Dream train

TRAIN A COMIN': Kerung (Gyirong) used to be a staging post during the 19th century Nepal-Tibet wars.

Tashi Sherpa runs the only teashop in Rasuwa Gadi on the Nepal side of the border, 170km north of  Kathmandu. Nearby, dozens of trucks carrying imported Chinese goods cross the Bhote Kosi into Nepal.

Sherpa has heard that a railroad to Kathmandu is also planned, but she will only believe it when she sees it. “Dream train,” she calls it.

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But what Tashi Sherpa does not know is that a feasibility study conducted last year has proposed a rail route under the mountains instead of along the river, thus  bypassing Rasuwa Gadi altogether. People along the highway may not even see the train because most of the track will be in tunnels drilled beneath Langtang, Gosiankunda and Shivapuri to Tokha near Kathmandu.

Truck driver Balaram Rimal sips tea at Sherpa’s shop as he waits to cross into China. He says: “All this talk of trains is nonsense. First they should fix this scary road.”

The railway forms part of China’s Belt Road Initiative and will be an extension of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway from Xigatse to Kerung and on to Kathmandu. However, crossing the Himalaya through a series of long tunnels will not just be an engineering feat, but will cost at least $5.5 billion.

The Chinese have built an imposing 9-storey building at the border that looks like a shopping mall and houses a well-equipped customs and immigration office. The Nepal side is a tin shed flying a forlorn Nepali flag. The 2015 earthquake destroyed the Nepal border post, and its reconstruction has been delayed due to a dispute with the contractor.

Finjo Lopchan runs Potala Guest House near the border, and sums it all up: “How can a country that can’t even put up a building, drill a train tunnel through the mountains? My head spins when people talk about railways. Shameless government.”