India and Nepal have several border crossings open to foreigners. The most popular although is the Sonauli (India) – Belahiya (Nepal), due to its location, more or less in the middle of the south Nepal border, and maybe the shortest route to reach Kathmandu by land. Also, the location of this border cross, between Varanasi and Kathmandu or Pokhara, make this desolated and unfriendly place a choice for those who want to travel by land.
But for those traveling in Northeast India, like Sikkim, Bengal and the so-called North-eastern states (Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, etc…) the border Panitanki (India) – Kakarbitta (Nepal) located on the east side of Nepal is the best option. For more details about this border crossing check my posts about “Border Crossing” on Tips/Dicas de Viagem category.
The closest train station from the Sonauli – Belahiya border is Gorakhpur, with easy connection with Delhi and Varanasi. Gorakhpur is far from being a charming or appealing place, so try to arrange things in order to avoid one night there.
Just when you come out from the train station, you just need to ignore all the tuk-tuk drivers that will surround you and walk straight forward until the main road. Just on the other side, near crossroad with a statue with a guy on a horse, you’ll see a few buses stop… not a bus terminal or even a bus stand… just a few buses along the road. Try to ask the drivers about one that goes to Sonauli; usually, it stops on the right corner (if you have the trains station on your back).
The bus departure more or less every hour, or even before if it’s full. The buses run all day, starting around 6 am, until evening.
In case that you arrive late, close to evening time, is advisable to sleep in Gorakhpur, and make the trip to Sonauli next morning, as there are not many infrastructures in Sonauli, and the place itself in “not a place to stay”!!! Anyway, the Sonauli – Belahiya border is open 24 hours.
The bus from Gorakhpur to Sonauli, will take about 1.5 hours.
From the bus stand until the Indian Immigration Office is about 600 meters that will take around 10 minutes to walk along a dusty or muddy road (depending the weather) between trucks. Some people prefer to hire a cycle-rickshaw but it just worth if you travel with lots of luggage.
At the Indian Immigration Office you need to fill a form and give it back with your passport to the staff that usually is very friendly. The office is very small and sometimes you need to stay outside while an officer collects the passports and give them back after stamped. Always check if you have the exit stamp before leaving any country!
Don’t be surprised if you see many people crossing the border without passing by the Immigration Office, as the Nepal and Indian citizens don’t need a visa or even a passport to cross any border between India and Nepal.
After this, you keep walking along the same road and will see a big gate that represents the border India – Nepal. Is possible that an officer will ask for your passport, but sometimes they are more focus in controlling local people because of the smuggling than the tourists.
After the gate you walk a few more meters and will see, on the right side, a small house with a kind of garden where is the Nepal Immigration Office. There you need to need to fill a form, give a photo, show the passport and pay the visa fee according to the length of your stay. Usually it will not take more than 10 minutes.
You will be welcomed with a friendly smile and a proud “welcome to Nepal!”.
Nepal has Visa on Arrival, so to get your visa you need:
- 1 photo
- fill a couple of forms
- …and money to pay the visa fee. You can pay in dollars (USD) or Indian rupees (INR). Must be played in cash. There’s neither ATM or Exchange shop nearby, so be prepared. In the India side you can exchange money. If you pay in dollars is better to bring the exact amount, as change isn’t always available. If you pay in euros you’re doing a bad deal as the 25$ are automatically converted in 25€!
The Nepal visa can be (September 2016):
- 15 days: 25 USD
- 30 days: 40 USD or 2700 INR
- 90 days: 100 USD
At the Nepal side of the border you’ll see a few exchange money shops. From my experience the rates are quite alright.
Probably some will ask if you need a bus to Pokhara or Kathmandu. This maybe is not the beast deal that you can have but save you from walking (or take a bus) to the bus terminal (also called Bhairahawa Bus Park).
From Belahiya there are also buses to Lumbini and Chitwan.
Note about Nepal Visa Fees:
If you are planning to stay in Nepal for 2 months is better to apply for the 3 months visa. Otherwise, you pay 40$ for the first 30 days and then need to extend your visa for more 30 days… so as extending the visa will cost your 2$ a day, an extra month will be 60$… that in total is the same cost of the 90 days visa…. and you save yourself a few hours at the Immigration Office in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
Extend Nepal Visa:
To extend you Nepal Visa, you can do it in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
In Pokhara usually there are fewer people and you can get you new stamp quickly. At Katmandu is always more busier and confuse. But in both places you find helpful staff.
Not that the maximum number of days that you can stay in Nepal is 150 a year.
How to go from Sonauli-Belahiya to Kathmandu by bus:
Just after crossing the border you arrive at Belahiya, the first populated place that you cannot even call a village, but where you can find (after the Immigration Office), also on the right side of the road, a few travel agencies that sell bus tickets to Pokhara and Kathmandu. Usually there are always a few buses parked in a dusty/muddy ground that works like a bus terminal, called Belhiya Bus Park.
The soon you arrive more are the chances to have a bus to your destination, as most of the buses departure in the morning. Still is possible to catch a bus to Kathmandu around 2 p.m. There are also buses that departure at the end of the afternoon, but the information given by these travel agencies are not clear. But watch out: the bus trip to Kathmandu will take more than 8 hours that the ticket seller said… probably 10 hours depending on the traffic at Kathmandu, so if you arrive late to the border be prepared to arrive at Kathmandu in the evening!!!
Sometimes I felt that these private bus companies are taking advantage of people that just arrive and are not yet familiarized with the currency and prices, and I already notice that the bus ticket from Kathmandu to Belahiya is cheaper than the opposit way.
There aren’t public buses in Nepal, except a few local buses in Kathmandu. But if you want to avoid an overcharge ticket at the border (we are talking something about 200 rupees more, more or less 2$) you can walk or take a taxi to the Bhairahawa Bus Park around 7 km further along the main road and from there you have more bus companies but I couldn’t get a proper schedule of the buses to Kathmandu.
Where to eat at Sonauli-Belahiya:
Don’t try to eat at Sonauli. It will be difficult to find an inviting place and even if you choose one dhaba (road side restaurant), possible your meal will be disturbed by may touts trying to “help” you crossing the border or changing money.
If you really need a meal is better to wait until cross the border to Nepal side (Belahiya), that has a much quieter and friendly environment. With a short walk you can see the few places available, and it can be an option for a quick meal, but if you look for something more inviting you need to take a local bus (walk by the main road until you find the Bus Terminal on your right side) and go to the nearby village Siddharthanagar (also called Bhairawa or Bahirahawa).
Best train from Varanasi to Gorakhpur:
If you are traveling from Varanasi to Nepal, you can make the all trip by bus (there are even bus services from Varanasi to Kathmandu, that I don’t recommend) or by train. The train is the most comfortable option as it allow you to have a reasonable night of sleep and arrive at Gorakhpur early in the morning, with plenty of time to take the bus the Sonaluli-Belahiya border, and with strong chances to reach Kathmandu in the same day… but in the evening!
From Varanasi all the trains that arrive in Gorakhpur in the morning leave late in the evening, so avoid to choose a train that departure from Mugah Sarai, as this station is very far out from the city, and in the evening is not recommended for women or solo travelers. check my previous post: http://steppingoutofbabylon.com/en/2016/06/how-to-go-from-varanasi-to-mugal-sarai-train-station/
For me the best option was the night train that departure from Varanasi Junction (easily reach buy tuk-tuk even during the night, but I recommend to arranje it with the help of the guesthouse staff): Train number 15003 (Chauri Chaura Express) that departure at 00:40 and arrive to Gorakhpur (last stop) at 6.50 a.m… sometimes with a bit of delay!!!