Bound by the Indian states of Bihar, Sikkim and West Bengal, the eastern Terai is broadly a mirror image of the west. The rolling hills of the Mahabharat Range are squeezed between the dry eastern plains and the Himalaya. The Mahendra Hwy cuts east to meet the Indian border at Kakarbhitta, providing easy access to Sikkim and Darjeeling.
It was in Lumbini, around the year 563 BC, that one of history’s greatest and most revered figures, Siddhartha Gautama – better known as the Buddha – was born. It’s no great surprise to learn that the World Heritage–listed Lumbini is of huge religious significance and attracts Buddhist pilgrims from around the world.
Chitwan National Park
Chitwan National Park is one of the premier drawcards in Nepal, and there was little damage to areas visited by tourists in the 2015 earthquake. The World Heritage–listed reserve protects over 932 sq km of forests, marshland and rippling grassland, and is home to sizeable wildlife populations. It’s little wonder this place is so popular.
Like the other border towns in the Terai, Janakpur’s way of life is unmistakably Indian, but there’s a lot more going on here than rickshaws and bustling bazaars. What makes Janakpur (also referred to as Janakpurdham) one of the most fascinating towns in the Terai is its electrifying religious atmosphere mixed with a rich historical and cultural heritage.
The Siddhartha Highway
Most travellers heading from Sunauli to Pokhara follow the Mahendra Hwy to Narayangarh, then the Prithvi Hwy from Mugling to Pokhara. A more interesting route is the dramatic Siddhartha Hwy, which weaves its way north through the dramatic Tinau Gorge towards Pokhara via the scenic mountain village of Tansen.
Nepalganj is a gritty border town with a hectic Indian (in particular, Uttar Pradesh) flavour. You’ll hear more Hindi spoken than Nepali. As Nepal’s second city, Nepalganj is an important transport hub with mountain flights to remote airstrips in northwestern Nepal, a busy border with India, and the closest airport to Bardia National Park.
For what is Nepal’s major industrial centre and second most-populous city (approximately 260,000 people), Biratnagar is surprisingly low-key. Sure, you’ll have to dodge a rickshaw here or there in the town’s centre, but it’s neither as polluted nor swarming with bustling activity as you might expect.
Sunauli & Bhairawa
Sunauli is the most popular tourist border crossing between Nepal and India, seeing scores of people on the way south to Varanasi or Delhi, or northwards to Lumbini, Pokhara and Kathmandu. There was little damage from the 2015 earthquake and the border crossing was one of the main channels for aid agencies bringing emergency relief to people in the hills.
Kakarbhitta (Kakarvitta) is the easternmost crossing between India and Nepal, and is just a few hours’ drive from Siliguri and Darjeeling in West Bengal and Gangtok in Sikkim. Like Nepal’s other border towns, Kakarbhitta is hot, dusty and, on the border itself, rather stressful. Therefore, there isn’t any great reason to linger here other than to break up your journey.
Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
The smallest of the Terai’s national parks, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Consisting of 175 sq km of wet and grassland habitat, Koshi Tappu (translating to ‘river islands’) is home to at least 493 species of birds, as well as being the last habitat of the endangered arna (long, pointy-horned wild water buffalo).
Narayangarh & Bharatpur
Narayangarh (also Narayangadh and Narayanghat) sits on the banks of the Narayani River, where the Narayangarh-Mugling Hwy (the major road into the hills to Kathmandu and Pokhara) meets the Mahendra Hwy, which runs the length of Nepal from Mahendranagar to Kakarbhitta.