Driving to picturesque Nepal is always on the cards of driving enthusiasts and I was no exception. The urge got catalysed by an elegantly squeezed out holiday in October 2019 and myself along with my family set out on our voyage to Nepal aboard our trusted ship the Mahindra Xylo E8.
Day 1- 28.10.2019- Started from Chandannagar on Diwali Night at 4:00am. Destination was Madhubani.
Total distance covered-615 Kms.
Time taken- 15 hrs including tea,breakfast and lunch stops.
The roads between Jamtara and Deoghar had a few bad patches so its better to go to Deoghar via Dumka. Deoghar to Chakai had very good roads, Chakai to Jamui had roads under construction. The highways ran through cities and city traffic resulting in the overall increased total travel time. There was a road blockade near Samastipur. We followed a local bus which took a real village road to bypass the blockade. We almost drove through the porticos of many houses which were richly decorated with rangolis as the Diwali had just gone by a day before.We stayed at Hotel Madhuyamini Inn. Rooms were satisfactory but food was good. A good night's sleep after a good dinner was really welcome.
Day 2 - 29.10.2019 - Today we visited Madhubani and its surroundings. The roads in Madhubani pass through the markets where the shops display their exhibits on the sides of the road and partly on it!! We visited the village of Jitwarpur which is well known for its Madhubani paintings. All the artisans are exceptional artists exhibiting their skills in free hand drawing. We made a few purchases from Mr. Mithilesh Jha who continues the trend from his Padma Shri grandmother Sita Devi.Our next stop was Rajnagar Palace belonging to the Raja of Darbhanga, roughly 13kms drive from Jitwarpur. Though in ruins still the glowing past was clearly visible from the remains. It was almost late evening and lunch had been skipped, so we went to Rooster Cafe which served really tasty pizzas and snacks. Next we visited the Madhubani Railway Station whose walls and stairs were packed with Madhubani painting is a real treat to the eyes. Madhuyamini Inn served us lip smacking Mithila Style Fish Curry and rice to end our day and prepare ourselves to enter into Nepal next morning.
Day 3- 30.10.2019 - Started for Nepal at 6:00am as we were expecting congestion at the border as no clear information could be obtained from anyone at Madhubani. The distance from Madhubani to the Jatahi Border is merely 35kms but the roads are unexplainably bad on the Indian side and it took us 1 & a half hours to reach the border. Especially the road from Umgaon to Jatahi border was horrible. Anyways we reached the border. Had to make an entry and answer a few formal questions before entering into Nepal. The Bhansar office is just next to the border on the right side. Unlike the Indian counterparts, the Nepali Bhansar office staff were not in uniform, even one of them had a towel wrapped around his waist and both of them had pan stuffed in their oral cavities!! Original and copies of the car registration certificate and the driving license was all that was required. I asked for a 14days Bhansar but they told me that they would provide it for only 7days and I would have to renew after 7days at Kathmandu Airport. However, since I was scheduled to move ahead of Kathmandu in the next 5days, I requested for a 14days Bhansar which eventually came after a ₹ 500/- unofficial surcharge!! The cost of the Bhansar was NPR 7000/- which is equivalent to ₹ 4350/-. There is a bank counter next to the office where the money has to be paid, INR is accepted widely everywhere but denominations of 100 and below are preferred.Now with the Bhansar made, we were all set to explore Nepal for the next fortnight. The roads on the Nepal side were quite good. The Bhansar was checked and entered twice at Jatahi and after that it was bliss. We reached Janakpur ( thought to be the birthplace of Sita ). It was hot and dusty. In fact dust was a major concern all over Nepal with 60% people wearing mouth masks while going out. We visited the Janki Devi temple and the Mandap where Ram and Sita had got Married!!!!!Next was the procedure of procuring a Nepal Simcard. NCell has the best network coverage in Nepal excepting Nagarkot where there are connectivity issues. The NCell office is near to the Ram Mandir just off the road in front of Janki Devi Temple. Passports are mandatory to take the SIM. Photocopies of the passports, passport size colour photographs, an easy form to fill up,both thumb impressions required and most importantly need to remember your GRANDFATHER'S NAME!!!! NCell has a tourist sim also but I was suggested the normal plan as it was cheaper. 4GB 4G NET, local calls NCell to NCell was free for a couple of days and most importantly calling India was ₹2.30 per min. It costed us ₹450/- for 2 SIMs and the activation was instant. Had light snacks and started off for Nagarkot. Distance was 230kms and it took us around 7hrs to reach. We fuelled up for the first time in Nepal. Diesel was NPR 94/- which was equivalent to ₹58/-, straightaway ₹10/- cheaper than India!! The East West highway joined with B.P. Highway en route Nagarkot. The B.P.Highway with its hairpins and the meandering river beside it was really a driving pleasure. We stopped at Khurkot for a late lunch at one of the many roadside eateries. It was already evening when we reached Bhaktapur. The road from Bhaktapur to Nagarkot was really steep with occasional unexpected potholes, however it did not cause much of a concern. Nagarkot has a tourist entry fee of NPR250/- per head excluding kids which is valid for a week..it amounts to INR155/-.The 100 metres before the Peaceful Cottage and Cafe Du Mont where we stayed for 2nights had no road but only stones. On reaching there was a flight of around 50 mountain steps which was impossible for my 82year old mother to climb. Astonishingly the hotel boy took my mother on his back and climbed up the stairs. We were so dumbfound by the series of events that we forgot to take a snap of the Vikram aux Betal in real life!! The rooms were very cozy and we had already ordered our dinner enroute. The restaurants in Nepal close very early....most of them close by 9:30pm.A good nights' sleep in the cozy beds was really welcome.
Day 4 - 31.11.2019 - Today we decided to spend the day at leisure and enjoy the clean air of Nagarkot. A really sumptuous breakfast was served on the rooftop restaurant with the view of the mountains. Though the clouds interfered a lot, we could see the Langtang and the Ganesh Himal for quite sometime. After breakfast we flew kites on the topmost part of the hotel. The kite flying with the blue sky and the mountains in the backdrop created a picture perfect view which was a treat to the eyes.
Day 5 - 01.11.2019 - Today's destination was the capital city of Kathmandu after visiting the Bhaktapur Durban Square. We reached Bhaktapur Durbar Square in the afternoon. Bhaktapur was hot and really dusty. The vehicle parking is in the municipality premises but as the parking was full we parked our car on the road as other cars were also parked there. The entry ticket to the Durbar Square was NPR250/- per head, also children are charged and the do not accept INR so it has to be exchanged at an exchanger next door who did not charge any commission. Hiring a guide is also wise to see the Durbar square systematically and fast. The best negotiator is the winner when it comes to hiring a guide. Yomari Kitchen Restaurant at the Durbar Square with its ethnic makeup and views of the Durbar Square is a must visit for choicest chicken and buff recipes. We started off for Kathmandu after light snacks. The roads were overcrowded with bikes who unfortunately follow their own rules....very much like the traffic in UP and Ahmedabad!!! We had taken an entire apartment on Red Cross Road from Airbnb,which was around 4kms from Thamel. After reaching we set off for Thamel...the most happening place in Kathmandu. Parking is an issue there so I would recommend the parking just befor the taxi stand, the guy charges NPR150/- for as much time as one desires to keep!! When the car is safely parked one can explore Thamel without worries. Shopping, food, live music...its all there in Themel. We packed our dinner and returned home a bit early as we would have to get up very early next morning for the Mountain Experience flight from Tribhuban International Airport.
Day 6 - 02.11.2019 - Tribhuban International Airport was about 15mins drive from our home. The roads were empty early in the morning so traffic was not a concern. We had purchased the tickets well in advance online from Buddha Air and it costed us around INR 6500/-. As it was a Sunday and there were lots of passengers for the flights there was a long delay. Also the skies were not clear which further delayed the takeoffs. Our flight was scheduled at 6:30am, but the flight finally took off at 7:45am but the wait was worth. The skies had cleared out and the views of the mountains were so beautiful that it is was unexplainable in words. We were simply awestruck by the beauty of the mighty Himalayas. We were allowed into the cockpit one by one and the copilot identified most of the peaks for us and also helped in taking the snaps. The Everest and all peaks surrounding it were clearly visible. The flight lasted for one and a half hours but the views created a lifetime imprint in our minds. We returned by 10:00am and visited the Ved Upreti Aircraft Museum on our way to the Patan Durbar Square. The Patan Durbar Square was in the old town with narrow dusty roads. The vehicle had to be parked on the roadside and we paid a quick visit to the square, the ticket values were same as Bhaktapur but Indian Currency was accepted here. By the afternoon we were feeling very tired, so we decided to go back to our home and rejuvenate before going to Thamel in the evening. The evening was spent well at Themel with steaks and Nepali thali at the Northfield Cafe. The Casino Mahjong was situated very near to our house. We decided to start the next day by our visit to the casino which is open for 24hours.
Day 7- 03.11.2019. - We started our day with a visit to the Boudhanath Shrine. En route we got a punctured left rear tyre repaired. The Boudhanath Shrine is situated on a very crowded street, however the vehicles can be conveniently parked around 500 metres away. The entry fee is NPR100/- per head. Just opposite the Boudhanath shrine, there is a Japanese restaurant named Gyoza which served exquisite Japanese Momo and is a must visit. Our next visit was to the Pashupatinath Shrine which was closed when we reached. The opening timings are 4:00am-2:00pm and 5:00pm - 7:00pm. We scheduled our visit next morning. Next we moved onto the Kathmandu Durbar Square, had identical structures like Bhaktapur and Patan but was very well maintained. The Durbar visit was followed by shopping and then we moved onto our last destination of the day-Swayumbhunath. Swayumbhunath Shrine is situated atop a hill so one gets to see the lit up starry view of Kathmandu town if it is visited after sundown. The Shrine is very much alike the Boudhanath but monkeys are a real menace here. There are hundreds of monkeys here and can be a real concern at times. We wrapped up our day with some last minute shopping and dinner at Thamel.
Day 8- 04.11.2019. - After a leisurely breakfast we started the day with visiting the Casino Mahjong. Seeing coins falling from the Slot machines made us remember Satyajit Roy's 'Joto Kando Kathmandute'. It was really a great experience, especially when you win on your own. Next we visited the Pashupatinath Temple and it was time to bid adieu to Kathmandu. Since it was afternoon we started for Chitwan after lunch. Distance covered was 170kms following Prithivi Highway- Narayanghat Mugling Highway- Mini Ring Road- East West Highway- Malpur Road. The Prithvi Highway had unexpected rough patches all throughout but the Narayanghat-Mugling Highway was really picturesque and excellent to drive. We reached River View Jungle Camp at around 7:30pm. The resort is the oldest in Chitwan serving guests from all over the world for over 40years. We had booked river view rooms and the beauty and serenity of the place was awesome. We had ordered our dinner on the way as the kitchens close fast. The eyes were calling for rest so we answered at our earliest.
Day 9 - 05.11.2019 - The Rapti River was flowing just adjacent to the resort and the morning views were breathtaking. One can visit elephant bathing just next to our resort. A sumptuous breakfast was included with our room bookings. We decided to take a survey about the Safari rates as the hotels usually tend to charge more. The Safari was negotiable and we took the 2hours Safari in the evening 3:00pm-5:00pm. The park entry charges is NPR1000/-per head and we could negotiate the Safari to NPR800/- per head. After the Safari we went to see the local cultural programme called the Tharu Cultural Programme, potraying the lifestyle of the local Tharu community. Tickets cost NPR200/- per head and the show lasts of about an hour. Honey is cultured widely in Chitwan and the adjoining forests, so it should be included in the shopping list. Just before dinner, our watchman informed us about a wild rhino which had come for grazing just next to our resort. It was great seeing a wild rhino from such a close proximity. Nepal is called the Trekkers' Paradise. The people here cook so well and the local cuisines of sekuyas, sadekos and sukutis are so tasty that it can be called a foodies paradise too!!
Day 10 06.11.2019. - Canoeing on the forest river is another must see at Chitwan. The canoes are made from the single bark of a local tree so they are really strong. One has to go a small distance on a horse cart before boarding the canoe. One has to literally squat and sit on chairs which have only back rests and no legs!! The chirping of the birds, the crocodiles and gharials basking at the edge of the river, the crystal clear waters, the fishes swimming beside, creates a heavenly atmosphere. The ride last for around half an hour which is followed by a walk through the forest and terminates with a visit to the Wildlife Display and Information Centre. This whole experience costed us INR 2000/- for four people. We left the resort at around 12noon and proceeded towards Bishazari Tal before moving onto Begnas Lake, our next stop. Bishazari Tal is well known for the migratory birds which come here every year. We did not find it very significant except for the drive through the forest. The entry fees is NPR450/- for the vehicle and 4adults. The roads are really dusty and narrow here, on our return from the Bishazari Tal towards the highway, around 7kms from the town of Bharatpur, the fan belt of my car broke off and we got stranded on the highway. We contacted the Mahindra Service centre at Bharatpur and the fan belt was changed by the on road service but we were delayed by about one and a half hours. The local people were so friendly that we could not feel the wait. The distance to Begnas lake was around 135kms and it was supposed to take three and a half hours via the same Malpur Road-East West Highway- Mini Ring Road- Narayanghat Mugling Highway-Prithibi Highway and Begnas Road. The hotel owner of Hotel Day Break was really cordial and concerned and asked us to keep him updated all along the route as it had become dark. Again we ordered dinner over the phone, the Nepali thali was really tasty and the Grilled Whole Fish from the Begnas lake was awesome. Worth mentioning is that we withdrew some cash from the Nepal SBI ATM at Bharatpur. Most of the credit and debit cards are not accepted in Nepal except for the SBI Visa and MasterCard. The ATM s charge a fee of NPR56/- per transaction which is quite acceptable.
Day 11 07.11.2019. - The complementary breakfast was served in our rooms. Next we went for a boat ride on Begnas Lake. It was a really picturesque ride for about an hour and there is a fixed rate along with a boatman. Since winters were approaching, oranges from the woods were being sold by the locals, not to mention, they were quite tasty. We had lunch at Hotel Day Break and proceeded towards Pokhara which is around 40mins drive and Hotel Alfanzoo was waiting to welcome us. The sun was setting when we were approaching our hotel and the bright colours over the lake were a real treat to the eyes. The resort is situated on the banks of the Phewa Lake but a bit away from city centre making our stay a very peaceful one. After checking in we drove around the city for a look at Pokhara by night. The food here was also very sumptuous and rooms cozy enough for a good night's sleep.
Day 12 08.11.2019 - The morning was a bit cloudy and chilly. We were served basic breakfast as part of our room package. We set off to explore Pokhara after breakfast. Our first stop was for boating at Phewa Lake and visit to the Tal Barahi Temple situated in the middle of the lake. Paddle boats with drivers are available at a fixed and reasonable rate which included a 15mins stop at Tal Barahi Temple. Next we visited Devi's Falls and the Gupteshwar Mahadev Cave. The cave with its limestone formations were stunning. It was lunchtime by now and we had lunch at a local eatery. The good thing about any restaurant in Nepal, big or small is that the food is always made to order. As a result one gets to eat freshly cooked food with least chance of any health concerns. After lunch we proceeded towards the hanging bridge. It is usually not there in the must see list but it is a really awesome place to visit. Such a long hanging bridge connecting two mountains with the Seti Gandaki river flowing beneath it and the small waterfalls draining into the river creates a really awe striking experience. However people with acrophobia ( fear of heights ) will have a difficult time walking on the bridge. The Shanti Stupa closes at 5:00pm in winter and 6:00pm in summers. This information was not available on the internet, as a result we could not visit the Shanti Stupa which we found closed after climbing 325steps!! We returned to our hotel after that and relished the views of the lake amidst live music and barbecue.
Day 13 09.11.2019 - Today's target was to visit Sarangkot for the Sunrise and view tof the mountains if the skies were clear. We started off at 5:45am as the weatherman had told that the sun was supposed to rise at around 6:22am. The Sarangkot road is really a joy to drive excepting the few rough patches which can be a real concern for cars with low ground clearance. The sun was rising on our left side and the orangish pinkish hue on the Macchupuchare and the Annapurna was simply mind blowing. We had some tea on the rooftop of a hotel, and got lost in the beauty of the mighty Himalayas. Would love to go back again and spend a couple of nights at Sagarkot. We returned to our hotel by 8:00am, took our breakfast and went to see the Phewa Lake again as the skies were very clear and the reflection of the snow capped mountains were visible in the waters. Being a Saturday there was a considerable crowd around the lake. We walked on the promenade for sometime occasionally taking a few snaps and then returned to our hotel as we were scheduled to reach Lumbini today. The distance to Lumbini was a 205kms drive through the mountains following the Siddhartha Rajmarg and H10 in which there was a really bad 15kms before Butwal which is very prone to landslides. The drive took around 7 hours with a lunch stop. We reached Hotel Ananda Inn,Lumbini at around 7:00pm. Early dinner is normal here but this was the first time where we found that the food was overpriced and not that tasty. Since we had no other option, we had an early dinner and went to bed.
Day 14 10.11.2019 - Had a wholesome complementary breakfast and it was time to explore Lumbini- The birthplace of Lord Buddha. The best way to visit the Lumbini Sanskritik is to hire an electric rickshaw ( toto ) for around 3 hours. There are various temples and pagodas finder by various countries of the world. There is a boat joyride too inside Lumbini and the tour terminates at the main temple, The Maya Devi Temple, named after Buddha's mother. There is a Bodhi tree too at this place. Visitors from various Asian countries flock into Lumbini everyday. The day was really well spent and we planned to have our evening snacks and dinner at Three Vision Restaurant at Lumbini Bazaar. The food was really tasty and the pain of paying taxes with food was not there.
Day 15 11.11.2019 - Today after breakfast it was time to bid adieu to Nepal. The Sanauli border is the most popular border near Lumbini, but we were suggested by the local police to take the nearest border at Kalidah which was around 10kms away. We deposited our Bhansar at the Nepal check post, had a few routine verifications on the Indian side and we were back into India through Kakrahawa in Uttar Pradesh. The roads on both sides of the border were thankfully very good. Our destination was Aurangabad in Bihar where we were scheduled to stop at Hotel Vaishnavi Heights. Total distance covered was 410 Kms, time taken 10hrs. Route followed- Lumbini-Kakrahawa-Gorakhpur-Chauri Chaura- Deoria-Buxar-Bikramganj-Daudnagar-Aurangabad. There was a detour near Gorakhpur where a road construction was going on through a dense forest which was really exciting to drive. Hotel Vaishnavi Heights was a really good hotel on the highway with excellent catering facilities.
Day 16 12.11.2019. - Today was the final leg of our trip, we were 501kms away from home. We started off after a late breakfast at around 11:30am. This was a well known road and we happen to do vegetables marketing from Rajgunj before Dhanbad every time we return and this time was no exception. We took two other stops, one at Durgapur Citycentre KFC and at Shaktigarh for tea. Reached home at 9:15pm covering 2850kms.
The trip to Nepal was a mixed bag of experiences and looking forward to another great trip to another great destination.