Nepali Times Asian Paints
Road closed


On 16 February we left Kathmandu for our destination: Tehrathum in eastern Nepal. After six days, we were forced to backtrack 1,000 km across Nepal to Butwal. There, we stopped because finally we could go no further.

We avoided the Prithbi Highway by taking the unconventional route to Hetauda via Dakhsinkali. At Kulekhani, an army sentry told us we were the only car he'd seen that day. The Tribhuban Highway in Bhainse was empty. There were some motorcycles in Hetauda but no cars.

The next morning, we passed a convoy of 50 tankers and trucks escorted by an army mine-protected vehicle. At Patlaiya junction, we were waved on at the checkpoint: only press and ambulances were being allowed unescorted.

We passed patrols clearing tree trunks from the road and saw only two passenger buses on the 50 km stretch to Nijgad. Joined by a tractor full of merry marriage-goers we reached a deserted Chandra Nighapur in time for lunch. A landmine on the Kamala Bridge had just been defused, we pressed on towards Lahan and didn't see a single vehicle till Itahari.

Turning north we got into Dharan. A journey that would normally have taken 12 hours had already lasted two full days. The next morning we heard that the Dhankuta road was blocked by booby-trapped power pylons, but we drove up to Bhedetar thinking we could still make it to Tehrathum. Not possible, so we headed back towards Jhapa. East of Itahari, there were only bicycles, and at Belbari locals told us there was "some action" up ahead and the road was closed, so we returned to Itahari.

By now we had no destination, we were wandering aimlessly around Nepal. Continuing westwards the next morning we passed a long line of trucks, buses and taxis near Lalbandi all moving at the same speed. It looked like a long train being pulled by an armoured personnel carrier.

We talked our way past checkpoints, defied warnings and risked going to Birganj by nightfall. The next day we headed north towards Bharatpur, the road was clear but there were checkpoints every step of the way. At Lothar there was another convoy of vehicles headed in the opposite direction. An army Alouette hovered overhead. We wanted to turn off and go back to Kathmandu but the road was blocked at Krishna Bhir. What to do?

We headed west, past heavy army patrols and convoys and several long-distance rickshaws carrying cargo from Narayanghat to Butwal, a distance of 100 km. Rotten tomatoes had been dumped by the roadside by farmers who couldn't take them to market.

At Kawasoti, a roadside resident was sick of it all: "At night the Maoists force us to pile rocks on the road, by day the soldiers come and tell us to clear them." From Butwal we could go no further, the road to Lamahi and Pokhara were both blocked.

A highway allows you to get to get your destination, it is not by itself a destination. If you are a traveler on Nepal's roads these days, having a destination you can reach is a luxury.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)