A quick guide to the India – Bhutan border crossing at Gelephu. Includes information about times, transportation, and border crossing formalities.
Navigating the India – Bhutan border crossing at Gelephu is mostly smooth sailing. The hardest part is getting there!
Roughly 240 km from Guwahati, 50 km from Bongaigaon, and 340 km from Siliguri, this border crossing is relatively remote, and is mostly used for shipping and business between Bhutan and India. We received a lot of surprised and curious looks from everyone involved when we walked across the border.
Since few foreign tourists take this route, make sure to check with your tour operator about your route before opting to use this crossing. Phuentsholing is a much more popular land border crossing between India and Bhutan, and is more commonly seen on tour itineraries.
Tip: If you’re looking for a tour agency, we recommend Gray Langur Tours. They can organize everything Bhutan for you, from cultural tours to off the beaten track trekking and travel. They sponsored our trip to Bhutan, and we had an absolute blast with them.
How to get to the India – Bhutan border crossing at Gelephu from Guwahati, Assam
Getting to the India – Bhutan border crossing at Gelephu will take between 5 and 8 hours, depending on the transport you use to get there.
By far the easiest way is to hire a car to drop you off. Hiring a private car should cost between 4,000 – 6,000 Rs for the whole car, and the ride takes 5 to 6 hours. The highway is mostly blacktop, and a feast for the eyes before harvest time (mid-October). However, on the final 40 km before the border crossing, the road quality deteriorates drastically. Prepare for a bumpy ride!
Caution: The area close to the border is relatively restive compared to the rest of Assam. It houses a separatist fringe, and bandits can be a problem at night. Make sure to leave early enough to arrive before dark, and ensure your driver has time to leave the border area before darkness falls.
There’s a foreigner checkpoint about 10 km before the border, but it was unmanned when we passed, and we didn’t bother looking for the officer on duty. No issues arose.
For more info on Bhutan, check out this Bhutan travel guide!
Getting to the border by public transport is possible, but takes significantly longer, and will be a bit of a hassle.
To start, head to Bongaigaon from Guwahati or your starting point. There are both trains and buses to Bongaigaon from Guwahati. A bus from Guwahati costs around 200 Rs.
From Bongaigaon on, things become tricky. Knowing some Assamese—or having a friend who does on speed-dial—can really help. From the city, there should be buses and minibuses to the myriad of small towns along the border road. Most leave when full, and it takes 2 – 3 hours to reach the border. Make sure that the bus you’re on actually goes to the border, and not somewhere along the way. It might be necessary to do the journey in several hops. Only recommended for people with lots of time on their hands and the adventurous.
There are two trains between Guwahati and Bongaigaon each day. The Kamrup Express, leaving Guwahati at 07:00, is the most convenient. Getting to Bongaigaon takes about four hours by train.
Getting to the border from Siliguri
Siliguri is the most strategic departure point from West Bengal. There are trains from NJP (New Jalpaiguri) and buses to Bongaigaon. After that, the process will be roughly the same as when you’re coming from Guwahati. However, getting a car from Siliguri will be much more expensive. If you wish to enter Bhutan from West Bengal, you’re better off crossing the border at Phuentsholing.
Crossing the India – Bhutan border at Gelephu
There was no obvious checkpoint on the Indian side, so we didn’t get stamped out of India. We’re hoping that the Bhutanese entry stamp is a valid substitute! We walked straight from our car in India over the border to Bhutan.
Once in Bhutan, unless you’re from India, the Maldives, or Bangladesh, you need to be on a tour or with a guide. This means your guide will be waiting at the border to sort everything out for you.
On the Bhutanese side of the border, your documents will be checked, two forms have to be filled in, and your fingerprints will be taken. There’s no security check, and the whole process takes about 15 minutes… unless there’s a power outage, in which case you’ll have to wait for the power to come back on to do your fingerprints! The immigration officials didn’t mind that we left to rest in our hotel while waiting for the power to return.
Indian, Maldivian, and Bangladeshi nationals don’t need to be on a tour to enter Bhutan. However, border formalities will be roughly the same. Remember that this border post is not used to dealing with tourists, so there may be confusion regarding procedures. Luckily, everyone is very friendly and polite, and they did speak English.
Tip: The immigration office at the border closes at 17:00, so try to arrive before then.
Amenities at the border and in Gelephu
Gelephu has plenty of hotels, restaurants, and bars to pick from. If you’re with a tour, everything will be arranged, so you can relax after a long day of travel.
There’s a bank where you can change money in case it’s necessary. Bhutan uses the Ngultrum, more easily known as “nu”, where 1 Nu is equal to 1 Indian rupee. At the time of writing, $1 is roughly 63 Nu, and €1 is roughly 70 Nu. Indian rupees are accepted anywhere in Bhutan, so long as you’re using a denomination smaller than 500 Rs.
Have you recently used this border crossing? Let us know in the comments if anything changed!
Yay transparency! Our trip to Bhutan was sponsored by Gray Langur Tours. But as always, all words, photos, and opinions are our own.