June 06, 2023
Alan here – with our crazy New Year’s Eve border story!
So here it goes …
There is a certain charisma about border towns, like the meeting of a river and the sea. An entirely different ecosystem exists, that has salt water and fresh mountain water, which takes a special kind of species to survive and thrive.
Usually when we travel to another country, we land in an airport, and there are walkways with signs and arrows that point the way to customs, where to get your baggage and exit.
However, if you travel overland from India to Nepal, what may seem like the obvious choice for acquiring needed travel documents, is well … murky.
As we breathed a sigh of relief for making it to the border just in the nick of time, our bus pulled into the dirt parking lot in front of an official-looking bamboo + tarp stand with military-uniformed officers.
Of course we were a sensation; not many Americans traveled overland through this route.
A little nervous about getting our Indian exit stamp, I cajoled the officers by name-dropping a popular favorite Indian movie “Singham”, about a badass Indian policeman who fights corruption. The men laughed and smiled; they looked at our passports and marked us in their book.
Within a few minutes, we were across the border and on the way to the Nepalese border patrol office.
By this time, the moon was rising and it was dark along the road. This was the first time our driver, Arun, had come this route. He asked a few people and got directions to the Nepalese Immigration office, a nondescript building with hardly any lights and no signs.
Thank goodness there was an official there to take our passports. He smiled, took my passport and immediately shook his head and said, “You must first get the Indian exit stamp.”
I smiled and said, “Yes, we were just there and they put it in their book.” His answer was, no you need to go back and get the stamp in your passport first in order to receive an entry into Nepal.
I admit, there was a moment when I thought:
What if we just get on the bus and keep driving into Nepal …? Will they come after us? I only see one guy here.
But Lisa and Alison in their infinite wisdom, having crossed this border many times 25 years ago said, “But what will happen when we try to exit Nepal from the airport without the Entry Visa?”
Arrrrrgggghhhh! Why is this so messed up! I just want to find a nice hotel and sleep!
Ok, deep breaths … we can do this.
So we found a Tuk Tuk to drive us back to the border to find the correct office. The Tuk Tuks politely left us on the Nepal side of the border, and there was a moment as we walked in the dark back across the border into India – when we all suddenly thought:
Here we are about a mile away from our bus and all our luggage. Is our driver still going to be there when we get back???
There was no way to have anyone walk back to the bus; we all needed to be present with our passports in order to get the Indian exit stamp. It was a moment of faith … and darkness. We walked along the dark street, asking every block or so where the Indian Immigration office was. All we got was a point going further away from the border.
After we’d walked nearly a mile, I was sure we must’ve passed it. I doubted that we’d even find this elusive Immigration office. So I asked one last elderly gentle-looking, Indian man: “What direction is the Immigration office?” Fully expecting him to point the other direction, he merely smiled and pointed down a long dark driveway. What?? Is it possible? Had we reached our goal?
Luckily, I had my flashlight! We gingerly tiptoed our way down a long curving driveway that ended in a dimly lit room with two computers at two desks and three serious-looking gentlemen. This was the Immigration office, and they were still open!
I laughed with joy…and then froze when the officer asked for the license plate number of our travel bus. I smiled politely and said I would be back in a few minutes, as he stamped the rest of the group’s passports.
At this point, our bus was about 2 miles on the other side of the Nepalese border, and there was no way we were going to walk back – and make it back in time before they closed the border for New Years.
Now, I always try to be forthright in my life, and … this was simply a time to lie.
I dashed out into the busy street, located a large van and took a photo of the license number. I made it back just as the last passport was being stamped and offered the license number to the official. He looked at it, scowled, scribbled something in the book saying something in Hindi to the other official. Then he smiled and gave us our stamped passports back.
We were ready to go.
I nearly fainted.
We made it back to the bus. We got our Nepali Entry Visa.
After several hours of driving into Nepal, we got lost. Lucky for international cell phone service and GPS … we got our driver, Arun, back on track and made our way to a lovely hotel in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Shakyamuni Buddha.
Never before have I had such an eventful New Years journey and celebration! ; )
What kind of traveler are you? Would this kinda situation freak you out? Or would you be cool as a cucumber?
Until next time,