Sunday, August 21, 2011
Border Crossings After 25 Years !
By Manuwant Choudhary
Its nearly 25 years since I finished school from St. Joseph's College, North Point, Darjeeling and so when an old friend Sanjay Sharma calls saying he is visiting my district in Bihar and that too will come by train (for the first time in his life) if I agreed to receive him is a sure surprise.
Sanjay and I studied together since class 2 and by some coincidence our parents always and I mean always stayed at the same hotel `New Elgin', owned and run by a great hotelier Diamond Oberoi.
Sanjay's father Mr. Tansen Sharma, a prominent businessman from Kathmandu, would come to Darjeeling in a very large white Ford, while our white amby would be parked just behind his Ford.
His father and my father got on pretty well. They would sit in a bar late into the evening. His father would order a Limca for my father (as my father did not take alcohol).
It was here that my father met many underground Nepali Congressmen many of whom became Prime Ministers of Nepal in an unstable democracy.
Sanjay I remember was good at studies and sports and for us at boarding he sure had the most amazing taste for music and at our library reading post dinner sessions he played us the classics on a Sonodyne.
So I did receive him at the train station. He was here on a personal visit but he stayed at my place too but Bihar is not an easy place to visit and he was lucky enough that he only caught a `flu'.
But how does one really mark an event like meeting an old friend after 25 years?
Sanjay is `Global' having lived in most parts of the world as his father owned an export-import business so it was really interesting to know about his vast experiences.
I had my own share.
We had just too much to catch up on.
So I offered to drive him to Birganj, a border town in Nepal.
But I decided not to take the normal Muzaffarpur-Raxaul route instead try a new one - The East West Express Corridor.
So early 4 am we were on the road through Muzaffarpur-Darbhanga. But we were surprised that the Super Highway is still incomplete at many places so we had to take diversions and sometimes even a detour through Bihar villages.
We were told that a company owned by the son of India's former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao was given the road contract but because they did not pay local mafia work had been stalled. `But now locals have been taken care off.'
This was like driving halfway across the Bihar-Nepal border, then entering Nepal, and then driving again halfway across the Nepal border.
At Phulparas Sanjay's relative was ready with some home cooked parathas and medicines and then we took a left turn near Bhotaha Chowk (The Ghost Crossing) towards Kunauli border.
The road from then on was unmetalled so we could drive only in first gear.
I wanted this journey for long because I wanted to discover a new route, to drive through better roads and have to deal with lesser traffic.
But the road to the border was just too long.
And there was no traffic !
No fences either.
Suddenly we see armed Gurkhas under a tent and we ask if we were in Nepal and they confirmed, Yo Nepal Hunchha....
Sanjay asked them where we could take the permit for the car (bhansar) and they informed the office was on the left side road a kilometre away but that our car could not go there. We could only take it upto a point.
So we took the left side but suddenly we came across a culvert and I knew my Sonata would definitely fail here. Sanjay believed it would make it. I tried. And failed. So we decided to leave the car there and walk to the office.
Sanjay took my car papers and I followed him a little behind.
There was another culvert I was sure my car would not have manouvered.
Then suddenly I noticed Sanjay moving into the paddy fields. I thought my friend had truly lost it !
Until I came to that very spot I realised why - there was no road - water flowed across.
I too removed my shoes, pulled up my trousers and wade across.
When we arrived at the office we found the office was also marooned.
Water all around and so we carefully went across.
Inside a Nepali officer wearing just a vest was sweating it out. There was no electricity.
He seemed surprised that we took this route.
And asked us that he wanted to see the car.
We told him it cannot come here and was parked a kilometre away (He would need binoculors to see the number plate)
He just gave us the papers.
So very soon we were happy to be driving on the Nepal side on the border on the King Mahindar Highway.
Sanjay's fever was better after walking into the warm flood waters but the drive was too long so he was getting impatient.
Also we would have to drive across dense forests.
It was beautiful.
Forests on both sides and a straight road running into the sunset.
During the royal rule for every tree cut three would be replanted but now deforestation was severe and the rules mostly ignored
And we spoke about everything in our lives - our successes and failures - and about the one girl we really liked.
Sanjay said he was without news for a few days now and it would be great to watch television at the hotel.
Nearing Birganj we met up with a hail storm.
And the ice stones were large.
We inched our way into Birganj, could barely see the road.
At Birganj we stayed a hotel.
Dinner and brandy and some TV news.
Not much had happened.
Nepal's politicians were still quarelling over how to write a new Constitution.
The next morning Sanjay looked better and we drove him to the aiport before returning via Raxaul-Motihari-Muzaffarpur highway.
I smiled told him that now he will definitely remember me.
He threatened, ` Wait till you come to Kathmandu I will make you climb a mountain called `Manokamna'.
But my return journey was not so pleasant.
There were literally no roads from Raxaul to Motihari.
The photo you see above is taken at the Motihari bypass.
Trucks were stuck trying to jump across lake-size potholes or as they say `Sadak mein gaddha yaa gaddhe mein sadak'.
Its when you see this that you will truly understand that India is a very corrupt country and we need not one but a thousand Anna Hazare's.
And surely one Lokpal is just too little.