Kolkata-Dhaka travellers welcome new bridge

Kolkata to Dhaka, as the crow — or the plane — flies, is barely 250 km, a distance covered in a little over 30 minutes. But a road journey usually took about 10 hours, sometimes a lot more, depending on the weather and the speed of immigration clearance.

Writer-poet Sayed Hasmat Jalal recalls his first road trip — one winter several years ago — when he boarded the bus at Kolkata at 7.30 in the morning and could reach Dhaka only by 2.30 the following morning. “We found dense fog as we neared the Padma River, as a result of which there was a long queue of buses waiting to board ferries for a ride across. Passengers didn’t have to alight, entire buses drove onto boats, each boat capable to holding about six buses at a time. And when there is fog, even the ride across the river takes much longer,” said the Kolkata-based Mr. Jalal.

With a 6.24-km road-cum-rail bridge now in place over the Padma — for which the construction began in 2014 and was inaugurated late last month — and with the ferry ride dispensed with, the distance between Dhaka and the Indian border has shrunk by nearly 100 km and the actual travel time shortened by at least four hours.

“I mostly take the flight because I find land travel cumbersome and time-consuming due to the long wait at immigration and at the ferry ghat (on the Padma). The last time I travelled by road it took me 18 hours. But with the bridge coming up, I might now consider taking the land route more often because it is way cheaper,” said Pinaki Nath, who belongs to Kolkata and is a student at the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute in Dhaka.

Brand professional Kaniska Chakraborty, who too hails from Kolkata and works mostly out of Dhaka, also prefers “flying in and out” because he is pressed for time.” “But I realise how important this bridge is not just to the economy but to people in general. It will bring families closer. It will mean reaching a person who is unwell to a large medical facility faster. I most certainly will go and see the bridge. It personifies the spirit of Bangladesh, one of human connections, one of togetherness, one of relentless pursuit of tomorrow,” Mr. Chakraborty said.

The overriding sentiment among those who take the land route between the two countries, however, is that while the bridge would cut short the actual time taken to travel, it may not contribute a whole lot to their comfort, which would still rely largely on the smoothness of the immigration process.

Said Mr. Jalal, who earlier this week travelled back to Kolkata from Khulna by Bandhan Express: “While I was in Khulna I had no idea that the Padma Bridge had opened for traffic, or else I would have certainly travelled to Dhaka for the experience. The bridge is certainly a boon, but the attitude of immigration officials needs to change first. During the return journey, clearance on the Bangladesh side of the border took about 30 minutes — we stood in a large hall that had 12-14 counters and many ceiling fans. But at the Kolkata station, the whole process took place in a small airless room crammed with people. Travellers were harassed with unnecessary questions — are you carrying gold, are you carrying Bangladeshi currency? From the immigration counter we emerged into a narrow lane, absolutely dark, where we had to walk for a while before finding a taxi stand. It was an inhuman experience.”

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2022 12:46:03 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/kolkata-dhaka-travellers-welcome-new-bridge/article65592355.ece