Visiting Tonglu and Tumling: A bit of Nepal without any visa or documents!

Do you know it is actually possible to visit a foreign country from India without having any kind of visa or documentation? You can visit some quaint Nepali villages lying very close to the border of West Bengal without any restriction. Tumling in Nepal is one of them, which is a few kilometres away from Tonglu in West Bengal, on the way to Sandakphu.


Who does not love to travel? And if it is about visiting a foreign country, we feel elated and excited. However, travelling to foreign country usually needs a lot of paperwork like passport, visa and so on. There are some countries where Indians do not need a passport or sometimes not even a visa, like Nepal. If you as a resident Indian want to visit Nepal, you can enter that country only by producing your photo identity proof like EPIC (Voter Card). However, there are some parts of Nepal where you do not even require that. So you can be in Nepal without any sort of documentation or restriction. Is not that fascinating? Tumling and Kalipokhri are two such quaint Nepali villages on the way to Sandakphu from Maneybhanjyang in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, India.

Actually the boundaries between the two nations in these parts are quite blurred and unclear. Probably because of the friendly relationship between India and Nepal, the need for clearly demarcating the boundaries and fortifying them has never been felt. There are camps of SSB (Seema Suraksha Bal) here are there guarding and patrolling the India-Nepal border, but the borders are very open. You can even say practically there is no border. The road that leads to Sandakphu is often the international boundary between the two nations. So if you park your vehicle on the left side on the road that part may be in India; and if you cross the road for having some momo at a roadside eatery, you might be having your food in Nepal. I remember when our car stopped for break and I went down a few steps off the gravel road for clicking some photographs, our driver jokingly informed me that I had crossed an international border while taking photographs. Is not that both funny and fascinating? In this article we will talk about how to visit the twin villages of Tonglu (in India) and Tumling (in Nepal).

However please note that this article is no way an encouragement to illegally emigrate to Nepal. While visiting the Nepali villages that lay along the road to Sandakphu is alright and even the SSB personnel guarding and patrolling the border would not object, absolutely no attempt should be made to go further in Nepal. You should stay within the limits of the villages, or what can be termed as the immediate surroundings of the villages (like a cattle grazing field, a hillock nearby etc.). I do not know what will happen if you try to go further. I believe that will definitely be illegal and you may be penalized. Although, in most cases, the villages are surrounded by steep gradients or precipices densely forested (the Indian parts of that forest is Singalila National Park), and it is practically impossible to venture away from the arterial gravel road and the villages alongside without risking your life. Now, let us take a virtual tour of Tonglu and Tumling, discussing in detail about how to go to Tonglu – Tumling, trekking guide, where to stay etc. Keep reading!

How to go to Tonglu and Tumling?

As already mentioned above, Tonglu and Tumling are two small villages located alongside the road that leads to Sandakphu from Maneybhanjyang. Sandakphu is the highest point in West Bengal and offers magnificent views of the snowy peaks of Mount Kanchenjunga at a close distance. On a clear day, amazing views can be seen from Tonglu and Tumling as well. These villages also serve as a resting place for trekkers who trek all the way up to Sandakphu and Phalut from Manebhanjang. From Manebhanjang you can either walk / trek to Tonglu or book a Landrover to Sandakphu. You can book the Land Rover car up to Tonglu and Tumling too if you do not want to go up all the way to Sandakphu, but most people do not do that because of the breath-taking views that Sandakphu and Phalut offer. The distance between Manebhanjang and Tonglu is about 13 kilometres. By car you can reach there within 2 hours given normal weather conditions. Afoot, it might require a day, depending on your stamina. Most trekkers halt for the night at Tonglu or Tumling before proceeding any further on the Day 1.

If you are trekking, Tonglu is about 2 kms from Meghma and usually needs 1 hours or more because the gradient is quite steep. Tonglu is actually one of the peaks in the Singalila Range and geographically it is known as Mount Tonglu. However the road from Tonglu to Tumling is a downhill one. The view of Tumling from Tonglu is also fascinating. The photograph below is a view from Tonglu and you can see the winding downhill road going to Tumling, visible at a distance.
View of Tumling from Tonglu

What to see in Tonglu and Tumling

What is there to see? Well, nothing much, and on the other hand, everything. Tonglu at the altitude of 10130 feet and Tumling at the altitude of 9600 feet are excellent for acclimatization before you proceed to Sandakphu at an altitude of 11930 feet. So while you rest here, enjoy the mesmerizing views of Mount Kanchenjunga, and wander at the undulating highlands where you can see horses grazing. The interplay of the cloud and the sun is sure to please you. In the photograph below you can see horses grazing at Tumling. They were actually on the slope of the opposite hill and I had to zoom out fully to capture them.
Horses grazing at Tumling

Where to stay at Tonglu and Tumling

Please note that these are two very small villages and you can only expect basic accommodation there. The GTA (Gorkha Territorial Administration) Lodge at Tonglu is where the trekkers usually spend their first night. There is also the District Magistrate Bungalow which can be booked from Darjeeling. Hotel Siddhartha and Shikhar Lodge are two places of accommodation where you can spend the night.

Tonglu and Tumling trekking and travel tips

  1. Even a few years ago there were no electricity in Tonglu and Tumling. Nowadays electric connections are there but do not expect uninterrupted power supply. It is better to carry a power-bank for charging your mobile phones etc. Lodges usually use solar power but that too is unreliable if weathers are continuously overcast for a few days, which is quite common in those regions.

  2. Only BSNL and Vodafone mobiles will work. The network will not be good. You can expect to get network only at some specific patches of the villages.

  3. Some basic dry foods like biscuits, chips, cakes etc. can be purchased in local shops. Do not expect fancy items in those altitudes. There are no licensed liquor shops but lodges mostly arrange for unlicensed alcohol. If you drink, you can also try the Tibetan rice beer called Chhaang. If you are visiting these areas during the Tibetan New Year festival called Losar, chances are that you might be offered Chhaang free of cost as it is the Tibetan way of welcoming their guests.

  4. In late April and early May, rhododendron bloom all over these places. These places are actually part of the Singalila National Park where you can see several flowers including rhododendrons in the season.

  5. The Singalila National Park is also the only natural habitat of the rare Red Panda, although you would be extremely lucky if you can manage to spot one. Pandas are usually extremely shy creatures and they rarely come close to the gravel road that bifurcates the forest.

The photographs are clicked by me/my travel companions and they are not to be reproduced in any form.


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