Many who visit India want to at least make a pit stop in the rural, mountainous country of Nepal. While Varanasi is closer to the Nepali capital of Kathmandu than New Delhi, the transportation options from here are less than ideal. This city—home of the "Golden Temple"—is 199 miles (320 kilometers) from the India-Nepal border and 307 miles (494 kilometers) from Kathmandu. While there are only two direct flights connecting them each week, travelers can fly through Delhi or take public ground transportation, which is cheaper but much more time-consuming. Travelers who are willing to brave the two countries' rough roads and border crossing on their own may drive themselves. Keep in mind that landslides make driving during monsoon season especially dangerous. Many buses will terminate their trips around this time.
|Bus||20 hours||$17||Taking public transportation without having to transfer|
|Train + Bus||15 hours, 30 minutes||from $12||Minding a budget|
|Flight||1 to 7 hours||from $113||Traveling quickly and in comfort|
|Car||14 hours, 30 minutes||307 miles (494 kilometers)||Exploring the local area|
What Is the Cheapest Way to Get From Varanasi to Kathmandu?
The cheapest way to get from Varanasi to Kathmandu is to take a train, then a bus to the India-Nepal border, then another bus after that. The 15003 Chauri Chaura Express is the overnight train that departs from Varanasi Junction daily at 12:35 a.m. and arrives at Gorakhpur Junction—a couple of hours from the Sunauli border—at 6.55 a.m. Tickets cost $4 for a basic sleeper ticket or $16 for first class with air conditioning. Know the difference between Indian railway classes before booking.
The trains in India operate on a Foreign Tourist Quota (FTQ), which allocates a certain number of seats to tourists per train. These FTQ tickets can be purchased at Varanasi Junction. Another way to get to Gorakhpur is to take the 15017 Kashi Express. However, this train runs during the day (1:10 p.m. to 7:10 p.m.), necessitating a stay in Gorakhpur for the night, which is not ideal.
From Gorakhpur, you'll have to take a jeep or a bus to the Sunauli border (a ride on the UPSRTC bus takes two and a half hours and costs just over $2). Be sure to have your passport, a couple of passport-sized photos, and U.S. currency for your visa at the ready. After you cross the border into Nepal, you'll need to catch another jeep or bus that will take you to Kathmandu, another six hours and 50 minutes. The Holiday Adventure Tours bus runs this route for $6. Altogether, this combination of trains and buses would cost at least $12 and would take about 15 and a half hours, not including transfers and the time it would take to cross the border.
What Is the Fastest Way to Get From Varanasi to Kathmandu?
Flying is the fastest way to get from Varanasi to Kathmandu, but before you breathe a sigh of relief, there's a catch: There are only two flights per week, on Monday and Friday. And as you can imagine, they fill up pretty fast.
Whereas most flights go via Delhi, Nepal-based Buddha Air currently offers these semiweekly journeys at about $192. The flight leaves at 6 p.m. and lasts just under an hour. Alternatively, you can book a flight that goes through Delhi with a low-cost carrier like IndiGo. It'll take about seven hours and cost $113.
How Long Does It Take to Drive?
If you choose to drive yourself, you're looking at a 14-and-a-half-hour trip. The 307 miles (494 kilometers) that lie between Varanasi and Kathmandu are rough and the signage is precarious at times. What's more, the border crossing can be complicated when going it alone. Most people stick to public transportation so at least they can sleep during the long journey.
Is There a Direct Bus That Goes From Varanasi to Kathmandu?
As of 2015, the Bharat-Nepal Maitri Bus Seva ("India-Nepal Friendship Bus Service") runs directly between the two cities. The service is operated by the Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation. It's an air-conditioned Volvo bus with seats (as opposed to beds) that takes about 20 hours or more, depending on road conditions. There aren't any toilets on the bus and there are only a few official breaks along the way. However, the bus will stop on the side of the road for those in need. It departs from the Chaudhary Charan Singh Cantt Bus Station next to Varanasi Junction station, and only once every second day at 10 p.m. It typically arrives in Kathmandu by 7 p.m. the next day. The route goes via Azamgarh, Gorakhpur, Sunauli, and Bhairahawa. It takes about 10 hours to reach the Sunauli border from Varanasi.
Tickets cost $17 and can be booked online on RedBus.in, the UPSRTC website, or at the bus station. Foreigners may use Amazon Pay on RedBus as an alternative to international cards. Do note that bus services are usually suspended during the monsoon season (particularly July and August) due to heavy rain and landslides.
When Is the Best Time to Travel to Kathmandu?
Kathmandu is best experienced from late September to December when the glaciers are most prominent, the festivals are in full swing, and the temperatures are mild enough to permit trekking. During fall, you can expect temperatures to linger between 57 degrees Fahrenheit (14 degrees Celsius) and 79 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius). Same for spring, although you wouldn't be able to see the colorful Hindu celebrations of Dashain (October) or Chhath (November) then. During the summer, Kathmandu's temperatures typically rise above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).
Do I Need a Visa to Travel to Kathmandu?
Yes, a visa is required to enter Nepal, but you can purchase one on arrival. You'll be able to choose between a 15-day ($30), 30-day ($50), or 90-day ($125) visa. If you plan to enter into the country more than once during that time period, you will need to purchase a multiple-entry visa for an additional $25. These visas can be obtained from convenient kiosks in the arrivals hall or, if you arrive on the ground, via a border agent. Be sure to carry U.S. currency with you if you arrive by bus. There are a few currency exchange facilities around the Nepal Immigration Office, but watch out for poor rates and scams. Alternatively, you can book online within 15 days of your arrival date through the Immigration Nepal website.
What Time Is It in Kathmandu?
Oddly enough, Nepal is one of only two places in the world that operate on a quarter-hourly time zone. This means it's 15 minutes ahead of India (prompting the age-old joke that Nepalis are always 15 minutes late). To calculate it, add five hours and 45 minutes to Greenwich Mean Time.
What Is There to Do in Kathmandu?
People flock to Kathmandu for its vibrant culture and unmatched scenery. Perched at the foot of the famous Himalayas—the range Mount Everest calls home—there are abundant opportunities for hikers of all ages. Winter treks through the valley offer stunning scenery of the surrounding peaks; however, warm-weather seasons allow for multi-day treks, like the Balthali village circuit.
Kathmandu is a faithful city that's full of ornate Hindu and Buddhist temples. Among the most famous is Swayambhu, also known as the Monkey Temple, which is actually an entire hilltop complex with some of the most spectacular architecture on display. Others include Pashupatinath Temple, Boudha Stupa, and Kathmandu Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site.