The peculiar border at Hili station came about because the Radcliffe Commission wanted to preserve the integrity of the main north-south BG line in East Pakistan.
At Quasba, it is a different story. The old Assam Bengal Railway did not wish that their lines entered the princely state of Tripura, so their main line going south to Chattogram ran within a few hundred metres of the border. The station was earlier known as Kamalasagar, a small town in Tripura. Its name was changed soon after it became part of East Pakistan.
One common attraction for Indian visitors to Agartala was to look into Bangladesh and see trains running through Quasba, which is a few hundred metres from the Indian border. In recent years this area has become a “soft border” where people from both countries can interact in a buffer zone. This seems to have benefited local businesses,
In these videos you can observe trains running in Bangladesh. All long distance trains from Chattogram to other parts of Bangladesh have to pass this way.
Pictures of these trains taken from higher points in India:
We now turn to another video of this station. The commentary (in Bengali) is not too useful, but keep your eyes open.
Especially this clip at 1:56
This gives the full picture of passenger services running through. These include (mainly) BG expresses, while there are a few MG expresses as well. These are to connect Dhaka to places in the North (such as Dinajpur and Rangpur) which were (as of 2017) only on metre gauge. This timetable is valid from 01 March 2017.
Another quirk of Bangladesh Railways is that Intercity Expresses are considered to the best services while the Mail/Expresses are slower and less preferred. At the bottom of the hierarchy is the Local passenger, which also exist on this section.
I am transliterating the train names and place names here:
The train you see at 2.25 onwards is a northbound MG train. It can only be the 750 Dhaka – Dinajpur Ekota Express. Or the 757 Drutajan Express with very abnormal rescheduling.
A typical sleepy rural station, which is not what you would expect to see on an international border. You can see that there are long-distance trains stopping there throughout the night, so there are likely to be major security issues as we see (from the previous video from the Indian group) that it is not difficult to cross between he countries without being noticed.
The border stone is slightly to the west of the level crossing. As you may recall, the Radcliffe Award mentioned that the railway line itself was to be the border. So both sides try to manage the best they can.
In the next few years, an extension from Balurghat will bring the Indian Railways up to India’s Hili.
(In the other side of Bangladesh, the MG branch line from Feni to Belonia was closed long ago. Meanwhile the BG line of IR has extended from Agartala down to India’s Belonia and further down.)
Note: Bangladesh Railways has stopped issuing printed timetables many years ago. Individual stations will have displays like this (and remember, outside the larger cities it is often Bengali or nothing). You can see the overall timetables on this site:
An update which shows a group from West Bengal visiting this area. This was uploaded earlier in 2019.
Commentary is in Bengali with English subtitles.
The narrator was not quite correct about the pre-partition Darjeeling Mail. In fact it took over 13 hours from Sealdah to the old Siliguri Jn (now Siliguri Town). And it did not go anywhere near Bangaon and Jessore. Here you can see its timetable in 1944:
In the next post, you will see more about current passenger services on the BR trains through Hili. Remember that it is dual BG/MG. More precisely, it was BG since the 1920s and MG has been added after 2000, to facilitate MG services from Dhaka across the Bangabandhu Bridge to destinations such as Dinajpur, Rangpur and Lalmonirhat which are (or were until recently) on MG lines from Parbatipur.
This is from a much-copied Bradshaw from June 1944. However, by then the Eastern Bengal Railway and Assam Bengal Railway had been merged in a short-lived marriage resulting in the Bengal & Assam Railway in order to facilitate the war effort against Japan. The US armed forces had then taken over most of the train traffic going into Assam. For once, the British took a back seat in India.
It would be instructive to compare these timings with those of the pre-war period (say 1939) as wartime shortages and military traffic may have reduced speeds considerably. Wartime exigencies caused a number of branch lines in different parts of India to close by 1940, some never to reopen.
The timings of the up and down Mail:
Note that the full details of stations and trains between Sealdah and Ranaghat are not given above. They are given below:
Here is a departure board from Sealdah from around the same time. The Darjeeling Mail’s departure time is not clear, but probably close to the 15.45 given in the timetable.
Coming back to the main timetable above, the future border stations of Gede/Darsana and Chilhati/Haldibari can be seen. Not exactly, as Gede station was built after Partition. The last station on the Indian side in this timetable would be Banpur. On the Pakistani side, the existing Darsana station was felt to be too close to the enemy border so a new Darsana station was built a little further east, which lay on the new main line from Khulna to the north. Similarly New Gitaldaha was built somewhat further from the earlier Gitaldaha which was close to the border.
The old network of the EBR was so Calcutta-centric that important towns in the western half of East Pakistan had never been connected before. Even for that a new line had to be constructed between Jessore and new Darsana, somewhat like the far more complicated Assam Rail Link which India built in 1948-50.
The Hardinge Bridge is near Paksey station.
Also note the station of Hili which lies exactly on the border. The Radcliffe Commission stated that in that area the border was defined as the railway line is. Even till the 2000s it was considered the easiest place to come and go between India and Bangladesh.
At the northern end, the terminus of Siliguri later became the unimportant station of Siliguri Town, between the newly built major stations of Siliguri Jn to its north and later New Jalpaiguri to the south. The NG line was later extended south to New Jalpaiguri to connect with the broad gauge.
You can also see the BG Assam Mail up to Parbatipur. The MG Assam Mail ran from there via Lalmonirhat, Gitaldaha and Golakganj to the Brahmaputra ferry which ran between Aminigaon and Pandu, with a shuttle connection to Gauhati. Wagons were connected to goods trains going further east. Much of the freight ended up on the Ledo Road to China and the numerous air bases from where US transport aircraft flew to China. The toll of men and machines on these flights over the Himalayas were huge, and many crashed aircraft have not been found even 70 years later. Others continue to be discovered by dedicated researchers: see http://www.miarecoveries.org/
There was the Surma Mail (from the first page) which had a rather tortuous route-Sealdah to Ishurdi and Sirajganj Ghat, connecting steamer to Jagannathganj Ghat, connecting MG train to Mymensingh, Akhaura and Chittagong.
The Calcutta/Ranaghat pages show trains which went to Goalundo Ghat with ferry connections to Narayanganj (for Dacca) and Chandpur (for Silchar). At some time there was also a connection from Chandpur to Chittagong.
This train continued to run from Sealdah to Siliguri for some time after partition. By 1950, the Indian government decided to stop Pakistani trains from entering North Bengal. The lines north of the border (which lay between Chilhati and Haldibari) were converted to MG.
However, a form of the Mail continued to run until all cross-border services were closed during the 1965 war. In the timetables of the early 1960s we see the East Bengal Express which ran from Sealdah to Parbatipur via the Gede-Darsana border. This included a slip coach between Sealdah and Sirajganj with transfer at Ishurdi.
There was also an East Bengal Mail which followed a similar route to Goalundo Ghat, with a ferry connection to Dacca. And the old Barisal Express continued to run via Petrapol-Benapole to Khulna.
No scheduled passenger service ran between India and Bangladesh until 2008, when the Maitree Express started running from Kolkata terminus (not Sealdah) to Dhaka Cantt via Gede-Darsana and the Bangabandhu Bridge.
Getting information about the railway network in Bangladesh is difficult, especially as detailed timetables for the public have not been issued since around 1980. (Sri Lanka also seems to have stopped issuing timetables long ago). Anyway, one reference which gives the list of stations based on timetables up to 1978 is: http://www.railwaystationlists.co.uk/pdfasia/bangladeshrlys.pdf
The Indian Bradshaw used to publish timetables of East Pakistan and Bangladesh up to the mid-1970s although I have grave doubts as to whether the data for India’s neighboring countries was regularly updated.
Anyway, I have collected a few maps from various sources which some may find useful.
This one is from the “Railway Map of India” published by the Survey of India in 1991. Data for neighboring countries may not be fully up to date.
Note that the border stations on the Indian side are marked in red. There were probably limited cross-border goods services on a few routes at that time, though details are unclear. Note the Rupsa East-Bagerhat line being shown as NG, though from other reliable sources we know that it was converted to BG in around 1970 and closed after a few years.
Also note that there was no bridge connecting the western and eastern halves of the country. This purpose was served by the ferries between Sirajganj Ghat and Jagannathganj Ghat, and between Tistamukh Ghat and Bahadurabad Ghat. The Bangabandhu Bridge came up near the Sirajganj-Jagannathganj ferry.
Now we have this amateur effort from 2002. It was created by Y. Sakai, who appears to have been a Japanese who spent some time in Bangladesh. He tried to show every station which was then functioning. It does not show the link between the Bangabandhu bridge and Dhaka, which had not opened then.
This mapmaker seems to have done his own transliteration from Bengali to English, so the names may not exactly tally with earlier English maps and timetables. I found it useful while traveling in 2008, before the age of smartphones where one could follow Google Maps and the like.
Finally we have this map dated 2013 taken from the official website. This can be considered to be the latest official version, though it does not show every station.
It does have some information about the little-known bypasses of Ishurdi and Akhaura which avoid reversals for numerous long-distance trains. Note the newer developments such as the links from Bangabandhu bridge to Joydebpur (for Dhaka) and Jamalpur Town (for the Mymensingh area).
Some lines like Feni-Belonia are shown to be closed, but the Kulaura-Shahbazpur (ex Latu) line is shown to be open while other sources say that no train has run there since around 2002.
Other points of interest are at least two stations where Bangladeshi trains run within a few metres of the Indian border, at Hili in the west and Kasba in the east.
Someone who was really interested could create a more detailed atlas using this as a basis and supplementing it with Google Maps. To show sufficient detail, it would have to be in book form like the well-known Great Indian Railway Atlas. See http://indianrailstuff.com/gira3/
But would it be commercially viable? Perhaps only a handful of railfans (and that too mainly from outside Bangladesh) would want to buy it. The print-on-demand self-publishing sites could provide a way out.
Much excitement has been caused among those connected with the Railways by the imminent start of the new cross-border train between Kolkata and Khulna. Trial runs were held a few days ago and many videos can be seen on Youtube showing the train running at various places along the line to Bangaon and beyond. Here is an example:
The earlier Maitree Express, now running between Kolkata and Dhaka Cantt, follows a route in which much of the route in Bangladesh did not exist before Partition. There had been trains with names like the Dacca Mail which started from Sealdah and terminated at Goalundo Ghat, from where the passengers embarked on a ferry trip of several hours to Narayanganj on the outskirts of Dacca (as it was then spelt). By 2001 the Bangabandhu Bridge had been completed along with a connecting line to Dhaka. This provided a route from the Gede-Darsana border to Dhaka without a ferry crossing. More about that in another post.
This new service between Kolkata and Khulna revives a pre-partition train called the Barisal Express between Sealdah and Khulna which was running since at least the 1930s. In fact it was running for some time after Partition and was listed in the ER timetables of 1964. However, all cross-border services between India and East Pakistan ceased with the 1965 war.
In a Bradshaw dated February 1935, we see the 31 Barisal Express leaving Sealdah at 15.26 and arriving at Khulna at 20.45. It stopped at many places beyond the present border, though the main stoppages were Bongaon (16.47/16.55) and Jessore (17.59/18.02). The return train was the 30 Barisal Express which left Khulna at 05.45 and reached Sealdah at 10.10, with the main stops at Jessore (07.27/07.30) and Bongaon (08.34/08.42).
Here is an extract from a Bradshaw of June 1944, which is unfortunately not very legible as it has been photocopied many times.
Part of the first page has got cropped, although the full route from Khulna can be seen on the second page. The distance is shown as 110 miles or 177 km.
Another curiosity on these pages is the Khulna-Bagerhat Light Railway, which was to be the only narrow gauge line running in East Pakistan. It started from Rupsa East, across the river from Khulna and was not linked to the rest of the rail network. This line was converted to BG around 1970 but was closed a few years later as it was uneconomical.
Here is a destination board at Sealdah from that period:
You can see that the departure of the Barisal Express is given as 13.30, which matches the timetable shown above.
From the above time table, you can see that Petrapole station did not exist then and the border crossed the line between Bongaon and Benapol. The station at Petrapole, like Gede, was built after Partition in order to provide a station closer to the new international border.
Running of limited goods and passenger trains across the border continued after Partition up to 1965, though there may have been interruptions. Those who have been following the Indian Railways since the 1960s may remember seeing BG wagons marked PE and PW, being the initials of the then Pakistan Eastern and Pakistan Western Railways.
Goods trains across Gede-Darsana and Petrapol-Benapol and (to a lesser extent) other crossing points were running for some time before the Maitree express between Kolkata and Dhaka started running in 2008. There are frequent EMU services between Sealdah and Bangaon (the present spelling), but no passenger train seems to have run to Petrapole since 1965 till the present. Goods trains would have crossed the border after formalities at this station.
In early 2008 I had traveled by road from Khulna to Benapol. The highway between Khulna and Jessore runs mainly adjacent to the rails. One could see a number of IR wagons from various zones stabled at the small stations on this route.
A Google maps reference for Petrapole and surrounding areas is given here. Those who are interested can trace the path to Khulna, which involves a sharp turn to the south at Jessore.
It can be seen that the main road crossing point is in the vicinity, though not very close to Petrapole and Benapol stations.
Here is the checkpoint for the existing Maitree Express at Kolkata station. Presumably the new train will also use it.
Getting details of stations functioning in Bangladesh at present is not very easy, particularly as no detailed timetable seems to have been published since the 1980s. If one is really interested one can refer to http://www.railwaystationlists.co.uk/pdfasia/bangladeshrlys.pdf although it does not seem to have information beyond the 80s. This is the best I can find, from a map published by a railfan around 2001. The mapmaker has tried to show every station which existed at that time.
Here is the best official map which I could find, which is dated 2013. It does not show every station.
While the route from Khulna to Jessore is part of the main line going to the north-western part of Bangladesh, the Jessore-Benapol section was quite neglected with a single pair of local trains between Khulna and Benapol. See train nos 53/54 near the bottom of this page:
So you now know the difference between an enclave and an exclave, and that there are Indian exclaves in Bangladesh and Bangladeshi exclaves in India. The Bangladeshis would refer to the first type as enclaves in their country while the Indians would refer to the second type as enclaves in their country. These are also called first-order enclaves/exclaves.
So far so good. Then there is the counter-enclave or enclave within an enclave (or exclave within an exclave if you prefer). There are quite a few of these, namely an Indian exclave in Bangladesh which includes a Bangladeshi exclave totally surrounded by the aforementioned Indian exclave. Similarly you would have a Bangladeshi exclave in India which includes an Indian exclave fully surrounded by the aforementioned Bangladeshi exclave. These are known as second-order enclaves/exclaves.
Cooch Behar has sometimes been the butt of jokes, with Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” having a minor character named the Maharani of Cooch Naheen (i.e. “The Queen of Nothing”). An old map showing the messy border of Cooch Behar can be seen here.
For an overall view, you could look at this segment from Google maps. Start from the quaintly named village of Phansidewa (“gallows”) and try tracing the border eastward through Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and finally Dhubri district: https://firstname.lastname@example.org,88.6693472,11z
(However, as of 2017 Google Maps shows the border as it is today and does not show the enclaves.)
A good overall summary is here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Bangladesh_enclaves Note the apparently true story about the rulers of Cooch Behar and Rangpur exchanging villages as gambling stakes (though they really should have used something like poker chips). The article gives a full list of enclaves (though the actual documents run into hundreds of pages).
Life in these exclaves can be harsh. You would generally live in close proximity to trigger-happy border guards and barbed wire, while your “parent” country would not be able to ensure any services to your territory as you can see here: http://archive.thedailystar.net/2004/06/17/d40617070171.htm
It is also understood that the old Gitaldaha Junction was relocated to a new location further from the border, and this was naturally known as New Gitaldaha Junction. It is still possible to visit the “old” Gitaldaha junction where a now-defunct bridge crossed the river into East Pakistan/Bangladesh.
However, on the Bangladeshi side of the border the line from Burimari (on the border) to Lalmonirhat does pass through a few hundred metres of two Indian exclaves. It is not known if there is any particular problem with train operations here: https://email@example.com,89.0624778,14z