Fifteen minutes of fame

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August 21st 2012
Published: August 21st 2012
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Arriving with his passengers
If I can't even rack up the almost mandatory fifteen minutes of fame, does being in close proximity to someone famous count? While at Bangkok airport during a stopover, the passengers waiting to board the flight to Dhaka were in awe of a Bengali, and I was more than curious as to who he was. It seemed everyone wanted to shake the gent's hand and pose for a photo, and he was extraordinarily gracious with his time. There was such reverence on display, surely he couldn't be a politician! After arriving in Dhaka I found out from the hotel owner it was Dr Muhammad Yunus. I described the scene in Bangkok and she pointed to the map of Bangladesh on her wall, and asked if a portrait on it was the person. When I said yes, she was amazed as he is the most famous person in Bangladesh. I later did some research on wiki and it's clear Dr Yunus is a great man, and I felt honoured to be in the presence of the nobel peace prize winning banker and economist. Right there in front of me was a man who has dedicated his life to lifting his people out of poverty, using a unique system of microloan arrangements through his bank.

But let's rewind a tad, dear reader, from where we left off in Kandy. The bus trip to the coastal resort town of Negombo was only three hours, and it was great to check into the Marine Tourist Guest House for a final night and a day in the country. The staff are so friendly, and it was full of guests. Negombo is very close to the international airport, and bursting with tourist options along the beach. I organised a tuk tuk for the short commute to the airport, and despite being more than two hours prior to departure, the chaos was so extreme that by the time I checked in the oh so slow staff member told me calmly the gate had closed. My motto with travel is not to panic, and he got on the phone to organise the reopening of the gate, as I'd been standing in front of him for 45 minutes. Plus there was still nearly an hour before the 1:30am departure. Sri Lankan airlines did a good job on the flight via Bangkok, from where I changed to Thai air and was lucky to see the good doctor. I got chatting with a western gent, and he just happened to be the head of World Vision in Bangladesh. Wow, it just kept getting more bizarre...

The three hour flight was a breeze, and the boss offered me a lift as his office is also in Banani where my hotel is situated. He joked that for every passenger, there are 1000 people to greet them on arrival. And I have to say, I've never witnessed such a crowd at an airport in my life as were behind a fence behind the airport road. My arrival coincided with Eid, the annual celebration at the end of Ramadan fasting. I guess you can compare it to a western christmas, where hordes of locals abandon Dhaka to spend the holidays with their families. This proved to be a blessing in disguise, as this notoriously crowded city of 18 million people was not at it's manic worst during the visit.

As such, the ten kilometre commute only took around fifteen minutes, when it can take up to two hours on a busy day. I thanked the World Vision boss, his driver and security guard, and checked into the wonderful Sabrina's guest house. Sabrina and her husband do a great job making guests feel at home in Dhaka, including superb home cooked chinese meals for dinner each evening. Incredibly, within fifteen minutes of my arrival a Japanese girl turned up at the guest house, who had disembarked from the same flight out of Bangkok. We have buddied up, and done everything together for the last four days as we set out to explore this amazing and vibrant city. Our first afternoon was spent on a random stroll through the embassy district of Banani, and this initial foray has set the scene for an extraordinary time here in Bangladesh.

It seems as soon as we step out the door, we're greeted by incredible scenes the likes of which I've never experienced during my travels. The locals look at foreigners with sheer incredulity and amazement written all over their faces, and we've been mobbed on countless occasions. Who needs to be a rockstar or a bollywood actor, you just need to show your face in Dhaka and locals will flock to you like you're famous. The mobile phones flashing, crowds following along, and the excited chatter of the locals have become part of our daily lives. The Bengalis are absolutely delighted to welcome foreign travellers to their country, which is known for having the worst tourist infrastructure in the world. However, I wouldn't change the experiences we've had in Dhaka for the world!

On our second day we thought we'd try our luck by hailing the first CNG driver, and he proved to be a great guide for the day. The CNG's in Dhaka are caged in, both to avoid the chance of bag snatching and also to protect the passengers and driver. However, it's still a cool way to get around just like riding a Sri Lankan tuk tuk, and with the punishing humidity the three wheeler rides have proven to be a highlight of our days. We went over twenty kilometres from the city centre to the war memorial monument, which is surrounded by surprisingly gorgeous gardens. It was great to stroll around for a few hours after taking cover from the monsoonal rains. We then headed back into town with our CNG driver, and took a few photos of the superb national parliament structure. This was followed by another walk in a separate park, and we finished our day exploring the maze of streets in Old Dhaka, with our excited followers in tow.

The next few days we just repeated the formula, heading out after brekkie for a full day and seeing what the day bought us. Of course we had a rough itinerary, but due to the Eid celebrations the National Museum and the Liberation War Museum were both closed. That was disappointing, but we met so many extraordinary local people during our forays the visit to Dhaka is an experience I'll never forget. Exploring Old Dhaka by foot and on rickshaw during Eid is incredible, with the locals dressed up in their finest riding along in rickshaws, or greeting us effusively as we strolled by. One afternoon we went to Dhaka zoo, and the mobbings were on another scale entirely. I recall calmly watching my friend at a stall as she queued for water, and within a minute or two I was surrounded by up to forty enthusiastic locals. They were clicking away madly on their camera phones, and jostling for positions next to me. It was absolutely crazy, and I can't imagine what my friend must have thought when she turned around. Mind you, she had almost identical experiences here in Dhaka. We strolled around and looked at the animals, while the locals followed behind and looked at us! Sunglasses can be helpful on a day excursion, but it's never frightening or intimidating, because the local people are just so thrilled to see foreigners. As our visit to Dhaka winds up, I feel blessed to have enjoyed the company of my Japanese friend for the duration of this visit, as having a foreign companion really helps to process this incredible, chaotic city and her friendly people. Come and visit Dhaka, basically all of you should be here now!

A court without ladies is like a garden without flowers." French saying

As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now


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Our CNG driver
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This girl was begging for her photo to be taken.

21st August 2012

You succeeded in conveying your enthusiasm!
I must admit I hadn't ever heard Bangladesh praised so much. Thanks for giving this poor country an endorsement.
21st August 2012

This is really interesting…
26th August 2012

I love the smile on the faces of all those peeps following your friend. Just amazing!
6th December 2012

Very useful information

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