Mitali Express | Photo courtesy: bdnews24.com

Md Manzurul Islam of Savar (Dhaka), Chinmoy Chanda of Sylhet, Shabari Majumder from Dhamrai (Dhaka) or Bibash Shyam Purkayastha from Sylhet have something in “common” – other than being from Bangladesh. They are frequent visitors from Bangladesh to India as tourists or cultural ambassadors.

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And, with the much-awaited passenger train service to be flagged off virtually by the two railway ministers of India and Bangladesh, a direct connect between two important travel destinations of south Asia are opening up on June 1, 2022, as the wheels of Mitali Express moves towards Dhaka Cantonment Station (Bangladesh) and returns to New Jalpaiguri (India) next day.

“This is going to save our travel time to the dooars of north Bengal to travel to the hill stations of Darjeeling, Gangtok, Mirik and other lovely spots of Himalayan foothills,” said Md Manzurul Islam, an official of Jahangir Nagar University in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Earlier, to visit the hill stations of north Bengal, tourists from Bangladesh either have to come to Kolkata for a suitable travel by train or via bus services or have to opt for land port entry through north Bengal – which are little troublesome. But now with this new feather of communication through the wheels, the tourism destination can be directly reached in a lesser time. The total train journey on BG rail track is 595 kilometres where 61 kilometres of the track is in India and the rest 534 remains with Bangladesh.

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According to the ministry of railways, 13132 & 13131 -Mitali Express is a bi-weekly international train service between New Jalpaiguri and Dhaka Cantt. It has four AC First Class (cabin-seating/sleeper) and four AC Chair Car along with two power with BV – a 10-coache AC train. The train has a seat capacity of 456 while on the way to Dhaka and in return during overnight journey seats vary to 408.

In India, the tickets are available at overseas counters in Kolkata and New Jalpaiguri and need to be purchased 72 hours before the date of the journey with a valid passport and visa.

After two years of COVID -19 lockdown, Eastern Railway resumed Bandhan Express – the Kolkata-Khulna international train service on May 29 along with Maitree Express which runs between Kolkata-Dhaka via Gede (India) -Darshana (Bangladesh) international border. And the newest feather is the Mitali Express which is going to become the third choice of international trains for the travellers of both the neighbouring countries connecting various tourism destinations of the Himalayan foothills.

The fifth rail link between India and Bangladesh, was formally made functional by the prime minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina during the PM-level virtual bilateral summit on December 17, 2020. But due to COVID-19 pandemic and other issues, the much-awaited international passenger train journey was on hold.

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Apart from the tourist movement, the idea behind the rail route is to connect common people and businessmen of both the countries, enhancing the accessibility of the rail network to the main ports, dry ports and land borders for overall growth and development of regional trade and commerce. Moreover, there is a convincing tourist flow of 5.1% in CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) from 1981 to 2020 from Bangladesh to India. (source: https://tourism.gov.in via www.indiadataportal.com)

Welcoming the new train route, Shabari Majumder, a Rabindra Sangeet singer of Bangladesh Betar, and a frequently visiting performing artist to north Bengal seems excited and said: “Earlier I used to go to north Bengal via Kolkata. Now I am happy that Mitali Express with its direct connection to Dooars of West Bengal will not only save my time but also will become an effective communication tool for us too.”

According to Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR), in order to restore the missing tracks between Haldibari (India) to Chilahati Station (Bangladesh) via international border BG lines were laid at a cost of Rs 82.72 crore following the Inter-Governmental Railway Meeting (IGMR) held in May 2015.

“The railway communication is time saving and smooth. It’s always helpful for the growth of both nations. It will not only strengthen the bondage also work as a source of inspiration for the overall socio-economic and cultural growth of the countrymen of two neighbouring south Asian nations,” feels Bibash Shyam Purkayastha, chief co-ordinator at Nrittyashaily, Sylhet, the cultural troupe that performed a special dance recital at NADI-3 – (Natural Allies in Development and Interdependence)- Asian Confluence River Conclave 2022 in Guwahati on May 29.

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Overwhelmed with the opening of the third passenger train service between Bangladesh and India, Chinmoy Chanda, lecturer of Jalalabad Cantonment Public School and College, Sylhet thanked the both the nations for the new passenger route that connects directly to various popular tourist destinations of Himalayan foothills of eastern India connecting neighbouring Bhutan and Nepal.

Though the passenger reservation for the inaugural train journey from New Jalpaiguri is yet to pick up a flow, people from across the border of India and Bangladesh are excited and all set to take ride of Mitali Express, being the third and the most suitable directly connecting  international passenger train with Bangladesh’s capital city-Dhaka, with the dooars of West Bengal will not only strengthen the bilateral relations but also boost the much awaited tourism potentialities connecting the Himalayan foothills of India from June 1, 2022.

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About Subhamoy Bhattacharjee

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Subhamoy Bhattacharjee is a Photojournalist-Communicator. He tells the tale of the region, with his writings and photographs. Photo documentaries, news features and book projects attract him most.

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