5 Dec 2013

Border Mission - Getting From India In To Nepal

When we booked our tour of Rajasthan we also booked an overnight train to take us from Agra to Varanasi. Varanasi is one of India's holiest towns on the River Ganges, thousands of pilgrims travel here to bathe themselves or burn corpses in the ghats and it's also a popular stop before making your way to Sunauli to cross the border from India into Nepal. We were pretty unprepared about the finer details of getting to Sunauli but basically its a train to Gorakpur and then a jeep taxi to Sunauli. 

Varanasi India

Our train arrived in to Mughal Sarai station (about 20km from Varanasi) at about 5am, we teamed up with two Chinese tourists and took a cab to Varanasi train station to book the next available train to Gorakpur. After a couple of hours waiting for the foreign tourist office to open we were delighted that there were two first class berths available for that evenings overnight train to Gorakpur for about 400rps each. This was extremely lucky at such short notice! It's worth noting that this train has no AC carriages so, as a foreign tourist you can either travel in first class or sleeper and you're not allowed on the afternoon train.

We spent the day in Varanasi and found the most basic guest house ever in the old part of town which was convenient for a shower but very shabby and we were glad we were not going to stay the night. Be prepared for a lot of hassle from touts as you walk around Varanasi especially for guest houses, they are pretty feisty, one even told us to f#*@ off when we said we weren't interested - charming! For us this town was too much but we enjoyed our brief time down on the ghats of the river where the pace slows as people are praying, bathing, dancing etc. After a stroll along the ghats we took respite in the garden of Hotel Alka eating and drinking to pass the time which was ticking slowly. 

goat in a jumper
Goat in a jumper. Standard.

Eventually 11pm came around and we were on the platform waiting for our train trying to work out which end of the train our carriage would be, this is always a tricky task in India so we play spot the Westerner and make a beeline. We befriended a French guy named Will (not Wheel, Steve!) and Ava from Spain, they were also heading to Nepal so we decided to join forces. Our train was late and as it pulled in we got really confused about the first class carriage, this train was different to the others, it had no 3AC or 2AC carriages so after a little running back and forth with our heavy backpacks and some shouting of directions from the locals we found our carriage at the back and jumped inside. 

View from the last train carriage
At least we had the best view!

Let's just say that 'first class' is rather misleading, there is nothing first class about it, not a pillow or blanket in sight - it was a blue cell with either two or four bunks and a sliding door that you can lock, well kind of, Steve locked ours with hiking socks and gaffer tape! It was a very cold night too so Sticky ended up sharing a tiny bunk. 

first class train india
"I wonder if this is how the Maharajas travelled too?"

The train was meant to take eight hours so we set our alarms but when we woke the conductor told us another two hours - not too bad we thought until the train slowed to a halt about 2km outside of Gorakpur and sat there for what felt like forever. During this time we acquired two more friends Robert from Sweden and Yoki from Japan to join us for the adventure in to Nepal. We pulled in to Gorakpur about midday a mere four hours late and very hungry!

train india

Stage two of our journey was a jeep from Gorakpur to Sunauli the small town on the Indian side of the border with Nepal. We ate a quick lunch and hired a jeep for the six of us for the 2hr 30min drive. There are loads of jeeps at the station and our group paid 1,500rps. We had a couple of chai stops and made it to the border about 4pm, we hopped out of the jeep a little short of the border due to the congestion of trucks and walked to the Indian immigration office which is on right hand side. With our passports stamped we were ready to depart India and walked into Nepal. 

India Nepal Border
Goodbye India, Namaste Nepal!

The Nepal immigration office is a little less obvious, its immediately on your right in a building set back from the road before the car park. We received a friendly welcome as we handed over forms, passport photo (don't forget this!) and dollars. They were pretty flexible with us so don't worry if you don't have dollars you can pay in Indian or Nepalese rupees too.

We said goodbye to Ava as she was only staying in Nepal overnight so that she could get a new Indian visa. The rest of us wanted to get to Pokhara ASAP,  it was almost 5pm, sunset was imminent and we were nervously excited about a five hour journey on Nepal's notoriously dangerous roads in the dark! We decided a taxi was the best option as the overnight bus would take about twelve hours and wasn't that much cheaper, we negotiated a tourist taxi for 1,000 Indian Rupees per person. The ride was very bumpy and we ascended quickly under a canopy of the brightest moon and stars we have ever seen - it was magical! Minus the fact there were sheer drops to our side and at some points our wheels were less than 10cm from the edge *gulp*. The dark was actually a blessing as we couldn't see the height we were at. About half way we took a break for beers and momos, momos are delicious steamed dumplings filled with spicy veg, buff (buffalo not beef) or chicken - very similar to Chinese dim sum - sooo good, we were set to become addicted! After dinner most of us fell asleep and slept through some pretty big bumps of the head of the vehicle roof. We arrived at the Gauri Shankar Guest House in Pokhara at half past midnight all equally knackered, cold and ready for a good nights sleep in a comfy bed - especially Sticky as we had spent the last two nights sleeping on a train.

In total from Varanasi to Pokhara the journey took us about 26 hours, our train departed Varanasi about 11.30pm and we arrived in Pokhara at 12.30am. We spent around 1,700 Indian rupees per person on travel costs. It's a long journey but totally worth it, we loved our stay in Nepal and visiting after India is very soothing, the two cultures are so different. There is of course the easy and expensive option to fly from New Delhi but you'll need to plan quite far ahead.

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