When you read the modern-day history of Nepal beginning 1950, chances are that you will learn that King Tribhuvan, the reigning monarch then, had taken his entire family minus one grandson named Gyanendra in his car and sought asylum in the Indian Embassy at Kathmandu. This event of November 6, 1950 had sparked what is known as the revolution against the Rana regime which culminated in the ushering in of democracy since February 18, 1951.
We will not discuss history further since everyone is aware of what had happened thereafter. However, those familiar with the Kathmandu scenario of 1950 would wonder how could a car travel to Kathmandu in the first place when there was no road at that time joining the capital of Nepal with the plains, particularly Birgunj, which is the gateway from the Indian border town of Raxaul.
Well, the answer too is known although people might have forgotten it. To remind them, one may recall that the cars imported from abroad through the Calcutta Port used to be taken by road first upto Raxaul and then within Nepalese territory, upto a small town called Amlekhganj, on the foot of the middle Himalayas, known as the Mahabharat range.
There, the cars would be knocked down and its various parts ferried across the mountain on the shoulders of labourers, upto the edge of the Kathmandu Valley at Thankot. There, mechanics would re-assemble the vehicles and take them to the capital. A road did exist then upto Thankot.
This hill track from Amlekhganj to Thankot continued to remain the path from and to the Valley from the plains, till the Indian Military engineers built the 200-kilometre long Tribhuvan Rajpath, completing it just before the coronation of King Tribhuvan'sson and successor, King Mahendra in 1956.The romance of this adventurous construction by Indian army engineers has been partly recorded in a novel by the celebrated Chinese (Hongkong) writer Han Suyin in the novel ?The Mountain is Young?. She had later married that Indian engineer, a Colonel in the Indian Army, who was the hero of this novel.
The Tribhuvan Rajpath remained the lifeline of the Nepalese capital for decades?it had crossed the Mahabharat range at a pass, Simbhanjyang which was more than 8,000 feet high-till an easier route along the river Trishuli was constructed with Chinese help. Besides, air services too have been playing a crucial role in providing connectivity to the Capital of Nepal with India and then rest of the world.
Yet, the Nepali people have longed for a railway line all these half a century. There are people in the Kathmandu Valley perhaps even today who have not seen a railway line. There are hillarious stories of how people from the Kathmandu Valley behaved when boarding a train either at or near Raxaul or near Janakpur from where a narrow gauge line was constructed in the 1950 towards the Indian town of Jayanagar. King Tribhuvan himself had inaugurated a narrow gauge railway line from Amlekhganj to Raxaul, a distance of about 40 kilometres, during the 1920s.That line is not functional now but this reporter did have a ride in a train running there way back in 1958.
Now all these will become history if the Government of Nepal decides to have a railway line from Birgunj to Kathmandu. According to a survey conducted by the Asian Institute of Transport Development, a railway line on the broad gauge from Birgunj to Kathmandu would be only 174 kilometres long, as many as 110 kilometres less than the distance by road.
What is more, although such a line would involve heavy tunneling, the cost would be only Rs. 1800 crores, not a very large amount by today'sstandard. Besides, it will yield ten per cent rate of return on capital investment every year.
These information were provided by Mr. P.K. Malik, senior fellow of the Institute, during a presentation on April 21 at the International Conference on ?India-Nepal Relations: Looking at the Future?, organised jointly by the Indian Council of World Affairs(ICWA) and the Antar Rashtriya Sahayog Parishad (ARSP) of which Shri Sashank, former Foreign Secretary, is the president and Shri Baleshwar Agrawal, the general secretary.
Shri Malik'spresentation was mainly on the issues of cross-border trade and the impediments in its development. He, however, had touched on the railway connectivity issue for boosting trade between India and Nepal and between Nepal and other countries in the region and beyond.