Biking Through the Tea Estates- 29/05/09
This morning I woke up thinking it would be a mellow day bike riding through the tea estates of Sylhet. However, I am quickly learning that nothing in Bangladesh is easy or relaxing. The bike shopkeeper was supposed to deliver fifteen bikes for the interns at 9 am to the Nirala Guesthouse. Of course, when we walked downstairs in the morning there was no one waiting. Two hours later, after much sweating and negotiation, we had fifteen shoddy bikes and a tour guide who neither spoke English nor knew the area. Heading out to Lowacherra National Park, we rode through lush forests, pineapple bushes, rubber plantations and beadle trees. Stopping at a little shop on the side of the road, I tried the infamous five layer tea. After finishing walking through the park and admiring the playful gibbons, we decided to try to find this tribal village mentioned in the Lonely Planet. Our group composed of French, Canadians and Americans decidedly set off on the dusty roads of Srimangal.
However, most of the bikes were in terrible condition and half did not even have brakes! As a giant truck lunged towards Simon, he had to choose between slamming into metal or taking his chances in the ditch. He swerved out of the way as his brakes failed and ended up with his entire left side scraped and bloody. The handle bars were flattened and the wheel looked like a corkscrew. We created quite a spectacle with 15 foreigners on the side of the road and a circle of cars, goats and locals surrounding us.
Splashing water on Simon’s wounds, we asked a truck driver if he would take Simon and his broken bike back to the hotel and eventually we had them loaded up and sent off. Continuing on our way, we headed towards the Tea Research Institute with hopes of finding the village. Soon, the sky darkened and the townspeople pointed towards the heavens and began to run inside. We decided we had best head back also as thunder could be heard in the distance. Yet, as we hurried forward, Patrick’s chain broke and we frantically tried to set it straight. The monsoon rains did not wait. Raindrops the size of ping pong balls flooded the streets and instantly drenched my clothes. Quickly, I threw my valuables under my dress and pumped my legs as fast as they would carry me. Even the cows sought refuge from the torrential downpour and the locals cheered and clapped from the dry sidelines as we paraded by. Finally, we made it back soaked and hungry but in good spirits.
Riding on the Roof of the Train- 30/05/09
A wonderful thing about Bangladesh is you undergo experiences that would never be permitted in the States. This is how I found myself on the roof of the train headed back to Dhaka. A few of us climbed through the window, hoisted ourselves onto the roof, and were excitedly greeted by the locals. I have never had such an awe-inspiring experience. The view was breathtaking and we waved to children playing cricket down below as we moved through tea fields and dense jungle. The dipping sun shone bright orange and illuminated the green landscape. Ducking occasionally to avoid attacks from low-lying branches, we chugged along and enjoyed the cool breeze. Suddenly, the rains started and horizontal needles pierced my skin. We tried to ask the Bangladeshis on the roof how much time until the next stop, but as always, they gave us an answer without knowledge to substantiate. Soon we realized we were on an express train and the sparks of lightening in the distance did not look reassuring from our metal seats. Every time we passed by a platform without braking, the locals on the roof would cheer and eventually we all began clapping and singing as the sun sank lower and the winds increased. I laughed, ducked under a branch and simply enjoyed the view. After an hour, we finally stopped, shook hands with our new Bangladeshi friends and climbed back through the window to safety, It was one of the most exhilarating and memorable experiences of my life.
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