The “far west” of Nepal, west of the Karnali River, is a foreign land for most Nepalis – a remote, underdeveloped region long neglected by the Kathmandu government. In fact, Delhi is closer than the Nepali capital by bus and, until the completion of the Karnali bridge in the mid-1990s, the region was literally cut off altogether in the monsoon, the Karnali effectively forming Nepal’s western border. The region makes for some great off-the-beaten track travelling, though there’s a distinct lack of facilities and communicating with local people can be difficult.
The westernmost section of the Mahendra Highway was finally completed in 2000, after a twitchy Indian government insisted on replacing the Chinese who were originally contracted to do the job. Twenty-two major bridges (many of which were subjected to Maoist attacks during the civil war) carry just 215km of asphalt, but the road now at least lives up to its alternative name of the East–West Highway, bringing new trade and industry to the region. The little-visited Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve, which lies just outside the relatively laidback border town of Mahendra Nagar, is an excellent place to visit for the adventurous (and resourceful) traveller.