Border crossing: India into Nepal
EDIT 4/2014: to clarify, this post does not contain practical information specifically about the border, sorry!
That said, here are 2 tips so you don’t have to read through the whole thing!
1. DO NOT book with a bus company that says they will take you across the border. Find transport to the border, walk across, then find another bus to wherever you want to go.
2. Public transport is much cheaper (sometimes “private” companies end up putting you on a public bus for much more money, which is what happened to us!)
Crossing the border into Sunauli, Nepal has several parts to it, though its a fairly straighforward process. For us, however, it was a series of fiascos.
The trip started out innocently enough. Our train was to depart from Varanasi at 12:40 am and arrive in Gorakhpur around 6:30 am. From there, bus to the border–3 hours away– and then once on the Nepali side, we’d need to hurry and catch a bus to Kathmandu (8 hrs away) before 1pm, or else the roads were closed to buses until after 5pm.
We were shooed out of the lobby of our hotel around 9, so we got to the train station way early. We went to the enquiry booth and got ourselves off the waiting list (we were number 1 and 2) and into sleeper car 4, berths 39 and 40.
We had some dinner, bought dessert and snacks for the early morning.
I idly checked our ticket again as we were walking back to the railway station, but then my stomach clenched as I caught a vital detail we’d missed. I breathed “oh, shit,” as I grabbed Xiker’s arm.
I pointed at the date on the ticket. 13-3-2013. It was the 13th but after midnight it’d be the 14th. I was hoping for reassurance but Xiker slapped his forehead and muttered, “we’re fucked.”
“But we just got the seat numbers!”
“They must’ve been for last night!”
“Why didn’t the dude at the desk tell us??”
“He laughed at us, and we didn’t know why!”
(we each let out a string of curses in our respective mother languages)
It’ll be fine, we told ourselves.
This is India, we thought, where nobody bothers buying tickets. They just hop on and squeeze themselves in wherever possible.
We’ve played this game before: we had tickets for the general population cars and slept in sleepers; we’d had a ticket for only one berth and slept in two; we’d stayed on a train farther than our ticket allowed and didn’t get busted. Once, by mistake, we realized the ticket we were holding was only for one person, but the conductor never came by and 2 hours later we got off the train, hassle free. In any case, conductors usually didn’t want to bother with foreigners and rarely demanded to see our tickets, preferring to let sleeping dogs lie.
We’d just get on the train and talk with the conductor and it’d be ok. Worse that could happen is we’d have to pay a bit more to keep the berths. Right?
12:40 came and went. The train still hadn’t arrived, and we passed the time chatting with a new friend, Zia. A frequent visitor of India, she agreed with our last minute plan– get on the train and the conductor would just let us stay on.
But when the train finally decided to make an appearance, at 3 am, the cars filled up before we were even able to squeeze ourselves on. I even shrugged off my backpack and crawled through a window, that was how worried I was.
But by the time I got to berths 39 and 40, they were occupied, as was every other berth on the car. I demanded to see their tickets and the fellas waved them in front of my face: 14-3-2013, berths 39 and 40. Usually when I demanded to see tickets, people would just get up and leave us to it. The guys laughed when Xiker showed them our ticket and chattered to other people while pointing at the foreign idiots. Great, the ONE time everyone decides to buy tickets…
Desperate, we got off and looked for the conductors. They, too, laughed cruelly at our date mix up and refused to help. When pestered with pleas, they pointed down to general.
Xiker and I decided, fuckit, we’ll just try to get into the AC 3-tier cars and try our luck there. His visa was set to expire in a few days, so there was no way we’d give up now.
But the whistle blew when we were running up the platform and the train started moving. So we hauled ourselves onto Sleeper 5 and found the passageway blocked. We were stuck.
We looked at each other a long minute, him looking determined, me smiling ruefully at our misfortune. I shrugged, and said, “I guess it’s the floor for us tonight.”
Found ourselves a space in between berths and spread out our hammocks on the floor. Xiker slept sitting up and I lay curled up on the floor, using his leg as a pillow. One of the windows were broken and cold air blew over us, right through the fake wool blankets we’d bought in Jaisalmer.
So, there we were, on the cusp of our 2-year anniversary, cuddling on the floor of a sleeper train, shivering from the wind. I let out a belly laugh as I considered our situation, and hugged Xiker.
“I’d rather be on the floor of a train with you,” I told him, “than anywhere else in the world… Except maybe Micronesia but that’s ok, this isn’t too bad.”
Day broke to find us in berths. I’d crawled up a few hours ago when someone evacuated his seat. Xiker had gallantly refused to share, so he didn’t get a bed for another few hours, but one way or another, we both managed to get a few winks. The train was still running late, so we didn’t get to Gorakhpur until a bit after 9 am.
We got off and ran into Zia, who sympathized (and chuckled) at our plight. She introduced us to Marco, an Italian with a store in Kathmandu. “He’ll show us where to go.”
We ended up paying 250 each for a ‘direct’ bus to the border, with the understanding that there’d be another bus at that end, to take us to Kathmandu. The total should’ve been 650 but I refused to pay for it all upfront. The regular buses would’ve cost only 80 to 90 rupees each, but the agent insisted this bus would take us to the border much faster and in time to catch the connecting bus to Kathmandu.
He sold us the ticket and ushered us onto a bus. It was a public bus. I told Xiker that we’d been fooled and that we’d never make it in time. He shrugged, and went back to his inquisition of Marco and his scarf business.
The bus did what all public buses do in India: ensure every ounce of space is occupied before going on its way. It went to this corner and that corner, hollering for customers. It was nigh 10:30am when we were finally on the way.
There were 5 foreigners on the bus, and by the time we got to the border, we’d solidified into a group.
There was Zia, a curly-haired frenchwoman with roots in Argentina, who works in Ibiza, Spain. Marco, the dreadlocked Italian living in Stockholm, Sweden, returns to Nepal every so often to conduct business. Grey was born in Cairo, Egypt and still has family there, but he lives in Cologne, Germany, and is currently interning in Gorakhpur, India, to be a doctor.
And there was us, the Basque living in a beautiful piece of hilly paradise occupied by ‘evil Spain’, and the Deaf American. I whispered to Xiker that I felt as if I were the least interesting person in our motley crew! He thought differently, of course, but to me, the only unique thing about myself is that I use sign language. In my world, its as commonplace as having to eat and breathe.
anyhoo, insecurities aside…
We crossed the border without much trouble. Xik and I paid 100 US dollars each, for a 90 day visa (only 30 or 90 day visas were available). I got cool new stamps and a new visa sticker, leaving me with only 3 blank pages left on my passport. (Patpat my back!)
But no bus waited for us in tiny, dusty Sunauli. It was well past 1 by the time we walked up the dirt road into the Nepali border town. We found the travel agency we’d booked with, and they shrugged.
Bus gone. Wait until 5.
“But we had a connecting bus,” Marco said.
Zia added, “not our fault the bus was late!”
“Show us the ticket,” said the guy behind the counter. The ticket we had was only for the first half of the journey, as the guy well knew.
Marco lost his cool. He’s a big dude, a hulking hunk of Italian, and when he stood up to yell at the chubby, snub Indian behind the counter, other guys ran up to help their kinsman. I couldn’t contain my giggles, so I left and waited outside with Zia. A while later, Marco comes crashing outside and says we’re stuck for a few hours. He puffed on a cigarette to calm down, muttering to himself every few minutes.
Buses aren’t allowed to run on the roads to Kathmandu or Pokhara between 1 and 5. Why exactly, I don’t know, but what I did know was that we were stuck. Eventually, after checking around, we booked with the same company for a slight discount. Zia and Marco booked for 5 o clock, but Grey, Xik and I decided to go for the 7:15 booking so that we’d get into Kathmandu around 5am rather than 3am.
With nothing but time to kill, we sat outside and chatted until it was time to go.
The buses to Kathmandu were lightly padded wooden seats squeezed into tiny rows, and that combined with a zillion potholes, made for one nightmarish ride.
With too small seats, Grey could only sit in certain positions, the back of the seat lowered as far as it would go. The only times I managed to get some sleep was when the bus driver pulled over for snacks, and so poor Grey had to put up with me constantly hitting the back of his chair with my fidgeting.
By the time we finally pulled into Kathmandu, my eyes were black sockets and none of us had gotten much sleep.
We booked rooms at Hotel Puskar, drowned ourselves in hot showers, and there we parted for the day. Grey had only a few days off from his internship, so he wanted to squeeze in as much as possible, while Xiker and I–travel weary from two sleepless nights–thudded onto our bed and fell asleep.
Moral of the story? Double check the date on your tickets, and don’t get suckered into following people who have “done it lots of times before.”