Sweet, green, beautiful, friendly Bangladesh

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April 17th 2019
Published: April 17th 2019
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With no real expectations based on other peoples stories because we don’t know anybody who has ever visited nor any proper research we entered Bangladesh and were immediately engulfed by its chaos and the sheer numbers of people living in Dhaka, in what apparently is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries of the region and we have seen some of the worst living conditions. But we have also seen that Bangladesh is an extremely green and fertile country it being one big delta of 700 rivers with rice paddies, tea plantations, rubber plantations, pineapple gardens, a lot of bananas and an unbelievable number of watermelons. A lot of Bangladeshi live under the poverty line and especially in the rural places too many people cannot read or write but almost all Bangladeshi are friendly, look happy, are quite fun and extremely social to us. Even though the number of Bangladeshi speaking proper English is minimal we have not been in any other country in the world where so many people stopped whatever they were doing as soon as they saw us. Most of them started to stare quite intensely (which, to be honest, we really had get to used to) or talk amongst themselves using the word 'foreigner' (which gave them away), and almost all of them tried to connect, just saying ‘hello’ or mostly asking us 'what country?' and wanting to shake Merijn's hand before they continued their way (because they are almost all men and muslim they don’t shake hands with Judith). Some people stop their motorcycle or even block our way to meet us. We saw heads turning everywhere, and smiles, a lot of smiles. The Bangladeshi are poor but proud and happy that we visit their country just to see the beauty of it and its people.

Bangladesh is a rickshaw country. Because it’s often very hot in Bangladesh (now around 35 C and 70 to 80 % humidity), generally people prefer not to walk. Being a poor overpopulated country, for a lot of people the (cycle) rickshaw is their only way of making some money. For us it still feels a bit weird to have one skinny guy working on the pedals to move us two foreigners from A to B. But as this is their only way to make money and the men are extremely proud, we actually have been using cycle rickshaws more than any other form of transport. All of the rickshaws are decorated with colourful riskshaw art and some of them now have two batteries and a small electrical motor on board.

Bangladeshi like their sweets and we had to restrain ourselves and not enter a sweet shop every day. The ‘dhoi’ (yoghurt) is also very good (and most of the time very sweet). Being the neighbour of India there are a lot of Indian influences and especially the chaat and ‘dhoi fuchka’ (dahi puri in India) is great. Bangladesh is a (very) Islamic country, which is partly a heritage of it having been part of Pakistan for a while, and we had to get used to the very male dominated public life and the sometimes awkward interaction between us and the opposite sex. A lot of the men and women wear quite traditional muslim attire and most of the men have long beards, many of them dyed red with henna, which at first gives them a little bit a funny look but we got quite used to it now.

After a few days in the busy capital Dhaka we got on a classic and almost antique peddle steamer ship. We got ourselves a first class cabin which was convenient and not very first class but the boat ride was nice and slow, we had a good sleep and we were sailing through beautiful landscapes over some of the many rivers. Arriving in Hularhat we find out that local elections make travelling impossible, roads are blocked and buses are not operational at all. A friendly police officer helps us out and calls someone with a big luxury car who drives us to our destination.

We stay in Khulna and spend some time with a few young guys wanting to practice their English. Next day we visit Bagerhat, with some age old brick built mosques and people feeding live chicken to crocodiles in the pond where men are bathing and kids are swimming. After visiting another town Barisal, we board another river ship which brings us to a place where we hop in a luxury bus to Chittagong. Chittagong is a big city and it’s getting really hot so we decide to continue to Cox’s Bazar the next day because this is the place of the longest beach of the entire world (125 KM). Everybody in Bangladesh is really proud of this fact and has told us we really have to go here. Cox’s Bazar is the most touristic place of the country with mainly domestic tourists and hardly any foreigners. Bangladesh being a predominantly Muslim country, we cannot go for a swim but we do walk along a small part of this longest beach of the world surrounded by carefully wrapped up local tourists wearing long sleeve shirts and pants and all sorts of head cover. We hop on a local boat to visit a nearby island and we hitchhike back with a group of Bangladeshi guys with a speed boat.

With a local bus we travel more south, straight through the region where almost one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are housed in 26 camps, which are all like proper towns. This poor country houses almost one million people from the neighbouring country and the scale of this operation leaves a big impression on us.

We continue with another boat and sail to the island Saint Martin. This is the first time in Bangladesh we feel we are in a place where tourism could have developed, but again we are literally the only foreigners on the ferry and on the whole island. Again we meet almost every single Bangladeshi shaking hands, saying ‘hello, what country?’ and making selfies with us. We find a nice place to stay near the beach and we relax and read our books for the first time in quite some time travelling not the easiest way. We also walk around the whole island, have tea with some locals, drink freshly cut coconuts and eat fish and even lobster. This was a break well needed.

Back in Chittagong we have to wait 24 hours for the next train but don’t do a lot because of the heat. The train ride the next day is good, has AC, is comfortable and on time and brings us to Sylhet a city in the northeast of the country. We continue to Srimangal where we base ourselves for a few days in a small eco resort with a large basic but beautiful bamboo cottage in the jungle between the tea plantations, surrounded by jackfruit trees and scavenging monkeys.

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18th April 2019

We regret not visiting there a few years ago when we went to Nepal and Bhutan. Maybe some day. Thanks for taking us along.

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