(January 29th 2016)
I made the journey from Kathmandu to Varanasi and here’s how.
After 10 long days of waiting for my visa from the Indian Visa Service Center in Kathmandu I was itching to get out of what to me felt like freezing cold Kathmandu.
With power cuts and a fuel crisis caused by an Indian enforced blockade at the borders, the city was often without some luxuries (like electricity or hot water *grumble*)
Sidenote: I can confirm that in Kathmandu they are mostly only offering 3 month visas to EVERYONE. U.S. citizens must pay the fee for the 10 year multiple entry 6 month visa, a whopping 11,100 npr, but what we receive is a measly 3 month single entry visa *double grumble*
Once I realized I’d only be getting this pitiful visa of course I was filled with rage, but what to do? I’d F off to India even faster. But how?
With the fuel crisis and blockade at the border I heard the journey by land would be a nightmare. Distressed, I asked the receptionists at my hotel if the “friendship bus” I’d read about was still running.
“Ummmm no. No bus. You must take local bus to Suanuli border, cross then take bus to Gorakhpur and then train to Varanasi.”
That was way too ambitious of travel even for me, especially being a solo female. But I looked up flights and KTM to Delhi was $100 bucks I wasn’t ready to spend.
So I went to the travel agent in front of my hotel just to check one more time. He lamented there wasn’t a direct bus to Varanasi, but there was one to Delhi.
At this point an American couple poked their heads into the office and said they had just come from Varanasi and were willing to share their knowledge.
I sat down next to them, listened and got TOTALLY FREAKED OUT!
Their eyes told a story of pain and struggle. The woman looked out at nowhere and said, “24 hours on a bus.”
They told the story of a miserable journey that included trains, local buses and cheating taxis. You could see on their faces the exhaustion and defeat.
There was NO F*CKING WAY I was getting to Varanasi by land.
I rushed out of our hotel to find wifi at a cafe and began looking up flights and figuring out how I’d work my way around this bump in the plan.
I sent one final email to the travel agent pleading with him to find a direct bus Varanasi.
And somehow, he did.
(Although he made no acknowledgement to previously telling me there wasn’t one)
There would be one leaving at 6pm the next day. Just as I had wanted. I’d pick up my visa at 4pm and then be on my merry way to India. JUST AS I HAD WANTED.
The next day I paid for the bus in Indian rupees, 2,000 or $30 USD. As he was booking it he asked me if it was alright if I took the last seat in the back.
Here I paused and asked, “But it’s a bed, right? Sleeper?”
He answered yes, so I said sure, why not?
That day I kicked rocks while waiting for my visa. Why it took me 3 visits and 8 days just to put a sticker in my passport I’ll never understand. But when the hour came to pick it up the energy around the center was buzzing with happiness. Those of us that waited at the gate were champions. We’d made it. We’d won.
I spotted the same French couple that I’d seen on the first day in the photocopy place. This had been her FOURTH time applying after various flubs. She was accompanied by her French-Indian husband and son, both of whom had lifetime entry.
We smiled at each other in triumph with our passports back in hand. I felt close to this couple since I’d seen them on every trip to the visa center and had suffered at the same hands. But finally we began to really chat and realized we were both on the same bus to Varanasi that evening! Great, foreign accomplices!
I sped off to my hotel to pick up my backpack in a gleeful whirl. Once I got my bag I set out on foot to find the bus station. In all my elation I decided to even get a bicycle tuktuk to take me half the way with my remaining 45 npr (41 american cents). I rode atop that chariot like a backpacking queen, smiling and waving at children in the streets.
Finally I arrived to the bus park with reasonable time. I began to search for my bus, the issuing company said tiger bus, but I wasn’t seeing that anywhere. Just as I was starting to get nervous I spotted my French friends! We still weren’t sure we were on the exact same bus, so they led me to the ticketing office where a lady gave me a new ticket that’d leave a half hour later and pointed to the bus.
Lo and behold
it was the friendship bus!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ok so it didn’t look like this at all. It was blue and faded, but it said very clearly on the side “India — Nepal Friendship Passenger Bus”
IT STILL EXISTS
and it’s a NON-sleeper.
Whaaaaaat?!? I thought I paid for a bed on this frickin’ bus.
The French couple laughed at my misfortune which helped me get over the fact and who cares?! I was on my way back to Incredible India!
Misery had it’s company again. Every time we had a near head on collision or when we’d bounce so high our heads would nearly hit the ceiling we’d all look at each other, smile and shake our heads.
The bus took exactly 22 hours.
We left around 7pm instead of 6pm like my original ticket or 6:30pm like my new one.
We arrived in Varanasi at 5:10pm.
Can’t be sure, but I believe we stopped for bathroom breaks maybe 7 or 8 times.
We arrived at the dumpy border at around 7AM. There we were hustled around with our bags, but it was relatively fast and painless. I got an exit stamp from Nepal and an entry from India and then I was on my way. We didn’t see any manifestations or anything like that, but there was a long, long line of Nepalese fuel trucks that weren’t passing though 😦
One time we stopped and all ate a small buffet. Another time we stopped and sipped chai from tiny clay pots while a 2 year old played with a giant knife in the back area. I’d made it. This was India.
Today I’ll be meeting the French fam for lunch to celebrate our victory. The wife owes us all a treat because she nearly spot on predicted our arrival time. Winner buys chai 🙂
So, if you’re reading this just for bus information:
YES, the Kathmandu to Varanasi direct bus does exist.
I SERIOUSLY don’t recommend doing the journey on your own. The border was pretty sketchy and I’m sure the taxis taking you to Gorakhpur would be charging a small fortune.
Do yourself a favor (?? lol I’m not sure if non-sleeper is a favor) and buy a direct ticket on the friendship bus. Just keep asking around and you’ll find it.
Moral of the story:
Ask and you shall receive.
The squeaky wheel gets the oil.
Or my personal fav:
The baby that doesn’t cry, doesn’t get the tit.