PICS: RUPA JOSHI
With Prithbi Narayan Shah breathing down his neck in 1767, a desperate Jayaprakash Malla, the king of Kantipur, had sent an SOS to the East India Company in Bettiah, asking to be rescued. Kinloch was despatched with 2,400 soldiers and approached through Sindhuli, heading for Panauti and the most direct route into the Kathmandu valley.
Were a similar invasion launched today, the soldiers would find themselves cruising up a smooth mountain highway from the plains. The road is built to Japanese specifications, with massive retaining walls, culverts and drainage channels. The only problem, say bus and truck drivers, is that the gradients are too steep in places and the road is too narrow.
Under construction for the past 12 years, the 158km highway is now nearing completion. Winding from Dhulikhel down to Bardibas, it will reduce travel times for people journeying east from the capital by up to eight hours. At present, a bus from Kathmandu to Biratnagar first has to make a 200km detour west to Mugling and back.
The stretch of road from Sindhuli Bajar to Sindhuli Gadhi was completed a couple of years ago and, because it has not seen much traffic, it still looks pristine. The grass on the verges, free of the garbage that normally litters Nepali roads, appears almost manicured.
When the highway is finished, probably in the autumn, Sola Bhanjyang will be an exciting and easy 80km from Dhulikhel. Maybe then heritage conservationists, researchers and students will take an interest in restoring the fort that harks back to the glory of our past.
Rupa Joshi in Sindhuli
A long and winding road
When completed, the 158km road will provide the most direct route between Kathmandu and the eastern Tarai, linking Dhulikhel on the Arniko Highway with Bardibas on the East-West Highway, and reducing the distance from Bardibas to the capital by 200km.
The first section, the 37km from Bardibas to Sindhuli Bajar, was finished in March 1998 and is open to traffic, with 26km tarmacked and 11km on gravel. In January 2001 work began on the second part, the 39km from Sindhuli Bajar to Khurkot. All except 10km of this section has been finished. The 50km stretch between Dhulikhel and Nepalthok has also been finished, but work on the final section, the 32km from Khurkot to Nepalthok, has not yet begun although a rough track has been opened.
Shiva Ghimire, the senior project engineer, says the road may not be convenient for heavy trucks as it is only 5.5m wide and is intended for light vehicles. He says it had to be designed this way because of the difficult terrain and lack of funds. Work on the road was delayed two years by the conflict.