20th August 2022

Transcending Dimensions

Mahakali Highway, Dhangadhi, Seti, NPL

From Dadeldhura, walking down straight to Attariya on the Mahakali Highway to get to Kanchanpur made little sense. I inspected the digital maps I had for alternative routes. A trail that ran south along the Mahakali from Rupailgad existed, but none of the locals I talked to seemed sure about its existence or state; the necessity to tread that way had waned ages ago. Then, there was the middle path; a road track that ran west into the Chure forests from Doti Budar and led to Sama Daiji of Kanchanpur. I chose the latter, for Ashish and Ganesh who had secured arrangements for me the previous night confirmed that the way was good. There was a much celebrated kheer (milk pudding) stop on the highway. I decided to use the money marked for lunch that day on kheer, hoping for meaningful conversation. Alas, the son had taken the place of the founder, and with cars stopping by every now and then, he seemed somewhat disinclined to share the history of the place. See, for me, a wholesome conversation would be preferable to tasty food any day. On this point, two observations are of relevance; the first one – almost all of the private vehicles I saw on the highway either belonged to aid organizations or government officials, the second one – younger people, ones who grew up in individualistic times, generally possessed a demeanor averse to conversation. Exceptions aside, the art of making sound conversation, and with it friends out of strangers, seemed to have been lost in transition. A little down the line, the Highway Fourteen milestone read: Kathmandu 700 Kilometers. At that point, it came to mind that I possibly was closer to Pakistan than Kathmandu. The web confirmed that hunch. If only, there were no boundaries. I stayed at a shack hotel in Gaira. Such basic highway hotels are generally the same across this part of the world. They are a mess, raucous alcoholics and drivers flood in at night, varieties of fried or oily meat are served, shady deals are likely to take place, and the prices are unjustifiable. Only that the one I was in was owned by Ganesh’s sister, and therefore, I was allowed to choose from the available beds and blankets for the least grimy ones – a rare luxury! Light’s ability to make a space transcend dimensions was on full display the next morning. Rays of light first trickled in from insignificant perforations in the corrugated sheet roof, and then from the windows that were open. It was a blissful moment. Faces shone, colors bloomed with brilliant shades; the shack attained sanctity. The owner, for the first time, seemed relaxed. He sat across me on the table and started sharing tales from bygone days. Of how Magars had first arrived in Dadeldhura as road workers and settled by the highway, of how many of them would be displaced for a lack of legitimate ownership after road expansion plans took effect, of how his parents had arrived there under perilous conditions and built their fortune, he told me.

I had lunch, the usual daalbhaat, at a basic food stop in Budar, and then took a right turn from the highway. The black topping ended there, a dusty riverside road track took its place. Wide, green fields met the hills on either side of the river, right up until Jogbuda neared. The last couple of kilometers had to be walked through a dense forest in pitch darkness. The roars of animals could be heard. However, it was clear by the volume that they were nowhere close. Amidst moonlight tree silhouettes, with my heart in my mouth, I moved my legs at a pace of around eight kilometers per hour on the last stretch, and reached Jogbuda a sweaty mess. Until I conversed with the hotel owner after dinner, I was not aware of the fact that Ganesh had vouched to incur my bills. It usually did not seem right to accept help that was not in kind, and on that occasion, I had enough money with me to get by on a minimum for a month more. I had to do the right thing. I cleared my bills before leaving.