All aboard harmony train
The Maitree Express grabs all the limelight for connecting Bangladesh and India via rail but a little-known train has been running between the two countries since 1902.
The Midnapore Urs Special takes over 2,000 Bangladeshis of all faiths to a congregation (Urs) in Midnapore of India's West Bengal from Bangladesh's Rajbari once every year at the cost of Tk 3,350.
The trip begins on February 15 and ends with the train returning four days later.
According to Kazi Iradat Ali, president of the Anjuman-e-Quadria Committee, the managing committee behind the entire journey, the service was cancelled only four times in its 117-year history.
The first time was during the India-Pakistan war in 1965. The war caused the suspension of the Dhaka-Kolkata rail service and it resumed with Maitree Express 43 years later.
But the Midnapore Urs Special continued to chug away after only a year's hiatus.
It was suspended a second time during Bangladesh's Liberation War in 1971 while a third time was when tension ran high in India after the destruction of Babri mosque in 1992.
The last suspension was in 1994 following outbreak of the plague in India.
Asked why it was such a special trip, Iradat Ali told The Daily Star that Bangladeshi followers of Midnapore Boro Huzur, a descendant of Abdul Quadir Jilani, make the annual trip to attend the Urs held on the day Midnapore Boro Huzur arrived in India.
Jilani, the ancestor of Midnapore, had come to India from Iraq in the 19th century to preach Islam.
Soon after inheriting the title from his father, Midnapore visited Rajbari on February 17, 1901, to meet his acolytes in undivided India, his followers said.
His Bangladeshi disciples have attended the Urs every year since then.
It is not, however, only Muslims who attend the Urs. People of other faiths do so too.
“People of all faiths go to the Midnapore Urs to seek blessings of the Boro Huzur,” Abdul Aziz Quaderi, executive committee member of the Anjuman-e-Quadria Committee, said.
He said the Hindus called the Boro Huzur, Guru Dev.
But how does one get to take part in this special trip?
The Anjuman-e-Quadria selects the pilgrims and sends their papers to the Indian High Commission in Bangladesh for visas.
Anjuman-e-Qadria, the management committee in Rajbari, selects applications by lottery.
The train crosses Bangladesh border via Darsana-Gede (India) point.
The train starts at 10pm on February 15 and leaves Midnapore at 10pm (Indian time) on February 18 reaching Rajbari the following day.
Immigration formalities are completed at Darshana station in Bangladesh.
There are three leaders from the Qadria committee and 80 volunteers to coordinate the whole trip.
Usually, the passengers have their breakfast at Darshana, lunch at Gede and dinner at Rana Ghat station in India.
Md Showkat Ali, deputy commissioner of Rajbari, said, “It's a good example of religious harmony and friendship between Bangladesh and India. It's a tradition of more than 100 years and matter of pride for the Rajbari people.”
This year, 2,260 Bangladeshis attended the yearly event scheduled on February 17 on board the Midnapore Urs Special in its 24 carriages.