A Travelogue :
My journey into Nepal was a bit weird one and can be termed as one totally out of my comfort zone, however it was quite memorable as well. That definately adds to the adventure quotient. I had 3 short trips to and fro Nepal within a short span of time and all those trips basically touched around the base of south-east Nepal - i.e the triangle trio of Kakarbhitta-Biratnagar-Jogbani and hold on I was travelling all alone, all the time!
It was couple of years ago, I caught the early morning Rajdhani Express from Guwahati ( Assam ) station that left at around 7.30 am. 6 hours later I got down at new Jalpaiguri station in West Bengal. Rajdhani is fast, otherwise normal trains takes around 8 hours to reach NJP from GHY.
So, around 12.30noon, I was in NJP enroute to Kakarbhitta via Raniganj town ( The Indian border, which is half a kilometre east of Siliguri town, and is marked by the Mechi River.) It takes around 1 hour by auto and more time by a man-pulled rickshaw or lesser by a mini-bus. You can skip Raniganj and tell the autowala to take you directly to the Nepal border post i.e Kakarbhitta ( which is actually a 10-minute walk to Raniganj ) However, he'll stop outside the main gate and you'll have to across the border and walk the rest on your own till the bus stop nearby.
On the 3 times that I travelled, I had taken all the three options which also includes a private-jeep journey from NJP-Nepal border pass which was quite quicker than the rest of the modes of transport.
The panaromic views of the green tea gardens, shaded delicately on both the sides of the road during the journey up north from NJP to Raniganj is quite breathtaking, something not to be missed. It looks very serene and peaceful. The mesmerising view of the distant mighty Himalayan/Darjeeling hills that looms large is also present the entire time. It fades out a while after you enter Nepal and later as the route turns west/southwards you lose it completely.
After I reached the border, to my surprise I saw that there was no one checking the passport. Visa is not required for Indians. One could just hop across and you'd be in Nepal and vice versa. However, nationals from other countries will have to get a visa. But the good thing is, Nepal immigration is open round-the-clock. Plus, we need to get the nepali currency also, though not required for Indians as INR is widely accepted. However value of Nepali Rupees is almost twice that of INR.
The first time, I had got an AC taxi directly to Biratnagar costing around 1000 bucks, ( I didnt know about bargaining then ) and reached by evening 7PM. However, on the 2nd time I reached quite late and had managed to reach Biratnagar by almost midnight only. That too after quite an eventful ordeal ( more on it below ). And the 3rd time I reached so late that I couldnot get the last bus to Biratnagar at all ( the last bus goes off around 4 pm ), so I had to spend the night in a nice border hotel ( with a tout who showed me the hotel taking off a large sum as well, so beware of that )
I resumed the journey in the morning where I reached my destination by around 11 AM.
All the 3 times my journey were really intriguing and not to mention adventurous ( nerve wrecking too! )
The first time I visited, I travelled by an AC taxi so the journey was quite quick and smooth. For some reasons though, I was scared of the taxi-wala throughout the entire journey as it was my first travel to Nepal alone, what with him throwing strange glances my way on the rear-view mirror every now and then. He must've thought me to be the most foolish passenger who paid a whopping 1000/-INR which when converted into Nepali currency became almost double the amount.
However, he turned out to be quite a helpful chap in the end and gave some rather cool advices once we had reached and then also started hunting the particular location for me. He couldve easily dropped me off, taken the pre-paid rate and gone away, but knowing that I was new he hung on till he found the house that I was looking for ( stopping his taxi everywhere, and asking everyone for directions in nepali whether it was a pedestarian or shopkeeper ). Only once he was satisfied that I had reached the correct address that he left. Though I had to take a rickshaw later on as well.
It was diwali during that time, and every house had earthen lamps decorated in their front yards but there was no electricity. I returned back to GHY the next day after meeting with the people I had gone to meet.
The 2nd time however was a bit scary. I was travelling by the mini-bus which saw hoards of passengers changing at every stop and sometime the bus stopped to collect even more passengers randomly mid-way as well. It was jam-packed with people sitting on the roof as well. Thank God the overloaded bus didnt trip over. It played both bollywood as well as nepali songs at full volume in the entire journey. The road ( a highway ) travels west till Itahari and is straight without any curves or turnings ( it takes an abrupt turn towards south after Itahari ) so the view was constant, crossing over many small rivers and tributaries that flowed down from the Himalayas. I saw the nepali people of all ages/genders in their unique dressses/hats mostly riding bicycles. Also the typical nepali rural houses that I saw, made of logs having wide space below for live stock and living quaters above for humans, was a pleasant sight to absorb in. The entire route is very rural and very earthy.
But then that day, the bus abruptly stopped at Itahari saying that there was a bandh ahead hence all routes to Biratnagar were closed. It was already very dark and Lo-and-Behold as Nepal had frequent power cuts all the time, we weren't spared that evening either. A man ( an Indian businessman living in Nepal ) in that same bus was also travelling to Biratnagar. Seeing my helplessness or rather extreme discomfort at this sudden situation, he said that he'd help me reach my destination as there was no bus back to Kakarbhitta either. ( We were totally stuck! )
No rickshaw was willing to go all the way to Biratnagar. We hailed one with quite difficulty. The rickshawala demanded an atrocious amount but we agreed as we didnt really have much choice and he was the only one willing to pedal so far so late. So, it was almost 3 hours that he pedalled away. The rickshaw was quite uncomfortable to sit in as it was too narrow for two apparently healthy individuals, who were complete strangers as well! But we did got around talking ( just random things ) and I didnt quite answer truthfully all the things that the man asked. How could I? I was too nervous at getting stuck like this and was only hoping that I reach safely without any untoward incident.
It was almost midnight by the time when we finally reached. That helpful man knew Biratnagar inside out and invited me to his home, saying that he had family etc. But I was reluctant to accept the offer, as he was after all a stranger for me. I told him I'd prefer to check into a guest house and would be grateful if he helped me find one. He did help me find one after scounting in the dark on that rickshaw all over the already asleep town, and only then did he finally go his own way.
The next morning he had come to check if I was alright, but I had already gone off trekking so never quite met that gentleman again. Moreover, during day time I had shifted to another guest house near the main bus stop, so he must have lost track of me totally after that.
The lady who served food at the restaurant told me that it was very dangerous for a female to venture out on the streets after sunset -- now only if she knew about my hair-raising journey :-)
The 3rd time I went to Nepal, I had decided to stay in the border guest house as I didnt want to take any risk like the last time. One tout saw me, a lone traveller that too female, and said that he knew a nice hotel to stay with homely environment. I was cautious but nonetheless went with him. He indeed took me to a place run by a family. He said that the rent was 500/- INR as it was double room. I shelled it out to the woman, who in one corner gave the tout his share. I had a normal home cooked type meal that evening and chatted with the woman who owned that place. I even played with her little kid. She liked talking to me so much that in the end she admitted that the tout had lied to me and that the rates were actually 150/- INR only.
Anyways, I didnt hold any grudge and the next morning, early before dawn break, I took the bus for Biratnagar. During day time the journey seems as if you are travelling any place within India itself. That particular journey by bus was in a large spacious AC one which didnt stop everywhere like those mini-buses did, so I reached pretty quick and it was uneventful, rather peaceful.
However, the return journey was quite the opposite with our bus ( again a mini-bus which I frantically boarded after getting stuck in Biratnagar for 3 extra days due to continuous strike a.k.a bandh ) breaking down in mid-journey and all passengers stranded. It was a long tiring wait till another over-loaded mini-bus came along the dusty highway and picked us up!
- I had stayed there for about 2-3 weeks ( all the 3 trips combined ), did absolutely nothing, except roamed around the streets in a rickshaw. The place somewhat reminded me of a certain busy market area back in Guwahati but was way smaller and dustier. As electricity keeps going every now and then for long durations it can be quite uncomfortable during summer months. And the 'Bandhs'!!! Every other day there was a bandh of some nature with political processions carried out and all shops closing shut within minutes. Can be quite annoying.
The food that I was served in the well equiped guest house ( 400/- Nepali Rupees per night ) where I had stayed was the only saving grace in the entire journey. I stayed in the same guest house in all my trips. It had a cyber cafe near it which was quite useless with no electricity most of the times.
In the morning, they served a typical local dish for breakfast that consisted of flattened rice ( chira ), over it a layer of chick-peas gravy, chopped onion pieces and a tasty veg cutlet on top. The dinner and lunch consisted of home cooked type food with options of both veg and non-veg. They also had other items which I never tasted except a spicy aloo paratha with curd once. I also tasted delicious Chole Bhature in a small eatery near Traffic Chowk. All prices, I found were reasonably fixed.
-It hardly takes half hour from Biratnagar to reach Jogbani. There will be many rickshawalas chanting 'Jogbani, Jogbani' near the main bus stop ready to take you there for a very cheap rate ( 20/- INR ) and before you know it, you will already reach the border. It is an over crowded little place with people moving to and fro the border. And the place is not one where you'd want to linger on for long.
I think all those ultra-hep city dwellers should visit places like Jogbani to get a glimpse of real, rural and raw India. I took a train to Katihar from Jogbani and escaped as fast as I could from there, but alas the train journey was not pleasant either. Over crowded with humans and live stock both pushed in together, the train compartment simply stank. From Katihar another 10 hours long train trip back to Guwahati, and I was finally back in tolerable humanity again. ( my 2nd trip return )
Now since my journey was limited to the south east corner of Nepal, its obvious that I've not seen Nepal entirely or its beauty if it has any ( I plan to some day maybe ). But I did get a good glimpse of the simple and traditional Nepali Life. However, it is advisable not to travel alone, cos trust me ( from my experience ) it can get quite unpredictable especially if you are a girl and can be dangerous too.
UPDATE : I did have one more trip to Nepal, that was far better experience than all the previous ones.
( Images Courtesy : Google & Team-bhp.com )