How I crossed a bridge and walked over to my first foreign country without a passport.

How I crossed a bridge and walked over to my first foreign country without a passport.

Holding my ID in one hand and a gun in the other he asked me “What is your name?” I tried to remain calm as my eyes started examining the stone walls and surroundings of the small establishment where we were standing. Glancing at the posters on the walls I could easily tell that they had been photocopied way too many times. Just as I was struggling to look at the fading black and white printed faces with details of the wanted terrorists, he asked me where I lived. And I fumbled to remember my own address of 23 years. He took a long pause and now it was his chance to examine me. With an inquiring look in his eye he asked me why I was there. And I will never forget how he looked at me with his bewildered gaze and wrinkled nose as I told him I wanted to cross the border and walk over to my first foreign country without a passport.

I was backpacking across the trans-Himalayas in the Northern state of Uttarakhand, India when I found out about the town of Dharchula that served as a major trading centre for the trans-Himalayan trade routes since medieval times. But was now a common passage to cross over the Indo-Nepal International Open Border by locals and tourists to reach Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet. The very next day I was on my way to Dharchula in a local shared taxi with local pahadi music blaring in my ears.

On talking with my taxi driver I found out about a lesser known place an hour before Dharchula called Jauljibi. A small bazaar (market) of Indo-Nepal border situated at the confluence of Kali and Gori Rivers that served as a lesser known crossover to Nepal. Equipped with a new destination and a better storyline than before I was ready for the most thrilling day of my life. But on reaching I realized it was just another day for the people in Jauljibi, a town so small and welcoming that it took me less than 15 minutes to cover the whole place and make acquaintance with a handful of its residents. Being a marketplace of the border it felt I had walked into a fully stocked supermarket cum town in the middle of the trans-Himalayas as I watched a Nepali man buy a bagful of shampoo pouches.

I decided to leave my backpack with a friendly local woman and proceeded towards the checkpoint. After going through routine questions the Seema Suraksha Bal officials were amused to find out about my purpose of visit. For having never encountered a tourist here who wanted to crossover the border to see what is on the other side. They eventually let me through after warning me about not stopping or taking photographs on the bridge. I nodded and started walking. In precisely 290 steps, I finally stepped foot on foreign soil.

Unexpectedly Nepal for me was not that different from India. As the name Jauljibi was derived from the two markets on both sides. So here were two pieces of land sharing a name yet divided by a river and International borders. Where the use and exchange of currency and cell phone tower connections weren’t outlined for or limited to citizens of a particular country.

Feeling lost in translation I tried to make conversation with the locals collecting wheat straws in their field. Only to later find a peaceful place to meditate. Sitting on foreign land watching my country right in front of my eyes overwhelmed me with a new realization. Suddenly the idea of borders instinctively making us perceive others as different from us seemed amusing. Though initially things did seem culturally and linguistically diverse but what transcended these political boundaries was the universal human need to seek and be heard if not understood.

And so I walked back to India with not just souvenirs from an unusual bazaar town but also with a great story to share. A truth about an experience that fulfilled my human need to seek and be heard with my story about walking 290 steps and crossing over to my first foreign country without a passport.

The current 150 m spanned suspension bridge at Jauljibi between India and Nepal replaced the former 30-metre bridge that was damaged in the 2013 natural disaster of cloudburst during the seasonal monsoon.
Early morning scene with the market being set up for the day at Jauljibi.
The bazaar at the Indian side of Jauljibi where both Indian & Nepali currency is accepted for buying goods.
The bazaar on the Nepal side is the first thing you come across when you cross the bridge. The town across the Kali river at Jauljibi fully depends on each other for their survival as the Indian town gets milk, ghee, honey and vegetables from villages in Nepal across the river, while the town of same name and its adjoining villages in Nepal get their essential consumer items as well as educational and medical facilities from the Indian town of Jauljibi.
Crossing the border is a normal affair for many people in this part as their lives and jobs are distributed over the two sides of the bridge.
It takes exactly 290 steps to cross the bridge.
People asked me where I was from and I said Rajasthan. But when they looked at me all confused, I told them Bharat, India. And they eventually start nodding in acknowledgment.
A young newly wed Nepali woman working in her field was highly amused as she watched me take photos of her. Unable to understand each others language the only thing that connected us was when I took out my phone and said, “selfie?” and she nodded on finally understanding something I said.
A strand of wheat from a farm land, a tomato growing near the border checkpost and some mint leaves that I got from the river side were the souvenir I took back home from Nepal.
Dharchula is the last town on the India-Nepal border. It also leads to Taklakot, China’s Autonomous Tibet Region, about 155 kilometres away.  The town has for long accepted the people of Nepal and its currency. And during the demonetisation in 2016, the currency of the neighbouring country was in greater demand and was probably being used more than Indian currency there.
The Indian bazaar town of Jauljibi at the confluence of Kaali & Gori Rivers. The Jauljibi mela, a trade fair happening for the past 144 years on the day of Makkar Sakranti, actually began as a religious fair at the Kali riverbanks. It later took the shape of a trade fair as Tibetan traders started to come with their goods here.
Every year the Jauljibi fair witnesses herds of Nepalese horses from remote Humla and Jumla districts of the neighbouring country that are brought to the fair to be sold off to traders.
The spot overlooking India where I sat and meditated for a while.
My first conversation on reaching Nepal was with an officer from the border force. He asked, “Are you married?” and when I said no he instantly replied saying, “Arey, Why not? You must. Then go wherever you want with him.” I guess no matter how far they travel somethings never change for a solo female traveller.

2 Replies to “How I crossed a bridge and walked over to my first foreign country without a passport.”

  1. Proud of you girl.
    I went to school in mount Abu with your dad.
    Your truly an inspiration.
    Keep going.
    God bless.

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