We had completed the stay in the last Indian city; it was time to move to foreign lands. The excitement of visiting places I had not been to before and the fact that I would be back in the homeland only after another 10 weeks created a mosaic of feelings. Arun Yadav, the Catering Inspector, came with the voucher for the food. After settling the ORH charges and the food bill we checked out. Arun Yadav attested the LBR log sheet and he piloted us to the highway and waved us on.
The road to Sunauli was more or less okay. However, as we approached the Indian border congestion caused by haphazard parking of trucks and accidents clogged the road, which was not narrow, but was made almost impassable due to indiscipline. The last 7 kilometers to the border took us more than a half hour. Mohan had arranged with Ravi to facilitate our passage through the Indian and Nepalese borders. Ravi worked for the Company that was operating an Inland Container Depot (ICD) on the Nepal border, Bhairawaha. As we reached the Indian departure gate he flagged us down and took the Carnet for completing formalities with Indian Customs. While he was at it we used the time to take photos. The Indian mobile SIM stopped working well short of the border. Indian Customs officials told me that they were dealing with such a case for the first time. Indian vehicles are taken to Nepal and China, but they always return to India. Here was a case where the car was being exported for close to three months. Therefore, they took time to decide how to deal with the Carnet. Finally they stamped the Carnet and gave us the green signal to go through to Nepal. I was much relieved.
The sweltering heat was sapping our energy. Lal made a turban of his short towel. The Indo-Nepal border is a dust bowl, dirty and grimy. We moved the car into the ICD and went with documents to the Customs officials in Nepal. Ravi, who has excellent relations with all the officials on both sides, was patient and cooperative. The Nepal Customs Commissioner pointed out that the paperwork done by India Customs was not in order. Therefore, we had to go back to the Indian border to correct the paperwork. It took up a lot of time in hot and humid conditions. Ravi made us comfortable in his room with tea and snacks. He also helped us procure local pre-paid SIM cards; we were charged even for resizing the SIM to fit the micro sockets! But, the entire process was handled expertly and efficiently once the passports and photographs were produced. We were ready to move to Kathmandu after almost three hours at the border.
Ravi instructed his driver to lead us on to the road that bypassed Bhairawaha whereby we saved time and gained distance. A short distance after the bypass, on the main road to Bhumayi, we came across a place called “London Bridge”. Had we arrived at our destination? By 2 pm we spotted a neat restaurant cum lodge and dropped in to have lunch. The thali meal was superb. The owner of the place, Dharm as the youngster introduced himself, was keen to know a great deal about the journey. He was fascinated to know that we would be taking the car through to the UK. He had worked in the Gulf for a while and had Indian friends. He was a fan of Indian movies through that association.
A feature of the drive through Bhumayi, Narayanghat and Mungling was the verdant and lush green landscape. The villages and small towns that we passed by were neat and clean too. We did not see any garbage and filth strewn around or accumulated. Except for the approach road to Kathmandu which was grooved and tricky and the winding ghat road en route to Bhumayi it was a smooth ride all the way to Kathmandu. It was 7 pm by the time we entered the city. I was struck by the large number of taxis parked all over. The taxis were all white, mostly Maruti 800s, and had black number plates with white lettering, while the general vehicles had red number plates.
Mohan had arranged with Prashant to meet us at Kalanki, a junction in Kathmandu, to be piloted to the flat where our stay arrangements were had been made. Since we got to Kalanki earlier than Prashant did he asked us to drive to another meeting point from where we took the steep climb to the TCH Tower IV where Mohan had his flat. The comfortable two bedroom flat was furnished and ready for us. It turned out that Prashant belonged to the family that co-operated the ICD in Birganj. He gave me a fair understanding of the places to visit in Kathmandu. The Swayambunath temple, familiar with Keralites for its depiction in the popular film ‘Yodha’, was clearly visible from the balcony of the flat.
Indian currency is very widely accepted. Research on Nepal had led me to understand that it was illegal to exchange denominations of 500 and 1000. Therefore, I carried bundles of 100s to take care of the expenditure in Nepal. However, the change will be given only in Nepali rupee (NPR). After we had settled the luggage and taken leave of Prashant we walked a short distance from the residential complex and bought Tuborg beer from a store. Each bottle cost 220 NPR. The chilled beer provided welcome relief from the humid air. Even though Mohan had got dinner prepared for us we did not get through it.