Our Nepali visa was coming close to expiry so we made a run to the western border of Nepal heading in to India. The border towns that we have been to (Sunali on the southern border to India and Mahendranagar on the west) are both very similar.
There is something about border towns. They are dusty dirty places with people rushing everywhere. The towns themselves tend to be large with a string of often ordinary hotels where people hole up in preparation for the crossing. For us we found a hotel that didn’t seem too bad and settled in for the night. The main drag that ran through town just outside our hotel was hot and dusty and the sound is mind bending. It is a constant cacophony of tooting horns from vehicles of all shapes and sizes.
It did seem though that not many western tourists stopped in Mahendranagar for the night as our appearance on the street certainly turned heads, something we are quite used to as independent travellers. I guess most tourists don’t have their own transport and the timings of the buses from Kathmandu and Pokhara are set to get people to the border for early morning crossings, not have them while away a few hours in dusty town. For Indians and Nepali people the border is an open crossing so I suspect that most of the hotel customers were of a more local variety.
So what’s it like to cross the border? Surprisingly it was quite fuss free. All of our paperwork was in order with our Indian visa still current and allowing for a re-entry so it is a simple matter of finding the right office on the Nepali side of the border, they take your passports and stamp you out, you then make your way (for us on the bike, for others on rickshaws) across about 50m of no-mans-land then hand over the documents to the immigration officials of India and voila – you’re in.
Coming in to Nepal was not quite so simple for us though. The Sunali border crossing was a far bigger mess with trucks banked up on the Indian side for a few km. Thankfully with the bike we could weave our way through until we spotted something that hinted at immigration and a border line (in this case a big archway marking the entry to Nepal). The outgoing Indian paperwork was simple but coming into Nepal with an Indian Enfield motorbike was quite another story.
We did the personal immigration process at one office then had to take the bike to the customs office where we had to pay a surcharge for each day of the visa (not much, only $1/day) but we had no Nepali money so Dave had to run and find an ATM that took visa (can be a hassle with the visa/mastercard thing). Then with all the appropriate copies of everything in triplicate the paperchase begins. The papers are basically passed through 6 sets of hands until it is all stamped and paid then we were allowed to go. Not really too much drama but it took the better part of 2 hours in the dust and heat. Still, better that then they had knocked us back – I have no idea what we would have done then. But then we do tend to just make it up as we go along so I’m sure we’d have worked it out.
So there you have it – border crossing at its finest. The most fun was when we had made it out of Nepal and into India we had to cross a bridge where the ends were gated and there was a narrow space to walk through. Unfortunately the panniers on the Enfield were too wide (nothing like finding that out by jamming the bike into the opening while being pressured from front and back by other people trying to get through). Took a bit of shoving but we eventually backed it up and of course in the end we managed to find the man with the gate key but it certainly made for a bit of a giggle.
So my advice for border crossings and visas, make sure all your paperwork/internet application is in order, always have a few copies and plenty of spare passport photos, arrive with plenty of time and always be super polite to the immigration people 🙂 All goes so much smoother that way. Oh and US dollars are king at any border crossing (would have saved us a trip to find the ATM 😉 ).
After the rush of the afternoon, the evening settles into heat and dust. Mahendranagar, Nepali border town.