The loudspeaker blared in Howrah Station as I sat in the Mithila Express along with my parents and a huge group filled with strangers. We were supposed to be reaching Raxaul station early morning next day.
Travelling in Indian trains is an experience in itself, more so when you choose sleeper class. These come at dirt cheap price and guarantee a sneak peek into the true life of Indians.
The cold night in the train was soon over and I opened my eyes to find the dawn light already flowing in through the glass windows; Raxaul station was less than 5 minutes away. I had to choose between properly boarding down from the train and brushing my teeth. I obviously chose the former.
My tour was arranged by an Indian Tour Company who specialises in conducting group tours. We are not fond of group tours at all but things are judged differently when the owner of the company happens to be a close relative!
The day was extremely foggy and cold. As soon as we stepped out of the station several men surrounded us in order to sell us their service. Well, the service that I am talking about here is ‘riding a horse drawn cart’.
From what it seemed, in Raxaul town, most of the tourists who want to cross the border and enter Nepal have only one way of doing so: by riding on a horse drawn cart. I saw the managers negotiating over the price and soon we were shown our respective horse carts. Quickly we took our seat and also dumped our luggage inside the cart. Looking outside, however, I felt a pang of guilt.
The horses were malnourished and often beaten very badly. One horse is made to pull 4-5 people plus their luggage, not to mention the weight of the wooden cart. I was praying for the journey to end as soon as possible. However, the day had stocked more surprises for me.
The entire road looked like a huge dumping ground and stank like hell for most of the time. Then came a point where I found ox drawn carts, horse drawn carts, trucks, private cars, motorcycles, cycles, pedestrians were all plying on the same road in a zigzag direction at snail’s pace! I have never seen chaos to the same degree as that. I almost started to think I will lose an entire day stuck in this ‘traffic jam’! Even till date I have no idea how we escaped unharmed.
There was a short moment when I stopped noticing the chaos, turned my head right and started chatting with my grumpy co-passenger. The chat was cut short when I felt a warm gush of air touching my ankle; I straightened my head and found a horse breathing on my feet! I was sitting in the back seat of the cart with my feet dangling outside. This became a pretty much common occurrence over the course of the journey. Sometimes it was a horse, at other times-an ox.
It was lunch time when the cart finally entered Birgunj-the border town in Nepal, adjacent to Raxual. So, it took 3 hours to cover 9kms!
My Thoughts on Raxual-Birgunj
From what I gathered through my observation is that Raxual and Birgunj are high on shady activities, smuggling being on top of the list. I believe such large scale shady businesses cannot run without the support of corrupt officials. I would not blame the horse-cart owners for not feeding the animals and making them overwork. I doubt if the owners and their family get to eat two full meals a day. It is wrong of me to expect people surviving under abject poverty to show care for environment, animal or anything but food and shelter.
I hope the government of both the countries take necessary step to combat the situation prevailing at the border.
Trip Taken On- December 2014
Train- Mithila Express 13021 (Departure: 15.45 from Howrah Station; Arrival: 8.30 at Raxual; Duration: 16 hours 45 minutes; Frequency: Everyday)
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