28.04.2010 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!