Since I’m on a Tourist Visa until I get a different visa again, I have to leave the country every 180 days. As I was in North India, I decided to head for the nearest border crossing, which is Banbasa/Mahendranagar. Mahendranager is now officially Bhimdatta (or Bhim Dutta…), but nearly everyone still calls it Mahendranagar.
To get there, I went to Delhi and took the overnight Ranikhet Express train, which reached Haldwani at 4:35am. I could have stayed on for another half hour, but I purposely wanted to get off as early as possible because I knew the border crossing would be slow and the weather was really hot.
Banbasa is more than 2 hours from Haldwani, so rather than taking a bus or share taxi at that hour, I called a driver I had hired before and who I knew to be reliable. The drive took us about 2.5 hours, passing through beautiful forests and fields, and over some rather rough roads. As we got an early start, there wasn’t much traffic.
In Banbasa, which is 15km from Mahendranagar, I hired a horse-drawn cart, a tonga, Rs200 for the whole cart (it’s Rs30 per person if you share). A friend said he paid Rs400 for that, so evidently they will go for whatever they can get. The cycle rickshaw to my hotel was Rs30 (Indian). If you are just going to the border town, you really don’t need to change money.
Once I was en route, I could see that there were really a few options. Besides the tongas, there are cycle rickshaws (way too slow), and electric rickshaws, as well as some little minibuses. There are also regular buses, mostly packed solid with people. I was offered a ride on a motorcycle, but my bag was a little too big for that to be a reasonable option. Next time, I’ll go for one of the electric rickshaws. It’s possible to walk, of course, but I wouldn’t recommend it, especially in hot weather. Incidentally, if you aren’t “well-padded”, you might need a pillow or blanket to sit on if you go by tonga. I was lucky I had brought a thick shawl; I certainly would have been sore if I hadn’t.
A few km after getting in the tonga, going along the Mahakali River, we reached a toll booth at a barrage. The driver paid the toll, and then surrendered his receipt when we got to the other side. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to pay anything. You don’t. A bit farther on, we reached the Indian Immigration checkpoint, an with an open-air office staffed by a sweet man who writes very, very slowly. I was the only one there, but it took nearly 15 minutes for him to look at my passport, write everything and do the exit stamp. A little farther on were a couple of police checkpoints, one of which I had to stop at and show my passport. Farther still, we passed a torn “Welcome to Nepal” sign just before a bridge. After that was the Nepali Immigration, which required filling out forms, but was much faster.
To enter Nepal, I was prepared with the $25 USD required for a two-week Nepalese visa. Neither Indian rupees nor Nepal rupees are acceptable. You can use any major convertible currency, including Euros, Australian dollars, British pounds, Canadian dollars…but get them in Delhi or someplace else before you go to Nepal. This border crossing is a bit short on currency exchange facilities. Maybe there is someone in Banbasa, but probably not an official money changer.
For leaving India and entering Nepal, neither immigration place checked online. All information was entered by hand, as far as I could see.
There was at least one more police checkpoint that we didn’t have to stop at, and from there it was still a few km to Mahendranagar.
If you get a shared vehicle, the other passengers may not want to wait for you while you do the formalities, so you need to verify in advance whether it’s OK. You could get transportation near the Nepal Immigration, but I didn’t notice anything near the Indian one.
In Mahendranagar, I got an a/c room at Hotel Sweet Dream. Nothing to write home about, but it was only NR1,500 (INR950) and passable for one night. It does have wifi, though it’s excruciatingly slow. Hotel Opera, which has a casino attached, is NR2,000, but I didn’t want to be near the casino. I walked over there later, intending to have tea in the restaurant, but the a/c smelled so moldy that I immediately left. I had dinner at Sweet Dream, and it was really tasty.
The town itself is rather awful, as border towns often are. Besides the casino scene, which isn’t really predominant, it seems to have an extremely high population of rag-pickers—far more than I have ever seen anywhere—with all too abundant piles of garbage. The only reason to stay here is if you are doing a border run. I was going to stay for two nights, but decided that one was more than enough.