 hrs
When in Nepal, a visit to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, is a must. You can spend one full day here to visit the essential attractions, or stay on longer to go to neighbouring villages looking up historical structures.
Leg 5: Lumbini – Tansen: 80 km / 2:30 hrs
Tansen is an unlikely recommendation – most travellers give it a miss – but a day or even two are certainly worth it. Walk around town just looking at the picturesque doors and windows, visit the nearby Bhairavsthan with its (claimed) largest Trishul (Trident, used by Hindu God Shiva) in Asia or even a day hike to Rani Mahal.
Leg 6: Tansen – Pokhara: 130 km / 3:30 hrs
I personally rate Pokhara as the single best destination in South Asia to visit. It has a mix of everything for travellers: natural wonders, adventure, great coffee, pizzerias, shopping, internet (if you care for it), excellent places to stay and more.
Leg 7: Pokhara – Bandipur: 78 km / 2 hrs
If you are not careful, it is easy to miss Bandipur, a hidden wonder of Nepal. A night halt here comes strongly recommended.
Leg 8: Bandipur – Gorkha: 50 km / 1:10 hrs
Gorkhas are some of the finest soldiers in the world, and the pride of the Indian and British armies. And they all come from the town of Gorkha. A half or full day here should be set aside too.
Leg 9: Gorkha – Kathmandu: 150 km / 4 hrs
Time to party in Kathmandu. Don’t let the nay-sayers keep you away from the country’s capital. Wander the streets of Thamel, visit the World Heritage Sites of Patan and Bhaktapur or the famous Pashupatinath Temple. And enjoy the food, coffee and shopping – Internet will make it possible for you to send these to friends globally. (You actually get good coffee and Internet effectively in Pokhara and Kathmandu only in Nepal).
Leg 10: Kathmandu – Manakamana
Take a halt at Manakamana, setting aside at least 3 hours. And go for a cable car ride to pay homage (if you like) at the Manakamana Temple and to admire some of the finest views of the snow-capped Himalayas.
Leg 11: Manakamana – Chitwan National Park (Meghauli Airport): 180 km / 4:30 hrs
There are many different hubs to stay at the World Heritage Site of Chitwan National Park, and they are separated by tens of miles each. Again, you can stay for as many days as you like – the more you explore the park, the more wildlife you can expect to see.
Leg 12: Chitwan – Janakpur: 290 km / 5 hrs
This one is for the true Hindus only: Janakpur is believed to be the birthplace of Sita, wife of Hindu God Ram. But the town is also the black sheep of Nepal: it is dirty and filthy, with no decent places to stay and eat. Surprising since the rest of country, including the most impoverished of regions, manage to keep themselves clean. Perhaps being close to the Indian border (from all practical purposes, it is an Indian town – you will hardly see any Nepalis here) means the bad habits of the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have come into this town too.
Leg 13: Janakpur – Koshi Tappu: 180 km / 3:30 hrs
If you have a fond eye for birds (the feathered type) then Koshi Tappu is where you want to be. Unfortunately recent floods in the Kosi river have affected the eco-system of the reserve, and many migratory birds no longer come here. Plan for at least two nights here.
Leg 14: Koshi – Tappu to Indian border at Kakarbhitta: 122 kms / 2:00 hrs
You can head out to India from the border at Kakarbhitta, close to Siliguri in West Bengal. It takes 30 kms / 0:40 hrs to get to Siliguri once you have crossed the border.
Crossing back into India at the Kakarbhitta border
When you reach the border at Kakarbhitta the Nepali authorities will check your road permits to ensure you have paid up as due. And you could well be on the way across the bridge connecting the two countries. Technically, I should have been stopped at customs but no one bothered. There is too much movement of people and goods across this border for anyone to have time probably – unlike the border at Banbassa where they have all the time in the world to hassle travellers.
Entry / Exit Points in Nepal for Foreigners
· International Airport, Kathmandu
· Kakarbhitta, Jhapa (Eastern)
· Birgunj, Parsa (Central)
· Kodari (Northern Border, Central)
· Belhia, Bhairahawa (Rupandehi, Western)
· Jamunaha, Nepalgunj (Banke, Mid-Western)
· Mohana, Dhangadhi (Kailali, Far Western)
· Gadda Chauki, Mahendranagar (Kanchanpur, Far Western)
* All distances have been measured from Rajghat in Delhi – it is the 0 km mark in the city.
* I have not included the time where I took stops. In other words, you are only reading actual driving times above except where mentioned.
* The actual distance readings can vary in different cars. Treat these as approximations only.
* Time taken can vary with traffic – always a good idea to leave early morning to beat at least some of the rush.
* One rule when driving in India and the rest of the subcontinent: Keep asking for directions even when you know you are going correctly. With highways constantly being upgraded, you may be directed to some more efficient routes including bypassing towns, or being told about new roads. And locals always know when a road or a bridge has gone under, and may suggest alternate routes.
* The best people to ask for directions are drivers of taxis, buses and trucks. They ply the roads all the time.
* Milestones give distances to centres of town – and the above may not necessarily be measured at that point by me.
* SH: State Highway; NH: National Highway
And do join us for a coffee at the Kunzum Travel Cafe in Hauz Khas Village in New Delhi, India.