Flying is by far the easiest way to get from Varanasi to Nepal’s capital, avoiding the long combination bus/train journey and complicated border crossings. Unfortunately, Air India is currently the only operator that runs the 45 minute direct flight and offers just one flight a day several times a week. To make matters worse the airport officials create a frenzied mess out of what should be an easy flight out of the sleepy little Varanasi airport.
Check-in for the 12:30pm flight to Kathmandu opens at 10:30AM. You cannot get your bags screened beforehand so there is no sense in arriving earlier. Like at other Indian airports, checked bags are screened before you check-in at the airline counter.
Most of the passengers on this flight were with tour groups, making the lines at check-in more congested and time consuming than normal. Hang back and let the tour groups finish; international security doesn’t open until about an hour before departure.
Between passport control and security is a customs process that involves making a list of everyone in your group (they will make the list for you if you are just one or two people) and declaring any hard currency you are carrying. There is a sign that is mostly hidden from view that states that it is prohibited to bring Indian Rupee notes of 500 or greater into Nepal. If you declare that you have large Rupee notes they make you exchange them for 100 notes at the money exchange near the entrance of the airport. A fee of 20 Rupees per note is charged at the friendly exchange office. While we saw signs stating the same regulation in Nepal no one ever asked about any Indian currency we might be carrying when we entered Kathmandu.
Since almost everyone is unaware of what is going on, the line at the customs desk is chaotic. Just chill and wait your turn. They eventually get to everyone and then the line backs up at security. It feels like you will surely miss your flight, but since this is the only international flight at this time of day everyone in line is headed to the same place. When everyone finally gets through security and boards the plane they close the doors and plane takes off on time.
It’s a confusing and maddening process for the passengers but seems to work fine for the Indians, and hey, at least you’re not taking the bus.
Note: I had difficulty booking the Varanasi – Kathmandu flight on the Air India website and ended up booking it through flightnetwork.com.
October 26, 2012