Well I changed my mind last night and never went down for dinner, the waiter wasn’t there this morning so I don’t know if he survived his triple dinner disaster or not!!
Got up early this morning, breakfasted then headed to the railway station to catch the train to Srimangal or Sreemangal (they seem to be the same place with different spellings)
It started to rain heavily once I got on the train. I had no idea what carriage or seat to get into as it is all in Bengali and their numbers are not like ours. I usually just get on the train, show someone my ticket and they direct me. I did that today and got directed first one way and then back again. After trying 3 different carriages getting sent back and forward I got off the train, went to a man sitting by a pillar and asked him. He sent me back to the first carriage I had gotten on to. Seemed that by fluke I was in the right carriage at the beginning but some idiot misread my ticket – not me since I couldn’t read it!! Anyway I eventually settled into my seat and spent the next 3 hours relaxing watching the beautiful Bangladesh countryside slide by.This part of Bangladesh is very wet. All the fields are either waterlogged or just above the water table. There are also some small hills so it is very different to the other places I went which were flat and dry (apart from the numerous waterways).
After 3 hours I arrived in Srimongol which is a small(ish) town. I came here because it is the tea capital of Bangladesh and I thought it might have some interesting sights. I was wrong.
I had no Hotel booking and spent 20 minutes at the Railway Station trying to get someone to take me to a Hotel – they couldn’t understand anything I was telling them. There was a billboard with the Grand Hotel on it right by where I was standing – I pointed it and asked to go there, but they had no idea – I wondered how hard it could be for them when you have a tourist standing there pointing at the sign gesturing in my best charades please take m there. In the end I gave up.
I decided to walk along the road and see if I could see a building that looked like it might be a Hotel. As I walked along I was listening for someone to say hello, if I could get an English speaker my task would be so much easier.
Eventually I heard “hello”, I identified which mouth it came from and went over to the mans shop. His English was only slightly better than my Bengali, but he directed me along the Street, so I was hopeful of the right result. Indeed it was a Hotel, but it was absolutely grotty and had no internet or light in the room. I guess they cater for blind people. That was a reject. I then went along the road and found another – it was really grotty also and also had no internet so I rejected that one also.
Then I remembered that I had seen on the Internet a really posh looking place called the Sultans Tea Garden Golf Resort (or something like that), it was out of town but since it is my second to last night I thought I would go and see if I could haggle them down to maybe 500 Taka (NZ$90), which was still an exorbitant amount for a cheapskate like me. I hired a CNG (Tuk tuk) for $2 and he took me out of town about 5ks and to the gates of a very flash and imposing Resort. I stood there in my stinky sandals and smelly shirt trying to convince security to at least let me in to the complex so I could ask at reception if they had a room and if they would come down to my price. Eventually after a couple of phone calls they opened the gate and I went in. It was super flash, the rich from Dhaka and elsewhere come here. As I sauntered up to the Reception the other guests were giving me the eye over – they were all immaculately dressed and I was definitely not in their league. The lady at reception was very cool to me, she said the best they could do was 10,000 Taka (NZ$190) plus taxes, the taxes vary from property to property and are just a way of having a low upfront tariff, which after taxes equals plenty.
Taxes at this property were 25% and since I couldn’t get her any lower I did the walk of shame out the doors, up the drive and back through the gates and past the guards who I had no doubt were looking at me and saying to each other that I needed to go to a doss house not one of the flashest resorts around.
Straight across the road from the Sultans Spa was a big billboard for the Lemon Tea Resort which I thought sounded ok. There was an arrow pointing left (away from where I had come from) so without any idea of how far it was I thought bugger it I’ll try that one.
At that very moment some guys in a small truck came by – the truck was full of watermelons. I put my thumb out, pointed to the sign and they indicated to throw my bags on the watermelons and for me to stand on the back bumper. I did as directed and we set off up the road in the direction the arrow said. I had no idea whether the resort was 1k or 50 ks, but after about 5ks they stopped and dropped me off at a sign that pointed off to the right. It was in English which was great. I paid the driver 10 Taka (20 cents), and started to read the sign boards. There was one saying Lemon Tea Resort, but it had no distance on it. The other sign had 5 tea plantations on it, but I was somewhat concerned to see that the distances to them ranged from 17 to 33 ks from the turn off. Murphy’s Law that the one I wanted had no distance.
Anyway I decided to go for a walk down the road for a maximum of one hour to see if I could find it. It was a beautiful hot day, the road was dirt and it was surrounded by bush with all manner of animal and insect noises. It would have been a great place to ambush a tourist but it didn’t have that feel about it so I plodded on.
I got passed by a couple of tuk tuks, but they didn’t slow or seem concerned that a stranger was wandering around in the middle of nowhere. After about 20 minutes I saw a sign pointing to a dirt road that went off the main dirt road I was on. I decided to try my luck down there. It was like a farm track. At one point I was spotted by some women who were doing some sort of agriculture work on the hill, they were quite surprised to see a white guy with two backpacks on the country lane but since they waved I thought all was well. After another 10 minutes I came across a house (of sorts) and above on the hill I could see some buildings which I thought might be Lemon Tea Resort. I saw a man, asked him and he confirmed I was right. I went up about 50 steps beside his house and found myself at Lemon Tea Resort – there were a group of stand alone cottages perched on the hill among tea bushes. It had a lovely view and the gardens were nice. I saw someone cleaning a cottage and asked where reception was, turns out there isn’t one. A man came over, unlocked a cottage, showed me inside and said it was 5000 Taka. It was quite nice, looked like the sort of place you would get in Fiji at a resort. Lots of bamboo furniture and spacious. Only problem was the room was 5000 Taka (NZ$95), but breakfast and meals were extra, and they didn’t take credit cards. I only had 5000 Taka cash so I tried to haggle them down to 4000 which would leave me money for meals. The man in charge wouldn’t reduce the rate and since I was in the middle of nowhere I wasn’t going to go without food, so once again I decided to do the walk of shame – this time I didn’t have to backtrack past security guards, but I did have a long and hot walk with two backpacks all the way down the two dirt roads back to the main road again.
Luckily within 1 minute of getting to the main road (which was in reality a small country road), I saw a bus come around the corner heading back into town. I flagged it down, they slowed and I leapt on board, much to the shock of all the locals that were on board. All the seats were full but there was a gap near the driver so I stood there looking back at all their faces which ranged from shock to amusement to humour. I made a point of looking at them all and smiling. Then to top it off I gave them all a big wave which got a 30% response rate which I thought was pretty good.
The bus went back into town and I paid the boy who collected the money 10 Taka (NZ 20c), not bad I thought for a drive of maybe 15ks
I carried on my Hotel search eventually finding the Tea Town Hotel which seemed not too bad. I beat them down from 1500 Taka to 1200 (NZ$20) and settled in. After a couple of hours resting and cooling down I went for a 3k walk up the road out of town to where I had spotted a tea plantation. I thought it might offer some good photos, but I was wrong. Tea bushes are just a green shrub. I found a river with a grassy field running up beside it and wandered up there a bit, took some photos and headed back into town.
I am sure that this place has some Tourist places to see, but it isn’t geared up to get tourists to where they want to go. There are numerous Tea Estates in the area, I saw lots of signs but they are in Bengali and just point down dirt roads. I thought they would be set up like NZ wineries where you would go and have cups of tea while they showed you the process. If they do in fact exist like that I never found them and they are not sign posted. The locals seem to have no idea so it’s all a mystery to me. Anyway it was a lovely train ride here and it had broken my stay in Sylhet, where I return tomorrow on the 3.20pm train.