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Epic 2 day journey to Kathmandu

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It was now time for us to leave India and head on to Nepal. The journey from Shillong to Kathmandu was a total of 695km, involving travel via Sumo, train, rickshaw, jeep, bus and on foot. It began well with the Sumo from Shillong to Guwahati passing without any problems and with traffic and roads being absolutely fine for once. We arrived in Guwahati around 5pm and had nearly 5 hours to kill before catching out 21:40 overnight sleeper train to back to NJP, the closest settlement to the Nepali border. So we decided to head back to the Sunderban Guesthouse where we had stayed a few days before, as we were sure that they would let us use their WiFi if we bought some food in the café area. Sure enough, they were happy for us to stay, so we planted ourselves there and killed time uploading pics, catching up with folks on Facebook etc and even watching an episode of Corrie for some home comfort (as we have now convinced our laptop to tell sites we are in the UK, Rach was v pleased with herself for this…).

We left with plenty of time to catch the train, trotting along optimistically as we had booked AC2 class tickets (two whole steps up from the Sleeper Class we had so far taken) so were looking forward to a comfortable journey. Purchasing posh tickets though does not get you there any faster… We arrived at the station to find departure board reading that the train had been rescheduled to leave at 23:45. So we joined the hundreds of other folk on the floor of the station and waited. Because we are getting used to these types of delays, it no longer seems so bad and the wait passed by fairly ok – we simply read, took turns for little walks around and people watched. We eventually got going at around 1am.

Even though we left so much later than planned, we were definitely cheered up by the higher class train compartment. We were provided with sheets, pillows and blankets, the carriage was a lot cleaner than standard Sleeper Class (no cockroaches were spotted this time!) and there was no overcrowding or jostling to get to our beds. A fellow was sat on our berth when we arrived but was ever so polite about saying that he was just waiting to find out where his was and he was very sorry – quite different to fighting to shift people on the past few trains. The carriage was also quiet – way fewer merchandise and food sellers were passing through plus we had curtains around the berths so could really make ourselves rather cosy. The journey passed well and we arrived at NJP refreshed and looking forward to getting to the border.

We were not too sure at this point where we could get transportation to Panitanki (the Indian border town) so we milled about until we found a shared jeep headed exactly where we wanted to go. Rach quickly grabbed us a breakfast on the go of paneer pizza, Bombay mix and a samosa (bit different to cornflakes and toast!) and off we went. This jeep journey was very fun – smooth open road, great scenery, a smiley driver (some of our drivers have been quite miserable) and some lively Indian 70s music.

When we reached the Indian border town of Panitanki, the driver helpfully pointed us to the little building where we had to get ‘signed out’ of India. This took about 20 minutes – a form to fill out (similar to the landing cards we had to fill out on the plane arriving), a chat with the border official and a stamp in the passport later and we were allowed to go to Nepal. Next was our first international border crossing by foot, Tess especially was quite excited about it as she’d never crossed two countries on foot before (Rach said unless Wales counts, Tess says it does not). A fairly pleasant 1km walk followed over a bridge over the river and we were in Nepal!

As soon as we crossed we were pointed to Immigration and went to get our Nepalese visas. We filled in forms and handed over 2500 Indian Rupees each (approx. £25) for 30 day visas. We’d read up on this before we arrived as we’d heard that some foreigners are charged more by corrupt border officials so we knew exactly how much it was supposed to cost. Again, a few forms to fill in, a passport photo to be handed over, money paid, stamp in passport and Nepal here we come!

Next task was to find a bus to take us across Nepal to Kathmandu, a 17 or so hour journey. Lexie who we had met in Cherrapunjee said her journey in the opposite direction had taken 24 hours, so we were not too much looking forward to this; we did consider breaking up the journey by stopping over somewhere en route but when it came to it we decided just to do it and get it over with. We paid 860 Indian rupees each for the so called Deluxe Bus (more on this in a bit) then had 4 hours to kill in Kakarhbitta (or Mechinagar as its now known) in which we had a little wander round the small border town, our first glimpse of Nepal, had some lunch, and a celebratory Nepalese beer (to toast having arrived!) and played cards a while until it was time to board our ‘deluxe’ bus.

Now, to us, the word Deluxe means comfortable, pleasant, enjoyable, luxury almost. This word is not used correctly in Asia. At first the bus seemed ok, well better than some stood around it, but we quickly discovered that the air con did not work, the fans had cut wires and were worryingly wobbly overhead and the reading lights did not come on. We are not girls that need huge creature comforts, but having decided to pay a 100 rupees or so more for this so called deluxe bus we were at least expecting a few extras to the regular bus. We did try to point this out to the ticket inspector, only to be met with a shrug of the shoulders and a swift retreat. The seats did recline though, in a lopsided sort of manner, and hey, the windows opened (this is what they mean in Nepal by a/c!).

Quickly into the journey we realised what a bumpy business this ride was going to be. The roads are pothole central. There were points where your whole body would leave the seat – bum off seat, head crashing into the seat rest or window. The rest of the time we were constantly being shaken about, Rach had the seat in front of her (which reclined too much on one side) hammering into her knee slowly creating a lovely bruise and Tess had to contend with the window opening at will due to the vibrations. Although it sounds like a horrendous journey, we just had to laugh at it and did manage to sleep in patches. Everyone else on the bus took it in their stride (they were all Nepalese/Indian, including some young children who spent the journey on their parents’ laps and were impressively well behaved for the duration) so we just had to go with it. The bus did stop frequently enough through the night for loo and chai stops which gave us a chance to rest our shaking heads and stretch our legs. The loo stops were not service stations as we know them though – Rach had a bush wee, whilst Tess had a communal lady loo experience where all the ladies just squat next to each other over a trough and do the business together.

Despite one depressing moment when Rach checked the time after hours of on and off sleep and slow bruising, thinking it must be at least 2am and not too far from sunrise - it turned out to be just 22:30, gah! Yet, the 16 hours journey did not seem all that bad as we finally made our way into the Kathmandu Valley. Here the gorgeous mountain and river scenery and a final chai/breakfast/teeth-cleaning stop had us feeling chirpy again and ready to see what Kathmandu had to offer.

Posted by TessAndRach 06:43 Archived in Nepal Tagged india bus eastern crossing border nepal kathmandu

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