India-Nepal border crossing adventures
Crossing the border between Nepal and India is so effortless yet nerve-wracking, it’s important to be mentally prepared. Where the invisible line draws between Nepal & India is a whole lot of mess, chaos and congestion. Think traffic jams at rush hour, with cars crammed up in both directions, people squeezing in between any space between the vehicles, the occasional cow standing around nonchalantly. The humidity and body heat emerging from people around, the heat emitting off the tarmac roads, the deafening honks of impatience that pierce right through the ossicles in your eardrums.
In the midst of all this mess, one could practically walk by without getting a stamp and unknowingly become an illegal immigrant. That’s what almost happened to me. Going from a land where rules aren’t exactly followed to another land where rules are almost non existent, the check points aren’t difficult to miss. There are no organized queues, or a system to follow.
Here are some tips that could help:
- Be sure to walk in the right direction of the traffic upon entering the main gate
- While getting through “customs”, don’t declare that you’ve bought anything exotic or the fellas standing at the little booth are going to open up your backpack.
- Make sure to get a stamp out of one country before going to get a stamp into the other. This sounds like common sense but it’s easy to walk by the booth in a chaotic situation. That’s how I got sent back to get stamped out of Nepal.
- Pack a pen. That’s going to come in handy when filling out departure/arrival forms.
- Get your visas applied beforehand! There’s no visa on arrivals issued for non-SAARC country citizens.
- Change currencies beforehand. Indian rupees are NOT the same as Nepali rupees and once you’ve crossed over, the buses don’t take the wrong rups.
- Avoid any touts, taxi drivers or persistent goofs that hound you and follow you to offer a “cheaper” and “faster” way to get to your destination. It pays to do research beforehand and find out how to get to a particular city from the border.
- When asking for directions, double check that information with multiple sources. Some people may point you to a wrong direction for their personal gain.
- Pack a jacket / blanket. Depending on the season, buses can go through the night without having any heating. Even with windows closed, these buses have holes and gaps in window cracks that will challenge everyone with shivering chills.
The first and worst bus journey in India
I was lucky to have met Artur, a Polish backpacker who was also headed in the same direction because I couldn’t imagine having to battle this entire border crossing alone. What’s worse was, I didn’t have enough Indian rupees and in this mix of Indian & Nepali soil, there isn’t a place to get a good rate without a heated argument that ends in a lose-lose situation.
Upon crossing the border, I originally planned to take the bus – train – bus combination to Varanasi. But I somehow got convinced to take a direct bus that claimed to take the same amount of time as the other journey. The bus didn’t depart until it was completely filled, jammed with 4 people in a bench meant for 3 people.
And thus started the 12 -13 hour bus journey through misty fogs, ice cold stale air and noisy chatter amongst excited locals. I couldn’t sleep throughout the whole journey. Artur had to entertain the enthusiastic Nepali on the same bench who seemed to have never met a foreigner before, and spent the first 1/3 of the journey showing us pictures of his entire family on his mobile phone. I was so exhausted I flash a winning obligatory grin at the guy periodically. To top it off, the seats were upright, hard, non-reclining and I had nothing but 1 jacket and a yak wool poncho to cover my cold exposed ankles and numb toes. In an attempt to get some shut-eye, I plugged music in my ears and looked out the window, seeing nothing but occasional headlights from oncoming traffic beam furiously through the cloud-like fog.
2 toilet breaks in the middle of dingy nowhere later, I realized that we were finally 6 hours in. I celebrate by taking a piss in the mud, in the dark, next to chatty Indian women with shiny saris. Back to the moving metal box.
Taking the opportunity to retrieve whatever was packed on the top in my backpack, I grabbed some clothing and found my fleece socks. Eventually, I resorted to popping a valium in hope to pass out from this painful journey. As I looked outside again at streaks of lights in gaussian blur, somehow I must have lost consciousness. Because when I woke up i was in Varanasi.