Getting through border during Maoist strikes

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May 7th 2010
Published: August 21st 2010
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1: Maoist Riots 7 secs
2: 6 secs

7/5/10: The Nepal border has been closed for 4 days now with the Maoist striking and the whole of Nepal was shut down. We had conformation that they smuggled some tourist through the border yesterday, but if they needed to go the the airport had to take a cycle rickshaw for 2hours as all vehicles weren’t allowed to run whilst striking. Unsure of what we were up against we decided to try getting through anyway. The plan was to catch a jeep to Silliguri 3hours away then catch another jeep to Katavetta 1hour away where we would get out departure stamp from India then cross the border by foot a kilometer away and get our Nepal visa’s then travel by rickshaw to the airport for 2hours just in time to catch the last 2:30 flight to Kathmandu; that’s the plan but I don't think it will work? We had to get up early to catch a jeep to Siliguri so we headed out of our hotel around 6:30am to see what we could get. As soon as we walked into the main transport street we were asked if we wanted to go to Silliguri, we happily said yes. The price was right, even better the shared jeep wasn't packed to the rafters with people, so far we had a great start to the morning. It didn’t last long; straight after we got out of Darjeeling we hit a traffic jam, this set us back 45min to the 3hour drive to Silliguri. We arrived back to the realism of India’s; traffic, noise, pollution, heat and the hassle. It was so nice in Darjeeling they had none of these things, even the people look the different; more like Nepalese than Indian. The minute we arrived and stepped out of the jeep I had a young guy overhear us talking about Nepal. He said he had a private car to take us to the border. We told him we wanted a share jeep as it was cheaper. He said we could have the private car for 70rs each, this sounded all right so we walked 200m to his car. Just before we got to the car he started to whisper something in broken English? “Boss not no, I take care you, say nothing” I was pretty sure what it meant; it meant that we were going to pay too much and he was going to pocket the commission. We turned up and it wasn't even a private car it was another shared jeep. I went off at the guy for wasting my time; I then had to bargain another jeep ride to the border. We ended up getting a price of 50rs/person for the jeep but the problem was we had no one to share it with. Nobody was going to Nepal, absolutely no one, even the drivers were saying everything closed in Nepal and nothing was open. We were a little concerned about how we were going to get into Nepal but you never know until you try. Another guy said he could do 50rs/person in his little van; this was a much better option as we only needed another three people to fill the van before we left. We waited and waited; the guy approached us saying if we paid 100rs each we could go straight away instead of waiting. I declined the offer straight away but later relented after waiting half hour.
I still thought we might make the last flight to Kathmandu, 5min down the road we hit another traffic jam, this lasted 45mins making the journey 1:45min long. It was stinking hot in the little van as there was no breeze at all. We finally got through the mess finding out that the traffic was due to no one taking care of traffic control at some road works. The traffic was left to their own, in India that means chaos; I will never complain about traffic control at road works again! We finally reached the border outpost officially signing ourselves out of India for the first time in over 3months and maybe the last time forever. It felt great to be moving on, even though it was into an unstable country. We walked the 800m over the bridge to the Nepal border, we filled in the paperwork and paid the $40USD each for the one month visa. We had a guy meet us at the border so we could buy the plane tickets for $147USD but when I asked where the ATM was he said it wasn't working because of the strike, credit card facilities were also down; the country was really in lockdown. We only had enough money for a hotel room for one night, food and transport to the airport. So with no money there would be no flight. The strike was quiet evident when we walked down the main street to find our hotel, there was nobody in town or at least we thought so. The only people hanging around were the rickshaw drivers and the riot Police dressed up in full riot gear. They were on every street corner and seemed quiet bored. We found a hotel for 350 Indian rs which was quiet alright for the price. We chilled in our room and had lunch. I asked the hotel about the closed ATM; he used to work in the bank and could give the guard a ring. This might be just what we need to get money out from the ATM. He rang and let me know immediately that it would be impossible as they had just shut the bank because protesters were throwing rocks at the bank windows for trading in strike hours. We weren’t even allowed to go outside because of the Maoist protesters were building up ready to demonstrate. We were locked in the hotel, prisoners with no money to buy plane tickets to get out of here.
Half an hour later we heard chanting in the street; I quickly grabbed the camera, more than 300 protestors walked up the street holding there red flag closely followed by riot police. It all started to get very real, as to how real, we weren’t sure. They were right, this place was unstable. It was 6:00pm, a couple of hours after the riots, the street came back to normal. Shops started to reopen and people returned to their daily business. The Maoist weren’t that uncivilized, they allowed trading to happen every afternoon between the times of 6:00 and 9:00pm; even the Maoist have to eat. We ventured outside, walking to the ATM only 200m away but it was closed so we walk around to the main square where the main rallies and protest had been held. We bought some lychees from a street cart sat down and watched the world go buy. We waited an hour before going back to the ATM again, but it was still closed. Just then a French guy walked out of the crowd with a smile on his face; I shook his hand, he introduced himself as Julian and we talked for 10minutes about our story’s. He immediately said we could get cheaper flights through another travel agent, for only $120USD/ person, this would save us a fortune. We could live on the $40USD saving for a week. The travel agent store was closed so we had to track the travel agent’s house down, it was all we could do. The great thing about small towns is that everybody knows where everybody lives and it didn't take us long before we were giving our flight detail inside his lounge room, everything worked out great, he to was also going to the airport in the morning. We thanked the French guy for saving us some money, we weren’t to know that the airlines had dropped the price by $27USD because of the strikes, speaking to people definatly helps. We later joined Julian for dinner with a bunch of other Frenchman and called it a night around 9:00pm.

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