As you descend from the foothills, the plains begin as if cut by a knife. Suddenly the steep road comes to an end and from there onwards, it is all just… flat. And humid. This sudden change is visible in everyday life as well. Suddenly there are throngs of people, bicycles and carts. Dust is everywhere, again. Roads run straight and are lined by settlements. human activity is present all around you. This change is a bit jarring even.
The border crossing from India to Nepal goes over a hydro power dam. The respective borders are almost a kilometer apart, which in between makes for a small refuge for nature. An untouched area where wild animals can seek shelter. In a way it acts as a continuation of the nearby Shukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve. As neither Nepalis or Indians need to go through immigration when crossing the border, it doesn’t even feel like crossing from one country to another. Just a nature road between two towns separated by a river. Had I not been actively seeking out the immigration office to get my passport stamped, I would have missed the building. I could have also entered the country without any checks. The only sign of this being a border were three customs officers who, to be honest, did ask me whether I’d gone through immigration. But even they were completely satisfied with my “yes I did” and proceeded to check the bags of a trader coming behind me. I was amused but also happy. Welcome to Nepal!
I’d entered Nepal at the very end of the East-West Highway. Running close to Nepal’s southern border it is the only road to connect different parts of the country together and would server as my only possible route to Kathmandu. Parts of Nepal are so mountainous that there exists no parallel route to the Highway, meaning to get from one valley to another you’d have to drive all the way south to the highway and then back up. There are some caveats though. Maps in Nepal are notoriously poor. There are plenty of roads that do not exist on maps, many of them passable by bike. Then again there are others which have become impassable to vehicles. Furthermore, there are large areas restricted to foreigners, specially in the Far West, which require special permits to visit. So in theory I believe it would have been possible to travel from where I was to Kathmandu without using the highway, but not under my current circumstances. So basically I was on the home stretch.
The long straight roads in Nepal are different from the ones in India. I don’t know how, but it feels a bit less dusty and a bit more green. Perhaps it has something to do with there also being less people here.There is also less traffic. During the first day I saw plenty of buses and trucks, but maybe only 10 cars. Half of those had diplomatic license plates meaning they were there on development work. The main vehicle for locals here was a tractor, but for now all of those were sitting in queues on the roadside, waiting for diesel. The fuel crisis brought about by India’s blockade was still in full force here. Many people were riding bicycles, but most were simply walking. Thankfully the weather was good for it. Not too humid or scorching.
Compared to India, Nepal felt more poor, but happy. People seemed more cheerful, obviously took better care of their appearance and their homes. But the homes were more likely to be built of bricks (or even mud-plastered bamboo) rather than concrete as they were in India. Roadside stalls and eateries were also no longer solid buildings, but wooden shacks or tin-roofed huts. Schools were also more basic – there wasn’t a single building the size of “_aples Ac_demy”, but they were very well taken taken care of. No missing letters or cracking paint over here. Actually, to correct myself, it looked poor compared to Uttarakhand. Uttar Pradesh was still in a league of its own.