When the sun sets, it is fun time in Nepal


The complete ban on the sale of alcohol in India’s Bihar state had fostered a booming business in bars and entertainment on the Nepal side of the border. The pandemic lockdown has reduced business, but some of the clandestine trade still persists.

These photographs were taken before the lockdown, and show bhattis and fancy restaurants packed with Indian customers of various socio-economic strata. Taking advantage of the open border, the flow of tipplers is open and unregulated.

Responding to this overwhelming demand, Nepal’s border cities are crammed with liquor shops, and their shelves are overflowing with wine, beer and spirits. Anyone caught selling alcohol in Bihar gets a five year jail term, so Nepal is an easy outlet.

A whole range of liquors is available; from branded spirits to cheaper alternatives like locally brewed raxi, depending on the budget and preferences.

It is evening and a bunch of young men have already arrived from the other side. They are talking loudly about ex-lovers, older men talking about the difficulties at work, and there are older men in a corner reminiscing about the time they were young.

There are even Indian government officials and policemen who come in from time to time, and try to keep a low profile in the corner. They can lose their jobs back home if caught drinking.

Getting over the influence, Hariz Baharudin and Sunir Pandey

The noise level is high, there is boisterous laughter, punctuated by someone yelling: “Saauni, arko ek bottle!” (One more bottle, please!). A full bottle is a delivered immediately to the table.

Even after they have had enough and are unsteady in their feet, some customers hire locals as human mules to smuggle over a few more bottles of alcohol across less-guarded border points.

Some shops in Nepal can have bottles home-delivered to doorsteps in Bihar, but there is a hefty markup. For some festivals, weddings or celebrations the entire party swarms across the border and whole restaurants or banquet halls are booked. Some Indian weddings have moved to Nepal so guests can be served alcohol with their buffets.

Before the lockdown, it was the alcohol tourism that was helping the economy of Province 2. But it comes with social impact – there are frequent drunken brawls, deaths related to alcohol poisoning, and constant scuffles with police.

But this does not dampen the spirits of the visitors from across the border. The Bihari revelers even have a song now: ‘Surya Asta toh Nepal Masta‘ (When the sun sets, the fun starts in Nepal).

This photo story was made during the International Storytelling Workshop 2020, hosted by photo.circle (Nepal) in collaboration with Oslo Metropolitan University (Norway), Pathshala South Asian Media Academy (Bangladesh), and VII Academy (USA).