Mohammad Sultan’s 30-year-old dream came to fruition, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flagged off the train between this highway town in Jammu region to Qazigund in Kashmir.
Mr. Sultan, 80, whose wrinkled face bears testimony to his hard life, was among hundreds of eager residents of Banihal who had assembled at the railway station way before the scheduled time for the first passenger train to chug towards Qazigund.
“The first time I heard that there is a possibility of a train coming to our town was back in 1983. I thought, if the tracks could be extended from Jammu to Udhampur, why not up to Banihal,” Mr. Sultan told PTI during his journey to Qazigund.
The Prime Minister, accompanied by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and a host of other dignitaries including Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, inaugurated the 18 km long Banihal-Qazigund rail section last Wednesday. The rail link will provide an all-weather connectivity between Banihal and Qazigund.
The octogenarian said he had lost hope of ever stepping on a train, as the project was getting delayed.
“At my age, hopes are not fulfilled very often. But, I kept hoping that one day I will board a train here,” he said.
It was not the first travel to Kashmir for Mr. Sultan, but as he puts it, “this is royal-class“.
“Whenever we would step out of Banihal, we had to look skyward for impending weather changes. While winters are harsh due to snowfall, summers can get tricky owing to landslides triggered by rains. One was sure of leaving the town but not about the date of return,” he said.
Mr. Sultan is happy that travel to Kashmir will be a lot safer now than the treacherous bus journey.