With only a month to go before the Maoists' unilateral ceasefire ends, a lone policeman this week guards the barbwired and landmined perimeter of Khalanga, the capital of Rukum. He hasn't seen any Maoists lately, just people streaming in and out for the festivals.
This sandbagged sentry post is as far as the government's writ goes in this midwestern district where the Maoist rebellion started 10 years ago. The ceasefire has brought down the daily death count in the war, development activities have picked up and political parties in many places find the situation more relaxed. At the Nepalganj border, despite the new rule to carry photo IDs, Nepalis are coming home for Tihar, Id and Chhat.
But the Maoist blockade remains in place in Khalanga, where traders have to pay exorbitant taxes to the rebels to bring in food and essentials. There are strong rumours of a Maoist offensive once the ceasefire ends and in district headquarters throughout the midwest the army is fortifying bunkers and reinforcing bases.