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Birganj or bust


JIGME GATON in BIRGANJ



JIGME GATON

For those of you looking for a good weekend trip out of the Valley and sick of walking up and down mountains, here is a tip: take your motorbike and head for the plains.

Birganj is hot: 42 degrees, humid and closed down for two days last week by the Hindutva wallahs. You should go now before the road is washed away by the monsoon. My preferred mode of travel is by Royal Enfield but your Hero Honda will do.

The route is simple, once you get past Checkpoint Thankot (still unmanned) to Naubise. Here, instead of heading west to Mugling, turn off to the Tribhuban Rajpat (they haven't got around to renaming that one yet). Many of my friends who have lived here all their lives have never been on this wonderful, serpentine
road that used to be Kathmandu's lifeline.

Till Palung there are lots of repairs going on but once in that picturesque valley you start going up the Daman stretch and then it is smooth sailing right up to the bhanjyang. Make sure that you stop for dhal bhat at the last eatery on the left before leaving Dama-the chicken curry there is chuank. The southern side of these great Mahabharat massifs are perpetually clouded after midday and you may be tempted to just camp out in this majestic and moist cloud forest with tall oak and rhododendron trees festooned with wild orchids.

But the biscuit basket of Nepal beckons and you spiral down to Bhaise Doban and on to Hetauda. The Avocado Guesthouse in Hetauda is a perfect spot for a spot of afternoon tea. Look for the entrance on the left, just before hitting the industrial zone. You could be tempted to just stay the night here and say the heck with hot weather, as the room rates are low and the premises spotless, but we are out for a Birganj adventure, remember?

Back on the road you head straight south and just follow the line of trucks heading face-first at you, destined for KTM from India full of shampoo and spare parts. The biscuit and cosmetic factories along the Simara Birganj industrial corridor are all closed thanks to Chairman Prachanda and Birganj itself is simmering with protests over Nepal being declared secular.

When you are blocked by an oxcart traffic jam at an intersection, you know you are on Birganj's outskirts. You drive past cold stores, metal and meat shops, and then you come to the most-photographed clock tower in the kingdom after Ghantaghar. For a frenzied town, Birganj has some good hotels: if you want good food and a welcome dip in the pool, go to the Vishwa. If you want cheap, go to the Kailash next to Cosmic Air. But if you want the best, call my brother Sonam Lama and see if he will let you spend the night at the Gautam School, located next to the municipal stadium and cricket field.

If you came to Birganj to eat then this is where Birganj shines-if anything can shine in the 40+ heat and dust of the Bihar plains. Go to the main market to taste the mix of foods: sekuwa, kulfi, bhelpuri. Everything here is a fraction of the cost in Kathmandu: food, camera batteries, services and Tuborg Extra Strong. Oh yes, mobiles actually work here because everyone has an Indian SIM card.

Birganj is everything that the badlands of Bihar have to offer but with the Nepali smiles. You will not find a Bluebird shopping centre here, filter coffee cafes nor jazz clubs but there are major bargains in the smuggler's shops along this porous border.

The humidity, dust and sweat makes Birganj a place to go if you want to get a real taste of pre-monsoon heat in the Gangetic plains without actually going to India. Makes you think: if only there was a sea off of Birganj, imagine what Nepal would be like today.


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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