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BANGLADESH DIARY 2 


2015       

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   Diary 1  2  3  4  
 

From Diary 1, and the north eastern corner, I'm now heading on south.

15/1. That dip-cooker is one of my greater inventions. Besides from getting a warm bath, I am sure there will be water enough, and it will stay warm. Neither can be taken for granted around here! The power fails a few minutes after I have heated my bucket of water.
I hit the city of Srimangal at nine, and it is surprisingly closed and - in bangle-eyes - empty. The shops slowly starts to open at ten, but I find a open and dissent diner, and manages to get some roti and a spiced omelette. To me, it feels a bit strange eating without any tools. On top of that, you are defiantly only supposed to use your right hand! The left is used for something else! A clue: Here are no toilet paper, just a bucket of water.
Almost every customer try to talk with me, and I have learned by now: Never mind what words/sounds they make, I can reply: "Denmark, I love it (Bangladesh), two weeks, alone, not married, no children", and that will satisfy them in general.
When I'm about to leave, the owner ask for a photo. I can't see the interesting in his diner, but it is of him and me! I get a hug like I only had, last I was in a steady relationship!
In an effort to get some peace, I head back to my room. On the way, every second person want to talk with me, and now, it begins to be a bit too much. I feel like a politician or a rock-star - and not in the good way.

The manager of the hotel had managed to get me a train ticket to Dhaka this afternoon at five. Great, but then I will hit the big city around midnight, and for sure; in the dark! But I save half a day, and perhaps, there is a night train further on? Either way, I'll use this day to relax a bit, and catch up on things. I have heard roomers of an internet cafe, and I figure I'll try to upload the bunch of diaries, pages and slideshows I have made recently - a great way to back-up my work. As no surprise, it is closed due to the continuous power failure, and I'm forced to drink some tea. Here, the milktea is called du-tjai. The next shop teaches me, it is called rana. Some understand milktea,  but fare from all.
Someone has made a lethal invention in this city: They have taken the electronics from a battery bike, added a car accumulator and a big electric engine, then added it to the trishaws. That give you a soundless, lightning fast suicidal maniac, roaming the streets. And you never know from which side he fly in, or from where he attacks. Only a spastic machine-gunner could ad potent to that cocktail!
I do some loops in the (too) friendly city, and around noon, it is getting rather warm; 30C. I have walked the four shopping streets, seen the market and station again, been out where the water buffalos walk in water to their belly, and seen the cricket field.
I have a clear feeling of being addressed by everyone, being photoed on selfies and alone so many times, and I can't even drink one more du-tjai. Many of the small joints I buy them from does heat their water by a hand-pulley. It is stored in a open tank, and that is all I want to know about it...
At two, I give up on the internet shop - and power. Figured they also might be on strike. I buy 8GB data on a SIM card, and begin uploading diaries and catch up on emails. The photos might follow, although it is a major amount of data, and it fails anyway.

At half pass three, I head out to find some supper, thinking the train might not offer anything healthy. The four o'clock Dhaka train is on the dot - but I have a ticket for the five o'clock, and it eventually turns out to be five and a half hour delayed.
Those five and a half hour is rather tiring. I have from ten to thirty people around me at any given time, asking the same five questions, or just looking at me. A few of them speak a bit of English, and are real keen to speak with me.
One person, dressed in a Hindi women's dress offers me "a personal service" for 20 Taka - in a real deep voice. Another is real keen to take me to a Muslim convention I Dhaka. Luckily, I don't have to choose, as I have some new friends, saving me for any long terms consequences.
At half pass five, it turns dark, and it is a bit erring to be at the complete dark station, not knowing if it is a cow or a person that is pushing you - especially because everyone who have been able to warn me, has done it. And another bit of advise; do not fall asleep in the train. I have seen some of the other trains passing, had no light inside at all, and I'm told I should reach Dhaka around ten in the morning. Long night to stay awake in the dark!
My plan is to make a lot of friends, who will take care of me on the journey. People seem so friendly here. They want to buy me tea or even food, and do everything they can to help. The first part of the trainride, a friend stand next to my seat, and later, the two big guys (Bangladesh scale) in front of me is having a laughing conversation almost to Dhaka, promised my friend to take care of me. That let me hug my bag and doze off. It was tempting to work on the computer, and take some photos, but I rather not flash these valuable items after all.

16/1. To my great surprise, we reach Dhaka already at five, meaning I have spend 12 hours, going 192 kilometre by "express train". And additionally ten hours due to the strike on the busses. I might have gambled, sleep the night in Srimangal, but none could tell me, if the busses would be running in the morning. And it is Friday and weekend.
I find a tuck-tuck to bring me to the bus station. Here, I have to wait for a couple of hours for the ticket office to open, and additionally one for the bus, and one more for the bus to start driving. The good thing is, it will take me the entire way to Barisal, including the ferry - they claim. While I wait at the bus station, I get several warnings about safety. I wished they would stop that!
I get a seat in the middle of the bus, which only have two seats in each side. I ask the man who have the window, if he will switch, and he agree. It turns out he had a four-five year boy along, but it a quiet and cute boy, and we get fine along.
After only one hours - rather fast -driving, we reach the ferry area along the mighty River Meghna. Here, we are stocked for two hours with very little to do. A bunch of trishaws are fitted with kitchens and sells all imaginable to travellers - but ferries.
When we finally embargoes it is clear, why it take that long. Despite it is car ferries, the loading ramps are on the sides! I can't imagine anything more stupid! Each bus, truck and car have to manoeuvre, and they are not exactly good at it! We end up with around a bus's space lost.
The waters are filled with all kind of vessels. Most look like it is refugees they are transporting. Overloaded in a rather reckless way, some would say. The engine on many ferries are made up by a tog-boat, and they go more or less sideways. This is really a great example on the utterly perfection Bangladeshi people can drive un-effectiveness, and they are good. Another thing that strikes me is this: Why make something half, if you can get away with doing it a quarter - or less. It is like nothing have been made finish, but all have been beaten back to scratch and trash - but it is still in use.
Here is a single invention which apparently works great: The usual small, white plastic bags are replaced with small nets. I don't really see them lying anywhere - like anything else around the world. The nets sink into the mud. Here are no trash-buckets. Everyone just drop anything. Shops throw their trash a little meter out on the sidewalk, that's it.
After two  hours, drifting down the river with way too little engine-power, we reach the other side at Char Medua, and the tricky part with getting the vehicles untangled and out the side starts. Two more hours racing on narrow but well sealed road bring me to Barisal. Here are trees along the entire road, giving some nice shadow to the travellers, but also some challenges to the photographer. I get off at the bus station as planed, but I figure I deserve a slightly better hotel than the one I have found.
A trishaw know just the right place, and delivers me the the Catholic Church in centre of town? A bit asking around leads me the the finest hotel in town, and after negotiating a bit about the price, I got a nice, clean room with hot shower. Additionally to the receptionist, here are an almost English talking and well dressed guy at every floor to attend the four rooms on that floor. One of the reasons I up-graded my self was so that I could catch up on the uploading of slideshows. But: this hotel has no Wi-Fi??? That was unexpected.

It is close to dusk, and I take a fast stroll through the centre of Barisal. It look like so many other places, except the "square" is a big pond. Most shops are weekend closed, but a few offers food. I go for the most fancy, and get some real good fried rice with mutton and vegetables, treated as they should go in tartlet's. Except from Bhutan, this is the most fancy place I've been on this tour - and the first time I see a live rat on this tour. Half a meter from my table, and not shy at all. A dub-tjai on the way home to catch up on work  and sleep.
Despite I spend all night in a train, I am 24 hours behind. I will catch up by shortening the Sundarbans stay with a day - unless they are real great.
I am ready to go to bed at eight, but I have a bit more to see. I head out for a dub-tjai - or two. They cost 5 Taka each, and despite I go through quite some a day, the budget should last. It is time to try one of the local cakes. Just as expected; Fancy looking crème, no taste. I have to try another, and that do taste. I thought it was a heavy chocolate, but is is a bit like a Danish with spiced salami? I doubt very much that will catch on at home. While I'm out, the computer uploads the delayed Bhutan and Bangladesh slideshows through my phone.
While the computer works, I try to stay awake by the TV. Bollywood or cricket??? It is South Africa versus India. And then it once again midnight.

17/1. Early up to catch an early bus. A couple of roti from a street stand, and then some hard negotiating with a trishaw driver. I get the twenty minutes tour for 40 Taka; a bit more expensive than yesterday, but I guess I can afford it.
It is real hard to find the right bus - especially because I'm at the wrong bus station! All the tuck-tucks in this town are yellow, and not really tuck-tucks: They are electrified and called something else. Here are a slightly larger version of the tuck-tucks - called something third, and it is one of them, I have to take cross city to reach the right station.
We drive through rice fields and pond after pond in a lush, green landscape. The few villages we passes are real tiny, but the road is not bad. A single huge and beautiful mosque stands out from the primitive huts.
Some strange palms catch my eyes. Their stems reminds me most of all of the Easter Islands' statues. Later, I find out the harvest the sap from them, and the cutting make this strange looking stems. The sap is used in some local rice cakes, and can only be found in the wintertime.

I finally make it to the village of Banaripara. Not to see anything special, but to have a way-point leading me out on the countryside - and it worked! It feels like they never experienced a tourist here before, and I have a hard time getting from a English speaking politician.
Actually, the majority of the English speaking people I have talked with on the street have either been politicians or at least real into politics, and all complained about how bad their system is these days. Four days of strike against the government might add. The other part have been mullahs or alike, wanting to know which mosque I belong to, what my priest's name is, to join them to a Muslim congress in Dhaka or alike. I'm pleased with my diplomatic skills so fare.
Anyway; I walk the street of Banaripara, and back again. A single stop at what might be called the square. I get a dub-tjai and then I drawn (by hand) to the stage on the other side of the widening of the road. It is some sort of religious ceremony, and the leader of the local mosque is so eager to talk with me, and I have to take a photo of the stage.
As every time I have gathered a too large crowd, I walk on. When I'm back at the main road, I gather a new bunch, but at least, the bus arrivals soon after.
Smiling faces all over, but the slowest driving I ever experienced. The road is narrow, and the "sealing" somewhat missing, but that have not restrained any other driver. We cruses through harvested rice fields and plantations of coconut, bananas and alike for hours. Then the bus stop at a small port, and I'm told to make a photo of the bus.
A well dressed gentleman with some English explains to me, I have to cross the river on a small boat to reach Bagerhat. I think it is quite fast we have reach my destination, the lack of speed considered.
On the other side, I find my self in a somewhat larger village, and check with three, to be sure it actually is Bagerhat. My map is not good, and I walk thought a business area and passes a school. Here, I feel a bit like the flute-player from Hammel: I draw quite some kids along with me.
Despite my big group of followers, I have a hard time finding the mosques and lake I want to see. After an hour, someone finally explains to me: I'm in Iluhar, not Bagerhat. Back to the rowing-boat-ferry and another slow bus. I start in one bus, and wait for a long time before it starts its engine. Then we are all lead to another bus, and waits again. When we finally drive, it is slowly, and only short. New brake for almost an hour, while other busses passes us.
We cross one big river on a small ferry, just to continue in the same type of landscape. One small stretch have some nurseries with pretty flowers.
We meet a huge river; Swarup, and drive along it for a long time - several kilometres... A short ferry ride along the river side, and then across another river to Pirojpur.
Now, there are dry rice plants on the fields. Some look like the top have been harvested. Soon after, newly prickled fields and flooded ones dominates. The entire day, I am bothered by bad seats in the bus, and road trees, blocking my view.

It is four, before we reach Bagerhat, and I have to prioritise. It is the biggest city close to Sundarbans, but here are apparently no tour operators, they must be in the bigger Khulna. I had planned to se several mosques, gathered in a small area, but I settle for the big pond: Thabar Dighi and the Tomb of Khan Jahan Ali next to it.
As a real unexpected treat, a big and very fat crocodile is resting on the stairs down to the ponds waters. The tomb is not really impressing, and fare from enough to let me give up my boots.
I noticed where the Khulna road went, when I drown down here with a trishaw, and walk back, grapping a dub-chai on the way. Along the road, two smiling young men insist on taking their photo with me. I, on the other hand, have to take one of a ring-salesman.

I reach Khulna in the dusk, and ditch the first rather aggressive - or over-eager tuck-tuck drivers offer on 300 Taka, just to find a trishaw driver who will do it for 50. And it is actually a long drive to Hotel Jalico. I get a nice room with hot water in the morning, and the smiling manager will try to find me a tour to the Sundarbans.
I head out to find some supper, and see the nearby shopping area.
Here are many shops, but few restaurants. I find one who call it self "Fastfood", and it is pretty well visited. The food is a bit like fried noodles/rice, but I'm not sure what the main ingredients is. It taste great. The soup on the other hand, is way too spicy for me. Along the fried something comes some shells which should be crusted over the main course. I see some other guests get them stuffed with something, and despite the warning, I get a tester. Not bad, but I go for another serving of the first. Along with it come a smoothie with mixed fruits - great!
Next door, they have some new cakes I just have to try. Real sweet, and not bad at all. A dub-cjay to chase them down with, and back at the hotel at exactly seven, as promised.
The manager have arranged a tour operator will come and have a meeting with me a bit later, and I start working in my room. The well spoken and smiling Md. Shahadat Hossain from Arranger Tours & Travel knocks on my door soon after. Unfortunately, he have no tours the first three days.
The strike have made a lot cancel their tours, and the entire business is not really function at present. He will make some calls around, and soon after, he might have a plan. We walk to his nearby office and meet with Sk. Mohd. Ziaul Haque, another sympatric young man.
He explain to me, the tours are either real expensive or in 8-12 person groups. The problem is, here are not that many tourists in town at present. He might know of some, and will call the other companies to see, if he can gather a group. Alternately, I can have a one day tour, but that will only be to the border of the vast area, and almost as expensive.
Shahadat  walks me back, and some time later, brings me the good news: They have managed to gather a sufficient group through another company, and I can go tomorrow evening.
I have caught up the day I was behind, and this fit my schedule, except I would have liked to have four days, biding the tiger. Strikes and all considered, I think I have been very lucky, and from the description, the tour sounds just like I wanted it. The price is another story; probably more than the rest of expensive I will have in Bangladesh together. But who can go to Bangladesh without entering the Sundarbans? The climate and environment in the worlds largest mangrove can not be missed! And I'm actually looking forward to a few days without decisions. And even meeting the first other tourists in Bangladesh?
It is late, but I do a few loops in the closing city, only to find a du-thar and some "Danish Pineapples" - some sort of candy?
I don't have much to do tomorrow, and I work way pass midnight. The photos must wait, till I can add tomorrows.

18/1. When I un-plug my self (ear-plugs, not charger), I realises the hotel is right next to a Hindi temple, and they do some celebration Sunday mornings. Meanwhile, there are some construction going on in the neighbour plot. I misses a lot due to those ear-plugs.
I realizes I have quite some errands to run today, and several things to organise. After some roti and a nice omelette, I find the nearest Somali Bank, which should be the only one accepting the 300 Taka Travel Tax. Personally, I thought it would be easier, if the added it to the $50 visa fee, but this is Bangladesh.

The first branch I find is a ruin. The next is rather baffled about my request. Finally, one understand, and know I have to go to the main branch in town. He even catches me a trishaw and give him instructions.
On the way, me meet a big group of armed policemen and then a big demonstration. Bit eerie, especially because my driver seems nervous.
We get around it, and get safely to the bank. It is major building, with endless counters. I spot a distinguish gentleman, who accompanies me to second floor. Here, they talk a lot, and another gentleman follows me downstairs again. It is now 500 Taka, and she want my passport. I get away with name and number, and when I turn around, I meet my travel agent.
I ask him where I might find a souvenir, considering I have not seen a pale face so fare. Regarding that, he tells me, the ambassadors have been called to a meeting, and the government have advised none should travel to Bangladesh, due to the political situation. I go home and write the foreign ministry in Denmark, if I should be worried. Then I pack, and leave laundry and warm cloth at the hotel, along with my bag. I recon I can use some flip-flops at the ship, and I still have the unfinished matter of a souvenir to solve.

As I wander round in this 855.000 citizens big city, I realises most of the water come from manual pumps, getting the water from one meter debt - not as filtered as I would want it! I find a small fish market near the docks at the river; Bhairab.
My hunt for a tiger-souvenir brings me wide around in the waste city. I use some of the tiny "busses", made up by electric tuck-tucks. It is a rather effective way to scalp for shops that might have a small tiger.
At one point, I end up at the docks again, and find a long line of warehouses. They are more or less in groups, some having hand made nails, some small red onions, some robe, some all sorts of rice, some spices, some toys - except tigers and all kind of other en-gross goods.
Then I get a trishaw to drive me to the New Market. It is a stadium-like building with rather modern shops and cafés. And they do only sell coffee! I walk back towards the hotel, and passes the furniture street, then the kilometre long second-hand cloth market.
I had planed to reach my hotel around five, and against all odds, I actually find it five minutes before. Exactly how remains a mystery. I check my emails, and to my relief, the ministry have no warnings for Bangladesh at present time.

I head down pass my travel agent, but the office is closed. I find a restaurant serving some good chicken and plain rice with fresh vegetables, and as usual, I have to get the tea another place. I spot what could be the entrance for a market, and it turns out to be the big fish market. Plenty of nice looking fish and huge shrimps, then chickens, ducks and geese.
Back at the office, one of their mates call them, and they turn up soon after. I sit at their office and work with diary and photos, realizing I won't be able to do it in the evening.

It is time to make a slideshow from Barisal, Banaripara, Bagerhat and Khulna. At half pass eight, they walk me to the boat, where I can sleep as long as I like, instead for paying for a hotel and get up real early and spend several hours in some busses. Fare from the usual Bangladeshi efficiency...
At the docks, I loaded into a rowing boat with a Dutch and a Canadian, and I have to admit, it is great to be able to talk with someone without it is about religion or politic. They also been travelling a lot, and we talk till after midnight. Then we are joined by some Bangladeshis, two Danes, a Swiss, some Germans, a Dutch, a Zimbabwe-American and out guide, making a group count fourteen.
Our newly restored boat is build for 60, but as we only are fourteen, I get my own nice cabin. I can feel the engine, but that only help me to sleep

Considering the change of scenery, the epic journey continues in Diary 3.

 

 

 

Diary 1  2  3  4