Our pilgrimage to holy Varanasi

After doing a little bit of research we thought that going from Pokhara to Varanasi would be relatively straight forward, but of course the trip had a few “surprises” for us.

The trip commences with us leaving Pokhara. We take the “tourist bus”, which in reality was a local bus stopping at the tourist bus stand, that will take us from Pokhara to Sonauli (7 hours). Leaving aside the state of the roads, the crazy overtakes (they don’t care if there is another car coming, they just push the horn and hope for the best) and the precipices, the journey was more or less pleasant. We were lucky enough not to have any accidents or punctures but on the way we were forced to stop for more than 20 mins by a bus crash that happened between the bus ahead of us and another bus driving in opposite direction. I should probably better say touch rather than crash, as apart from a minor scratch there was no other sign of the collision between the two buses. Everybody from the two buses involved, from our bus and people from several other cars went close to try to see what happened while the two drivers argued about the “crash”. Crazy that given how old and bumped the bus was they could argue for minutes about the tinny little scratch.

Finally we reached Sonauli, the town where the India – Nepal crossing is. As we preferred to continue our journey to Varanasi by day, we decided to sleep there. Our last night in Nepal eating momos.

Early in the morning we got ready to enter India again. Half Sonauli is Nepal and the other half is India and the crossing between the two it is just a long street that you can cross from one side to the other without having to show your passport or any kind of documentation to anybody. While nobody will tell you anything if you don’t do the required diligences then and there, we could be traveling without an India visa now, you could get into trouble if you don’t get the exit stamp in Nepal’s immigration stand and the entry stamp in India’s one (both are just about 500m apart).

In Sonauli India we looked for the bus to Gorakhpur. First we passed by all the taxi drivers who will take you if you pay a small fortune, but we just said no thanks with a smile. We found our bus and took our sits. The 3 hours that takes going from Sonauli to Gorakhpur went fast thanks to the entertaining Bollywood movies!

We arrived in Gorakhpur around midday. We were back in deep India, the chaos, the traffic, the thousands of people… Now we just had to complete the last leg of our journey, get a train from Gorakhpur to Varanasi. One will think that this was the easy part, it’s just a matter of going to one of the desks in the train station and get a ticket from Gorakhpur to Varanasi, ha! First we learned that reserved seats tickets can not be bought at the train station and that we had to go to the Computerized Reservation Office. Luckily it was only 5 mins away, but walking 5 mins with our heavy backpacks, between the cows, the rickshaws and tuk-tuks, the heat and the Indians I tell you it is not easy!

In the Computerized Reservation Office we were shocked by the amount of people queuing for a ticket at the different desks. As we had no idea of the train schedules, we were advised to buy a book which has information of the main train routes in India. Once we found which trains could take us to Varanasi and queuing for over 45 mins we learned that trains in India have to be booked well in advanced! They were all sold out! But fortunately and after lots of questions we found out there was another train leaving that night, not in the book, that had still beds available in First Class. 2h after we finally had our tickets.

The 6h wait in Gorakhpur went quite fast reading and talking to a little boy in the train station. The train arrived and after a few minutes looking for our coach we realized that there was no First Class coach as we were told… in the middle of the confusion and disbelieve we were told that they were going to attach an FC coach in a few minutes. One hour later, our coach was there and we could finally relax and sleep for a few hours. Night night Gorakhpur, by the morning we will be in Varanasi!

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