India and Nepal have several border crossings open to foreigners. The most popular although is the Sonauli-Belahiya, due to it location, more or less in the middle of the south Nepal border, and maybe the shortest rout to reach Kathmandu by land. Also the location between Varanasi and Kathmandu or Pokhara, make this desolated and unfriendly place a choice for those how want to travel by land. For more details about Sonauli-Belahiya border crossing check my previous posts. http://steppingoutofbabylon.com/en/2016/09/how-to-cross-the-border-sunauli-belahiya-india-nepal/
But for those traveling in north east India, like Sikkim, Bengal and the so-called North-eastern states (Assam, Nagaland, Megahlaya, Arunachal Pradesh, etc…) the border Panitanki (India) – Kakarbhitta (Nepal) located on the east side of Nepal is the best option.
Being less popular is far more pleasant the Sonauli-Belahiya, but if you destination is Kathmandu you have to face a 16 hours bus trip.
The Panitanki –Kakarbhitta border is open 24 hours on the India side, and from the Nepal side from 6 am to 7 pm.
(2017 update: the border is open 24 hours on the Nepali side. The gates are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
At Panitanki just ask to local people “Nepal” and everyone knows where the border is. From here you can walk until Indian Immigration Office. Not more than 10 minutes walking. The road as asphalt but you must do your walk with truck passing close to you. So if you prefer avoid some sweat and dust you can arrange the entire trip until Nepali side with one of the many cycle rickshaws.
The Panitanki – Kakarbhitta border is marked by a river, and the bridge connection the two sides is a kind of “no mans land”. The Indian Immigration Office is a few meters before the bridge, in a small alley on your left side. Anyway if you miss it, the guards near the gate will call you and show you the way.
At the Indian Immigration Office, you show your passport and in less than 2 minutes you have your exit stamp.
From here you need to cross the bridge. I have made it on foot, and I was not the only one, but if your luggage is heavy or if you are caring many items maybe is better to hire a rickshaws. Anyway walking you have more time to enjoy the view of the river and surroundings that with the heat of April are almost dry, but that after the monsoon rain must offer a pleasant view. The walk make me sweat and regret not had taken a rickshaw, but at the same time offer me lots of smiles from the local people and children waving… not many foreigners cross this point, and even less do it on foot. And above all, crossing a border on foot has always a special meaning… a kind of symbolic entrance in a country… not with the easiness and apparatus of the airports but with a humbleness necessary to a traveler.
After crossing the bridge you are at Nepal, more properly Kakarbitta. Walking a few meters more you’ll on the right side a ramp that lead you to a gate. Behind the gate is the building of the Nepali Immigration Office. As the both Nepali and Indian don’t need immigration formalities to cross the border, this office is almost empty all day. Nepal has Visa on Arrival, so to get your visa you need:
- 1 photo
- fill a couple of forms that they will give you there
- …and money to pay the visa fee. You can pay in dollars (USD) or Indian rupees (INR). Must be played in cash. There is no ATM or Exchange shop nearby, so be prepared. In the India side you can exchange money. If you pay in dollars is better bring the exact amount, as change isn’t always available.
The Nepal visa can be (April 2016):
- 15 days: 25 USD
- 30 days: 40 USD or 2700 INR
- 90 days: 100 USD
The staff at the Nepal Immigration office is very nice and provides a lot of information, especially about schedules and prices for the different kinds of buses. With the help of Nepali officers I could easily avoid touts that always come to try to push you to one of their buses. They are annoying but not persistent.
After have your stamp in the passport, that will take about 5 minutes, you just walk right until you cross a big gate that symbolically mark the entrance in Nepal.
From here you walk a few meters and on your start to see a few shops, keep walking until a corner, where bus tickets are sold. There are several shops, but in this one you are dealing directly with the bus company and avoid extra fees from intermediaries and travel agencies. The shop is open to the street, with the counter surrender by windows. The prices are clearly written on the window. The bus terminal is just in front.
From Kakarbitta there are direct buses to the main nepali cities: Kathmandu, Jonakpur, Biratnagar, Itahari, etc…
How to go from Siliguri (New Jalpaiguri Junction) to Panitaki
Probably you’ll arrive to Panitanki coming from Sikkim, Darjeeling, Siliguri or New Jalpaiguri.
Siliguri is the closest train station from the Nepali border, but most of the trains stop at is New Jalpaiguri also known as NJP, a more important station. Just in front of New Jalpaiguri train station, you’ll see a few nice blue buses parked that go to Siliguri. From there you need another bus to Panitanki. To avoid this bus transfer you must walk a bit further, to the end of the train station car park, until find a bus, not so nice and modern as the other ones, but that goes direct to Panitanki; it takes about 1 hour to make around 35 km, but it stop many times, including Siliguri. If you arrive during the day, there’s no reason to stop in Siliguri, but is never a good option crossing the border during the night.
Bus ticket New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to Panitanki: 20 INR (Indian rupees) (about 1 hour)
How to go from Kakarbitta to Kathmandu by bus:
As there is no railway service in Nepal just remains two options to reach Kathmandu: by plane or by bus.
The plane far from be the best option is terms of time and comfort is out of a backpacker budget, as also out of the spirit of traveling… so the bus remain as the only reasonable option.
There are good bus connections between Kakarbitta (also referred as Kakarvitta) and the capital, with a/c buses depart early in the morning: 4 am, 5 am, 6 am and 7 am, and in the afternoon: 3 pm, 4 pm and 5 pm. Officially the trip is 12 hours… but it took 16 hours, with the last two hours already in the traffic jam of Kathmandu suburbs.
The evening buses arrive to Kathmandu more or less all at the same time, despite the time of the departure, as later the bus departure, les traffic find on the way.
Despite de 16 hours bus journey, the trip is not so hard as imagined, as about 2/3 of the trip is made on the Terai, the flat area in south of Nepal. The last part is the hardest one with the road going up to the mountain, with quiet some curves and bumps that hardly allow you to sleep.
Is strongly advisable to take air-condition bus (a/c bus) not just because of the heat from the south of Nepal during almost all the year, but also because of the dust and the noise. The a/c with the windows locked provides a more pleasant and relax trip… it worth to pay some extra rupies more.
The best buses are from the BIHANI company. Called a/c Delux, are modern, almost new and quiet comfortable, spacious, and the reclining seats, have a support for the legs that provide a almost horizontal position… not a sleeping bus but very confortable. Still your sleep could be disturbed by the music and the movie show on the screen… a kind of Nepali version of Bollywood. The bus stop a coupe of times for food.
ticket fares from Kakarbitta to Kathmandu:
Bus “a/c Delux”: 1630 NPR (nepali rupees) (16 hours)
bus “delux”: from 809 NPR to 1295 NPR (more or less the same travel time but less comfort)
Bus “non delux”: from 668 to 1070 NPR (I strongly discouraged trip in this “normal” buses, only if there’s any other option)
From my experience at Neapli road I must say that there are no pleasant or easy bus trips in Nepal. Or is too hot, like almost all the year along the Terai, or at mountain the winding roads, or the drivers are crazy, or there are many stops, or the bus is too crowded, or the road is too dusty, or if it’s raining too muddy. Even the super-delux bus is most of the times old, uncomfortable, dirty and even with broken seat.
This trip from Kakarbitta to Kathmandu, on a a/c bus was far the most pleasant trip that I have ever made in Nepal.
Where to eat at Kakarbitta:
At Kakarbitta after having my precious bus ticket was time to relax and have some food.
Kakarbitta is far from be attractive town, but nor sob ad from what we are used to expect form a border town. Is quiet, cross by a main road, dusty but that doesn’t have that much traffic. Around the bus terminal, basically the center of all activity at Kakarbita, there are a few shop, restaurants and few fruit stalls.
On the opposite side of the terminal, that is quieter, line up a few restaurants, also called hotel, with some also with lodging. The choice was for the Sainik Hotel, clean and spacious. The kana (local meal based on rice, dhal, curry, vegetables and pickle) was delicious and served at the traditional brass plate. The meal with two chai was 80 rupees (NPR) with refill. Strongly recommend.
Beyond the food Sainik Hotel also provide nice conditions to wait about 4 hours for my bus: quiet and with smiley and friendly staff.