An Indian state banned alcohol. The drink moved to nearby Nepal.

ON THE NEPAL-INDIA BORDER — As the afternoon heat gives way to a balmy evening breeze, a palpable change is beginning to take place in the composition of the crowd flowing from India to Nepal across an open border.

At first, there are Nepalis, a large number of them women, returning home after a quick shopping trip for cheaper produce and groceries on the Indian side. Two women dressed in colorful saris share the load of a heavy bag, each holding a handle. A man carries a fan on the back of a rickshaw, the blades of which rotate in the wind; another pedals his bike with a single watermelon strapped to his back.

But as it begins to get dark, a large part of the crowd crossing the border are men who arrive mostly empty-handed. Men with government jobs, tucked-in shirts and polished shoes in the morning, who are left at the border in their vehicles. And men pedaling their bikes with heavy legs and heavy thoughts, the tools of their daily trade dangling in a bag from the handle.

These are Indian men entering Nepal for a drink or two, or as many as they can get before the police blow a whistle and the roadside bars close around 9 p.m.

The India-Nepal border, barring moments of political tension, has been an example of how an open policy helps border people enjoy broader economic options. Take for example the needs of motorcycle, a favorite means of transportation here: spare parts are cheaper in India; fuel is cheaper in Nepal.

That openness has been especially welcomed by local drinkers since the Indian state of Bihar, which has more than 100 million people and shares a more than 400-mile-long border with Nepal, banned alcohol in 2016. Bars and restaurants have recently sprung up across the border on the Nepalese side, catering to Indians of all stripes looking to quench their thirst.

The ban in Bihar, championed by local women, was intended to address the rampant problems of alcoholism, domestic violence and wasted income. The penalties for being caught with alcohol have been severe. A first-time offender must pay hundreds of dollars in fines or spend a month in jail; repeat offenders are sentenced to one year.

State Prime Minister Nitesh Kumar’s government has said the ban has helped reduce violence and crime, although the proximity of the border and the ease of crossing have lessened the law’s effect.

The ban has also led to challenges. The judiciary is clogged with alcohol cases. The state is losing hundreds of millions of dollars each year in alcohol taxes. And liquor is still available: smuggled in and sold for double or triple the price.

An Indian farmer, sitting astride a bench in one of Nepal’s roadside bars with two bottles of cheap grain alcohol in front of him, said the prime minister wins elections because women vote for him out of gratitude. for the prohibition of alcohol.

But the farmer, Mr Gupta, who shared only his last name because he planned to break the law by taking alcohol with him across the border, said the policy had simply increased the price of alcohol as it was still available but at two or three times the price.

While still on the Nepalese side of the border, she bought a third bottle to go, wrapped it in her shawl and strapped it to the back of her bike. As he staggered away towards Bihar, he assured all who could hear him that he was not drunk.

The open border area is vast, as is the diversity of the nightlife alcohol scene that has grown in Nepal.

India’s well-to-do drive to the city of Janakpur, or the coveted highlands, where the bars are air-conditioned, the alcohol is imported, and the scenes are noisy and sometimes unpleasant.

In a hotel bar in Janakpur, as the men got drunk around the table, they mingled shouts of “down!” with addressing the waiters with derogatory names when they ordered the next round. In another hotel, the awkwardness of being seen drinking in Bihar still seemed to grip two men who had come for lunch, serving their beers in mugs tucked discreetly under the table.

Umesh Yadav, a Nepali university professor from the border city of Jaleshwar, said the economic opportunity of an open border is far greater than the small problems that come with an increase in drunk customers.

“When they drink, obviously there are problems sometimes,” he said. “But the police are always there.”

On the Maruwahi stretch of the border, much of the drinking happens in the mango orchards that line the divide, at picnics that are about what’s in the bottle, not a basket of food.

Men in small groups joke and laugh as they drink from plastic bottles, their bikes parked nearby. Others crouch under trees as they receive their bottles from vendors making their rounds: bartenders on the go. Some drink in the quiet company of a friend, or in the company of their own thoughts, watching the sun fade over the shoulders of a group of Indian border guards in the distance.

In a town a mile from the orchards, a bar owner said he had recently installed security cameras for safety but had to remove them after a few days when his customers disappeared, worried they were being filmed.

The border point at Mahottari is something of an equalizer. All kinds of crowds mingle in the dozen or so simple shacks that serve as bars.

“Before we sold education, now we sell alcohol,” said Kundan Mehta, who ran a book and stationery store in Bihar before setting up the Navrang Hotel on the Nepalese side about five years ago, with a smile. “I tell them: ‘Stop studying, son, have a drink now.’”

Inside, a small television set attached to a bamboo pole was broadcasting a live cricket match. The walls were adorned with posters of a Bollywood actress, a Hindu spiritual leader, and horses laden with inspirational quotes on how to go after what you want.

One customer, Ravi Kumar, wanted a shot of Golden Oak, a cheap local spirit.

“You know you can’t have a drink there,” said Mr. Kumar, a farmer, pointing toward India.

He crosses the border about twice a week to drink, more often than that would not be affordable, he said.

“If you do too much” — he raised his fist with his thumb to his mouth, sign language for drinking in this part of the world — “then you need” — he rubbed the fingers of his right hand on the money sign.

Ankit, 22, who works for a local bank an hour from the border, had endured a long week working the deadline to finish hundreds of loan collections. He had taken a bus to the border directly from work, to try the local delicacy of fried fish. Ankit, who spoke on the condition that his last name not be used because he was going to be smuggling alcohol back to India, mixed beer with a bottle of local liquor.

“It helps me release some of the stress,” he said.

When Ankit paid his bill, he bought two small bottles to go. A Nepalese woman in an orange sari waited at the counter, ready to earn a small fee for her next smuggling mission.

“Come on,” Ankit said. “I’m running late, I’ll miss the bus.”

“Roji-roti”, replied the Nepalese woman and smiled. In local slang, it literally means “daily bread” and has the connotation of a person’s livelihood.

She tucked the bottles into the waistband of her sari and led the way.

Birkha Shahi, the commander of the nearby Nepalese border post, was sympathetic. He said his forces don’t really crack down on one or two bottle smuggling, but instead focus on large-scale smuggling.

“We get tired of taking them over, but they don’t get tired of trying,” he said. “Roji-roti”.

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