Like the Dhankuta road, the Ilam road keeps getting longer: originally engineered by the Koreans to connect the tea estates of Kanyam and Ilam with the Terai, it now goes all the way to Taplejung, the most common starting point for Kanchenjunga treks. The road is in excellent shape as far as Ilam, but it’s extremely steep and entails a couple of monster ascents.
After traversing lush lowlands, the road begins a laborious 1600m ascent to Kanyam. At Phikal, a few kilometres further on, a pitched side road leads steeply up for 10km to Pashupati Nagar, a small bazaar at 2200m just below the ridge that separates Nepal and India. Shared jeeps wait at the turn-off at Phikal, from where the road descends 1200m in a series of tight switchbacks to cross the Mai Khola before climbing another 700m to Ilam (1200m).