Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014

A tale of two towns

The 68-kilometre national highway is mostly a dirt track near Raxaul.  Source: Prashant Ravi The 68-kilometre national highway is mostly a dirt track near Raxaul. (Source: Express photo Prashant Ravi)
Written by Rakesh Sinha | Posted: August 3, 2014 12:06 am | Updated: August 3, 2014 10:12 am

As PM Narendra Modi lands in Kathmandu today, RAKESH SINHA hits NH28-A, a dirt track that leads to Raxaul, the last town on the Indian side of the border with Nepal, crosses over through the open border to Birgunj, the bustling town that lies on the other side, and finds that 3 km can mean a world of difference. Photographs by Prashant Ravi.

Long hauls don’t tire Habib Sheikh. From Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, he makes his runs, driving his truck across states, never asking questions why people order what they do. He does what he is told: drop the consignment, get back, prepare for the next run. The cargo of red chillies turns his eyes red, flares the nostrils, but he never complains. It is the only job he knows, one which keeps the family going. Yet Habib despairs each time he is told to head to Raxaul, a town in Bihar which sits on the Nepal border and is 200 km from state capital Patna. Because 30 km before Raxaul, the NH-28A disappears and morphs into a dirt track, the clouds of dust forcing him to peer through the windscreen. Pebbles fly dangerously from beneath the tyres as he drives past boards which say work on the national highway is in progress. But he recalls having seen the boards on his earlier runs. The road looks the same.

Bustling Birgunj is the commercial capital of Nepal. An industrial corridor stretches from here to Pathlaiya. Bustling Birgunj is the commercial capital of Nepal. An industrial corridor stretches from here to Pathlaiya.

Closer to Raxaul, the dirt track gives way to pools of rain water. Slush leaps on to his truck as tankers, container carriers, jeeps race past to join the queue to enter Birgunj, the gateway to Nepal. Habib too joins the race, slowing down only when he enters Raxaul bazaar. He knows the wait to the border check point has begun. “The last time I was here, the queue was so long that I had to wait five days to enter Birgunj. Hopefully, I will get there sooner this time. Why can’t they fix this road, make the border crossing simpler?”

The 68-kilometre national highway is mostly a dirt track near Raxaul. The 68-kilometre national highway is mostly a dirt track near Raxaul.

The queue to Birgunj is already 3 km long, packed with smoke-belching oil tankers, emulsion tankers, LPG tankers, trucks carrying spices, and goods that you and I need routinely, daily. The registration plates tell you that they are from every part of the country — Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Nagaland, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, continued…

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