Crossing The Indo-Nepal Border By Horse


It came as a surprise to me, when, easing through the days listlessly in Rishikesh, I found that one could enter Nepal without a visa.

Eager for adventure, my fellow traveller and I abandoned the cozy hotels and cafes where we had grown roots, and set out for the border town of Banbassa.

Banbassa, a sleepy four-horse town was a five hour bus journey from Haridwar. We left in the evening, and expected to reach a little past midnight. Along the way, Uttarkhand grew steadily more remote in landscape, as the fog settled in with the biting evening chill.

The bus was marketed to us as having a heater, though this was rendered obsolete when a stone came through a window mid journey. No-one knew who threw it, and we spent the rest of the drive freezing. The bus soon filled with returning Nepali immigrants, who huddled against each other for warmth.

We reached Banbassa around 1 AM, and found no hotels to spend the night. A small row of bakeries and shanty restaurants were open with fires lit in front of them and small groups huddled around it. One can enjoy a good omelette and toast at these shops, even as one waits through the freezing night for the border to open at 6 AM. It shuts at 8 and opens again for two hours at 4 in the evening.

Horses pulling togas start to trickle in as dawn approaches, and their riders too join us around the fire. One horse grew testy and started fighting with another, which led its owners to do the same. We, nevertheless, managed to find one who agreed to take us across the border for a hundred rupees. We loaded our bags and sat, even as four more joined us on the single toga. The horse, I thought, must be a mighty animal if it can pull so much across rough roads in such bitter cold without even a flinch. I felt guilty, nevertheless.

The road to the border winds through forest and then a dam. It is uninhabited.

The border itself is a friendly place for the Indian, though Nepalis returning from India are liable for greater checks and the occasional bribe. The lady guard at the Indian side asked us how much we paid the tonga driver, scolding us for paying too much. She seemed almost motherly.

A short walk away and we reached the Nepali check post. By now, our phones ceased to gather any signal. Here, as on the Indian side, the main guard was a woman. She went through our bags and found our electric heater, which we had picked up in Rishikesh from a Latvian flutist for rupees 300. For some unintelligible reason, it amused her.

No formalities later, and we were through. They didn’t even ask for our names. It was the most painless border crossing I have ever done. I would later find that Nepalis near the border would flit in and out of India as casually as a city dweller visits the mall. It is not uncommon for them to carry two sim cards, one for India and one for Nepal.

We made for the border town of Dhangadhi in Nepal, where we spent a few days with a friend before returning to India and then to Delhi.

Our travel ended with a visit to India Gate on Rajpath road in Delhi, two weeks before Obama would grace the same. A combination of fluke and my hapless face led to my bags remaining search-free from Nepal to Delhi. I found a similar faith in the goodness of man on the border, and I hope it is not challenged anytime soon.

Varun Ramesh

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