This is a long one.....
02.05.2010 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.