Bangladesh – has a complicated history, once a part of British India it next became East Pakistan, until it gained independence in 1971 and became Bangladesh. Predominantly Muslim with about 10% Hindu, Bangla is the national language and they have their own numerals. They are passionate about their culture and language and in 1952 when the Government in West Pakistan tried to impose Urdu on them as the National language there was a protest and a massacre by the police. Finally in 1956 Bengali or Bangla was granted official status and the day of the massacre 21 February 1952 was declared International Mother Language Day by UNESCO.
I flew from Paro, Bhutan to Dhaka. Visa on arrival was simple and quick, fill in a form, pay US$51 in cash and you are through. The Immigration Officer actually called my Tour Agency to check up on me because I could not give them a Hotel name, my first night was spent on a boat. So make sure you have the phone number and address of your hotel.
I was picked up from the airport by my guide from Bangladesh Expeditions. I booked a private tour because that is the only way you get to visit the Sundarbans. First day was a tour of Dhaka, it was like stepping back in time, cycle rickshaws rule the roads and due to the narrow streets and congestion they are in most cases the quickest way to get around. Some of the rickshaws are battery powered. I bought a SIM card for 410 taka (US$5) with 200 taka credit of which 46 went towards 250Mb/7 days for 3G Data, it started working immediately and the speed was reasonable.
At the end of the day we boarded the Rocket Steamer, an ancient boat which leaves Dhaka at 18:30, travels down river and arrives in Hularhat the following morning at 10:00. I met my companions for this part of the tour, Milu and Safiun, a retired Bangladeshi doctor who spent most of his life in the UK and partner and Ellie a young English girl who is now a professional travel blogger. Check out her website at https://soultravelblog.com/, it coincides with my travel philosophy and that of Chief Seattle, a 19th century Native American Chief who famously said “take only memories, leave only footprints”. Conversations with them helped relieve the tedium of 3 days on the boat in the Sundarbans where for the most part we saw muddy riverbanks devoid of life.
Day 2 was a drive in a minivan from Hularhat Jetty to first a tomb and then the 60 dome mosque or Shaat Gombuj Mosque, wandered around, small museum and then on to Mongla for the night. Along the way we had to stop at a Police checkpoint where money changed hands and we were allowed to continue on, apparently you have to pay Baksheesh just to buy a 1st class ticket on the train or the Rocket steamer.
The next two nights were spent on a smaller boat following the river Pushkar and then the Sela towards the Bay of Bengal. It drizzled most of the time, we visited a couple of beaches and saw a few Kingfishers, Herron, Spotted deer and a single Otter and a Monkey. We were accompanied by a Guard with a rifle. After 3 days on the boat we returned to Mongla and drove to Khulna, from there I got a train back to Dhaka. The train left at 2030 and arrived in Dhaka the next morning 12 minutes late at 0642.
I met the third guide of the trip here Papon, he has his own Tour Agency and is a really nice guy http://www.pathfriend-bd.com/. We took a rickety old bus to Sonargon which was the old Capital of this area, visited the Museum and Panam Nagar. Next onto the roof of a private boat at Boiddar Bazaar and travelled up the Meghna river for 3 hours. Off the boat at Gopaldi Bazaar and then a long rickshaw ride via Madhabdi where we stopped for lunch. Then on to Moktar where I spent the night at a homestay which happens to be the guide’s family home. A very interesting and enjoyable day.
Bangladesh is famous for its textile industry and I visited two factories today, one handloom and one with machines, watch the videos at the end. Next we visited my guide Papon’s old high school and Murapara College, another interesting day.