On board the Friendship Express: Rail passenger services between Bangladesh and India resumed on Monday, more than four decades after the link was suspended following a war.
The train, covered with flowers, whistled off at 8.30am from Dhaka’s highly fortified Cantonment Station, to the sights and sounds of Bengali folk songs and dances.
Destination Dhaka: The Moitree (Friendship) Express at Kolkata. Rail services between the two nations resumed after more than 40 years.
“It’s a historic occasion for both the countries. We will be closer after the resumption of the India-Bangladesh passenger train service,” said Bangladesh’s foreign minister Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury.
In India, external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee flagged off the Moitree (Friendship) Express from Kolkata with 65 passengers on board on the first day of the Bengali New Year.
“It’s a historic moment for India and Bangladesh,” Mukherjee said, as the train left Kolkata’s Chitpur station.
Passenger services between the two countries were suspended after the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. Bangladesh was then part of Pakistan and became independent in 1971 with Indian military help.
The area of Bengal was split along religious lines in 1947 when the subcontinent gained independence from British colonial rule. Residents of both West Bengal and Bangladesh speak Bengali.
While passenger services have been suspended since 1965, cargo links continued, and in the 1990s a passenger bus service was launched between Dhaka and Kolkata.
On the inaugural service, 418 passengers boarded the train to Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal.
One of the passengers, K.S. Zaman, had travelled to India from Bangladesh before the service was cut off after the war.
“In early 1965, I vividly remember the rundown train packed with passengers,” said Zaman, who boarded the train on Monday with his wife, a daughter and two grandsons.
Zaman and his family migrated to Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan, after riots during the partition of British India. “After the partition, I started visiting my relatives from 1952. But everything changed after the 1965 war. People of Bengal who have been together for thousands of years became the victim of politics,” he said.