I had organised a volunteering opportunity in Nepal, just days after arriving in India with no clue as to how I was supposed to get from Delhi to Nepal. I was told just days before arriving it was not as easy or as safe as I initially thought as the town of Gorakhpur that you must go through by train to get to Nepal is not very safe. I was told by multiple people, multiple times upon arrival, that it was unsafe particularly as a woman. After my trip to Nepal, I met a guy that had done it and he told me it was a particularly awful route even as a man.
I had the commitment but no reasonable way of getting there. This was until I found out about the Nepal-India Friendship bus service that runs a direct bus from Delhi to Kathmandu. Now, this seemed perfect. It was cheap (about £20) and, despite being 30 hours, would get me there in time for a bus to Chitwan, where I was volunteering. So, I decided that I would brave the bus.
The Beginning of the Shit-storm
It all then started going south. My main debit card got scammed my first night in India, so money became a problem. Although a quick call to my mum in tears meant this was soon rectified and I could use my back up card. I then found out that the bus only left every other day, not too big of a problem; I contacted the people I was volunteering with and told them I would be a day late. I then found out I could not buy the ticket online with a non-Indian card. At this point, I should have realised that I was not meant to get that bus. I got help from a friend I made in India who bought the ticket for me and I paid him cash. The next big problem left me sobbing in the Nepali embassy.
Getting My Nepali Visa
By the time I got the bus situation sorted out, I actually read the fine print of the ticket and realised A) I needed it printed (not too big of a problem) and B) I needed a Nepali visa (big problem). This was the day before the bus was due to leave and according to the ticket, I was not going to be allowed on to the bus without a Nepali visa, I had not previously thought this would be a problem as you can get a visa on arrival. So I frantically tried to organise the visa. I got new visa photos (Indian visa photos don’t work for Nepal) and got to the visa place as quick as you can on the busy Delhi Metro. I get in and the man behind the counter tells me it is not possible to get a visa on the same day. At this point I’m sick of this whole ordeal, I wish I’d stomached the blow that a flight would have taken to my budget. I’d had a few days of constant problems (unable to exchange money, card scammed, can’t buy the ticket etc…) and I just broke down crying. Luckily I was the only person in the visa office. The guy was clearly unsure what to do and quite reluctantly took all my papers and told me to come back later that day with the money (he screwed me a bit on the exchange rate but hey-ho).
The Actual Bus Ride
Unfortunately for me, I got unbelievably smashed the night before (like black-out drunk). I was due to leave and barely made it across Delhi in time for the bus (The universe was really trying to tell me I wasn’t supposed to go). I then went through a poorly organized security check, which I was somehow missed out from. No one checked my Nepali visa (my tears were wasted) and I boarded the bus, hungover, hungry (I hadn’t eaten any breakfast) and tired. Luckily the bus wasn’t full and I was able to buy a pack of crisps; however, this did not make up for the lack of comforts and tiny seat size. However, the bus did have wifi.
This then gets even more dodgy as a police escort was for some reason required to get the bus out of Delhi, which did nothing for my worries about the border, which I had heard was quite dodgy. I soon drifted off in my uncomfortable seat.
I woke up a few hours later and we were in the middle of nowhere, it seemed like a desert landscape both sides of the highway and I swear down I saw a naked man and a camel walking along the side of the road. The image is etched into my brain but part of me thinks it could have been a hungover hallucination, I was gobsmacked for a good 10 minutes after passing it. We then stopped for the first time at a restaurant, I could finally have food and use the restroom. However, I was not able to stomach a curry after the night I’d had so I sat and ate plain naan (which everyone else seemed to fond super amusing). It then became interesting, the bus ride through the Indian countryside and some major cities. I drifted in and out of sleep, eventually feeling like I had recovered from my hangover at about the time the sun set.
As we got closer and closer to the Nepali border, the stateof bathroom stops disintegrated. To the point where I was squatting, at the side of an Indian highway in the dark. Watched by all the patrons on the bus, who didn’t think that the foreign girl would go by the side of the road.
We then stopped for dinner at a hotel in the middle of nowhere where I had my first proper meal in 24 hrs, and where I needed to get some more water. I was so grateful at this point that I had taken an Imodium and my anti-malaria meds (doxycycline is an antibiotic) the morning before as I could tell that the water and food were not going to agree with me. I was seriously wishing I had my water purification tablets on me, not buried at the bottom of my backpack in the luggage compartment.
After dinner, I then got back on the bus and soon fell asleep. By about 4 am I was jostled awake as smooth highway turned in to a rough potholed road. At this point, there was also a loss of wifi connectivity. We eventually came to a stop at the Indian side of the border.
The Border Crossing
The Indian side of the border consisted of a small hut seemingly in the middle of nowhere in the pitch black. The border guards were not awake yet and you could see them getting dressed in the back.
Whilst waiting, I and the few other tourists (who had come from Varanasi) held tight to our passports as we were harassed and jostled and asked for help with visas and money exchange. One man tried dragging us all to his friend’s money exchange business, because “we could not use Indian Rupees in Nepal” (lies). He was also offering an awful exchange rate. I informed the other backpackers and then had a very angry Indian man shouting at me, and I retreated back to the safety of the immigration hut.
Eventually, I cleared the Indian side after a lot of arguing over whether I needed a physical copy of my e-visa form (I didn’t) and boarded the bus to get to the border. Here I had to get back off and walk across the border as I was the only tourist on my bus. Half asleep I walked past cows, rubbish fires and some sort of a slum, eventually making it to the Nepali border office. I was glad I had already gotten my visa as there was a tour bus full of monks that were taking up the one immigration officers time. As I already had a visa, they skipped me ahead in the queue and it took no time. We then stopped for Chai where I made friends with the bus driver before making the long journey to Kathmandu on treacherous roads.
Journeying Through Nepal
Nepal has a notoriously bad National highway that goes from the Southern border to Kathmandu. It is a predominantly dirt road, with some patches of paved road and sheer drops on both sides. You can often see where other buses and trucks have fallen down the side of a mountain (not very sure).
About 8 hours after the border crossing we stopped for lunch. I ate with the bus driver, who spoke the best English on the bus, and was very interesting (having previously been a Buddhist monk). He then informed me much to my surprise, that we had 5 more hours on the bus. At this point, we had been on the bus for about 29 hours and I was sure we would be in Kathmandu by 1 as I thought it was a thirty-hour bus. I at this point lost the will to live.
We left the lunch stop and the bus driver asked me if I wanted to sit in the front. I did for about 5 minutes but firsthand seeing the narrow misses and the sheer drops meant that I promptly returned to my seat. The remaining 5 hours were actually very scenic as we got higher and higher into the mountains. It was beautiful but slightly traumatic as we were jostled about, I was unable to relax or get any more sleep.
Eventually at about 5:00 pm we made it to Kathmandu where there was a queue of lorries and buses waiting to get into the hectic city. By about 6:00 the bus had reached its final destination, where I had to make it to Thamel. I was exhausted as soon as I checked in, I pretty much passed out in bed. The early night was good as I had to wake up at 4 am the next morning for my bus to Chitwan.
So needless to say I wouldn’t recommend getting to Nepal by bus. It was an awful 40 hours during which I was not sure whether I would die due to the roads, or dodgy food stops. My top tips for any insanely long bus rides: don’t get drunk the night before, take Imodium, and take antibiotics just in case.
*sorry for the bad photo quality, they were through a dusty bus window, prior to me knowing I would be writing blogs