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An obstacle race down Mahendra highway

The rickshaws encountered numerous roadblocks as they were stopped many times by the striking members of the CPN-Maoist party, reports Neha Dara. Monsoon Rickshaw Run

world Updated: Jun 28, 2007 01:38 IST
Neha Dara

On Wednesday, driving down Mahendra highway was like an obstacle course for the participants of the Monsoon Rickshaw Run.

The rickshaws that are participating in a rally to raise money for charity, organised by the UK-based League of Adventurists, encountered numerous roadblocks and were stopped several times by striking members of the CPN-Maoist.

The Mahendra highway is a long straight road that spans the breadth of the Nepal. One side is maintained with Indian assistance, and even the electricity to towns along it comes from India. The western end was built with the help of Soviet expertise. Picture-perfect villages and lush paddy fields line this lifeline, and the countryside looks like a cleaner, greener India.

But unrest underlies the calm and cheer that mark the daylight hours. The absence of streetlights is perhaps, a giveaway. No one uses the highway after the seven in the evening, when the sun sets. Especially now, when public transport and commercial traffic in the Eastern Tarai regions has been disturbed by an indefinitely-long Maoist bandh.

As we drove on towards Kathmandu from Itahari, 90km from the Nepal-West Bengal border, there was none of the traffic and the potholes that are typical of Indian highways. But there was evidence of the rioting had taken place on Tuesday night. Charred remains of public buses, trucks and rickshaws blocked the road.

At other places, movement was restricted by stone blockades. Quite often, the rickshaws were flagged down by party members manning the blockades and cross-questioned about their nationality and their destination. At one point, the participants were asked to drive on quickly without looking back, as the strikers evacuated a bus before, supposedly, preceding to set light to it.

At Janakpur, the birthplace of Sita, where we made a late lunch stop, we were advised to spend the night instead of preceding to Hitauda, our next stop enroute to Kathmandu. We're told there is trouble there as well, though of different political origin.

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