Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 1, Issue 17, Tuesday, September 23, 2003






AUTUMN, the season of kaashfool, white clouds in the clear sky and shiuly on the green grass sights that are missing in our city. Autumn is also the season when goddess Durga visits Bengal. Durga puja or the Sarodio utshab is the most celebrated festival amongst the people of the Hindu religion in both parts of Bengal.

During the transient stay of autumn and the momentary visit of Durga, a fusion of festivity is sensed all around Dhaka. However, the festive mood is even more vehement in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. Puja mondops swipe out the normal life of the city. To bring about some changes in the idea of Sharodio spree, a visit to Kolkata during this time of the year could be phenomenal.

Now this phenomenal visit could be made by an aeroplane ride, which would be as short as Durga's stay. Or, you could try travelling by road all the way to Kolkata, for a truly memorable experience.

Enough romanticising; it is time to get down to business. We have specific arrangements to make for an exclusive trip to Kolkata, the city of joy. A few years ago, a treaty was signed between the governments of Bangladesh and India to establish direct road link between Dhaka and Kolkata, which allows you to make this journey possible. Preparation for the journey requires bus tickets, visa, money exchange, and a lot more. Several buses ply in the direct route to Kolkata. These include BRTC, Shohag poribahan and Shyamoly.

We would definitely suggest the BRTC, as they will take you all the way to Salt Lake City. With the others, you will have to take a break journey. Moreover, they do not go as far as BRTC. BRTC is scheduled to go to Kolkata on Fridays, Mondays, and Wednesdays. Two buses leave on these days, one at 7am and the other at 7:30am. There are no buses on Sundays. Return buses are on the rest of the three days of the week, i.e. Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. One should buy a return ticket. Cost of the ticket for up and down would be Tk.1200. There is no booking system and passport with visa is required by BRTC.

We recommend the journey to Kolkata through direct bus services for increased security and reduced hassle. However, this journey can be made in other ways. One could book tickets to Benapole from Dhaka. Buses leave almost everyday and the ticket prices are fairly low. The second stage of the journey starts from the bus depot at Benapole to the border. This journey can be made both by a rickshaw or a rickshaw-van. Once at the border the immigration procedures are the same. The border is then crossed on foot. Immigration at the Indian side has the same procedures as on the direct bus link services. However, one is more likely to be approached by dalals who offer to handle the immigration procedures. The third and final leg of the journey comprises of a taxi or a car ride to Kolkata. Taxis can be rented on a share basis where each seat costs Rs.150 or the whole taxi can be reserved. Cars can also be rented, at slightly higher costs. One can be dropped off at any point in Kolkata and the fares are negotiable.

For taking the direct bus services, you can assign travel agents to do the entire running around job for you. There are two travel agents authorised by BRTC. Our advice is to take their help to avoid any kind of malpractice and deception. These two travel agents will arrange for your visa from the Indian embassy, take care of the Tk.500 travel taxes, and arrange tickets from the BRTC. They will charge only Tk.200 for the job. Total cost (including travel agents fee) for going to Kolkata and getting back to Dhaka would be Tk1900. Travel agents require two copies of passport size photos. University or college affiliation if you are a student, Government Order (GO) if you are a government employee and office order if you are working at any other private organisation are needed.
Got the ticket? Now set your soul towards the journey ahead. BRTC buses starts from the Komlapur bus depot. Reporting time is one hour before the schedule. Your luggage must weigh no more than 25kg. Bus authorities will provide only breakfast. It would be wise to carry enough food and water to last all through the journey. Two armed Ansars will travel along up to Benapole to provide security.

Buses follow the Savar-Paturia route. If you are lucky, it will take little time to cross the Padma at Paturia ghat. There will be one stopover for lunch at around 12pm just beside the Magura district. You will have to dine at the roadside restaurants. The menu does not offer much, but when you are hungry, anything edible tastes divine. Do not forget to visit the lavatory. You will realise the significance of visiting one afterwards, as there will be no stopping until Benapole, even if your bladder is bursting.

After the grand lunch, the bus heads straight towards Benapole. You will face the usual customs and immigration hassle over there. No need to worry, if your papers are all set properly. You will get another chance to stretch your feet, visit the washroom, and get something refreshing like coconut water.

Horidashpur, the Indian side of the immigration is only a few yards away. Journey through the no man's land is so brief that when the nose of the bus touches the Indian side the rear is still in Bangladesh. Although there are several money exchange companies authorised by the Indian government at Horidashpur, dalals rule any way, so beware. There are strict regulations issued by Bangladesh government about crossing the border with Takas in your possession. It is mandatory to endorse Taka into dollar, up to $500 and then exchange it into rupees. We would suggest that you get your dollars from Bangladesh from an authorised money exchange or a bank.
The two immigrations will take about two hours. You start again at around 4pm from Horidashpur. The bus will now follow the Bongaa-Salt Lake route. After crossing Bongaa, there will be another break for 15 minutes. At Bongaa you will start using Indian rupees for the first time. There will be almost no water in the toilets from now on, as it is not mandatory in Hinduism to use water after responding to nature's call. If you have toilet paper with you then they might come in handy.
The final phase of your journey will be towards Salt Lake City, which is more or less like Uttara, Bangladesh. Just before entering Salt Lake, you will have to face an enormous traffic jam. The 12 -13 hour-long journey finally concludes at Korunamoi international bus stand at Salt Lake. Hop off the bus, get your luggage, and prepare yourself for the ultimate experience. By the way, if one does not book a seat for the return trip at the bus stoppage, getting back might be a little difficult. Bon voyage.

By Shahnaz Parveen
Next week we'll bring to you what you'll do once you're in the city of joy and many more on the colourful festival of Durga Puja













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