Roadblock!

Actually, many roadblocks. But I’ll get to that.

Today we managed to be in three different countries. We set off from Bhutan at 7am with the help of our two guides, and entered India by bus. After three hours or so, we arrived in Siliguri where a very nice taxi driver helped us locate an ATM so we would have enough Indian Rupees for the drive to the Nepalese border.

Around an hour later we entered a queue. While we were sat in it, waiting to reach the Indian immigration, a random man walked up to our cab and punched our driver through the open window! He then stormed off, turned round, shouted and adjusted the belt on his trousers. While he was doing this, our driver and co-driver armed themselves with a wrench and screwdriver from the glove box.

Thankfully the madman wandered off and the weapons weren’t used. We never did find out what was going on.

Finally, we reached the immigration point and checked out of India for the last time. Then a quick jump back into the car for the half-mile or so drive to Nepalese immigration to check into our third country of the day. We paid our driver a total of 400 Rupees. He’d started at 350 Rupees for a car that should take seven passengers, but there was nobody else going to Nepal. We’d agreed to 350 between the two of us, but he dropped the price to 300 without us even asking. Given how long he sat in the queue and the fact that he got a faceful of fist, we thought a 100INR tip was fair.

At Nepalese immigration, we checked the visa options of which there are four:

  • Up to three days – free
  • First visit in calendar year for 60 days – $US30
  • Extension or second visit within a year for 30 days – $US30
  • Multi-entry – $US80

We were heading for the 60-day one when the guard asked us where we were going. “Kathmandu”, we replied. “Not by bus you’re not”, he told us.

Bugger.

It seems that there have been some “strikes” and a fair amount of civil unrest around the south east of the country. As a result, there are umpteen roads blocked between the border where we were and Kathmandu. Buses simply weren’t going that way, and a private car/taxi was just as impossible. The only option – by air.

Of course, this means that the price of the tickets had artificually risen with Nepalese even paying more than the usual tourist rate to travel within their own country.

I opted for the free 3-day visa on the understanding I could extend it to 30 days once in Kathmandu if I decided to stay long enough. Hans got the 60-day one.

An American woman popped in on her way out of Nepal into India, and recommended a travel agency she used a lot. Thanks to her, we walked to Sharman Travel around the corner and they sorted us out with two flights for the next day at $US128 apiece. This is around double the usual price, but that’s capitalism for you. Given that the only other option would be to exit back into India and get another bus all the way along the southern border, past Kathmandu and then NE into the capital (around 24 hours solid drive) there wasn’t a whole lot of choice.

He also agreed to accept cash for one ticket and to allow me to pay by Visa at the airport for the second. This wasn’t something I should have been able to do but we simply had no other option. There are no ATMs in Kakarbhitta and the local bank won’t advance cash against a Visa card. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get on any of today’s flights. Tomorrow was the soonest.

So as it turns out, it’s a good thing that Hans had a load of US Dollars on him and that I hadn’t used thirty of them to get myself a visa on entry! As it was, between them and the handful of Indian Rupees and Bhutanese Ngultrums we had left, we had just enough for: one plane ticket, one hotel room, two veg talis in the restaurant and the taxi to the airport in the morning.

Small blessing – the hotel room had a TV with cable so we could at least watch crap films and the footie to while away the time. Only as we settled in, the power failed. So we went for a walk instead.

As it happens, this was worthwhile. Kakarbhitta is tiny. Which is why it wasn’t too hard to find every other non-Nepalese/Indian in the place. Within fifteen minutes, we’d determined that the tourist population of the town was seven, including the two of us.

We stood like a UN meeting in the street: two Americans, a Canadian, a Brit, a Manx, a Pole and a guy from Switzerland. Everyone else had been in town for two to four days waiting for the buses to start again. Apparently a Dutch girl had flown out the day before after an amazing two weeks in this place. How she didn’t go stir crazy, I’ll never know.

The American girl – Hannah, I think – managed to find a shop which makes the Nepalese equivalent of a hacky-sack. Basically, it’s a bunch of elastic bands tied together by another elastic band. A small game of keepie-uppie was formed – Hans and I watched as the Americans tried to convince passing schoolkids to join in. They managed to get two of them interested at one point.

This, believe it or not, killed an hour. Yes, we were that bored. At 5:00, Hans and I realised we’d not eaten since 6am and went off to get that veg thali we could barely afford. Thankfully it was nice.

So, still an evening to kill before watching the live footie at around 9:30. In the meantime, NEO+ Sports are showing ManUre v Norwich from around twelve years ago!

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