If you are going to Nepal to get your visa stamped, you have to stay out of India for 24 hours. You can get a visa on arrival, though you can also get it in advance from the Nepal embassy or consulate. For multiple entry tourist visas, the fees are: 15 days, $25 USD; 30 days, $40 USD; 90 days, $100 USD. The website says you can pay in major international currencies like US dollars, Swiss Francs Euros or Pound Sterling, but they evidently prefer dollars. You can’t pay with Indian or Nepalese rupees, or with a credit card, so change money in Delhi or Varanasi. You’ll also need a passport photo with a light background. However, you can reportedly use Indian currency in shops, restaurants and hotels, at least near the border. Rs500 and Rs1000 notes might be harder to use, though, so take smaller notes.

When we went through, there were  countless trucks and buses essentially parked while waiting their turn at the border. This looks so pleasant! Photo: Mikhail Esteves (Creative Commons)

When we went through, there were countless trucks and buses essentially parked while waiting their turn at the border. This looks so pleasant by comparison!  Photo: Mikhail Esteves (Creative Commons)

The most popular place for a visa run to Nepal is Sunauli (Bhairahawa), which is north of Varanasi, and this is the route I chose. I took the train from Varanasi to Gorakhpur. (There is a broad gauge track from Gorakhpur to Nautanwa, about 5km from the border, though the unreserved passenger trains are crowded and infrequent.) I could have also taken a bus or share jeep from Gorakhpur, but as I had met some people at my guesthouse who were taking the same route, we ended up sharing a taxi to the border. A local on the train told us that a taxi should be between Rs1,000-1,500. The first offer we got was for Rs3,500, which was ridiculous. Next, we found several drivers who would take us for Rs2,000, none of whom would budge on the price. Just as we were about to accept one of these, a guy with a nicer car came and offered us Rs1,200, so we jumped at that. Evidently, he wasn’t one of the union drivers or whatever as the other drivers started yelling at him and pushing him around. We were afraid that they were going to beat him up, but somehow we got out of there without that happening. The drive took about 2.5 hours to get within about 2-3 km of the border, but then we hit a monumental traffic jam, mostly trucks. It took us 20-30 minutes to weave our way around to get to the border, where we had to get out and walk the rest of the way.

The immigration offices on both sides of the border are inconspicuous little offices that you could easily miss. It’s rather a strange border. We did miss the India office and were sent back to get our exit stamps. That took a while as they weren’t terribly efficient. Although the people were exceptionally focussed on their work, the convoluted requirements of Indian bureaucracy bogged the whole process down. After we got our exit stamps, we  made our way on foot to the Nepal side, about 100 meters away. That was much faster.

Since you have to stay at least 24 hours, you may want to go to Lumbini, which is less than an hour away.  The birthplace of Buddha, it’s a World Heritage site and it’s decidedly more pleasant than Sunauli, which has nothing at all to recommend it. Bairahawa, 3km away, is a bit nicer than Sunauli and reputedly has some decent restaurants. There’s no reason to stay in Sunauli, which is a miserable town.

Don’t cross the border at night. It’s quite dangerous and people may try to force you to buy tickets or travel services you don’t want. (More info: http://wikitravel.org/en/Sunauli). In the daytime, you should have no problem. In any case, arriving early in the day is highly recommended. We didn’t, and by the time we reached Lumbini, it was after sunset and many of the better places were booked up.

Getting back to Varanasi was actually worse. I got a taxi for Rs800, which was supposed to be just me, but, of course, we ended up with a few others. In the end, I gave him Rs700, which was too much, but I didn’t feel like getting into an argument about it.

The most convenient train in terms of time (4PM departure) only has Chair Car class, but I didn’t get a ticket on that one. The next train reaches Varanasi at 4:40AM (in theory), so I skipped that one. I ended up staying overnight and taking the morning train, which was wonderfully uncrowded. Unfotunately, Gorakhpur is pretty much devoid of decent hotels. Since I couldn’t find any really encouraging reviews about local hotels, I just got a hotel near the station. It would have been almost OK except that it had cockroaches. Still, it was cleaner than any other hotel I looked at there. Next time, I really don’t think I’ll be going this route.

If anyone else has done this, I’d love to hear your experiences.

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