I have just returned from a much needed two day break from the city (and schoolwork) to the division of Sylhet. In this region I visited the town of Srimongol and it's lush outlying landscapes that offered an adventure I will never forget...
Srimongol is a small town only about 185 km from where my home base is situated, but it takes approximately five hours to travel there given the state of the roads and the overwhelming traffic congestion. According to our guide, we were actually lucky that we didn't hit any "big jams" as the journey can often grow to be a seven hour drive if you do. On the way there we made multiple stops to photograph the scenery and to tour a rice factory. Once we arrived in the town, we stopped to have lunch, and checked in to our accommodation so that the real fun could begin. We spent the night in an eco-resort that had beautifully crafted bamboo cottages sitting in the middle of a tropical forest right next to a picturesque stream. It was a very nice escape from apartment life!
So our afternoon began with a drive to several of the tea
plantations where we spent a great deal of time walking the grounds and learning about the different varieties of tea grown here and how the leaves are harvested. Bangladesh is the 10th largest exporter of tea in the world with production dating back to about 1854. The plantations were initially set up by the British who brought in workers from India which is why most of the workers are still of Indian descent and is an explanation as to why this area has such a large Hindu population whereas the rest of Bangladesh is predominantly of Muslim faith. We also explored many fruit farms, including a pineapple plantation, a jackfruit field and lemon grove. The Srimongal area is known for its super sweet pineapples and enormous jackfruit which happen to both be in season! The workers in the fields collected some fresh picked fruits for us to try, and I have to say that the pineapple may have been the best I have ever tasted. For those of you who have never heard of jackfruit, it is a large spiky egg shaped fruit that you crack open to reveal bright yellow tooth shaped portions of the meat itself. The only
thing I could compare the taste to is that of flavoured penicillin - it has a sweet banana-like taste. I can't say it's my favourite, but it is the national fruit of Bangladesh. We then hiked in to a tribal village of the Monipuri people to have a look around and watch the women who gathered in the temple weave colourful fabrics on their looms.
To wrap up our first day we stopped at the Nilkantha Tea Cabin to sip on some tea while we watched the sun go down. This particular tea shop has become quite famous over the years for its unique seven layer tea. A man by the name of Romesh Ram Gour created a tea that has seven different layers of colour that offer seven very different tastes. One layer was black tea, one was red tea, one was green, one was white tea, one was ginger, one was lemon, and the final was sweetened. It tasted as amazing as it looked! It's a definite "must do" for any tea lover. When we finally arrived back at the resort, we sat outside along the front steps of our cottage to cool down from the heat
(a whopping 37 degrees!), gazed up at the stars, and watched the fireflies flicker about.
The next day we woke up early and headed for the fruit market in town. Here, people from all over the Sylhet division gather to display their freshly harvested fruits in hopes of a wholesale buyer purchasing the lot they have to offer. Many of them walk for miles and miles each day with their carts bursting at the seams in order to make this sale. Not to mention that some of the sellers are as young as 10 years old. It was quite a busy place! After wandering around the market for a bit, we headed back to the resort for some breakfast and to get ready for the next portion of our trip.
I was fully aware that we would be doing a bit of cycling at some point over these two days, but I had no idea the extent of riding our guide had in store for us (a 32 km ride!). I normally do cycle in and around Vancouver, but it is usually at quite a leisurely pace, not to mention the weather just started to get nice before
I left so there has been a lack of physical activity on my part. I only managed to ride for 20km of the 32km loop he had planned, but I got to experience the rainforest in a very different light than most. If we heard an interesting sound or saw what we thought looked like a monkey, we would throw down our cycles at the side of the road and run straight into the wild in search of a glimpse of something exciting. We were lucky enough to ride into the territorial call of the Hoolock Gibbons (a type of ape) which are an endangered species with only about 200 left remaining here in Bangladesh. The guide lead us through the bush like a mad man, following the sound to the source until we could spot them. It was hard to get a clear photograph of the gibbons as they were situated so high up in the trees, but I did manage to get a few not so good shots that will give you an idea of what they look like. We also saw some Pigtail Macaques (monkeys) swinging amongst the branches and feasting on ripe jackfruit, along with a
ton of enormous spiders, and a few other visually interesting insects and butterflies. Apparently there are 19 other mammal species that live in this forest that include the delightful loris, orange-bellied himalayan squirrel, and barking deer along with 240 different bird species and 20 different types of orchids. Unfortunately we weren't able to find everything!
We also hiked into a village perched high on a hilltop that was occupied by the Kasia tribe. These tribal people actually follow Christianity and are most famous for their betel leaf cultivation. Betel leaf could be compared to chewing tobacco, although its flavour is something of a different variety. One lady offered me a leaf to try, and as I was curious I accepted and shoved the whole thing in my mouth. As I began to chew, the leaf first emitted a citrus type flavour that quickly morphed into a most awful bitter flavour that then became peppery tasting and finally ended with a note of mint that numbed my entire mouth. I had to turn away from the woman who was so happy to share her prized leaves with me as I tried not to gag. The other volunteers are still laughing
about the facial expressions that I displayed that afternoon! Despite their remote location, they are also the most modern tribe in Bangladesh. Satellite dishes lined some of the roof tops and I could hear English pop music coming from one of the houses. The people look very different than the typical Bangladesh people too, not to mention that they were all clothed whereas most tribal people we saw wore very little.
After another action packed day we departed Srimongal and headed back to Uttara. The ride back home was another journey in itself as we travelled down a very dark and windy road with headlights constantly striking us head-on as the other vehicles weaved in and out of traffic. Bangladesh has the most chaotic traffic flow I have ever seen. Happy to say I made it back safe and sound!
Well, I only have 13 days left here and I'm not sure what's in store next... but I will keep you posted, as always.
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