Jaya Ram was getting restless. For three days, his truck had been idling outside the customs office in Timure, a village in northern Nepal’s Rasuwa district. He had recently taken out a loan to purchase the vehicle, and had made only two of the 60 monthly payments, each of $600, that he owed his bank. The next instalment was due in two weeks, and to pay it, he needed the money he would make trucking his cargo to Kathmandu—almost 1 lakh Nepalese rupees, or around $930. To maximise profits, Jaya Ram had even avoided paying a transport union the 5,000-rupee fee that most drivers like him submit as a type of insurance each trip. “If you have an accident and you lose the truck, they’ll provide half of the costs to pay for it,” he explained. “But that’s my son’s school boarding expenses for a few weeks.”
Jaya Ram, at 34 years old, is one of hundreds of truckers from Rasuwa who regularly make a two-hour, forty-kilometre trip across Nepal’s northern border to the Chinese town of Kerung. There, they collect goods, mainly manufactured products such as flip flops, electronics and garments, and then transport them back to Nepal, sometimes trucking them more than 120 additional kilometres south to Kathmandu. When I met Jaya Ram in September, a landslide had blocked the road these drivers take: a perilous path hugging the Bhote Koshi river, which originates in Tibet. As a result, Jaya Ram, like many others, was unable to transport his cargo to Nepal’s capital. At least 250 trucks were waiting to make the journey either to Kerung or Kathmandu, stretching in a line out of the Timure customs yard and back up the road.
The Rasuwa route through the Himalayas, though it has existed for centuries, has recently taken on a new importance. Another border crossing, Tatopani–Khasa, which lies around 80 kilometres east of the Rasuwa one, in an adjacent district, had for decades been the busiest trade link between Nepal and China. After two massive earthquakes shook Nepal in the spring of 2015, however, that road has been closed. Since then—in a change that some regard as shrewd manoeuvring by the Chinese—the majority of the cross-border traffic has shifted to Rasuwa.