Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Please Forgive Me, but We Are Over Bryan Adams



11 to 21 January, 2013 – Mymensingh, Muktagacha, Srimangal, Chittagaong, Cox's Bazar, Dhaka - (Bangladesh)

Across the north of Bangladesh, to the eastern side. The landscape changed, and finally the vast flatness gave way to some gentle rolling hills. Tea plantations, and national parks with monkeys were the highlights in this area.

Seven Layer Tea
Seven Layer Tea
Jo with a glass of Srimangal's famous seven layer tea.  Yes, it was possible to taste the distinct layers, and they remained separated until we finished drinking.  Just don't ask us what each layer was any more.  Lemon, ginger, green, milk, I think, and some others.


Tea Plantations
Tea Plantations
Srimangal


Cycling - Srimangal
Cycling - Srimangal
Through the tea plantations.


Roadside Assistance
Roadside Assistance
So, on our way back from our ride, my chain broke.  Three kilometres from town, and the nearest qualified place to make such a repair, I was not looking forward to walking back.  At a little village, these guys noticed my predicament and quickly retrieved some pliers and a hammer. Jo was offered a chair to sit on while she waited, and a coffee was offered (or tea, I'm sure, if she had preferred). Ten minutes later, we had a makeshift repair, two less links, and we were on our way.  No expectations.  This was a great example of Bangla warmth and hospitality.


As is all far too common in developing nations, we struggle to hold our tongues when we witness what can only be described as a "casual" attitude to rubbish disposal. Dropped, discarded, thrown. Never a thought for where they are. But, the problem would be so much worse if the nation had embraced plastic bags. Thankfully, they are almost non-existent. Somebody said they are virtually illegal. Hooray for that fantastic decision. Buying fruit, they usually end up giving us a paper bag. Not a mass produced plain bag, but somebody's old homework or a photocopy from a text book, folded and glued to make a bag. Or, if buying a few items, a small net bag is provided (although these are possibly problematic if they end up in the sea - better or worse, I don't know). Or finally, with a large purchase, a reusable cloth bag.

And, taking this a step further, rare provision of disposable plates or cups. Order a plate of food from a street vendor, and he will give it to you on one of his plates, and you need to eat it there. For take-away, a cardboard box tied with string. If the man on the train offers you a cup of tea, he gives it in a china cup, often with a saucer, and ten minutes later he returns to collect it from you. These are all great things which help reduce the amount of waste that 154,000,000 people in high concentration could produce.

Did NASA Design This Mosque?
Did NASA Design This Mosque?
Mymensingh.


Roadworks, Bangladesh
Roadworks, Bangladesh
Tar being created, by the road on which it is being laid.  Carried on shoulders in large metal buckets, and poured by hand, it certainly is hot and dirty work.


Arch Details in a Ruined Rajbari
Arch Details in a Ruined Rajbari
Lots of crumbling walls, but heaps of atmosphere, and a handful of fine details for the keen eye.  Muktagacha Rajbari.


2/3 Cadburys - A Glass, Not a Glass and a Half!
2/3 Cadburys - A Glass, Not a Glass and a Half!
Yes, at first we thought it was Cadburys.  The flaw in the logo, though, was the first indication of a problem, then we noticed the brand is nothing like Cadbury's.


Our plan had been to skip Chittagong and Cox's Bazar, and go to beaches further afield, but fear of being isolated a long way away from Dhaka with a hartel (strike), combined with a knowledge of how physically abused one feels after such long transport hauls, had us deciding to spend our last few days at the beach in Cox's Bazar.

Cox's Bazar has a claim to fame. It is the longest beach in the world (over 120 kilometres, I think). Pleasant enough, but far from images associated with tropical beaches. No palms, lots of tall hotels with unhindered development. But very wide, and surprisingly clean. The water was freezing - it is winter, after all. This did not stop a handful of the many Bangla tourists going for a swim. Nobody wore bathers of any description. No, they did not swim naked! I can't even believe you thought that was what I meant. No, to the contrary. They all swam fully clothed. Men and women. Even the children.

What did we do? Nothing. Well, not literally nothing. We slept in. We went and sat on the beach on a sun lounge for a few hours. We ate lunch over a period of a few hours, ending with us sliding in to two of the cafe's lounges to enjoy sunset. Walked the beach. Ate fantastic skewered barbecued seafood from street stalls for dinner. Watched cable movies back in our room till late. Although that really was one day, the rest of our time mimicked that to some degree. We did go and visit a very old Buddhist monastery for a bit, but really, nothing too strenuous.

I should mention that this entry's title was inspired by that multi-hour lunch. Bryan Adams was played. Many times. "Please Forgive Me" was played six or seven times, including one stretch where we got it four times in a row. Back to back. Uninterrupted. No breaks. Just that same, moany, whiney song over and over...

At Cox's Bazar, being Brangelina has escalated to new levels. Meet Roanne. We feel we must be famous and important enough by now that we deserve our own combo-name. Although, if the young guys have their way, they prefer to be photographed just with Jo. I wonder how many times she has been tagged as somebody's new girlfriend...

Our Tailor
Our Tailor
I tore my trousers stepping from a very high train platform.  Faced with a choice of hunting for a pair of trousers suitable for a man like me in a country which has few men my size, or having them repaired, I opted to pay this gentleman 50 cents to make a fantastic repair.


Monks in the Sun
Monks in the Sun

Our fears of strike action affecting us turned out to be well founded. We had decided to space our return to Dhaka in two steps, and give us a little bit of lee-way for unknowns. Well, when we turned up for our morning bus to find none going until that night, and no prospect of catching our connection in Chittagong, we were thankful for our foresight. Two options remained. To travel to Dhaka in one horrendous overnight bus trip on what is touted as the most dangerous (i.e. accidents) road in Bangladesh (which already has one of the highest road-fatality rates in the world), or to fly. We chose to fly. Not super cheap, but certainly not expensive. This is an advantage for travellers like us. We save money where we can and where it doesn't matter, but our budget allows for contingencies such as this.

So, we rock up nice and early for our flight from Cox's Bazar. The airport was closed. Two armed soldiers waved us through the gates to the terminal, not much more than a shed, where we waited outside the locked doors for 15 minutes with three or four staff. Eventually, somebody turned up with a key, and let us in. Security involved a man waving a metal detector about us. I am not sure if it was turned on or not. Realising we were not going to get a meal on the flight (50 minutes, small turbo-prop plane), Jo said she would duck out of the airport and grab us something to eat from a street vendor. When she got to the gate, the soldiers had a discussion between themselves. Jo soon ascertained they were not discussing whether she should be allowed out, but were deciding which of them would be the lucky one to escort her. It was the first time she ever had an armed escort to buy some roti and fried eggs.

Overall, we have rated Bangla mosquitoes as quite prolific and fairly annoying. However, Dhaka mosquitoes make the rest appear pleasurable and sparse. In fact, I think the highest concentration of mosquitoes we have ever encountered was waiting for our flight in Dhaka airport's departure lounge. We were smacking them left, right, and centre. Frequently resulting in a mosquito escape and you hitting yourself in the arm or face. Often resulting in a dead mosquito on the floor. Sometimes resulting in a squashed mess on your hand with a bit of someone's blood. Once resulting in an artistic blood splatter up the inside of my ring finger. It is all rather revolting.

Oh, and a number of them have followed us in to the plane and are flying about our faces as I write this at 10,000 metres altitude.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Being Brangelina



4 to 10 January, 2013 – Kushtia, Rajshahi, Puthia, Sona Masjid, Bogra, Paharpur - (Bangladesh)

We have experienced staring before, but maybe not to the extent we are experiencing here. And, elsewhere, if someone stares, then they turn away if you happen to catch their eye. But not here. Undeterred, the staring continues. It really doesn't matter what we are doing. In fact, the less we are doing, the more likely we are to have a crowd gather. Just gather, and watch. Sometimes, there are the sneaky photos being taken. And when someone is bold enough to eventually ask if we mind being photographed, with or without them in it, then that signals to the rest of the crowd that it is time to pull out their phones and cameras and snap away. Jo, turned to me at one time and said it was like being Brangelina.

Then there are the awkward conversations. Yes, the Bengalis are friendly, welcoming, and try to help. But when the English is limited, the typical conversation is as follows.

"Hello. What is your country?" (Or "Where from?", "Your place?", "Motherland?", "What desh?", "Your homeland?", etc).

"Australia."

"Ricky Ponting."

What do you say to that? It's not a question. It's not even a statement or a phrase. Just a name. Anyway, you don't need to say anything to that, because by now they have continued walking or doing whatever they were doing.

Sometimes a few other exchanges are included, such as names, and how long we are travelling. And, when the English is better, the conversations can be very interesting and extended.

One other very popular theme of conversation is our relationship. The question is usually just pointing at us and a single word, like "Married?" or "Friend?" Though, our favourite two variations so far are "Why is she?" and "What is that?", both accompanied with a gesture indicating Jo.

The other day, we were on a bus that we thought was taking us all the way to the town we were wanting to go to, but we were mistaken. Well, I think everyone was mistaken. We were about two thirds of the way, in a small village, when the bus stopped, and we were all gestured off. There was yelling and pointing and gestures indicating that we should hop on one of the other buses. Two bus companies started fighting over us, each trying to indicate we should hop on their bus. But when one of our packs started moving through the crowd being carried by two men, I figured the choice has been made for us and we had little option but to grab the rest of our stuff and follow it.

Maybe we should have gone the other way. The bus we ended up on, while equally as crowded and bumpy as all the others we have taken, was extremely cold due to a large number of missing window panes. It had great suspension, but no shock absorbers to talk of. And finally, the driver was maniacal. Well, even more-so than the others. Oncoming traffic was practically driven off the road. Rickshaw riders cleared out of the way, almost careering in to the ditches along the highway. There were a number of close-your-eyes moments.

And here are some photos from the west part of Bangladesh.

Local Ferry
Local Ferry

Shiva Temple
Shiva Temple
Puthia.


Govinda Temple
Govinda Temple
Puthia


Teracotta Details
Teracotta Details
Govinda temple in Puthia.


One Serious Police Vehicle
One Serious Police Vehicle

Market - Rajshahi
Market - Rajshahi

Richard and a Character
Richard and a Character

Jo with Some New Friends
Jo with Some New Friends

School's Out
School's Out
Children file between the fields. The goats are wearing old shirts.


Arches from a Ruined Mosque
Arches from a Ruined Mosque
Remains of the 1470 Darasbari Mosque, Gaud (Sona Masjid).


Khania Dighi Mosque
Khania Dighi Mosque
Built in 1490. Part of the historical site of Gaud (Sona Masjid).


A Tee-shirt Clad Goat
A Tee-shirt Clad Goat
Many of the goats wandering about are clothed in rags and old shirts. Must be cold when the livestock needs to be kept warm.


Somapuri Vihara
Somapuri Vihara
The view over the 8th century remains of Somapuri Vihara


Decorative Figures
Decorative Figures
From the stupa base at Paharapur.


Group Photo!
Group Photo!
Some Chemistry students from a nearby university. A couple of them spoke excellent English, and chatted with us for over half an hour as we explored the archealogical site.


Embrace
Embrace
This guy got off the ferry and was greeted enthusiastically.



Might put in a p.s. here. We have been dry for the whole time. Alcohol is just not available, well not in the smaller towns in any obvious place. So, when we walked past a supermarket with a fridge full of imported beers, we stood for a few minutes drooling while trying to choose. And then we realised, they were all alcohol free. Lots of "0.0%" on the cans, or "alcohol free" labels...

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Rocket for the New Year



28 December, 2012 to 3 January, 2013 – Dhaka, Hularhut, Bagerhat, Mongla - (Bangladesh)

“I think we're going to die doing a u-turn”, Jo said. “From where I'm sitting, I can't see any other possible outcome.” Having picked up a taxi on the road outside the airport, we got our first taste of the madness that is traffic in Dhaka. In the days that followed, we experienced a multitude of similar moments. Driving directly in to on-coming traffic. Squeezing through tiny gaps between buses. Weaving in front of trucks. Turning in front of waves of vehicles. Oh, and watch out for those pedestrians. Rickshaws with no lights at night. Extraordinarily long and wide loads. Loose power and telephone cables hanging over the roads. I can tell you, that we have seen some chaotic roads in our travels, but I don't think any city quite compares. Even Cairo seems sedate and composed in comparison.

Some cities, you fall in love with. Others, you learn to tolerate. Dhaka probably falls in the latter category, although we haven't spent enough time for even that to have happened.

Bangladesh Liberation Museum
Bangladesh Liberation Museum
Children's artwork at the Liberation Museum.


Pink Palace
Pink Palace

The rocket is a name given to the paddle steamer boats that ply between Dhaka and Khulna, although the last part of the service is currently suspended. Although powered by diesel, they still exude a romanticism that is authentic and hard to replicate. Travelling in first class, which costs a pittance, in our wood panelled cabin. The first class “lounge” with long dining table and guests dining off fine china. There are second class cabins, and a few hundred people sleeping on the decks. But, the true beauty is that this is no tourist attraction. This is a working boat, fulfilling a need which it has done so for 100 years. There is one Japanese couple, and us, and everyone else is Bangladeshi. So, we counted down New Year at the railing on the front lower deck, and toasted with some mango juice. (Being a Muslim nation, alcohol is decidedly difficult to encounter.)

The Rocket
The Rocket
Century old local mode of transport from Dhaka to the south of Bangladesh. We first classed, for a pittance, and welcomed in the new year on board.


A Glimpse of River Life
A Glimpse of River Life

From the rocket, we headed (with stops) to the Sundarbans, in search of a glimpse of the elusive Bengal tiger.

Very Old and Misnamed
Very Old and Misnamed
15th century mosque, called the "temple of 60 domes", but it actually has 77. Wondering who named it...


Sunrise on the Mongla River
Sunrise on the Mongla River
The sun attempting to break through the fog.


Only a Few Minutes Old
Only a Few Minutes Old
According to the armed guard we are required to have when visiting this part of the forest, this tiger footprint is extremely fresh. Given, that they walk through the same areas many times a day, they know when things like this are new. Rarely spotted, but in large numbers, we never actually saw the Bengal tiger which left this print.


The Locals Even Photograph Us
The Locals Even Photograph Us
Here we were, thinking we were going to be taking photos of the locals. But it works both ways, as they produce cameras and phones and take photos of us. Some times we catch them secretly doing so, and others, like this, when they boldly come up and ask. The whole village wanted to come out and join in the spectacle.