Tourist bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara: What you need to know before you go
Not all buses are created equal
Firstly, most travel agents and hotels will try hustle you into buying the most expensive tickets first. They will do their best to convince you to take the deluxe bus. Go ahead if that is what you are looking for, but for us budget-sensitive travellers there are plenty more options.
You can also take local buses. They are dirt cheap, a bit rougher around the edges, and there may be a lot more stops along the way. The middle of the road option between deluxe and local, and the one I felt was a bit safer as a female traveller, was to go for the cheapest tourist bus I could find. Our bus was supposed to have WiFi but no AC. Despite the fact that the words “Free WiFi” were emblazoned across the ticket, there was none available whatsoever. Good news was that there was actually AC. Just don’t stress over the small stuff and enjoy the ride.
Pick your seat before you go
You can totally rock up and just buy a ticket directly from the bus, although you might be out of luck during peak season. I personally like to chose my seat beforehand. On our bus they had double booked some of the seats and I've heard this has happened to other people. This lead to a few squabbles but it all worked out. I think buying directly from a hotel is safest.
Some vendors will tell you that you cannot pre-book a specific seat. You can, just ask around until you find someone who gives you a ticket with a seat choice. It does not affect the price. Try get a seat on the river side of the bus, as it has the best views. For the first couple of hours, it doesn’t really matter but after that the views are stunning. Your ticket should have your bus number and your seat number on it.
It will take looooonger than you think
If you ask anyone selling tickets they will assure you that it is a quick 6 hour journey. This would be true if every bus were in top working order, there were no other vehicles on the roads and mother nature was completely on your side. Luckily I had heard beforehand that the journey to Pokhara is always delayed by something or other. Our trip to Pokhara took 10 hours. For the first two hours traffic moved at a snail’s pace and we spent long stretches of time at a complete standstill. Fortunately our bus did not break down but we did have a section of road washed out. Only one lane was open for both directions, so it took a considerable amount of time to get through. Our return bus to Kathmandu took 13 hours.
I’m not saying this to dissuade you from travelling by bus, but rather to help tweak your expectations. If you have it in your mind that it is only a 6 hour journey, you may start to stress when it takes much longer. Just know that you will get there by nightfall and you will see some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. You may also make some good friends along they way, so just kick back and relax.
Stock up on munchies in Kathmandu
There should be several planned stops along the way. My bus had one 15 min stop and two 25 min stops. Snacks at the rest stops are much more expensive than in Kathmandu. Everything is marked up. You will probably get a free water bottle during your trip. More expensive buses will also provide a bagged lunch. If you want a cheap hot lunch at one of the stops I find that chow mein is a good choice. It is usually one of the cheapest thing on the menu, it is made fresh in just a couple of minutes, and is filling. Please note that if you choose not to leave the bus during breaks you will be locked inside the bus. My bus had no toilet, which is fine by me as bus toilets tend to get funky pretty fast. I’m not even going imagine what 10 hours would do. Every stop has restrooms in varying degrees of cleanliness. Lastly, if you are prone to motion sickness, maybe hold back on the food. The route is very bumpy with constant zig-zagged roads and steep switchbacks.
Getting to your hotel/hostel in Pokhara
If you are heading in the same direction as the other passengers, which you probably are, arrange before you leave the bus to share a taxi with someone. (Unless you are already in a group) The second you get off the bus you will be inundated with offers by gung-ho taxi drivers to take you into town or find you a hotel. I’m pretty good at bargaining but I was not able to get anyone to budge on the price of a taxi. You can also cram into a local minibus for just a few rupees. Another option is to walk. It feels great to stretch your legs after a long bus ride. It is about a 30 min walk into the Lakeside area from the bus stop.
I hope this helps those of you travelling to Pokhara for the first time. This is just my personal experience. The most important thing I can say is be relaxed and be ready for things to go a little sideways. That’s the fun of travel.