Notes for other cyclists travelling between Bangladesh and Myanmar through Tripura and Mizoram states in North-East India.
We cycled between Agartala (on the eastern Bangladesh/Tripura State Indian border) to Kale (pronounced Kalay and also known as Tahan) in western Myanmar in April 2019. This time of year is very hot in this region and the temperatures regularly reached the high 30s centigrade. Between Agartala and Aizawl it was also very humid, with levels as high as 95% humidity, though this did come down somewhat the further east we went. With the temperatures and humidity and some steep hills we found this route very tough at times. At other times of the year when it’s cooler and less humid it would be surely easier, but it is still a serious undertaking.
The following notes detail the route that we took, issues encountered and other experiences we had, which may help other touring cyclists.
In general there were plenty of wayside places to eat lunch along the route from Agartala to Kale in Myanmar and no end of small shops to get water and snacks. The further east you go the more Christian the area becomes – shops are closed on Sunday so it’s worth stocking up and nearly all shops close at 5pm on other days of the week.
There are lots of Border Police Force units throughout this area – apparently looking for drugs and people trafficking. Lots of trucks carrying guards with guns – but we had no issues with them. Mizoram is a malaria hotspot and there are signs everywhere warning people to protect themselves. Most of the accommodation supplied mosquito nets and we were using a mozzie spray and taking Larium for protection.
The night before crossing the Bangladesh/India border at Agartala we stayed in a very basic lodge in the town of Madhabpur, about 40km away. Of all the places we stayed in Bangladesh this town and the lodge were probably the worst, but it was a means-to-an-end. There is a government resthouse in the town, but it is very small (one bedroom we think) and unfortunately it was booked – and it did look like a much better option. The town of Akhaura is nearer the border but there isn’t much there and no accommodation from what we could tell. Due to personal security concerns we didn’t camp whilst in Bangladesh, however around this area there were potential wild camping spots – but we think it would be difficult to get away from the very inquisitive local population.
Crossing the border was a fairly simple affair and took about 90 minutes in total.
– We were booked in by the Bangladeshi border guards and proceeded to immigration. There we filled in a small form and a foreign visitor book, handed over our passports and got the all important exit stamp. As foreigners we were bumped up the queue past about 25 waiting Bangladeshis – a bit embarrassing, but we couldn’t really do anything about it as it was the official that instigated it.
– We then checked in with the Indian border guard and proceeded to the India immigration office. We applied for and received a 12-month Indian visa whilst in Dhaka – further information about the process is in the visas section of our blog for those interested. Once again we were singled out by an official and were taken to a separate room to fill in a form whilst the officer filled in a “visiting foreigner” register. We were bumped up the immigration queue and processed by the staff there. For some reason our visas weren’t on their system and at one point we were a bit worried that we wouldn’t get through, but they just entered our details manually and we were through.
Customs was even easier….it as the next desk along and the officer there filled in our details in a register, checked our passports and we were through. He didn’t even want to look through our bags, which was a blessing. One last check by a border guard and we were in Agartala, Tripura state, Eastern India.
Agartala is a medium-size city (small by India standards though) and has many shops to stock up in. Our favourite is ‘Big Bazar’ which has just about everything! Whilst in Agartala we stayed with a WarmShowers host, Abhijit, which was great.
Agartala to Ambassa – 86km – Route 8
Easy cycling out of Agartala along flat roads through Jirania – easy navigation and fairly quiet roads with a few trucks. Had two lines of hills to cross firstly to get to Telimura and then a second set to get to Ambassa. Fairly tough, steep hills. Stayed in a government rest house on the northern side of town near the train station (not on Google, but ask a local) – 300 rupees for both of us. There was also a couple of guest house options in the town and food was easily available.
Ambassa to Kumarghat – 52km – Route 8
Just a single set of hills to cross right at the start of the day and then some rolling hills to Kumarghat. Stayed in the PWD (Public Works Department) Guest House which is on Google Maps. Had to hang around for the right person to give us authority, but it was all good and the room was great – 800 rupees for the two of us for an A/C room – really comfortable and the people that run it were very helpful. There are a few hotels in the town for other accommodation options and plenty of places to eat before 9pm.
Kumarghat to Zawlnuam – 62km – Route 8 to Panisagar then Route 108
Again two sets of hills to climb over – nothing too strenuous but there are a few rolling hills between the ridges that makes the going a bit harder. At Dhamchara there is the border between Tripura and Mizoram states. There are border guards here that check vehicles crossing the state border – we had no issues except requests for a few selfies! We stayed in the PWD IB resthouse, which is on Google Maps but takes a bit of finding, so we asked a local Pastor (comes up as BCM Pastor Quarters on Google Maps, but isn’t accommodation in reality). He phoned the person who looks after the resthouse and they came to show us where it was. Good basic accommodation for 400 rupees for the two beds. The Pastor also fed us as there was no options for evening meal from what we could see. Some local youths hung around nearby in the early evening. We could lock ourselves inside a balcony area so we didn’t interact with them, although we felt they were quite harmless.
Zawlnaum to Darlak – 45km – Route 108
Very tough steep climb up to Rengdil right from the start – road goes up onto a ridge where the going gets easier, but it’s still pretty tough. Up to this point the road was tarmac and in good condition…
Between Rengdil and Kawrhah the road turns into a stony, gravely nightmare. At the time we went through there was a lot of roadworks that continue on and off to about 30km from Aizawl…
The road down from the ridge, roughly at Tuidan, is where the surface got really bad with much of it washed away leaving massive stones and huge potholes. It’s also a very steep downhill and very difficult to negotiate with a fully laden bicycle – the picture doesn’t really do the steepness or poor surface justice…but it was a big nightmare!
We had been heading towards Mamit where we believe there is accommodation but only got as far as Darlak as we’d been going so slow. There is no accommodation here and as we were worried we’d not get to Mamit opted to take a 4×4 taxi the 100km to Aizawl. The 17km from Darlak to Mamit is nice smooth tarmac up a fairly steep hill – achievable on a bike …but we were already in the transport by this point so too late for us to turn back!
Mamit to Aizawl – 93km – Route 108 to Sairang and then Route 306 to Aizawl
We were in the transport for this part – the road alternated between smooth tarmac, very poor potholed, stony nightmare and parts that were under construction. The final 30km to Aizawl is along a nice smooth road, but as the town is on the top of some hills it’s all up a very steep hill. The road progressively gets busier and steeper as you approach the town. Tough, but doable on a loaded bike. There are lots of accommodation options in Aizawl – we stayed in the government-run Sainik Rest House for the first couple of nights for 800 rupees a night for the two of us. They only allow you to stay there for 2 nights and because it was Easter we decided to stay on Aizawl – everything in the area closes on Good Friday and Easter so we didn’t know how sensible it would be to head into the hills! We initially looked at a few hotels which were about 1500 rupees per night, but weren’t very good quality to be honest. We opted for an AirBnB in the Chaltlang area for the same price and got a full apartment for that, which was much better. There is also a tourist lodge nearby, though we can’t comment on what it is like. There’s a very cheap bus service (5 rupees) from the centre of town to Chaltlang, so it’s a good place to stay. And it has a good local Indian Restaurant!
Aizawl to Seling – 37km – Route 306
Basically 20km down to the bottom of the valley and 17km back up the other side to Seling on a good road with little traffic – really nice cycling. We stayed at the Seling Forest Rest House, which comes up as VFDC on Google Maps, for 400 rupees for the two of us – good basic accommodation and the person that runs it lives next door.
There’s a few places to eat in Seling which were open after 5pm.
Seling to Saitual – 42km – Route 102B
Again it was down to the bottom of the valley and up to the top of the next set of hills to Saitual. The road surface was great and it was very pleasant cycling. We stayed at the Saitual Forest Rest House (which is actually in Keifang) for 600 rupees for the two of us. Again good basic accommodation and the person that runs it lives next door – it doesn’t come up on Google Maps so ask around. There is a guest house in Saitual itself but we can’t comment on what it is like. Again there are a few options for evening meals in Keifang and Saitual.
Saitual to Kawlkulh – 43km – Route 102B
Once again it’s down to the bottom of the valley and then back up the other side. About 5km out of Saitual the road deteriorates drastically into to a potholed nightmare…
…and this continues until about 9km from Kawlkulh when the tarmac returns. Not the nicest cycling to be honest and the surface is tough on the bikes. Before the final 3km climb into Kawlkulh there is the government-run Wayside Restaurant – this is also a tourist rest house and was where we stayed for 600 rupees for the two of us. Again good basic accommodation with a balcony and hill views! They also serve good cheap food and the staff are very helpful. There didn’t appear to be any other accommodation options nearby and only a few places to eat which were up the hill, so we ate in…and ordered parathas to take-away for an early breakfast before we left. A bit like eating tasty cold Pizza!
Kawlkulh to Khawzawl – 38km – Route 102B
Yet again it was down to the bottom of the valley and back up the other side, this time on nice tarmac, so nice cycling. Khawzawl has a couple of accommodation options on Google Maps. The DC Rest House is a bit out of town so we opted for the BRC Rest House (Block Resource Centre) which is a government education department place which has a couple of rooms for rent for 600 rupees for the two of us and is near the centre of the town. However, the rooms are very basic and the worse standard we had during our trip. The whole town basically closes at 5pm and there didn’t appear to be any food options past this time. Luckily we were fed by some friendly locals that helped us out.
Khawzawl to Champhai – 40km – Route 102B
The roads here alternate between nice and smooth to shockingly bumpy for the whole distance. Champhai is a small town which, once again, is perched at the top of a long climb. Hotel Chawngthu in the centre of town is good and we paid 800 rupees for the two of us for a night in a pretty basic room, with no AC. The staff are friendly and restaurant in the hotel is also very good quality and cheap – the view is pretty good too! There is a tourist lodge, but it is at the bottom of the hill that the town sits on – we can’t comment on the quality or price, but it’s location is not the best as all the amenities are in the town at the top of the hill. The town basically shuts at 5pm (think ghost town!) so if any supplies are needed then they have to be bought before then. Even the small shops that a cyclist might regularly rely on for water and snacks were closed at 5pm.
Champhai to Zokhawthar – 26km – Indo – Myanmar border road
There was a lot of construction on the road between Champhai and Zokhawthar when we went through – they are building a new highway on the Indian side of the border. The first 8km or so was dusty and gravely but not too bad…
…we then had about 8km of super smooth new highway which was great. But that ended in the middle of nowhere and was replaced by a road under construction followed by a boulder strewn sandy nightmare for the last 10km or so. It’s also on a very steep downhill and there are a fair amount of trucks, cars and motorcycles on it too. Once again the picture doesn’t do the steep nature or poor quality surface justice…
We were there on a Sunday so it may well be busier on other days.
We were booked into the tourist lodge in Zokhawthar which was 500 rupees for the two of us. The manager Remi is great – makes good food too – we had lunch and dinner for 150 rupees per meal per person and she understands that we cyclists eat a lot! Remi can also sort out changing money if you need it and can also cross the border and help out on the other side. We needed to register with the local police and she walked us down to see Robert, the chief, so that he could check our passports and visa. He likes a chat and may even offer you a beer!
Remi walked us down to the border the next morning and smoothed the way for our crossing. We emigrated out of India – took about 5 minutes and then we walked across the river bridge which separates the countries. We had already completed the Myanmar eVisa online and so we then immigrated into Myanmar, which took about 10 minutes. The officers did a bit of computer work and took our photos – but the whole process was really easy.
Rihkhawdar border crossing to Kale (Comes up as Kale on Google Maps, pronounced Kalay and is also known locally as Tahan, depending on who you talk to).
Following the example of fellow long-distance cyclists, Karen Thompson (kiwicyclingirl), we decided to take a 4×4 maxi taxi from the border to Kale. It’s 120km and it would be a VERY tough road to cycle. From the border crossing it’s up a very steep and very bumpy/stony hill. It took 8 hours for our transport to make the journey with only two stops, once for lunch and the other whilst diggers cleared a major landslide off the road. This may give an idea of what the road was like …plus it went up to the top of all the hills and then zigzagged down to the bottoms…
…we were very glad that we took the transport option. We did hum and haa about cycling it, but after only 2 minutes it was obvious that, for us, this was the right decision. We had been saying that some of it might have been un-cycle-able especially on a loaded bike, but then we saw a cyclist! We had a very brief chat and he said that he’d been okay, but that the journey from Kale to where he was (about 2/3 the way to the border), had broken his bike. He’d had 8 pinch punctures in a short period of time which had wrecked one of his inner tubes and every time he mended it it kept blowing. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to help him out as our transport left, but it confirmed that, for us, the transport option was right. Fitter, more adventurous, and possibly younger cyclists (we are 49 and 47) may well be able to complete this route on bikes – but for us it was a no-no. The accommodation options along this stretch also appear to be very limited if at all available. The last 30km into Kale was on reasonable tarmac and the city itself has plenty of accommodation and food options.
We believe that technically wild camping isn’t permitted in Myanmar and we have heard of people having their camping equipment confiscated when they have been caught. We can’t comment on whether this is true or not, but we feel that it would be quite hard to actually find a camping spot from the Indian border to Kale. The ground is very uneven and so finding a flat piece of ground might be hard – plus it’s very stony.
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