Back on track


Photo by Jyotirmoy Chakraborty

YOU CAN’T possibly ride a snail. Nor can you board something metaphorically slower – Dhubri Mail.

Dhubri is Assam’s westernmost town and headquarters of a district with the same name. It features in songs, poems, fiction, non-fiction and rhetoric as a geographic and demographic extreme. Almost always along with the other extreme Sadiya, the easternmost settlement, where the river Brahmaputra begins.

Geographic, because Dhubri stands close to where the Brahmaputra dissolves into the Yamuna after flowing past the Indo-Bangladesh border.

Demographic, because it is one of India’s very few Muslim-dominated districts, and is often cited as an example of how unchecked influx of Bangladeshis – most of its 75 per cent Muslims are Bengali-speaking – can overrun indigenous Indians.

Optimists, though, hail Dhubri for being a religious confluence. Not without reason; the Gurdwara Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib here is a neighbour of the Panchpeer Dargah and Mahamaya Temple.

Romantic or cynic or alarmist, all agreed nothing on earth was as sluggish as the Dhubri Mail. A ‘Dhubri Mail’ tag meant you were a slowcoach or worse. That was before the last train chugged out of Dhubri Railway Station two decades ago.

It wasn’t exactly the Dhubri Mail that Indian Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee revived on September 13. She flagged off the 810 Dhubri-Kamakhya Fast Passenger at 11 am through video-conferencing from New Jalpaiguri Railway Station in West Bengal.

Kamakhya is the westernmost railway station within the municipal limits of Assam capital Guwahati, 290 km east of Dhubri. And New Jalpaiguri, 220 km north of Dhubri, is a strategic railway junction for trains connecting the Northeast and India’s ‘mainland’.

For some 70,000 residents of Dhubri, the revival of the train service means a lot. For old-timers in particular who couldn’t get over the town’s slump as a pre-1947 communication hub to a post-Independence dead-end.

To understand Dhubri’s location without a map, place the town at a bend on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra. Imagine the town hemmed in by water bodies on all sides except one that allows the railway track, almost parallel to a road (lifeline), to connect it to the country beyond.

For those not familiar with Dhubri’s pre-1947 status, the town had an airport and river port besides being a railhead. Prior to 1947, almost everyone who traveled west from present-day Northeast took a train from Dhubri to Kolkata via Lalmonihat (in Bangladesh).

They had to come to Dhubri for the other options too – ferry to the Bay of Bengal and beyond or a flight from Rupsi Airport, 15 km north of the town.

Partition put paid to the Dhubri river port. The airport, built by the British during World War II, sporadically serviced small passenger planes with flights to Guwahati and Kolkata until it was shut down in 1983.

Five years later, a devastating flood damaged the metre gauge track leading to the Dhubri Railway Station. The track was restored in 1993, but train services were stopped for good after a tribal militant outfit blew up a locomotive in 1995.

“Never thought I would live to see Dhubri back on track,” said 83-year-old resident Tarini Roy after the 801 Fast Passenger toot-tooted past his house in Gauripur town (where the road leading to Dhubri branches off the National Highway). “Wish the river port and airport were also made operational again.”

The Inland Water Authority of India, having declared the Brahmaputra an important national waterway, has long been planning to restart river transport. The Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region has also taken an initiative to reopen Rupsi.

But both IWAI and DoNER seem to be ailing from the Dhubri Mail syndrome. Then again, Dhubri is used to things moving slowly.

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About rahconteur

A mid-career journalist who's worked horizontally across India - from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat
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14 Responses to Back on track

  1. Pranab says:

    I remember as a child we (our family) were once eating a hurried dinner because we had to catch a night train from Dhubri station. I still remember the disappointment on my parents’ faces as we got late and saw the train chugging past on our way to the station. That was sometime in early 80s. It took me another 20 years to actually board a train after that missed train incident.

    Usually, we never get to read anything remotely uplifting from this rather infamous place. Your reportage brought a smile to my face. Outsiders probably cannot imagine how much hope and happiness this news brings to this town’s old-timers.

    Subscribing to rahconteur.

    • rahconteur says:

      Am trying to give a ‘global’ platform to small places and seemingly insignificant development (my paper at least thought so) in the Northeast. Thanks for your feedback. Your blog is quite poetic too.

  2. Manmit Saikia says:

    I still remember the sounds of the train on the old railways tracks of our very own dhubri in some 80s while I was a child. I remember the days when we used to go for an evening walk on the platform when the station became functionless. Now I am very much excited and happy that I shall hear those sounds once again. Its a matter of pleasure for all the people from dhubri town. At the same time we expect more number/types of trains running from/through dhubri town to the different locations of assam and west bengal.

  3. suvradip choudhury says:

    we r the dhubrinians.i m very happy after listening the whistel again.i m sure that our dhubri will rise up again strongly.its the starting only with train and it will end up with lots of improvements,airport,riverport,and much to go on.

  4. vivek says:

    wonderful post.. for the fear of being overtly repetitive in praising ur blog posts i will limit myself to just these words 😛

  5. Prosenjit Saha says:

    Very well written and it brings out the true picture of Dhubri. Thanks for writing so well about my home town.

  6. Jayanta says:

    The first school of my life was just near the station, very close to the only level crossing gate in Dhubri. Steam locomotives used to pass by my school – hissing and puffing while shunting the coaches. We believed, an iron piece placed on the rail becomes a magnet once the steam engine passes over it. All of the five years in the vicinity of the giant steam engines everyday could not give me enough courage to actually put a piece of iron on the track.
    While wondering at the iron machine, I never ever dreamed that one day I will be working for the railways.
    Thank you Rahul for taking me back to those days – even if for a moment.

    • rahconteur says:

      Appreciate it. Hope to write more about Dhubri and other places that are least written about in mainstream media.

  7. Soumyadip says:

    Hi All,

    Proud to have the train again in Dhubri….

    Soumyadip

  8. Prosenjit says:

    Hi Rahul,
    You’ll be glad to know that 2 more trains are now originating from Dhubri. After 60 years, Dhubri is now connected to West Bengal by railway line. I have heard from my family that people of Dhubri are now seeing light at the end of a long and prolonged darkness in terms of development and communication.

    Prosenjit

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