Nepalis adapt to fuel short­age by car­pool­ing and rid­ing bikes


In­dia’s unof­fi­cial block­ade of Nepal has put a crunch on this Hi­malayan na­tion, with cars lin­ing up for miles around ga­so­line sta­tions, schools shut­ting down, veg­eta­bles in short sup­ply and taxis charg­ing four times the nor­mal fare.

But Nepalis, whose lives were up­ended by a mas­sive earth­quake just a few months ago, know how to cope. In re­sponse to the fuel short­age, peo­ple are rid­ing bikes to work, co­or­di­nat­ing car­pools on Face­book and of­fer­ing lifts to strangers.

“At last, her big smile with her son made my day,” Garima Sap­kota, who of­fered a ride to a woman who was late to pick up her son, wrote on the Face­book page Car­pool Kathmandu, where hun­dreds of peo­ple have of­fered free rides, us­ing the hash­tags #of­fer and #ask.

While cars have dwin­dled on the streets, bi­cy­cle traf­fic and sales have in­creased in Kathmandu, Nepal’s cap­i­tal.

“I left my mo­tor­cy­cle at home be­cause I have no fuel,” said Hari Gopal Shrestha, an elec­tri­cian who had ped­dled 5 kilo­me­ters (3 miles) to get to his client’s house. “It is very tir­ing and dif­fi­cult, but I have to other op­tion.”

Long lines of ve­hi­cles snaked around ga­so­line sta­tions in Kathmandu amid fuel re­stric­tions im­posed by the gov­ern­ment. Ear­lier in the week, the gov­ern­ment an­nounced that only ve­hi­cles for trans­port would get a ra­tioned amount, while pri­vate ve­hi­cles would have to wait.

“I can drive only about 70 kilo­me­ters (44 miles) with what I get. How can I make a liv­ing with that?” said taxi driver Bharat Prasad Nepal, who had been wait­ing in line for 27 hours.

The short­ages, which ex­tend to fresh pro­duce and medicine, come af­ter In­dian trucks car­ry­ing goods stopped at the bor­der. Nepal ob­tains most of its fuel and other vi­tal sup­plies from In­dia.

Many Nepalis be­lieve that In­dia has been re­tal­i­at­ing against their gov­ern­ment since Sept. 20, when it ap­proved a new con­sti­tu­tion seen by New Delhi as dis­crim­i­na­tory to an eth­nic In­dian com­mu­nity — the Mad­hesi — liv­ing in Nepal’s bor­der dis­tricts.

In­dian of­fi­cials deny there is a block­ade and say driv­ers are afraid to en­ter Nepal. Nepalese author­i­ties say there is no trou­ble at many cross-bor­der check­points.

Mad­he­sis are up­set that the con­sti­tu­tion di­vides Nepal coun­try into seven new states, with some borders slic­ing through their an­ces­tral home­land in the south­ern plains. Mad­he­sis, along with sev­eral other small eth­nic groups, also want the states to be larger and be given more au­ton­omy over lo­cal mat­ters.

For months as Nepalese law­mak­ers were de­bat­ing the draft con­sti­tu­tion, these ar­eas wit­nessed vi­o­lent protests by Mad­he­sis dur­ing which at least 45 peo­ple were killed. Hours af­ter the con­sti­tu­tion was passed, the vi­o­lence es­ca­lated.

Only a few trucks with sup­plies, in­clud­ing fuel and cook­ing gas, tricked through this past week.

At the veg­etable mar­ket in the sub­ur­ban Kathmandu neigh­bor­hood of La­gankhel, peo­ple com­plained of higher prices.

“I have to cook for a fes­ti­val and all I get is rot­ten onions. It has be­come too ex­pen­sive be­cause of the block­ade,” said Di­nesh Ma­har­jan, a bus driver who was shop­ping.

Veg­etable ven­dor Bekha Ba­hadur Pra­jap­ati said peo­ple are now buy­ing lo­cally pro­duced veg­eta­bles like spinach or spring onions.

Many schools have also closed be­cause there is no fuel to run the buses. Some of them plan to run online classes for teach­ers and stu­dents.

Air­port author­i­ties in Nepal have also in­structed for­eign air­lines to fuel up be­fore com­ing to Kathmandu or to stop at a city on the route be­cause there is not much avi­a­tion fuel in stock.

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