A Travellerspoint blog

Going Home

all seasons in one day 35 °C

The last day in Dhaka was pretty sad for many reasons: we were saying goodbye to some good friends who we wouldn't see this side of two years time, it was the end of the Asian adventure and Mark and I were to say farewell to each other for at least 8 months.

Mark’s flight was first and so I went with him to the airport. There were many tears and hugs, but I just told him to stop being so dramatic. Boom boom. My flight wasn't until 9pm and so Mark was already in Bangkok dodging grenades before I made it to the airport departure lounge where my plane would take me even further west and this was very sad in deed. However the prospect of going to Costa Rica seeming very real was also getting progressively more exciting.

Anyway, enough emotional chit chat. I wanted to mention my flight home because there were many notable occurrences. The first was that: a) I was the only white person and b) I was the only woman in the airport. Although there was the usual staring I didn't get a crowd of inquisitors surrounding me as is normally the case when with Mark. I think they have reservations about talking to a solo woman out of respect. Phew! Couldn't be bothered with all the questioning right then.

Once through the departure gates we found out we were going to be delayed 30 minutes due to bad weather and so myself and about 50 blokes sat cooped up in a room watching European football on a TV that was wheeled in for the occasion. I pretended to intently watch the football match as people blatantly sat there staring. When individuals do this you can do one of a few things:

1. Stare back until someone gives in. My personal favourite technique.
2. Smile and a smile will always be returned. This however gives men the wrong impression as women are supposed to lower their gaze. Basically this is the equivalent of winking suggestively to lecherous workmen on a building site, so use with caution.
3. If the staring is weirdly persistent (like on this flight where one man in the row in front made the effort to turn his neck approximately 120 degrees to stare throughout take off) then a stubborn frown and a shrug of the shoulders puts them right off.

I’m sure it’s just curios ignorance.

After a half hour wait we boarded the plane. The plane was a quarter full and I had 3 seats to myself. I don’t mind flying at all but I was on a Bangladesh version of Easy Jet and after seeing a cupboard door break when the hostess pulled on it too hard I suddenly didn’t feel safe.

We waited a further 30 minutes on the runway and then we were off. We were suddenly level with a spectacular electric storm in the clouds which was really amazing to see actually, although I was half expecting to see a gremlin tearing strips off the wing. Then the captain came on the Tannoy: he was English! Hugh Grant English! It really made me smile that amongst this alien atmosphere, gosh darn it there was a good old familiar voice waffling on and making unfunny jokes to an audience that aren't used to any kind of customer service, let alone happiness. I was now sure the old boy would fly the plane to safety regardless of broken cupboards and potential gremlins. I almost ran into the cockpit to shake his hand. But then 120 Degrees Neck would have something more to stare at. So I lay across my 3 seats and tried to sleep.

We arrived in Mumbai an hour late in total and then had to wait 20 minutes for some step ladders in order to get off the plane. I was staying in Mumbai for one night before heading to London and was now getting concerned that my airport transfer would have given up the wait. Luckily immigration wasn’t too slow, even with two staff members playing Grand Theft Auto instead of stamping passports. After my re-entry stamp was scrutinised for 10 minutes I was waved through to baggage where I waited for 45 minutes on the wrong belt because the handlers loaded our luggage onto the wrong one. Welcome back to India.

In arrivals I was very happy to learn that my transfer was ready and waiting and off I went to Anjalil Hotel for a few hours sleep before returning at 11am the next day. Some people in the hostel were still up watching the football highlights of the match I’d been watching and I joined them for a beer. They were suitably impressed with my knowledge of European football, especially when I started predicting free kicks and goals...

Bangladesh was a lot of fun. The people are very proud of their country, which I imagine is down to its struggle for Independence with Pakistan in the 70's, and welcome tourists with open arms - if of course you don't mind the staring! There is plenty to see and do for a week or so and the Tea Plantations are a fantastic way to spend a few days away from the hustle and bustle of Dhaka. Rural Banglasdesh is how I imagine India was 50 years ago and is very green, peaceful and beautiful. We didn't make it to the Sunderbans National Park which is home to the Bengal Tiger and is the largest mangrove field in the world with an abundance of wildlife. Unfortunately it was cyclone season and so it would have been too risky but if anyone reading this is going to Bangladesh this should be visited I think.

The next day I got on my flight to the UK. As I came into land through the thick cloud and grey skies, I saw good old London and I know one day I'll be back. For now though I'm off to check out Central America.

Posted by LauraT 04:16 Archived in Bangladesh Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Getting out of Dhaka - Bangladesh (Part 2)

This is a long one.....

storm 37 °C

Expectations were high for the rest of our time in Bangladesh seeing as the first few days had brought the excitement of a new country, fantastically obscure fair ground rides and several public mobbings ending in a visit to the police. It was now apparent that we were on a road less travelled and this was a good feeling.

We went to Old Dhaka (There's a busy river, hundred's of colourful bicycle rickshaws, a Pink Palace, boats full to the brim with water melons...... everything but a yellow submarine) and having already spent time in Central Dhaka at New Year we decided to try somewhere different.

Mark and I read about a village near Savra just outside of Dhaka that catches snakes for anti-venom, leaving hundreds of defenseless snakes in captivity. As we'd been on the look out for snake charmers throughout India we thought we'd go and take a look.

We had our friend's driver on loan for the day and arrived at the village in Pete's 4X4 car. Before I'd reached for the door handle to let myself out the car was surrounded by people. Two white tourists clad with state of the art camera's climbing out of a Land Rover is not discreet you see. They knew exactly why we'd come and proceeded to begin a snake show and tell. Within a few minutes we were watching the torture of about 7 snakes that looked like they would rather be taking their venomless chances out in the wild with an angry cobra. That hadn't eaten for 14 days. By the time an old man had put one of the snakes in his mouth I think I'd have rather been there too. So we left.

Having now had a taste of the surrounding countryside we decided to spend a couple of days at the Srimangal Tea Plantations in eastern Bangladesh. We took a train that took 5 hours and cost only £3 for a 3 seater air conditioned cabin. The trains were much the same as in India, only cheaper. We shared our cabin with a very interesting guy who, in a typically Bangladeshi way, called all of his friends at the tea plantations to help us into the best accommodation and to ask his friend to take us on a tour around one of the tea estates. He even invited us around to his house for tea as is Bangla tradition. Puts us all to shame really.

We arrived in massive storm. Mark and I clung to the make shift curtains of the rickshaw as rain hammered against the Tarpaulin and lightening flashed urgently alongside angry thunder. Suddenly I seem to be wrtiting a Dean Kootz novel. Basically it rained lots. So much that by the time we found 'Eco Lodge' we had to wait in the main building as we couldn't get to our room. By the time the rain stopped we were taken through a small orchard, over a bamboo walkway bridging a gushing river and into a secluded wooden cabin (I can't seem to stop). The night was spent watching the storm.

By the morning the sun was back in full force with suffocating humidity to match and so we thought a bike ride followed by a long trek outdoors would be the obvious way to spend the day. So we went to the nearby jungle. We thought it best to hire a guide and this was a wise decision seeing as, not only did he know all the tribal villagers, but he could spot big spiders before I put my face in a web and he was carrying anti leech powder for the never ending supply that found their way onto my ankles. To think I nearly wore flip flops. I think we've learnt our lesson since getting lost trying to find waterfalls on our own and our guide was a blessing.

We saw spiders, leeches, monkeys, leeches, butterflies, cows, leeches and ..er the police who'd caught 2 people 'at it'. We decided to have some chai at a random midway cafe and then go and see some traditional villages. After removing excess leeches from my feet I noticed one sly leech fall from my toe and into my shoe having had its fill. It had left it's declotting potion in my toe. That's not the scientific name for it. It made the blood a sticky bright red and my toe wouldn't stop bleeding for 24 hours. I'm writing this 2 weeks later and it still itches. But I'm alive. For the love of God I'm still alive.

ln the village we were invited into different houses for tea and Pan. Pan is a natural stimulant (of sorts) and is made from a mixture of tobacco, seeds and natural bits and bobs that's eventually wrapped in a leaf. Then you chew the whole thing and spit out the excess. It makes your mouth bright red and tastes foul. Mark and I couldn't get the hang of it and both swallowed a fair amount by mistake which made me feel quite sick! A lot people accross India and Bangladesh use it, it looks disgusting and now I finally know it is. We left the Jungle, found our bikes and headed back for showers.

We then went to find the 7 layered tea stall in one of the tea estates. Not too sure how its done, but for 70p a guy and 3 helpers will spend an hour constructing a tea that has, you guessed it, 7 independent layers. It's gorgeous and he should patent it before Starbucks steal it. We had this tea on a village green where school kids played on bikes, people sat outside and talked over cups of chai and the atmosphere was serene. There's a lot to be said for this way of life I think.

We finished off the trip that night on our porch with our nearest neighbours; a couple of travellers from Bath who had been backpacking around Bangladesh for much longer than us and were heading to India, so we had many stories to swap.

The train journey back was great - just a proper chance to see the real Bangladesh away from the city. We saw cricket games being played by children on train tracks, self sufficient villages, rice paddies and many rivers with house boats.

Our time in Bangladesh, and for me Asia, was coming to an end. We spent our last night in a Bangla restaurant, using up spare loose change on food for the homeless who we'd ignored through our car windows for 2 weeks and in The Western Hotel where there was a roof top bar with real wine. Tomorrow the airport.

Posted by LauraT 02:03 Archived in Bangladesh Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Dhaka, Bangladesh (Part One)

Bangladesh

semi-overcast 35 °C

Bangladesh is not somewhere I would ever have thought about going to because it's not marketed towards tourists. It's also very flat and prone to floods/cyclones making traveling fairly difficult and is perhaps one of the poorest countries of the world.. The reason for the visit was to stay with friends and so I didn't really know what to expect. Which is good, because getting away from the tourist trail and not knowing what to expect is what traveling should be all about. Staying with friends in a sweet penthouse with our own driver and access to the British High Commission's pool, bar and staff amenities isn't what traveling should be about but I'm 29 and I've served my time as a back packer so I'm sticking to the comfortable life whilst I can.

Once settled in our new air conditioned home for 2 weeks (a big thanks to Pete and Sally!) we ventured out into the streets of central Dhaka as it appeared that we'd timed our visit with the Bangladeshi New Year. Happy 1418 everyone. We were hoping to catch a procession in Ramna Park and began a hot walk past the bordered off roads and into the crowds. The park was filled with stalls selling local fast food and drinks, there were curious make shift wooden ferris wheels powered by men who pushed each carriage as it reached the bottom (this had me in patronising stitches for the whole day) and there were lots and lots of 'utter crap' stalls. There were also thousands of people who had never seen a tourist and I now know how it feels to be famous: its bloody good fun for 15 minutes. Within seconds we had crowds gathered around us asking us questions about where we were from, what we thought of their country and EVERYONE was taking photo's. People walked around for ages with us taking photo's of us walking, taking photo's of us ordering food and even taking photo's of us taking photo's. The warmth of these people is unparalleled with anywhere else I've been and this alone is a great reason to come here. In fact we were so impressed at how different it was to India that we let our guards down completely and during one particular crazy mobbing Mark got his video camera swiped from his pocket. Oh dear.

We figured we needed to get a police report for insurance purposes and headed over to the police station. When we arrived we were greeted by a very, very smiley police woman. She probably should have been an air hostess. Instead of the usual focused documentation of crime she began asking where we were from and if we could all have some photo's taken with her whilst her colleagues all congregated outside, grinning. Mmm.

Surreal events weren't just limited to New Year. Following a rather serious morning at the War Liberation Museum that portrayed the gruesome bloody history between Bangladesh and Pakistan during the 1970's, Mark and I found a childrens theme park called Wonderland. We just thought we'd pass an hour going on a few rides and visiting the 'aquarium' (think average pet shop fish). The first ride we went on was called 'Volcano' and as it was a school day we had the ride to ourselves. It was set up like a ghost train and we were soon entering the darkened cave like room with the train driver. It was pitch black save for a few fragments of sunlight that made it through the cracks in the half built ceiling and we weirdly went straight through and back round. Mmm. Is that it? Luckily we continued round again and this time the lights were on highlighting a Blue Peter-esque papier mache cave man display. Er.... OK. Half way round the driver stops the little train and beckons us to follow him. Where are we going? We entered a dark room and stood there in curious silence until suddenly disco lights and loud music filled the room (Cotton - Eye Joe if you're wandering) and the driver starts whooping and dancing about. If this wasn't weird enough a man dressed as a teddy bear peers out from behind a pillar as if we're in some kind of weird Clockwork Orange scene and starts slowly heading towards us. With nothing else to do but dance with a giant bear and whooping train driver we spent 10 minutes laughing and dancing and getting some photo's that don't do justice to what we've encountered. We went home that day crying with laughter having forgotten to visit the aquarium entirely.

As if Wonderland wasn't enough theme park fun we then tried out the larger Fantasy Kingdom that boasted an actual roller coaster. We didn't get on it due to a power failure. The water park was very entertaining, mainly due the fact everyone is fully clothed and the Lazy River is so lazy it didn't flow so we had to walk around. We could have swam but I didn't fancy putting my face anywhere near the thin surface layer of oil and I suddenly started to worry about parasites entering any small cuts I may have. We didn't stay in that one long. To be fair there were a couple of decent water slides and so much fun was had.

On the journey home we spotted a bus that had careered off the main road downhill into a field and this sustained my belief that public buses should be avoided at all costs. Apparently the buses are owned by individuals who race the buses around the streets of Dhaka trying to be the first to pick up as many passengers as they can to earn a decent wage. All the buses are battered beyond belief. Maybe rickshaws aren't that bad!

Posted by LauraT 03:59 Archived in Bangladesh Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Calcutta (aka 'hotter than the sun')

sunny 41 °C

Calcutta is the hottest place I've ever been too. A place where even your forearms sweat, which is something I've never noticed happening even after a good session on the treadmill. We found a bargain room at the Hotel Aafreen where the rooms are clean with ensuite and TV (more Star Movies then) for a mere 4 pounds each. No air con though and so this was to be another 'Engine Room' of Mumbai with loud fan circulating hot air. I'm used to it now though thankfully and seem to sleep through the heat. In the boiling heat locals wear jeans and long sleeved shirts and don't break into a sweat. That has to be admired I think.

Hotel Aafreen can be found in the back packer district of Calcutta. The life style of the Indians here is fascinating. Men sleep in rows on the pavements outside guarding their shops and small businesses. There are congregations of men of different ages: the teenagers all looking very western with jeans and the latest mobile phones whilst their older counter parts don sarongs and vests. The smells vary from lovely food cooking in the small stalls that line the road to the rancid smell of The Meat Shop where goats are slaughtered throughout the day and the left over fat bubbles in a big saucepan out on the street. There are trams, rickshaws, auto rickshaws, bicycles, disabled bicycles, sweet shops, food stalls, travel agents, restaurants, tailors ironing shirts on the side of the pavenment, 1970 style bars where 15 members of staff serve 3 customers, markets like giant versions of Poundstretcher, whole families living on mats at the side of the road, sari shops and dilapodated buildings that still act as schools and offices. It's all very busy until around midnight where people bed down and rest in the cooler night air.

Calcutta has a big British influence and so the sights can resemble what we have back home. We visited The (Queen) Victoria Memorial which looks like St Pauls Cathedral and The Bank of England mixed together. The Indian Museum is a similar looking building and we spent and afternoon looking at pickled animal feotuses and stuffed 'tigers' or, in reality, a lioness they had clearly, CLEARLY, drawn stripes on. How funny. Unfortunately I had to leave my camera at reception so I can't post a photo.

On a more humbling note, Calcutta is also the home of Mother Teresa. The Mission, that she developed extensively over 50 years in aid of the poor from the surrounding slums, was most interesting to me and is now full of nuns continuing her work: they happily talked to us and showed us the way to Mother Teresa's Tomb that now sits in a communal hall. I didn't realise quite how much M.T's done and the title of Saint is truely justified. We saw where she slept, her desk and the crown of thorns she kept on her wall with a personal message to Jesus underneath.

On a less humble note, we managed to see some of Calcutta's night life as we met some uni friends who now live in this part of the world. So we managed to get a few beers and go to one of Calcutta's live music venues where we listened to traditional renditions or Bryan Adams and Bon Jovi by an Indian version of Dick Van Dyke. Mark and I also managed to sneak into Pete and Sally's 5* hotel pool one afternoon which was a great way to spend the day.

This was to be our last destination in India. I've traveled hundereds of miles and feel quite lucky to have seen more of India than many Indians themselves. It has been, at times, very tiring and has had its complications but despite this the country will stay in my memory as a place of lively colours, a wonderful mass of different cultures with customs and food unique to them, of imense heat, of diverse life style from the super rich of Mumbai to the super poor of Calcutta and, most of all, the home of the immeasurable rickshaw driver.

Posted by LauraT 13.04.2010 01:13 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Darjeeling

all seasons in one day 25 °C

As you can guess from the title of this chapter I made it back to India through boarder control just outside of Darjeeling. But not without issue of course, after all this is India. Mark, who's Visa was issued before 2010 and does not have a green stamp next to it stating the conditions of the Visa, was waved through and I, having received my visa in January this year WITH the conditions stamped in, was told I have to go back to Kathmandu to get the re-entry stamp we feared in blog 'Nepal'. It's so complicated an issue based on the authorities all being fairly confused over what this stamp means that I cannot even begin to explain it here, if anyone goes to India call me and I'll run you through it. DO NOT ask an Indian official, they don't know. Ask me.

Going back to Kathmandu because of being wrongfully advised and because the official in a wooden disheveled excuse for an immigration office was on a power trip simply wasn't an option. No way. Not just on principle either, I had just arrived from Kathmandu after a 17 hour bus journey which I could not afford to retake in both monetary terms and terms of my own safety. Our tourist bus ticket turned into a local bus ticket somewhere between the various travel agencies trying to make a buck and Mark and I reluctantly climbed aboard the over crowded sweat box that came to pick us up instead. I say 'reluctantly' but Mark turned a deeper shade of frustrated and I just stood there with my mouth open for about 10 minutes before agreeing we just had to go along with it. The journey was over narrow mountain roads where you're 30 times more likely to die in a crash than anywhere else in Asia, therefore a tourist bus would have been more reassuring and this also meant, Mr Immigration Official, I was not about to go through all that again.

So. I start telling the guy that the Consular Office in Varanasi had said it was OK to cross the boarder and come back in without this stamp, so why is there conflicting information? He wobbles his head as a form of communication: it can mean yes, no, maybe, I don't know and basically anything else you want it to mean. I wanted it to mean 'please go through the boarder with no problems', but it didn't. Boo.

OK, no answer there then. I then ask what there is I can do to help him help me. Head Wobble. Oh right then. Is there anyone in charge I can speak to? "No". This continues for an infuriating amount time all the while Mark and I have a taxi of 8 people (in a standard sized car by the way) waiting to take us to the next part of our 24 hour journey. Finally a Man In Charge comes into the shed. We go through the same arguments and thankfully the senior official starts to budge. Phew. Apparently not letting me through would mean I'd be a woman left on my own so for once being female over here works in my favour. Stamp received after mountains of photocopying and paperwork and off we went to get our jeep that would take us up to the mountains of Darjeeling. Can't wait for a nice cup of tea!

At the risk of sounding like a Lord with a double barreled surname from the days of The Raj, when we gave India cricket could we not have suggested introducing common sense to the bureaucratic system? And queuing.

So now we were on our way to Darjeeling. The town is 2500 meters above sea level and was blissfully cool during the day. We found some cheap accommodation for the 3 days we'd be there and spent our time seeing the sights. We took a train ride to one of the highest train stations in the world complete with uninspiring museum that sold nice cakes. We spent time just chilling in cafes drinking tea and looking at the beautiful surroundings and at night time this was especially magical with all the lights and sounds of the valleys below. Ahh.

Next stop Calcutta.

Posted by LauraT 00:35 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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