At the end of my (non-finished) yoga training in Rishikesh, Elias (who had been volunteering in a different city) came back to Rishikesh and together with my best friend- and yoga buddy Karen, we were travelling to Nepal. We had about 8 days before Karen’s boyfriend and Elias’ best friend (one and the same person) would arrive in Kathmandu. Although most people say it’s a lot easier to fly to Kathmandu from Delhi, it’s definitely a lot cheaper, more adventurous and more environmentally friendly to travel from India to Nepal over land. Especially when you leave from Rishikesh in Uttarakhand, which is not so far from the Western border between India and Nepal.
You can get a visa for Nepal at the border, on arrival. It’s 30 US dollars for 15 days, 50 dollars for 1 month and 125 for 3 months. It’s usually only stated in US Dollars and they expect you to pay in US dollars, but we heard Euros are usually accepted too. We didn’t have Euros and decided to change some Indian Rupees into US Dollars in Rishikesh. We figured it would be much more expensive to exchange money at the border (which turned out to be true). Since most money exchange offices (or hotels who do money exchange) in Rishikesh are used to exchanging dollars for rupees and not the other way around, they sold us US dollars without any commission! Just make sure you check the dollar bills for any damage: they should be very clean and taut…
Since 2018 there is a direct connection between Dehradun (about 45 km from Rishikesh) and Mahendranagar (depending on your region on Google Maps it will show Mahendranagar or the official name which is Bhimdatta since 2008). The usual (and best) website we used for booking bus tickets in India is Redbus, but you can’t find this connection through that website. There is only a local website of Uttarakhand transport where you can find the bus from Dehradun to Mahendranagar. There should be a daily bus service, one at 16:30 and one at 18:00. We chose the more expensive one at 18:00, just to be sure (and later this turned out to be a wise decison). The only problem with the reservation is that, although there are creditcard and paypal options to pay the reservation fee, this didn’t work for me. Indians with a credit card or online bank account use Paytm, a kind of Indian Paypal system. You can also pay through this but I didn’t manage to create a valid account and add money to it. The best way is to ask your hotel or hostel if they can book it for you, most Indian business owners should have Paytm. We asked a random dude in our favorite coffee shop and paid him back in cash. The rest of the fee you pay directly on the bus (this should cost about 640 rupees). Even though we only booked the day itself and many seats were still available, don’t make the mistake of just trying to get on the bus without a reservation… read on…
There are different pick-up points which you can select in the booking process. We chose to get on the bus in Haridwar, since that’s a little closer to Rishikesh than Dehradun and besides, the bus would leave later in Haridwar which would give us a little more time. But what time the bus would arrive in Haridwar was a mystery. Nor the website or our confirmation e-mail could tell us what time the bus would leave from Haridwar. The only thing we knew was that it left at Dehradun at 6 pm. Finally we found a direct phone number of Haridwar bus station and with the help of another Indian we managed to discover that the bus left Haridwar around 8 pm.
We took a local shared taxi from Tapovan (an outskirt of Rishikesh were most yoga schools are situated) to Haridwar. There are also buses from Rishikesh bus station, but since we didn’t feel like taking 2 buses plus we were 3 to share a tuktuk, we went for the easy way. We arranged the shared taxi for only 750 (250 pp) to take us all the way to Haridwar bus station.
It was around 7 pm when we arrived there and it took us a while to find someone who could tell us where the bus to Nepal would leave. While we were waiting there for some time, it turned out there were more buses to Nepal. This was very confusing and we were afraid they’d sent us to the wrong platform and we’d already missed our bus. The first bus that arrived which was going to Nepal looked super rickety and it seemed like tens of people were taking their whole kit and caboodle on the bus, leaving little space left for us. Luckily this was not our bus, it might have been the other (cheaper) one available on the Utc website.
Karen and I decided to quickly visit the toilet before our actual bus would arrive and were happy to see a red flashy sign with ‘Deluxe Toilet’. A man was sitting in front of the toilets, taking 10 rupees from every visitor. Somehow we thought that this meant it might be, although probably not a deluxe, but maybe a reasonably clean place to have a pee. Very. Much. Misleading. Marketing. Indian business men are very good at this. And even after 2 months in India they get me sometimes. It’s a little like the big and flashy restaurant signs: enlarged photos of perfect latte-art cappuccinos, crusty fries, burgers and delicious Italian pastas are calling you to get in. But then you get a Nescafe coffee and a tiny plate of mushy and overpriced fries and you realize they’ve done it again.
Anyway, at some point someone, somewhere screamed something like: ‘Aircon bus to Nepal, there…’ And we were lucky to see a somewhat nicer looking bus on the way to leave the bus station. We were rushed in, as it usually goes, and told there was no time to put our large backpacks on the roof or in the trunk. The bus was packed with people, even in the aisle (people had even taken their own stools) and we were worried about our so-called reserved seats. Apparently, many people don’t have the resources for online booking systems (like Paytm and credit cards) and for them it’s just first come first serve. When we showed the e-mail of our reservation they just dismissed some people from their seats so we could sit: those people didn’t make an online reservation, but had paid the same fee for the bus. It kind of felt unfair but I was still happy to have a seat for the upcoming 10-hour trip. Of course our backpacks were incredibly unpractical: they were in everyone’s way. When the bus employees realized this they told us to put our backpacks on the roof after all. They said it as if it was our fault we had taken them inside in the first place… Rushing and pushing in order to be time-efficient, but without thinking things through… Welcome to India.
In the end it was about 9 pm when the bus finally left Haridwar. I listened to some podcasts and audio books while I tried to fall asleep. I had a window seat next to Karen: a man sitting in the aisle was falling asleep and slowly dropping his head on Karen’s knee. It was a little uncomfortable but we had fun. At 10:30 am the lights went on and the bus stopped for a dinner break. Since we’d had a late lunch I mainly used it as a toilet break. At 3 am the lights turned on again: we’d already arrived at the border. The land border between India and Mahendranagar opens at 6 AM, and our bus was first in line. We finally got the reason for all the rush: our bus wanted to be first in line. I don’t know exactly what for, but it meant we would wait at that spot for 3 hours and we could have some tea and maybe some sleep in a quiet bus. Our tea water smelt like rotten eggs so we decided to sleep instead of drinking tea. I woke up from the bus starting to move again: the border had opened.
After just a couple of hundred meters we were rushed out of the bus, we had to cross the ‘friendship bridge’ between India and Nepal by foot (don’t ask me why). The bridge was super small: meaning one bus would just fit, leaving no space for people on foot to pass. So all the buses sent their passengers forward and they came after. Which meant at some point the buses were literally forcing us to run or to jump over the fence of the bridge to let them pass. A pretty stressful situation at 6 in the morning. After the bridge there was a small border post. We seemed to be the only Western tourists which meant our entire bus had to wait for us to get our administration done. After getting the stamp to leave India, we had to walk another 800 meters to get to Nepal, having to show our passports again while exiting India. At some point we entered a kind of gate and after that it just seemed like we’d entered a village: there was a cafe, a small shop and a liquor store (which made us realize we were definitely not in the holy land of India anymore). We literally had to ask to find the border post to get our Nepalese visa’s: it was just a small house between the rest of the shops.
When we tried to pay for our visa’s (1 month for me, 3 months for Karen & Elias), they didn’t accept one of our 100 $ bills: someone had made a small number stamp on it, probably while counting stacks of bills. Since none of us were familiar with US dollar bills we hadn’t noticed. The border officer told us he couldn’t accept it, since the banks would only accept clean dollar bills. We had a problem, we’d only exchanged exactly the amount of dollars we needed for the visas. With the last of our Indian Rupees we went to the exchange office a little further to get another 25$ so we could at least get Elias a 1-month visa. In the mean time one of the bus employees came looking for us to tell us that the bus had already left, with our backpacks. I guess the bus driver and the passengers were too impatient to wait for some stupid white tourists. The employee didn’t really speak English so he called the driver and he explained the employee would take us back (paid by the company) to the bus by tuktuk. When we finally had all our visa stamps, we got into a tuktuk and luckily we found our bus and all of our luggage.
We arrived in the middle of Mahendranagar, in front of the bus station. From there you can take buses towards the East of Nepal. Although it was not really our plan at first, we decided to travel a bit more and not to stay in Mahendranagar. We could leave our backpacks in a hotel across the bus station for a few hours and went on a quest to get ourselves some Nepalese cash, breakfast and sim cards. I can recommend you SBI Nepal as a bank, Ncell for your Simcard and Momo’s for breakfast.
From Mahendranagar there are many buses towards Pokhara, Kathmandu or smaller cities in between. We decided to go to Bardia, a national park some 5 hours from Mahendanagar. More about this in my next blog about West Nepal!
Tips & Tricks
- Make sure you have clean US Dollar bills and get them in Rishikesh, or somewhere else that is not at the border
- Book your bus online with the help of an Indian with PayTM at UTC Transport
- Get an Ncell Simcard in Nepal
- Get money from the SBI Nepal bank for low fees
- See the marks on my map of India&Nepal for details about this route