It is almost dark and the traffic is heavy. Tashi has already made two rounds trying to find a parking space. Finally he parks his car near the Anaconda hotel in Phuentsholing. He must make a dash across the border to book a ticket to Kakarvitta, Nepal.
The transit town is flooded with people travelling to and from different places. The two-day strike across the border has left the travellers trying to find something useful to do.
At 7AM, Suraj checks the number of passengers in his Jeep. All present and ready to move. Suraj drives comfortably even as half his seat is occupied by one of the three passengers in the front. He changes the gear from between a passenger’s legs.
A young lady at the back seat shouts: “Four people in a seat for three and it is bloody uncomfortable.”
The drive is smooth on the four-lane highway. But Suraj has to stop at every checkpoint and give Rs 100 to the collector there. There are countless little checkpoints.
“God knows whether they put the money to right use,” says Suraj, turning to his passengers.
At Oodlabari, Suraj slows the jeep and parks at the roadside restaurant. It is breakfast time. And the ride begins again only to find there is a long line of vehicles. Movement of vehicles has been stopped by the supporters of Bhartiya Janata Party supporters in Siliguri to celebrate the party’s victory in Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir.
But the real traffic jam is here in Panitanki at the India-Nepal border. A long line of vehicles, including trailers, stretch to almost two kilometres. There is anger and frustration. Drivers are trying to make quick cuts. It’s just too noisy here. Cabbies are clever. They don’t wait in the jam. They take shortcut because they will have to be back in Jaigaon by evening.
Panitanki in India and Kakarvitta in Nepal are separated by Mechi River.
From Panitanki, one may choose to cross the border on over the bridge, which is about a kilometre long, or hire a rickshaw. Rickshaw drivers know faces and will cheat new visitors with practised guile.
There are several Nepalese police at the border gate. Immigration officials just look on. Foreigners are frisked.
About five kilometers away from the border gate, Dhulabari town is bustling. This is the town where many Bhutanese business traders visit for shopping. It’s fascinating how merciless a person can bargain in the shops.
“The spicy-fried dry buff meat is what I enjoy besides shopping here,” says 32-year-old Singye Wangmo. She buys many packets of buff meat for people back home.
By Nirmala Pokrel, Nepal