Taking a bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara should be nice and easy but …
I was going to write this about three years ago to help other travelers. But decided to postpone it to give “Nepal” a chance to fix the most traveled bus route frequented by tourists in the country. Time’s up Nepal!
I’ve been taking the Kathmandu to Pokhara bus for over 10 years. It used to be an okay route. It was never the “5 hour” journey touted in other guidebooks. More like 6-7 hours. But it was fine.
Today you will be lucky to make it in 7+ hours. But do be prepared for other unprofessional mishaps along the way. Over the past few years I’ve experienced anywhere between 9 to 16 hours journey times. Yesterday was 11 hours.
Worse than the time delays, is the insane and insulting seat numbering “foreign” tourists have to put up with. Simply put the Kathmandu to Pokhara bus is discriminatory, filled with bold faced lies that puts people off returning to Nepal.
However, this post is my survival guide so you can also be prepared and enjoy Nepal as it should be!
Please check out my guide on how to take a Kathmandu to Pokhara bus for ticket prices, facts, figures and details on how to get there etc.
Meanwhile here’s a more raw personal look at the madness of what should be a simple 5-6 hour journey.
What the tourism sector says about the Kathmandu – Pokhara bus route
Ride in dedicated tourist buses with A/C, free WiFi with scenic mountain or river views all the way from Kathmandu to Pokhara.
Let’s start to break this down.
- Dedicated tourist buses? Sure, but it depends on the definition of “tourist”.
- Air conditioning? Yes, some do have a working A/C unit but of course one needs a driver to turn it on.
- Free Wifi? Again yes there’s a router signal in many buses, but working internet is another thing.
- Scenic mountain views? Well, on the left hand side you’ll see the scraped out side of some “hills”. On the right hand side there is indeed a river at a few places.
So yep, technically all this exists. However as you can see all is not what it seems.
An insiders look at the real Kathmandu to Pokhara bus route
Let’s start at the very beginning at the nonsense that is getting a bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Keep in mind this is an expose of sorts so bear with me as we go into a little detail.
Again, if you just want to know where and how to get a bus hop over to my guide on how to get a tourist bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara.
Where to get a Kathmandu to Pokhara bus ticket – the reality
Firstly, forget about going direct to the bus company. All agents get discount commissions on tickets meaning they get discounted tickets. If you, as a tourist, go to the main bus office you’ll end up paying more than you would via most hotels or travel agents.
So, buy your ticket at a hotel or travel agent – but you still have to be careful for rip-off agents. Shop around. Most tickets cost between 700-900 rupees. Forget the charming ticket sellers who say “this is a special A/C bus so the ticket is 1,200”.
That hotel you’ve stayed at for so long? For every 10 tickets they sell they get 1 free. So, freebie tickets are available to some.
90% of the tourist buses leaving for Pokhara are the same. There are a few luxury ones which I’ll cover later. But, they too suffer a lot of the below.
Lastly you could always just show up along Kantipath from 6.15 am onwards and bargain with the bus conductors themselves for a ticket. Thereby removing the need for a middle man. The only issue is during peak season when the buses can get full. But this rarely if ever happens!
Avoid being cheated for your seat number on the bus!
Of all the things that annoy me the most about the Kathmandu to Pokhara bus it’s this. When you buy your ticket you’ll be given a seat number. But there’s a 98% chance that when you get on board the bus you’ll be told that you are in the wrong seat and will be moved down the back or at best in the middle.
You may also notice that up at the top of the bus are usually Nepali people, a few guides with their “honored guests”, some foreigners who speak Nepali and maybe even me glaring at any bus conductor who comes near me to tell me I’m in the wrong seat.
Why are tourists always in the wrong seat and have to move?
Well, they are not. It’s the bus companies who move tourists to make way for Nepali who will only shout at them or have connections in the company and demand a seat up front. Many Nepali suffer from motion sickness and up front is more comfortable. So it’s a win/win for the bus company not having to clean and the Nepali who … well, will still throw up.
This is a well known but hidden rip-off by most of the bus companies in Nepal over the past 10 years and its an utter disgrace. Tourists pay for a seat number. Get on a bus which either has no seat numbers and are told to move with some dithering array of verbal vomit from a conductor telling them about a “new seat system”.
If the bus does have a seat number there’s a high chance you’ll be told
“No no, that’s seat 7 ‘A’. You are on ‘B’ side – down the back.”
Then there’s the …
“No, no so sorry the ticket agent overbook – you need to move but don’t worry we make room for you … at the back”.
That one’s great for the angry tourist as it deflects your anger to the agent who sold you the ticket and it’s 6.30am so they are not open to call for another 3-4 hours.
Finally there’s the …
“So sorry, this (Nepali) lady and her child are sick please let them sit in your seat”.
Yep, the motion sickness guilt trip always works.
The latest craze is to write (badly) an impossible to read seat number in the middle of two seats along the curtain rail section. Then when you sit down. It’s either the “wrong number” or everyone is moved back one seat.
I’ve even had a conductor tell me the seat number on a seat actually means the seat behind the one with the number on it … the bold face lies and cheek holds no bounds.
How to stop the pre-book bus seat fiasco
A few years ago there was a mandate that tourist buses should only be used by foreigners (source: Kathmandu Post). This was due to the complaints being received due to the ticket and seating fiasco. Rightfully so, this idea was ignored as it was discriminatory towards Nepali domestic tourists.
Though it must be said most Nepali on these buses are not domestic tourists. They are simply Nepali wanting to get a more comfortable bus than a local one.
The simple task of inspecting and giving a fine to buses with no clear seat numbers on the seats would have solved everything a lot more efficiently. But, alas, it’s Nepal.
So, it’s still very much a “foreign” tourist beware scenario.
- Firstly, don’t put up with it. 90% of all tourists I see being moved mumble and mutter but quickly move seats as the conductor babbles away in Nepali – he speaks English by the way, very well. It’s just a front pretending not to.
- Next, if you have pre-booked a seat number and are told to move then take down the bus conductors name and tell them you will be reporting the company to the tourism board. Yep, let the tourist board know of your bad experience. I’m sure there’s an official office somewhere for misbehaving bus companies, but so long as these buses are known as tourist buses then let the tourism board know about your experience being a tourist in Nepal.
- Walk out and get another bus. If you are being pushed to the very back, then don’t put up with it. The trip is not pleasant nor enjoyable and being in the back is just not nice on these old buses. Find another bus, there’s plenty along the road and one will likely accommodate you. There’s no refund, but the above complaint procedure will help.
- Lastly, take photos of your ticket numbering and seats with no numbers and the whole experience. Then post it online to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter can hashtag it with all known ones for Nepal! This method will probably make things change faster than you’ll realize.
Of course for some richer folks the “professional” answer to help tourists is “take a premium bus instead”. Well…
A) not everybody finds a $24 bus ticket for a 6 hour to some random time – bus, value for money
B) remove the term “tourist” bus from the $7 buses
C) not everyone can afford a $24 bus who will also likely get stuck along the way … and also take your seat number
Experiencing the bus trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara itself
Do note this is an amalgamation of my own personal Kathmandu to Pokhara bus journeys. I’ve calculated that on average there’s a 60% chance you will experience some or all of the below. But, I’m really hoping you’ll be on the 40% of just a good journey.
Firstly, you’ll need to survive the seat allocation fiasco I’ve written about above… I won’t rehash it. But, good luck!
First part of the Kathmandu to Pokhara bus journey
The “direct bus” will depart at 7am fairly promptly from Kantipath then stop to pick up local passengers for the next 45 minutes. Then, finally you are off properly. Air conditioning is not switched on until after the first 20 minute “breakfast stop” at around 9-9.30am. But if there’s a fuel shortage, then don’t expect any AC at all!
The bus will pull over and you’ll get the first of three toilet breaks and a chance to eat at a relatively expensive restaurant in the middle of no-where. Thankfully they’ve not started charging for the toilets … yet. They are quite clean.
BTW, yes, the buses all make commissions on the meals hence they all have their own places to stop at.
Right, back on the bus and if it’s the hot summer then some nice Nepali will start shouting at the conductor to turn on the A/C. This is when you find out if it’s going to be a hot as hades trip, a warm fan randomly blowing on you type trip or if indeed the 24 degree AC actually works!
Second part of the Kathmandu to Pokhara bus journey
Everything goes great for the about the first hour after the first stop. You’ve settled into the swerving bus roads. The pothole rattling, got talking to some locals and even the views outside can be pretty nice.
Up comes the archway to Manakamana (cable car to temple) and maybe the bus will stop to let people out to it. No problem. You take off again.
Then you enter the danger zone.
It’s not dangerous per-se. But this part of the journey onwards for the next 45 minutes will give you an indication just how long your journey will be in total.
If you see a line of traffic. Then I’m sorry to tell you but you could be in for a long, long wait. If, on the other hand you make it the 45 mintues and pass by a town called Mugling with no jam, then celebrate because you might just make it to Pokhara with no delay!!!
Mugling – a desolate place for any bus journey
The problem with Mugling is down to the fact it is a huge junction. Buses from all over western Nepal come through here. Including Chitwan, Bardia, Pokahra and Kathmandu routes in both directions.
Everything from breakdowns, road works, landslides and road traffic deaths bring all traffic to a halt here. The backlog can go in all directions for hours. Chances are when you do reach Mugling you’ll just pass through it as the traffic will be blocked in all directions aside from the one you are moving in.
I’d say 50% of all my journey’s that pass through Mugling over the past 10 years have been delayed. Because of a problem at “Mugling”.
Ignore the excuses that the conductors tell you by the way. Nobody ever knows for sure. A bus driver might call to the main office and ask. But no one ever knows for sure whats going on. Rumors generally hit when the driver sends the conductor boy out to investigate up ahead but chances are he’ll just go around a corner and ask another boy while taking a short rest.
All in all, patience is key.
And please, don’t heed the excuse of it’s the “road works” for this year. Or it “rarely happens”. Mugling has been a bane on tourist bus journeys in Nepal for over a decade. And yes they are “widening the road” and yes this has been going on for years.
Similarly don’t loose your cool when you find out that a landslide happened at 1am and yet the buses all still left Kathmandu at 7am. They were probably all told of the delay but failing to go or letting you know about the impending delay would result in good customer service.
The last part of the Kathmandu to Pokhara bus journey
Once you pass Mugling the journey is usually pretty straight forward. Depending on the delay there’s a good chance you’ll stop for lunch again for 20-30 minutes. These places are a bit better than the breakfast places. But still not the best value and if you suffer from a weak stomach, so choose carefully.
Finally on the approach into Pokhara the bus will start to slow again as locals randomly want to hop off at different places. Take it easy and chill. The very final bus stop is the Lakeside tourist bus park. Here’s where you’ll just have to handle the rock strewn ground as you dodge touts, hotel owners and taxi men offering you everything from not so “$5 dollar hotels” to free rides with a $150 dollar hotel at the end of the ride.
More of all this and the practicalities are covered in my guide to taking a bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara.
Last words of insider information on taking the Kathmandu to Pokhara bus
There are local buses, but they are only about 100 rupees cheaper and depart from further afield bus parks which will cost you more just getting to them than a tourist bus ticket.
There are premium buses like Greenline and Mountain Overland who make things a little easier for about $15 more – but still have seat numbering issues. Then there’s the super premium Jagadamba who took regular buses, put fancy seats on them, have a hostess, depart from Durbar Marg and indiscriminately charge “foreigners” about $5 more than Nepali.
You could also just fly for around $120 (again, foreigners are charged more than locals). But it’s an even higher price coming back … because, Nepal.
Or, hire a private car for around USD$120 one way because it’s nearly impossible to get a one way cost of a car…
Or, you could take a crowded mini-van and speed there in 5 hours while watching your life flash before you.
So yes, getting to Pokhara is not a nice as it could or should be in terms of transportation.
Aside from the “Mugling” effect, the worst part of the journey is actually the seat ticket allocation fiasco. It’s strange that if I take a local bus from a local bus park I get the seat I paid for. Even with a Sauraha (Chitwan) tourist bus I get the seat I paid for. Even in Lumbini!
By the way, Pokhara’s own bus park do the “seat swap” thing too on the Pokhara to Kathmandu route.
But none are as bad compared to the rip-off conductors of the Kathmandu – Pokhara route waiting for you at 6.30 am along Kantipath
Just a little regulation could make a tourists experience in Nepal so much better.
Again, I hope you experience a great journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara. If not, maybe this guide will comfort you in knowing that you are not the only one to be treated like this.
Likewise if it’s any consolation to you, the return journey is about the same, but a little better!
Meanwhile, do read about what bus companies there are, premium buses, ticket prices, recommendations and more on my free guide on how to take a bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara.
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