Presently my parents are staying in Jogbani. This is a small town on the northern border of Bihar and India and touches the Nepal Border. To be honest, the existence of the town is only because of its strategic importance being on the border. Large part of population is constituted of Bank Staff (there are more banks than can be warranted by the population of that town. Mainly because of business coming from poeple doing business in Nepal) and people employed in custom office. Rest are those who supply to these people sufficient things for survival – shopkeepers. Many of the shop-keepers also do not stay there. They stay in a nearby town which has better “town-life”.
The size of town is only as much that a normal, healthy person can go around on foot. It is connected through meter-gauge railway line to Katihar and the only trains that come upto this town are those local trains coming from Katihar 5 (or 6?) times a day. The situation of the roads is bad; so this train is the prime thing that connects the town to the rest of India Its easier to go to Nepal that to go to any other place in India. In fact, my brother, who stays in West Bengal, finds it more comfortable to come through Nepal than through India, of course, only if there isn’t a strike in Nepal on that particular day!
About the border – it isn’t the kind that comes to your mind from thinking about the Indo-Pak border in movies. Crossing the border is normal; given the size of the town, half of our shopping is done in Nepal, and that includes Aaloos (potaotes – since in some months better potatoes come from the hills of Nepal)!
The city (though its smaller than Purnea in terms of population and possibly size!) on that side is the 3rd largest city of Nepal, while Jogbani, on this side, is a rather small town, as I mentioned earlier. And no, no passport needed to cross the border. Some checking is done at the border of your luggage, but that too only if you look unfamiliar or you are carrying some bags or something has happened which has made the guards more cautious.
Indian vehicles can also cross the border by paying some nominal fee called “bhansar”. This is legal, by the way.
And now the most interesting part. If you ask for the price of something in Jogbani market, you would be surprised to find that everything is priced 1.6 times what should have been the price. No, do not think Biharis are after you! They are quoting the price in Nepali Currency and of course from class V GK book you know that both are called Rupee. IC and NC are how they are called; IC meaning Indian Currency and NC meaning Nepali Currency. The local words used are “bharu” and “moru”, standing for “bhartiya rupya” and “maurangi rupya” respectively. Maurang is what that part of Nepal is called. If no qualifier is added, the prices would be quote in NC and you will be returned Nepali Currency by the shop-keeper (yeah, there seems to be more NC in the market than IC). If you are leaving the town make sure you ask the shop-keeper to return you IC.
Now, this system has a very bad implication for you if you are new there and pride yourself in your bargaining power. You ask them the price and suddenly feel apalled at the price they quote. Then you realize that it is NC and such a relief comes over your countenance that further bargaining just does not go well with it!
(Guess this too will become a series.)