Hili Revisited-2

Hope that you have read Part 1:  https://abn397.wordpress.com/2019/10/17/hili-revisited-1/

If not, it will be helpful to read it first.

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

Hili timetable board

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:

Hili TT English

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:

http://www.railway.gov.bd/site/page/f8898018-00a5-4096-a803-8b533232e60c/All-Train-Schedule

Note the separate sections for MG and BG, also for West and East Zone which refers to the Jamuna (or Brahmaputra in India) as the dividing line.

 

Hili revisited-1

Hope that you have read this: https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/more-from-the-border-from-hell-1/

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 1943:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2017/11/24/the-darjeeling-mail-of-1943/

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.

 

The Darjeeling Mail of 1943

This is from a much-copied Bradshaw from 1943. The exact date is not clear. 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 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:

Darj Mail 001

Note that the full details of stations and trains between Sealdah and Ranaghat are not given above. They are given below:

Ranaghat1 001Ranaghat2 001

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.

A slice of history: Indian Airlines in 1972 and the Tripura hopper

For those who are interested in old airline timetables, this may be one of the best resources available. It covers most corners of the world:

http://www.timetableimages.com/ttimages/complete/complete.htm

We pick on Indian Airlines when it was the only domestic airline and covered a number of places which are not served by any other airline today.

ic72-02

Examples being Keshod, Jamshedpur, Cooch Behar, Lilabari and the Tripura trio of Khowai, Kamalpur and Kailashahar. Also note that in those days the flights from Calcutta to Port Blair had a technical halt at Rangoon-as the Viscounts didn’t have the range and probably Caravelles and 737s could not be spared for these routes. Even today few people realize that the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are much closer to Myanmar and Indonesia than to the Indian mainland.

Here is a sample of the timetables on the less important routes. (Of course, you can see the entire timetable through the link given above):

IAC 1972 TT 001

The airport at Keshod was supposed to facilitate visitors to the Gir forest. It has permanently shut down, while in the same general area Diu is now served by one flight a day. The famous Tripura flight (operated by a Dakota) can also be seen.

There are some odd things about the airport at Agartala. I have a small connection with this as the state government acquired the land from my maternal grandfather’s family in the late 1930s. They were probably happy with this as the land was not very suitable for growing tea.

Now take a look at this map showing it as it is today:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/@23.888003,91.2387921,14z

You can see that the runway is very close to the India-Bangladesh border. Any flight from Kolkata to Agartala would begin its descent long before it enters Indian territory. (This also happened at Shillong when commercial flights operated there for a short time). The airport is located near a village called Singarbil, and there is a railway station of that name across the border. It started functioning in 1942. Apart from limited civilian traffic, the airport was used by the US military as a base for air-dropping of supplies in Burma and China.

Now, in the period from 1947 to 1952 there was still a lot of travel between India and East Pakistan. As the partition in the East was relatively peaceful (unlike the earlier events in Noakhali and Tippera (Comilla) districts), there were many Hindus as well as Muslims who thought they were all right where they were and did not think of moving immediately.

There was a cutoff date sometime in 1952 by when people had to decide which country they wanted to be citizens of. During this transition period my mother and other members of her family used to regularly travel between Calcutta and a place in Sylhet district.

One could take the land route, but that involved long ferry crossings (around half a day from Goalundo to Narayanganj, still more from Goalundo to Chandpur) and a fairly long journey to the ultimate destination near Kulaura. Then, as now, air fares to Agartala were highly subsidized. They normally flew to Agartala, stepped off the runway and walked a few hundred metres to the border. Sometimes there was a single bored policeman at the border, sometimes not. A little further one would find rickshaws to Akhaura, from where one could get trains to anywhere in the eastern part of East Pakistan.

We now take a look at the Tripura hopper shown on p.15 above, which must be India’s best example of rural air transport. At that time roads were very limited in Tripura, and some WW2 airfields came in useful to connect Calcutta and Agartala with Khowai, Kamalpur and Kailashahar. These places are so obscure that it is difficult to find them on an average atlas. Here is the route from Agartala onwards:

Tripura map 001

As we see from the timetable, the scheduled time was typically 20 minutes between these airports. From the published coordinates, the straight-line flight distances were:

Agartala-Khowai: 41 km

Khowai-Kamalpur: 23 km

Kamalpur-Kailashahar: 28 Km

This 23-km and 28-km hops would have been the shortest-ever distances on any scheduled flights in India (though there are some in places like the Scottish islands where there are flights of 1 to 2 km).

Anyway, it appears that these three airports have not been used for many years and may now be unusable. In the mean time roads have improved and the railway line connecting Tripura with the rest of India was built at a snail’s pace over 60 years and finally reached Agartala. It was converted to broad gauge recently and extended to Udaipur, Belonia and Sabroom by 2019. An extension to a place near Akhaura will be opened soon. This will probably involve transhipment of containers from the metre gauge of Bangladesh to broad gauge.

When Indian Airlines phased out their Dakotas soon after this timetable came out, many of these small airports with little traffic lost their connection. Vayudoot may have run their 19-seat Dorniers for a while to some of these places, but the airline itself vanished quite quickly. Thus ended the golden era of aviation in Tripura. In no other state were such small towns served by a national airline.

A related article on Indian Airlines’ operations in the early 1960s can be seen here:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/a-1962-article-on-indian-airlines/

India and Bangladesh-the border from hell.

UPDATE: This article describes the situation as it was in May 2015 before the transfer of territories took place.

First have a look at this news report stating that India’s parliament has finally passed legislation regarding the ratification of the land boundary with Bangladesh: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/rajya-sabha-passes-bill-to-ratify-lba-with-bangladesh/article7177102.ece

So you are wondering what the fuss is about, and why it could not be resolved since 1947. First let us revise some basic geography. As usual, Wikipedia is a good starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enclave_and_exclave

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.

Is your head starting to spin? Finally, we end with the counter-counter enclave or third-order enclave which does have one example. You might as well look at this on the map: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Bangladesh_enclaves#/media/File:Dahala_Khagrabari.png 

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.

It can be enlarged: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Bangladesh_enclaves#/media/File:Coochbehar.jpg

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://www.google.co.in/maps/@26.4979994,88.6693472,11z

(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

This weird border has attracted the attention of trivia-hunters and serious scholars from around the world. Apart from various magazine articles referenced in the Wikipedia article, you can even download a doctoral thesis (over 500 pages long) with the quaint title of “Waiting for the esquimo”: “Waiting for the esquimo: An historical and documentary study of the Cooch Behar enclaves of India and Bangladesh”

Tail piece: My old friend Milan Chatterjee wondered if any railway line on the Indian side of the border crossed any Bangladeshi exclave. A closer look at the route from Cooch Behar to Gitaldaha and Bamanhat revealed that this was not the case, but that the abandoned line from Bamanhat to the border did momentarily cross three of these enclaves: https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Cooch+Behar,+West+Bengal/@26.0731929,89.5882181,14z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x39e2fc1ce181e4bd:0xe7787e092217f629 These stretches would total about 700 M (estimated by eye).

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://www.google.co.in/maps/@26.3082452,89.0624778,14z

Finally, here is a 28-minute video by an Indian TV channel showing various aspects of life in the enclaves (Mainly English, some Hindi and Bengali): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7hijHa0DYQ