A friend in India sent a car over to take Artha Beed from Siliguri in India to Dharan in eastern Nepal. The journey in this car bearing Indian licence plates was an ordeal, and left very little doubt in my mind that we Nepalis have found that taxing Indian vehicles legitimately and illegitimately is our national weapon to vent our anger against India. We take revenge against Big Brother by hassling and fleecing every Indian vehicle. For a country that depends quite a bit on Indian overland tourists for revenue, this is a fairly short-sighted activity. Many of them swear never to return to Nepal.
It began at the shabby gate at Kakarvitta on the Nepal side of the border. The first was the Rs 30 stop. Nepali cops ask for Indian Rs 30 not Nepali Rs 30, and you'd be pretty foolish to question this if you are sitting inside an Indian car. The next is the entry permit-we were given a receipt for Rs 370, the customs personnel insisted payment in Indian currency, IRs 250, which meant another thirty rupees into the informal sector. Then there was the guy at the gate who wanted 'tea money'. Rs 10 in Indian currency.
As the car was parked on the highway while these not-so-official transactions went on, I discovered what decentralisation in Nepal really means. It has empowered municipalities along the highways to conduct highway robbery in broad daylight. We were asked to pay for parking our vehicle on the national highway -Rs 20, as the car bore Indian plates. The next stop was to collect the temporary Nepali licence plates, for Rs 50. We were told to pay IRs 50 without a receipt or face the consequences.
The next stop on this eventful journey was to confront various barricades put up by locals on the national highway. The first was a group of six youth under the protection of a policeman who demanded IRs 100 as Dasain pocket money. The sight of the cop frightened the driver enough for him to reach for his wallet, but I put up a fight. In the end I left without paying, but two cars in front were not so lucky. Extortion under protection, a blend imported and perfected so well that it is now a fully Nepali phenomenon.
I had by now worked up a sweat, and it wasn't the heat of the plains. We drove into dusty Dhulabari to get some water and soft drinks. The entry fee was Rs 16 for Indian vehicles and Rs 10 for Nepali once. We denounce countervailing duties, but we love to make this difference ourselves. The next stop was at Urlabari where a member of Urlabari's finest asked for Dasain money. We gave him a dirty finger instead, and moved on.
At last we were at the Dharan municipality gate to pay the entry fee. The guardian of Dharan told us that we had not taken a permit from the Yatayat Bibhag (Department of Transport) at Itahari. He coolly told us to turn around, drive back the 17 km and get that permit. When told that we were not informed by anybody that we required this document, he replied it was not his problem. After dropping a couple of names, and depositing my driving licence he let us go reluctantly. The net travel time was just over two hours-the total travel time was well over three and a half.
A country that depends on tourism for most of its income-much of it from across the southern border-should be going out of its way to welcome Indians to use our roads. Charge them by all means, especially since our roads are much better than theirs. It used to be Nepalis had to travel through India to get to another part of Nepal. Today, it is the other way around. But it won't be for much longer if our policemen behave like dacoits. The Canadians don't have much love lost for Americans, either, but the Mounties don't harass Yankees. t
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