From Banbassa to Mahendranagar
Thakurdwara (Nepal), December 10th 2007

After a lot of thinking, we decided to go. We want to cross the border between India and Nepal in the far west of Nepal, near the town of Mahendranagar. We have spent last weeks several hours on the internet to find information about the security situation in the west of Nepal. The travel books and travel advices of different western countries are quite clear; do not travel in western Nepal. Some countries even advice not to go to Nepal at all. However, we decided to go.

Nepal was between 2001 and 2006 involved in an internal war. The fighting parties were the Nepalese government on one hand and the Maoists on the other hand. The reason for the war is older. Already years ago, the Maoist started demanding social changes in Nepal because the prosperity of the country was unfairly divided over the different groups in the country. For the government, Nepal was not more than Kathmandu and its valley. All the other areas of the country were neglected. So, the social change demanded by the Maoists was a reasonable one. However, the government did not give any attention to the dissatisfaction of many people in the country. In 2001 the conflict escalated. The Maoist went to the mountains and started a “people’s war” against the Nepalese government. Even after this declaration, the government did not take the problem seriously and did not prepare the army properly for the upcoming war. The result was disastrous. The army and government became victim of the guerrilla attacks from the Maoists. Army camps, police stations, bridges, etc became targets for the Maoists. The moral of the army and police personnel declined to an absolute minimum. Only later, the government gave approval to the army to fight back. A domestic war was started.

Kids near the Karnali bridge in Western Nepal

The Maoists, who were at the beginning only active in the western part of Nepal, did also terrorise the residents of Nepal. To buy weapons and to have food, the Maoists demanded money and food from the villagers as contribution for the war for social changes. The contribution was not voluntary. If people refused to pay, they first got a warning. A second refusal led to broken bones or amputated limps while a third refusal meant that they were shot. So, the Maoists who started years ago with a legitimate and peaceful protest against the social situation in the country transformed itself to a guerrilla like organisation, terrorising the people of Nepal. The situation for the people of Nepal even got worse when also the army started killing. There was no mercy for the people who contributed to the Maoists. Everybody who supported the Maoists was killed by the army, even if people were forced by the Maoists to contribute. Thousands of people lost their lives in this war. In many villages in the mountains, many men between 15 and 55 years old were killed. The children, women and elderly people survived because they were spared by the fighting parties.

In 2006 the situation improved after the Maoists joined the parliament. The government promised more democracy after the role of the king as absolute ruler was diminished to a ceremonial role. Since that time, the situation improved. But Nepal is still not a quite and peaceful country. In 2007, the Maoists left the parliament because the chances they demanded were not implemented (fast enough). As a result, the elections that were planned for November 2007 are postponed and no new date is set yet. How things will proceed is highly uncertain. But fortunately, the parties are still talking to each other and the Maoists declared that they will not take up the arms again (for the moment). The visible aspects of the conflict are visible on a daily basis on the highways. Many military checkpoints must prevent that weapons are smuggled through the country or that bomb attacks on governmental places take place. The Maoists are also still active in the mountains. They demand a “voluntary contribution” from foreign travellers who are hiking in the mountains. But also this contribution is not voluntary. There are stories about travellers who refused to pay and ended beaten up by the Maoists. The going tariff is € 1, - per person per day. You do not have to be afraid that you have to pay several times during the same trekking. After paying the contribution you will get a receipt from the Maoists as proof that you have paid the “tax”. On the receipt there are the pictures of the communistic leaders Mao, Stalin, Lenin and Che Guevara. Some travellers even got a discount of 50% from the Maoists after they could mention the four names of the communistic leaders!

Ivonne is cuddling a baby elephant in Thakurdwara (Bardia N.P.)
Because it is relatively quite at the moment, we decided to travel also through the western part of Nepal. We took the train from Delhi to Bareilly, and changed to a bus that took us to the Indian border town of Banbassa. Because the train between Delhi and Bareilly was a slow one, we did not manage to reach Nepal in the same day. For that reason we had to stay one more day in India. Because there is no suitable hotel in the border town of Banbassa, we decided to stay in the nearby village of Khatima. The next day we hitchhiked to Banbassa from where it was another five kilometre bicycle-rickshaw drive to the border. Cars can only pass the border a limited number of hours per day. For people like us who want to cross the border by foot, the border is open 24 hours. For Nepalese and Indian citizens, the border is “open”. That means that they do not have to go through immigration and customs. They can cross the border without showing any papers. So, the immigration people at both sides of the border are there only to “serve” the foreign travellers. And when you know that not many foreign travellers cross the border at the point, the immigration guys are not particularly busy. They spent the day drinking tea and reading the newspapers. When we approach the Indian immigration officials, they are happy with the fact that they can do some work. The two officials are sitting behind a table in front of the immigration office. They push aside their tea and the newspapers and welcome us friendly. The two officials have very strict responsibilities. One official carefully checks the visa application forms we filled in, while the other official writes down all our details in a big book and stamps our passports. After all the official activities we have a short chat with them, after which we pick up our backpacks and start walking to the Nepalese immigration. It is a one kilometre walk through no man’s land from the Indian immigration post to the Nepalese one. Nepalese bicycle-rickshaw driver approach you already for the ride from the border to the nearby little town of Mahendranagar. They are also very helpful showing you the Nepalese immigration post and the little bank. At the Nepalese immigration post we are friendly welcomed by the immigration dog. The small white dog is happy with the arrival of new “customers”. Also the Nepalese immigration officials are very pleasant and after paying $30.- each, they put the visas in our passports. Afterwards we change our Indian Rupees in Nepalese Rupees and take the bicycle rickshaw to Mahendranagar. This is without doubt the most relaxed border crossing we ever had.

It is amazing to see how quiet it is in Nepal, if you compare it with the Indian side of the border. There are no auto-rickshaws and also the number of busses, cars and trucks are limited. Most vehicles on the street are bicycles. From the border we took the very scenic bicycle rickshaw ride to Mahendranagar. The ride took us through the rice fields and we heard often children yelling “Namaste” (= Hello) to us. After we arrived in Mahendranagar we checked in into hotel Opera and enjoyed the hospitality and quietness of Nepal for a couple of days, before taking the bus to Bardia National Park. We also did a great daytrip to the fabulous suspension bridge just outside Mahendranagar. Our first impression about Nepal is in one word: great!

© copyright - / 2007