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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 28 May 2024

Puja rush on train from Bangladesh

397 board from Dhaka to reach NJP on Friday

Our Correspondent Siliguri Published 02.10.22, 12:48 AM
Mitali Express, which connects New Jalpaiguri  and Dhaka Cantonment  stations.

Mitali Express, which connects New Jalpaiguri and Dhaka Cantonment stations. File photo

Mitali Express, the recently opened rail link between New Jalpaiguri and Dhaka, created a record of sorts on Friday as it ferried nearly 400 passengers, the highest since the services started earlier this year, who reached north Bengal to be part of Durga Puja and enjoy the scenic hills of Darjeeling and Sikkim.

“There were 397 passengers who boarded from Dhaka Cantonment station (on Thursday) and reached NJP (on Friday). It is nice to see so many Bangladeshi nationals availed the train, which is the first-of-its-kind train service in the entire north Bengal and Northeast. We hope the number of passengers increases in the coming days,” said an official of Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR).

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“Ever since the train service started in a full-fledged manner, this is the highest number of passengers who travelled in the train.”

Although the train service was jointly flagged off in virtual mode by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina on March 26, 2021, the services could not start immediately owing to the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Finally, from June 1 this year, the train started running between NJP and Dhaka. Sultana Mitu, who took the train from Dhaka with her family, said she was excited.

“Initially, we had thought of going to Calcutta to enjoy Durga Puja. Later, we changed the plan. We booked tickets for Mitali Express so that we can visit Darjeeling. Before ascending to the hills, we will spend a day in Siliguri and see some of the Pujas,” she said.

In India, around 25 per cent of international tourists come from Bangladesh while in Bengal, the percentage is almost double. Every year, around three million Bangladeshis visit India.

“Since 2018, the number of Bangladeshi tourists have increased in Bengal, especially north Bengal. This is because the Centre lifted a ban on the entry of Bangladeshis to Sikkim,” said Samrat Sanyal, general secretary, Himalayan Hospitality and Tourism Development Network.

Khabir Uddin Ahmed, a governing body member of Bangladesh Tourism Board, said that earlier, Bangladeshis had to visit states like Himachal Pradesh to enjoy snow.

“Now, they can visit Sikkim which is nearer. Also, the trip costs much less. We are promoting north Bengal and Sikkim and there is a huge response. Anyone interested to visit Bhutan can also avail the train service instead of taking a flight,” said Ahmed.

The rise in the number of Bangladeshi passengers in Mitali Express has also brought cheer to stakeholders of the tourism industry here. During the past two years, the sector had taken a beating amid the Covid 19 pandemic.

“The number of passengers in the tri-weekly train service from NJP (Mitali Express) is sure to increase during festive seasons, as was evident yesterday. We want more such train services to Bangladesh from this region,” said Debasish Maitra, president, Eastern Himalaya Travel & Tour Operators’ Association.

After NJP-Dhaka, the next railway link to Bangladesh will be between Agartala of Tripura and Akhaura, which is in Chittagong district of the neighbouring country.

“A couple of months back, senior railway officials had hinted that the rail link would be ready by December next year. This new route would boost up bilateral trade and trans-border movement of people into the northeast and also in our region,” Maitra added.

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