I have just returned from a spectacular holiday in Srimangal, the tea capital of Bangladesh and, as the title suggests, one of the most relaxing and serene places in the country - if not the world! I urge anyone coming to Bangladesh to give themselves sometime to go and just be among the wildlife, people and scenery. Day One
The trip started with a seven hour train journey from Chittagong to Srimangal. We decided to take a day train so that we could see the scenery the train passed through. Arriving at Chittagong railway station, the train was, naturally, delayed. So we sat and became perhaps the biggest tourist attraction in the place - we were met with the usual open-mouthed stares and the common questions of 'What is your country?' and 'Where are you going?'. Three different trains arrived, which we moved towards, and actually got on, only to find each time that it was completely the incorrect train. Signs that are only in Bangla script are simply impossible to understand!! Finally, our train arrived and, with a climb through another train and an amble across the tracks, we discovered our carriage and got on. It was
Tea on a train
We were so surprised when the tea arrived in actual china cups
a very nice A/C compartment and we settled down, with oodles of leg room, for the long journey. On the train i started chatting to some really nice men who eventually bought me a cup of tea - brought by sharply dressed waiters in fancy china cups!! It was actually a really good journey and i settled down with Nelson Mandela's autobiography!! Unfortunately it was two hours delayed, so instead of arriving in Srimangal during daylight, we arrived at 6pm as it was dark. As soon as we got off the train we attempted to find train tickets home - which was apparently impossible as all were booked until after Eid. We really needed to find some way home, but decided to wait until we met Russel (our guide for the two days) before we started worrying.
We were met by a friend of Russel's, who took us via CNG to the Eco-Cottages. I could sense the tea gardens either side of the road, and for the first time in two months, began to feel cold! It was also lovely to be out of the polluted air of Chittagong. Arriving at the Eco-Cottages we were met by a wonderful
Our home for three nights
sight - small bamboo cottages in the middle of a lemon grove and by a running stream that were to be our home for a few nights. It was utterly serene, and beautiful and - although we couldn't see much, i could tell it would be lovely. We also had a fantastic dinner, cooked by the men at the cottages, and realised we were the only ones staying there! It was fantastic. I had a great night's sleep under a mozzy net and a bamboo roof!! Day Two
We awoke and were met by Russel at 9am for our first fun-packed day in Srimangal. I was very excited and looking forward to getting back to nature and seeing some incredible sights. We first drove to Lowacharra National Park, a patch of rainforest pack full with biodiversity. We took a one hour trek through the forest, catching spectacular glimpses of giant spiders, horned spiders, incredible plants and trees, columns of ants and, most incredible, no other tourists! The thing we really wanted to see were the Hoolock Gibbons and, after failing to see them in the trek, Russel made sure that we saw them by following their calls (which
seemed similar to Fresher's at a student bar cheering each other on...). We ran along railway lines, diving off them in time for a train to come hurtling past, and, just as i thought the trip was going to go on forever Russel stopped, looking very excited. There, in the trees above us, were two family groups of Gibbons swinging through the trees. There were so majestic and beautiful, it was an absolute pleasure to see them there - Russel mentioned just how lucky we were to see them. I certainly felt it.
After the excitement, we discovered that Bonny's toes, my ankle and Russel's ankle had all been attacked by leeches!! This meant pulling them off, watching our feet bleed for a long time, and generally being pretty disgusted at the thought of some weird creature sucking on my blood! We relaxed for a while in the shade, then headed off in another direction to see a tribal village. As we arrived, both Bonny and I just felt like we were intruding. Here were people going about their daily lives happily, having to be gawped at by two white people who really had no idea of how they
Giant Orb Spider
Utterly terrifying spiders...
felt. We swiftly left and vowed not to go to any more tribal villages during our stay. We then headed off into a tea plantation. Firstly we took in the wonderful views afforded by Madhapore Lake and the hills surrounding it, we could even see into India! Then, we drove through the quiet and stunning tea plantations. Again, no other tourists were around, and it was perhaps the most relaxing experience. The car stopped and we got out, wandering aimlessly through the tea plants and soaking up the wonderful atmosphere. Everytime i have a cup of tea i think the images of such a quiet and secluded place will be on my mind.
We then headed into town for a wonderful, and very cheap, lunch of huge Naan and Kebabs, then ran around attempting to find tickets home. There was absolutely no luck with trains, so Russel phoned his contact in Sylhet to see if trains from there, or even buses, would be a possibility. While we were waiting for him to return our call, we headed off to the Nilkantha Tea Cabin in search of the aptly named 'Seven Layer Tea'. This was perhaps the strangest cup of
tea i have ever drank, as it came with seven clearly separate and defined layers - each with a different colour and taste. I discerned Ginger, Lemon and Cinammon, but the other flavours eluded me. Bonny pressed to discover how this tea is made - where we were politely rebuffed. This is a secret shared only between two places in the whole world - both in Srimangal! Russel's contact called back. Sylhet transport was also entirely full, but he suggested a novel idea. Catch a local bus to Comilla (about half way back), then attempt to find a bus from here to make our way back home. We decided that we needed to get home, so any way to return would be welcomed. We made our way to the bus station and booked our tickets back - for the ridiculously small sum of 200tk each (less than two quid for a 6 hour journey...)
Finally, after such a long and eventful day we headed back to the eco-cottages with the promise of more adventures the next day. After another fantastic dinner (chicken curry, daal, vegetables, such a huge amount of rice and fried aubergines) we headed to bed. It
So relaxing and peaceful
had been a seriously tiring day and, with nothing else to do, sleep seemed a wonderful option.
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