Can I Travel from Nepal to Bhutan by Train?
Throughout most of Asia, trains are a great way to travel between cities and even between countries. However, there are some areas where traveling by train is hard, and even impossible, with few or even no railway lines at all. Traveling to Bhutan by train can be done, almost completely, with just a short drive at each end of the railway lines. The route to travel to Bhutan by train takes you through India, which is the country you need to cross to travel overland by car to Bhutan as well. With a huge rail network encompassing the entire country, India has a train for every destination.
Traveling by Train to Bhutan
Trains in Nepal
Nepal currently only has two short railway lines. One connects Janakpur in Nepal with Jaynagar in India, while the other connects Sirsiya in south eastern Nepal with Raxaul in India. The line from Sirsiya to Raxaul is primarily a freight line, and the station in Sirsiya is just a short distance from the town of Birgunj in Nepal. The line is only six kilometers long, and is only used as a means to get goods across the border more efficiently. The passenger line runs for 53 kilometers from Janakpur in Nepal to Jaynagar in India, and connects with the massive Indian rail network that covers the entire country. However, there are plans to build more railways in Nepal with the help of both China and India.
Trains in Nepal
Trains in India
Train travel in India is one of the cheapest and most efficient ways to travel around the country. With such a big country to cross, train travel offers a smoother ride than taking the bus along some old, dirt roads and is recommended for long journeys in the country. The Indian rail network is one of the largest and busiest in the world, and the railway company, Indian Railways, is the biggest utility employer on the planet.
Indian trains travel all over the country, day and night, and riding the rails in India has a romance all of its own. All trains have several classes of seats, and you can book depending on your budget. Even then, fares are fairly cheap for all classes, and trains are often booked well in advance for the more popular journeys. For long-distance trips it is best to book at least three to four weeks in advance, as seats fill up fast. Booking normally opens around 120 days before travel, but in the last seven days, you may find no seats are available. Shorter haul trips are normally easier to obtain seats on the day of travel.
If you are booking in advance, it is easier and simpler to do it online and get the e-ticket for your trip in your email. There is a requirement to enter an Indian mobile number when creating the account to book the tickets, but you can use any random number and just use email to communicate. Once you have your e-ticket, you need to print it out and present it with your passport when boarding the train. If you have a local mobile number, you can get the e-ticket straight to your mobile number, and do not have to print it.
Trains in Bhutan
Bhutan does not have a rail network at all, although there are plans to construct a railway linking India with Bhutan, through the border crossing at Kokrajhar in Assam, India to Gelephu in Bhutan. Working in conjunction with the Northeast Frontier Railway company of India, the proposed India-Bhutan railway link is expected to start sometime within the next two years. Once completed, three other links between Bhutan and India are being proposed, from Samdruponjonkhar in Bhutan to Rangiya in Assam, Pathsala in Assam to Nanglam in Bhutan and Banarhat in Bengal to Samtse in Bhutan.
Route from Kathmandu to Thimphu
Once you are ready to leave Nepal to head for Bhutan, the best option is to get a bus or car from Kathmandu to Birgunj in southern Nepal. The buses run from Kathmandu direct to Birgunj several times a day, and it takes around ten hours to complete the trip. Tickets cost around 640 rupees, which is relatively cheap. The alternative is to take a flight from Kathmandu to Simara, and then get a bus to Birgunj from there. The flight takes a little over an hour and costs around 2,000 rupees, which is not bad if you are in a hurry. However, the bus ride to Birgunj takes around 6 hours, so there is not really much time saved. If you want to save time, travel to Janakpur which is closer, and take the train direct to Jaynagar in India.
From Birgunj to Raxaul it is a short distance across the border, which you can do by walking or taking a motor taxi. In Raxaul, the railway is situated on Station Road, and there are four trains that run from Raxaul Junction to Barauni Junction, in Barauni. Trains leave Raxaul at 9:05am, 9:35am, 10:00am, and 11:55pm, which is the night train. The trip to Barauni Junction takes between six and eight hours depending on the train. The night train is the fastest at only six hours, and it arrives in Barauni at 5:55am. This is also the best option for the connecting train to Hasimara in West Bengal, from where you will cross into Bhutan.
If you are traveling over the border using the train to Jaynagar, you can get a connecting train at Jaynagar to get to Barauni Junction. Trains leave at 11:00am, 11:05am, and 2:00pm, and the trip takes between 3 hours 40 minutes and 4 hours 50 minutes. You get a choice of Standard Express, Intercity Express, or the Superfast Express, which is the quickest option at under four hours.
Once you reach Barauni Junction you change trains, and there are four trains that run to Hasimara, West Bengal. Two trains leave at 9:05am, one of which is an Intercity fast train for part of the way. Another train leaves at 9:20am and all three daytime trains take more than 20 hours to get to Hasimara. The fourth option is the train that connects to the night train from Raxaul Junction, which leaves at 6:45am. This train uses a Rajdani Intercity from Barauni Junction to New Jalpaiguri Junction, and then you change trains to the Mahananda Express, which runs from there to Hasimara, making the total travel time just ten and a half hours.
If you opt for the slower trains that leave later in the morning, you can have up to four changes at connecting station along the route, and while the train journey is delightful, traveling through some beautiful countryside, the long journey can still be tiring after spending more than 20 hours on trains and making unnecessary connections.
As with all trains in India, you can buy your tickets from the starting location to the final destination, irrelevant of how many changes there are in between, although you cannot choose the trains you want to take at the connecting station. You have to take the trains listed on the ticket as they are the classes of train that you have paid for. Since not all trains along the same route are of the same class (one line can often support Express trains, Express intercity Trains, and the Superfast trains), you need to make sure you are on the platform at the right time, and the train number (which is on every carriage) is the same as the train number on your ticket.
If you want to choose your train at each connecting station, you need to purchase an individual ticket between each place you will make a change, which can sometimes be a little more expensive than paying for the whole route in one.
The train connections and railway networks in India can be very confusing, and if you rely on a map, you will get very lost, as it is hard to tell which track goes where. The best option, if you are not familiar with India’s railway network, is to buy the straight-through ticket from Raxaul to Hasimara, and just follow the connections listed on your ticket. All train conductors and station staff in India speak good English, so if you are unsure of the platform or train, it is easy to ask and get directions.
Bhutan has no rail network of any kind at the moment, though there are plans. In order to get to Thimphu from Hasimara, you will need to get from Hasimara to the border crossing at Phuentsoling, on the India-Bhutan Border. There are three options for this. You can get a private hire car to take you, which is expensive, or take a taxi, which is also expensive. The third option is by far the best, and the bus from Hasimara to Phuentsoling is cheap and takes just 30 minutes to get to the immigration control point.
The bus leaves from c town center bus stop, which is around 2km from the railway station. If you are not carrying much luggage, and are able to walk, then it is a nice easy trek to the town. Many people getting off the train and heading for the town walk across the tracks and follow the road on the other side, which cuts around half the road distance from the front entrance of the station. If you are not up to walking, there are taxis and rickshaws that will take you, but be prepared to haggle hard for the price. The taxi drivers will try to charge you around 600-800 rupees for this short trip, but you can bargain them down to around 200, or find a nice rickshaw driver who will do it for less than 100 rupees.
However, there is actually no need to go to the town for the bus to Jaygaon. Around 50 meters from the front of the station is the main road from Hasimara to Jaygaon, and all the Jaygaon buses follow that road. There is no proper bus stop, but you can use a hand signal to stop the buses going past so you can board. The bus driver will happily stop for you, and there is no worry about missing one, as there are buses along the road to Jaygaon every 20 minutes. The bus normally costs around 15 rupees for the 14km trip to Jaygaon, and from there it is easy to get shared transports to Phuentsoling, many of which are motorized rickshaws that run the 4km to the entrance to Bhutan for around 10 rupees per head.
Once there, it is a short walk of a few meters to the immigration office, and you will be able to pick up your Bhutan visa there. From the border, your guide and driver will be waiting to pick you up and take you to your hotel for the start of your tour in Bhutan.