The most common way to take a bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara, for tourists, is from the tourist bus park along Sorhakhutte just outside Thamel on buses known as "tourist buses". It a 200km journey but it takes anywhere between 8-12 hours depending on traffic and roadworks. Buses depart once daily at 7am every morning (in 2018 Kantipath bus stop closed, all tourist buses now leave from Sorhakutte).
There are over 30 bus companies frequenting the Kathmandu Pokhara bus route with names changing yearly. There are however a few long-term companies which will be listed below.
The journey is meant to take 6-7 hours. Ignore older guidebooks stating 5-6 hours. These days the journey can take a lot longer due to traffic jams coming into Kathmandu and out. So go prepared with extra water and snacks.
There are a couple of other more expensive "premium tourist buses" which also depart in the mornings which will be covered later.
Did you know?
"Tourist buses" in Nepal are not new. They are usually quite old 32 seaters with padded seats and sometimes working A/C in the summer.
Travel agents and hotels are the best place to get a tourist bus ticket from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Don't bother looking for the main bus ticket offices themselves as they are usually based far away and they will charge you even more!
Travel agents and hotels get discounted ticket prices as they act as bus ticket agents. They then, can, pass this discount on to tourists. However, in many cases they add on 100 or more rupee to profit - it's still cheaper than buying directly.
The other option tourists have is to arrive early in Sorhakhutte where the buses depart from and bargain directly with the bus company there. This is where you will get the cheapest price. However, you must know how to bargain in Nepal! Bus seats rarely sell out, but you must be prepared for ticket scams listed below.
None of the regular bus companies offer online ticket sales. However, plenty of the "premium" bus companies are now trying. Any company that is offering this is simply a reseller and probably charging a higher rate. The result can likely bring a lot of confusion to the buyer. Similarly, some of the online bus ticket sellers charge tourists extra compared to locals, and then send the tourists to the back of the bus (uncomfortable) despite a seat number saying something different. It's far better to buy from a travel agent or hotel directly. Again, buses never sell out on this route.
Currently the average price for a Kathmandu to Pokhara Bus ticket on a tourist bus is 600- 800 rupees.
But where and with whom you book the ticket will also dictate the price. Some hotels charge up to 1,500 rupees for the same type of ticket and bus.
Premium buses charge around USD$25. While local buses charge around 600 rupees. More on these later. Full pricing details are available in my guidebook.
They are all about the same! I've taken these buses for over 12 years, there's barely a difference between them. But, I will write some personal notes where need be. Generally speaking the longer a bus company has been around, the more reliable they are.
Services offered: Free Wifi (rarely works). Air-conditioning (summer only, not in the winter so wrap up well). Free water (some of them). All of them place your bag in a rear or side cargo bay with no charge and no ticket system. You can carry a small bag on board.
Kathmandu to Pokhara and Pokhara to Kathmandu bus companies:
- Holiday Adventure - long running service
- Rainbow Adventure - long running service
- Lineup - Good drivers and free water (seem to stick with seat numbering)
- Blue Sky travel and tours - long running service
- World Touch
- Salvation Adventure Travels
- Swiss Travel - long running service
- Global Vacation tours
- Explore Pokhara Travel
- Debit Travel
- Metro Inn
- Tourist Express
- Benchmark tours and travel
- Reed travel and tours - long running service
- Baba adventure tours - long running service
- Travel one Nepal
Premium bus services Kathmandu to Pokhara and Pokhara to Kathmandu:
Services differ for each premium bus service.
- Jagadamba - Premium USD$25 indiscriminately charging $5 extra for foreigners. (Includes water, breakfast snack, Wifi (doesn't work for most of the journey), lunch and plush seating in a 24 seat bus).
- Greenline - Premium USD$25 long running also indiscriminately charging $5 extra (Includes water, Wifi (doesn't work for most of the journey), lunch in a 24 seat bus.
- Mountain Overland - long running service charging about 200-300 rupees more than regular tourist buses with good seat numbering.
The above premium services have had mixed reviews. Jagadamba indiscriminatively charges foreigners more along with Greenline though the former is aiming for a Nepali clientèle only with Hindi movies only on offer for the journey. Mountain Overland offers a reasonably good service for a few 100 extra. Greenline usually comes out on top due to reliability, location, trust and their long running service though again discriminatory pricing.
All in all tourist feedback is that the premium buses are okay for one trip. But are overpriced for what you get and it's better value to simply take a regular "tourist" bus.
All tourist buses depart from Sorhakhutte at 7am sharp. To reach the bus area known as "Sorhakhutte" simply walk to the end of Paknajol road and take a left. Walk down this road and you'll see the buses lined up. Best to get there around 6.30am. Keep in mind, this is just a stretch of road and not and actual "bus station".
Jagadamba buses depart from Durbar Marg by the Annapurna Hotel at 7.30am.
Greenline buses depart from their own depot in Tri Devi at 7.30 am.
Sometimes due to ongoing road works or issues the buses may leave earlier. Do enquire about departure times when booking your ticket.
This is a very common question from tourists. Generally speaking for first time travelers on the route it's an okay journey. The most unpleasant part of the journey is the very start when getting on board and finding seat allocation is not adhered too. See, seat allocation scam below.
Your bags will either go in the back storage area or the side storage area. There is no ticket allocation for bags (Premium bus service sometimes issue them) but likewise theft is very rare. You can bring a small bag onboard along with some drinks/snacks.
When leaving from Kathmandu taking a seat on the right hand side means you will get to see some rivers and valleys but during the summer this can be the hot side of the bus if there is no air conditioning.
On the left side of the bus the views are a little more restricted for most of the journey with only the side of the gorged out hillside to stare at. But it is the less sunny side.
The front of the bus all the way to just past the half way row is about as far as I'd like to sit on a tourist bus. Any further back and it get's bumpy and air circulation can be an issue. See seat scams for issues about this.
Buses stop at about 9.30 for a "breakfast" at a small slightly overpriced restaurant that the bus companies have a deal with. Which place they stop at will depend on the bus companies current arrangements. Breakfasts are usually Dal Bhat, chow mein or momo inclined. Cereals or the like are harder to find and overpriced.
Traffic jams usually occur past the Manakamana cable car and temple. If you drive past the temple then past a dire town known as Mugling with no issues then the chances are you'll have no delay's all the way to Pokhara.
If you suddenly come across a long row of traffic before Mugling then you may be in for a 1-5 hour delay. "Anything" can be causing the delay as Mugling is a main junction town connecting Pokhara, Bardia, Chitwan and Kathmandu. Landslides, traffic accidents, breakdowns and so on are the usually causes.
If you do get stuck there's nothing much anybody can do about it but wait it out. The bus driver will call ahead to Pokhara but they'll likely not get the correct information. The driver will also send the bus conductor out to investigate but depending on how far from the incident causing the delay then the conductor usually comes back with the wrong information.
It is possible to get out when the bus is stopped, but don't wander too far as they'll often take off quickly.
Most delays occur during monsoon season (June-August) due to landslides blocking the road.
Once passed Mugling then it's usually okay and shortly after you will stop for lunch at a slightly better restaurant facility compared to the morning one.
After that things usually go smoothly until you get to Pokhara district. Then locals try to get out of the bus along the way to Pokhara's main tourist bus park. So the last leg of the journey is often a bit slow.
The final stop is the Pokhara tourist bus park which makes it easy to know when to get out.
I've also written a more personal account of the Kathmandu to Pokhara bus journey.
The Tourist Bus Park in Pokhara is just an open rock strewn square. It's about a 45 minute walk to the center of Lakeside.
As you come off the bus you'll probably be greeted by a dozen or so hotel and taxi men harassing you for a hotel room or taxi ride. It's best to ignore them and just say you have a friend waiting for you if they really annoy you.
Simply collect your bags and either make your way over to the shelter area or better yet to the main gates to negotiate a taxi fare. The real price to Lakeside is 200 rupees but it's not so easy to get that price - especially if you are not 100% sure where your hotel is located.
If you decide to walk, then exit the main gates and turn right. Follow the main road to the first junction and veer off to the left. This is the main road to Lakeside. Locals will happily point you in the right direction.
There are few scams in Nepal - unfortunately the Kathmandu to Pokhara seat scam is the most common and little written about.
The first thing to be sure about is to buy your ticket at a reputable travel agent or at your hotel. Do not buy from anyone on the street claiming to offer discounted tickets.
You can also buy directly from the bus conductor on the morning you travel but you may not be guaranteed your preferred seat. Sadly this is also true of "foreign" tourists booking ahead.
The seat scam does not cheat you of money per-se, but does cheat you of your preferred seat. If you book a seat at the front of the bus, then when you arrive you may be told that you are in the wrong seat!
The conductor will start a mix of babble talk saying things like "this is A side, B side starts from the back" or "This is AA1 to BB32". All of this is meant to simply confuse you into moving back a few rows.
The reason they want the first rows free is for Nepali people who either have a connection at the bus company or for those who pay a little more silently. Nepali are prone to motion sickness so being up front prevents the bus company having to clean up as well.
It's all a bit discriminatory and unpleasant. Even if you have a ticket that shows a seat map you'll likely be told that the agent messed up and that the seat was already booked. They'll then soften the blow by saying they'll "find you a seat, so don't worry."
This "scam" has been going on for more than 10years and was recently addressed by banning all Nepali from taking "tourist buses". This was rightfully stopped due to discrimination accusations against Nepali.
The answer is of course to actually issue fines to any bus who does not clearly label each individual seat with a factual number - this has yet to happen.
Some companies have written numbers in between seats but of course whether the number means the seat in front or behind is up to the conductors.
To avoid the scam you might try the following:
- Don't put up with it. Nearly 90% of all tourists will quickly move seats when the conductor tells them too. The conductor usually starts talking in Nepali if you argue back. But it's all part of the "act".
- 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.
- Tell the Nepali tourist board of your bad experience. There is an official office somewhere for reporting bus companies, but it will be well hidden away. So instead report the tourist bus experience to the tourism board. Use their Facebook review page is you have to.
- Another option is to simply, walk out and get another bus. It's best to do this if you are really being pushed to the very back. The trip is not pleasant nor enjoyable in these old buses. There are plenty of others along the road. You won't get a refund, but make a fuss as you move about cheating bus companies and you might just get the conductor caving in to your allocated seat. There are officials outside to prevent all this but they are not in uniform and hard to find.
- Lastly, use social media to your advantage. Take photos of your ticket numbered seats and those with no numbers and the whole experience inside the bus. Then post it online to your preferred social media output like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter - hashtag it with everything you can about Nepal and the bus company name! Although you might not seem like you are doing much, social media is becoming powerful in Nepal and reporting things like this will only highlight the scam.
Taking a tourist bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara is the most popular as safest way to make the journey. There are other ways to go though.
You could take a local bus. However they are only about 100 rupees cheaper and you'll have to travel out to the local bus park which will cost you the same. The buses are also less comfortable.
A micro-van or micro-bus is another option which is definitely faster. However these vehicles have the highest accident rate in Nepal.
You could also hire your own car. However it does not come cheap at around USD$120 for a next day return. It's very hard to get a one way car!
Finally your could get a plane ticket which will cost you USD$120 one way for the 30 min journey. It's more expensive to fly Pokhara Kathmandu than Kathmandu to Pokhara. Domestic flights in Nepal rather shamefully also charge foreigners "extra".
All in all the tourist bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara is the cheaper and safer way to travel. However do keep in mind the seat scam and be prepared for delays.
In late 2018 several night bus services started between Kathmandu and Pokhara. The charge between 1200-1500. Tickets are once again only available through travel agents.
The night buses generally depart at 8pm arriving at their respective destinations at 4am. This very early arrival deserves special consideration as not many hotels are open at that time nor restaurants nor anywhere civil to wait.
There is no fixed departure area's either. The vast majority of Pokhara's night buses depart from Hallen Chowk in Lakeside and arrive at either Sorhakhutte or Gongabu bus parks. The reverse is also true while departing from Kathmandu. It's very important you double check with the travel agent where the bus is departing from and arriving to as each company has a different departure area and they change them quite often.
What's it like on a tourist night bus?
Slightly better seats that the day buses which recline back. Then again, there are some random buses which don't particularly have great seats. If you can sleep anywhere then it's not a problem. But if you are a light sleeper ... bring headphones and a book.
Many Nepali use this service as to trekking guides. Be prepared for a bumpy night filled with snoring and coughing. Again, bringing headphones helps. In the winter air condition is turned to heating which can get too warm and stuffy. Likewise in the hot summer it can just right until the complaints come in that it's too cold and then it becomes too warm.
After a lack of good sleep the early arrival means expensive taxis to hotels where the staff may still be sleeping. Do make sure they know you are arriving early.
The night buses are good if you are pressed for time. There's no real element of danger on the buses in terms of night driving or road safety as they travel in a convoy. It's not the most comfortable or convenient of bus travel but if you are used to it, then it does save you a day in terms of the day bus between Pokhara and Kathmandu.
- Buy your ticket from a reputable source - take a photo of the ticket just in case
- Do bring extra water with you
- If you have a weak stomach then pack your own lunch
- Pack snacks just in case the bus is delayed
- If you hate the heat then bring a small portable hand fan
- If it's the winter then wrap up warmly in layers
- If you are buying your ticket directly at the bus stop then get there around 6.15-6.30am. or at least 45 mins before the bus is scheduled to depart.
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