MURALI N. KRISHNASWAMY

When the Maitree Express rolled out of Kolkata on Poila Baisakh, it spelt the renewal of friendship across boundaries.

On April 14, 2008, at 7.10 a.m. on the day of Poila Baisakh, or the Bengali New Year, an engine and its seven coaches decorated with marigold flowers was flagged off from Kolkata terminal by the Union Minister of External Affairs, Pranab Mukherjee. You can call it the train to Bangladesh. But more specifically, it's "Friendship Beyond the Boundaries" or the Maitree Express. And it's very special as it's the first passenger train after 43 years between India and Bangladesh. On board, passengers were treated to special Bengali cuisine. (There were also the VIPs!) Restore servicesBefore April 1965, there used to be passenger trains -- the Poorva Bangla Express and the Barishal Express -- between India and what was then called East Pakistan through the Bangoan border. But services were stopped after the first Indo-Pakistan war in 1965. The last train that chugged in was the Dhaka Mail (painted in green) that reached Sealdah station in India from Moimonsingha, crossing Goaindaghat for the last time. After the creation of Bangladesh, following the second Indo-Pakistan war in 1971, there were demands that rail services between the two countries be restored.But there was a difference. It was only a goods train this time. The service ran between India and Bangladesh via Petrapole, Beanpole border. But people wanted a passenger train link, a demand that was raised once again in 2001. Finally, the voices were heard ... in 2007.There were many rounds of talks between India and Bangladesh and it was agreed that there would be a "Maitree Express". India decided that its border station would be at Gede, while for Bangladesh it was at Darshana. There were also to be the necessary immigration and customs departments, and security arrangements. (There is a plan now to have onboard customs and immigration checks.) ... the Maitree Express crosses just one river -- the Padma. It has been decided that from April 19, the service will be bi-weekly. Every Saturday, the train from Kolkata (No.3109), with an Indian Railways rake, will leave for Dhaka, while it will be No. 3107 (Bangladesh Railways rake) for India. On Sunday, it will be Train Nos. 3108 and 3110.... a long awaited service between the two countries. Train to Bangladesh The train leaves Kolkata for Dhaka on an eight-hour journey. Gede is the last Indian station. The next stop is at Darshana, which is also the first stop in Bangladesh. The train then crosses Jessore, Jhanaidah, Kushtia, Natore, Sirajganj, Tangil, Gazipur and then pulls into Dhaka Cantonment. It's a distance of 416 km. When the train rolled out of Kolkata on April 14, the return journey (both ways) was on April 16. The train leaves Kolkata for Dhaka on an eight-hour journey. Gede is the last Indian station. The next stop is at Darshana, which is also the first stop in Bangladesh. The train then crosses Jessore, Jhanaidah, Kushtia, Natore, Sirajganj, Tangil, Gazipur and then pulls into Dhaka Cantonment. It's a distance of 416 km. When the train rolled out of Kolkata on April 14, the return journey (both ways) was on April 16.