Overland across Eastern Nepal

Trip Start Jun 30, 2010
Trip End Jun 01, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hotel Nava Yug

Flag of Nepal  ,
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Out of India....
From Darjeeling we travelled by jeep down steep, twisting roads, through elegant pine forests and well groomed tea estates, vivid green in the morning sunshine. We passed through small villages, the attractive market town of Mirik and dozens of large tea estates such as Oaks, Nagri, Balasun, Thurbo and Gopaldhara, swerving around groups of children in bright, spotless school uniforms, army checkposts and colourful Indian lorrys with painted names such as 'Road King' and 'North Love'. A jovial group of men with knap-sack sprayers were getting ready to zap the bugs in a tea plantation (no safety gear in sight) and, although tea picking was not taking place in earnest yet, some women were out plucking the new tea leaves, and throwing them into the baskets on their backs. This scene, we'd only ever seen in pictures on packets of tea! We continued to contour down and around the hillsides, the temperature rising with every metre dropped, and then we were out of the mountains and onto the flat Arun River valley, speeding towards the Indian border. We passed through lively Bagdogra and weaved our way through the tide of rickshaws and people at Panitanki, India's border town. The commissioner at the border control office was called and he appeared two minutes later, simultaneously patting his disheveled hair, buttoning his shirt and wiping his mouth. Ten minutes later, with our passports stamped we hoisted our rucksacks and walked out of India.....

.....and into Nepal
It was a peculiar feeling walking across the Mahikali River bridge that spans no man's land between India and Nepal. It would have been nice to have lingered, to savour the moment and take photos of the river and the local people busying about, but it was 32 degrees with no potential shade, and it's really not sensible to start behaving erratically at border posts! So we continued our walk into Nepal, no noticeable welcome signs except for those of Kakarbitta's hotels and restaurants. We were ushered over to the yellow Immigration Control office by numerous touts and an army officer and were able to rest under a cooling fan while our visa applications were processed. We got no 'Welcome to Nepal!' from the dumpy officer when he gave us back our passports, but he did give us a toothy grin and that was enough to make me let out a whoop of laughter. It was great to be back in Nepal again.

After a quick drink in the dingy restaurant of the Thai Hotel and a visit to Tourist Information where we terrified the poor young girl there with our questions, we made our way over to the bus hub to barter for a ticket to Dharan Bazar, bracing ourselves for a battle. But, within five minutes we were sat on a local bus to Dharan, our bags stored in the only secure locker onboard, and at the same price that the locals were paying. The four hour ride to Dharan was dusty, noisy, colourful, intense, but really fun and we rolled into the town centre, horn honking, just as the ludicrously loud, musical town clock was playing 'twinkle, twinkle little star' and 'chiming' five.

We stayed for two nights in Dharan Bazar and really liked it. It had a friendly atmosphere and felt surprisingly affluent and got-together. Our hotel, the Nava Yug was basic, but well run and we made the most of the tasty traditional food served in its crazy coloured restaurant, while the mosquitoes really made the most of us! We browsed the shops and back streets, but spent much of our time deliberating over the next leg of our journey and trying to find out whether we would be able to follow our plan of trekking into the Everest region via the Arun Valley, north-west of Dharan. The sticking point was the TIMS card (the trekkers information management system card, introduced in 2008), which we planned to acquire from, or through, an accredited agent in Dharan.  Unfortunately a change to the system just two months ago meant no agent could issue the 'free trekkers card' that we needed; they were now only being issued at the TAAN office in Kathmandu. We asked about the risks of trekking without one and were advised strongly not to do so. It was a difficult choice to make, Phil particularly had put a lot of thought into the trek, but for better or for worse we shelved our Arun Valley Trek plans and booked ourselves onto an early morning bus to Kathmandu. Due to the Dashain Festival (the biggest and most auspicious festival in the Nepali year), it would take us another three days to obtain our free trekkers TIMS card.

The bus journey from Dharan to Kathmandu took over 14 hours and the roads were in a terrible state for long stretches (see photo of us at hour 10 and you get the picture), but it was a rewarding journey. Our bags were locked away securely again, and the driver, bus-boy and other passengers were so considerate and friendly. We entertained them with our attempts at Nepali and talked at length to two young brothers, who's English was good, if not a little too formal, while other passengers listened on intently. We now have two new Facebook friends! We were dropped off on the outskirts of Kathmandu at Gongabu Bus Terminal in the dark and as we were collecting our backpacks a passenger leapt off the bus and flagged down a taxi for us, and even negotiated us a local rate. On top of all of that kindness, the scenery of East Nepal was incredible. It had us transfixed us for hour upon hour with the driver's choice of traditional Nepali music lending beautifully to the ambience.

Photography at 40mph over potholed, dirt roads was difficult, so please excuse the quality! 

Best wishes

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