Menkhu Dandy often travels between Jaynagar in India, where she was born, and Janakpur in Nepal, the residence of her in-laws. The 29-km journey on the Nepal Railways route is a sort of bittersweet adventure for the 30-year-old and her fellow travellers.
One can travel to Nepal without a visa but taking the scenic (and cheap) train route requires a lot of courage. Thousands of people on both sides of the border take the Nepal Railways trains that travel from Jaynagar in India to Janakpur in Nepal. Passengers have to pay only Rs 25. But the journey is often full of tribulations with frequent delays and discomfort on the derelict coaches.
“Despite the short distance, we often spend a long time on the trains. The coaches are in a bad shape and delays are common,” said Dandy.
Some of the coaches do not have roofs, exposing the passengers to the elements of nature. Derailments are common, and passengers on the unfortunate trains are stuck for hours in desolate places for railway officials to rescue them. The trains hardly keep to their time table. Security is a matter of indifference.
The official in-charge candidly admits to the problems.
T.B. Dangi, the administrative officer of Nepal Railways at Janakpur, told The Telegraph: “Snags are common on the route between Jaynagar and Janakpur because of poor management. The ministry of physical planning and public transport of the Nepal government is responsible for its maintenance. The British constructed the route for the transport of timber (see graphics) but now it is the main economical means of travel for thousands of passengers.
“But it requires funds and technical support for smooth operations.”
The frequent problems have resulted in the decrease in the number of foreign tourists.
“Earlier, Japanese, Chinese and Korean tourists would frequently travel on this route. But now, their numbers have decreased,” said Dandy.
Indian and Nepali passengers, however, continue to travel frequently on the route. They have also found ways to distract themselves as they wait for inordinate amount of time on the trains.
“Sometimes, we are stuck on the trains for long. So, we sing and chat and joke with our fellow passengers to keep boredom at bay,” said Dandy.
Her fellow passengers also have tales to share about their experiences on the tedious train journey.
“We share snacks with our fellow passengers and have a lot of fun even though the journey is often uncomfortable,” said Pushpika Sushan, another frequent traveller.
For some, the route is a source of livelihood as well.
Nina Yammu, a Nepali hawker who frequently boards the trains on the route to sell odds and ends, said: “I sell enough to make a living for my family. When foreign tourists travel on the trains, I earn a little extra.”
She added that they usually come during summer before letting out a cry to let the passengers on the train know about her wares.