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Time for Bangladesh
Cherrapunjee (India) to St. Martin (Bangladesh), Jan-31-08 / Feb-16-08
After having spent nearly five months in India and over a month in Nepal, it is time for something else. The next destination on our journey is Bangladesh. When we left India for Nepal in the beginning of December 2007, we were a bit tired of India. Our visit to North-eastern India was different. This part of India is completely different from the other parts of India that we have visited so far. North-eastern India is inhabited by a mix of tribes and communities who don’t give you the impression to be in India. People have more resemblance with East Asians than with Indians. However, the big diversity of the tribes and communities has led to tensions. As a result, parts of North-eastern India can be dangerous due to insurgents. Insurgents in different parts North-eastern India are fighting for more autonomy of their districts. As a foreigner, only three out of seven states can be visited without a special permit (Assam, Meghalaya en Tripura). The other four states (Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram en Manipur) can only be visited after obtaining an expensive permit. Even then, you are not allowed to travel freely wherever you like to go. Even in the states where you can travel without a permit, the safety situation is still an issue. Public institutions in Assam are frequently target of bomb blasts and parts of Tripura can only be crossed in a military convoy (See also the article: In a military convoy to Agartala). However, we haven’t had any problems in the places that we visited and we haven’t felt unsafe at all.
A street scene in old Dhaka
From Cherrapunjee, the wettest place on earth (see also the article: Living root bridges in Cherrapunjee), we travelled to Agartala. Agartala is the capital of the state Tripura and it took a long time to get there. This is not because we had to travel large distances, but especially because of the low average speed (only 20-25 kilometres per hour). The route is characterized by narrow roads through a hilly area. Trucks creep up the hill slopes at a provokingly low speed. This forces the other road users to undertake terrifying overtaking manoeuvres. This is the main reason why we only want to travel by daylight. Travelling during the nighttimes in India is a kind of roulette. On top of the reckless drive style, there are only a few vehicles that have enough lighting. For simplicity we don’t even take the unlighted pedestrians, cycle-rickshaws and cows on the roads in consideration. However, in some cases it is inevitable to travel in the night. Some stretches are too long to cover by daylight while other bus journeys simply have to much delay to arrive in daylight hours.

In Agartala, we have taken a few days rest to enjoy our last days in India for the time being. We plan to come back, but that will take a few years. We also used these days in Agartala to arrange our Bangladeshi visa, which wasn’t as easy as we expected (See also the article: The battle for a Bangladeshi visa). A day before our Indian visa expired we crossed the border with Bangladesh. It was exciting as we don’t know many people who have visited Bangladesh before. As there aren’t any recent, useful travel books we did not know exactly what to expect. At this moment, we have spent ten days in Bangladesh and we have a good first impression of the country. While Bangladesh is a country without obvious highlights, it’s a great pleasure to be here. The main attraction is undoubtedly its people. With only a single exception, we have only met very friendly and laughing Bangladeshi’s. The people are warm-hearted and love to see foreigners who visit their country. English is not widely spoken, but everybody tries to speak a few words with you. The questions that we normally have to answer are: “Where do you come from?”, “What is your name?”, “Are you married?”, “For how long?”, “Why don’t you have children?” and “What do you think of Bangladesh?”. Moreover, we have been photographed at least three-hundred times in the last ten days. This often happens in a kind of domino-effect. After one person photographs us, there seem to appear Bangladeshi’s out of every corner to do the same. This all happens in a very friendly and calm way, what makes it quite enjoyable and funny. However, the only rest you will find is on your hotel room; far away from the busyness on the streets.

"Pirate" fishing ships in Teknaf, South Bangladesh

From India, we travelled directly to Dhaka (See also the article: From Agartala to Dhaka). In Dhaka, we have spent a few days to get used to Bangladesh. We explored the old city and we hired a boat to sail over the Buriganga River. Such a boat trip is a great way to observe the busyness on the river. It gives you the opportunity to see the big, old and rusty riverboats up close. These boats are used on a daily basis for the ferry trips on one of the many rivers of Bangladesh. These are also the boats that are often overloaded and badly maintained which contributes to the daunting safety record of these ships. Very year, a few ferries sink causing a lot of deadly victims. From Dhaka, we travelled to Chittagong. This is the second largest city of Bangladesh. Chittagong is smaller, more orderly but also less interesting than Dhaka. You won’t find big highlights in Chittagong but its friendly inhabitants make it a place to remember. After staying a few days in Chittagong, it was time to dive into the beach life of Bangladesh. There are several destinations to go to, but Cox’s Bazar is the most famous one. It is only a three hours drive from Chittagong, which makes it a popular weekend outing destination. We will visit Cox’s Bazar later on, and we travelled directly to Saint Martin’s Island. This small island is also the most southerly place of Bangladesh. You can reach this island by a three hour ferry trip from the city of Teknaf. When you see Saint Martin’s Island loom ahead, you know that this is a special place. Beautiful, empty, unspoiled, white beaches and waving palm trees welcome you. In the small harbour are picturesque fishing boats that look like small pirate ships. The people are very friendly and this makes it a great place to enjoy the beach and sample the nice, fresh seafood that is widely available. A walk around the island (it is only 5 square kilometres at high tide and 9 square kilometres at low tide) is a good way to see the island. On several places, you will have the opportunity to buy a coconut that you can drink up on the beautiful beach. Saint Martin’s Island is certainly a great place to refuel with energy before you head back to the mainland of Bangladesh, to enjoy the busyness again.


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