My train to Rajshahi wasn’t until 2.50pm so I had a chance to sleep in and explore Khulna in the morning. So after a great sleep at the CSS Centre I was trying to get the internet working when I had a knock on my door – it was Dr Mohiuddin Ahmed – I know that because I have his business card. He is the man that I met on the Rocket paddle steamer the day before, who without prompting kindly made a phone call and organised my great accommodation here.
Mohiuddin and I went down and had a yummy breakfast of rice, omelette, and fried grated potato mixed with onion and chilli – a great combination clearly designed to remove any possibility of constipation!! – then he took me on a tour of the grounds which included Mango trees, deer and pigeons and doves.
Whilst walking I heard singing coming from over a wall – time to explore further!
We went out the gate, up the street and in the next gate – to what turned out to be a kids type club where they were doing Christian type things with pictures of Jesus on a projector – you know the routine – guitar, singing and fun games. The kids were loving it – we took our shoes off and went inside as I wanted photos – the kids were playing a game where they were paired together back to back with their arms intertwined. The leaders then put a balloon down between their backs and they had to try to squeeze each other hard enough to pop the balloon. The kids were having a practice first without the balloons. Mohiuddin got the shock of his life when I grabbed him and turned him around back to back with me, intertwined our arms and started mimicking the kids. Eventually lifting him off the ground as I leaned way forward.
Looking at Mohiuddin’s card I see that he holds a senior Government position as Deputy Director, Ministry of Public Administration. Turns out he is 2nd in charge of most of Bangladesh’s Public Servants – of which there are literally millions. We had a great laugh and I think he enjoyed being a kid again – even if it wasn’t voluntarily!!
Next we went down to the centre of town – found a coconut stall and had a couple of coconuts sitting with the stall holder and his friends. Mohiuddin acted as interpreter – I started winding them all up and as the laughter increased more and more people turned up, in the end we had a big crowd gathered and had a great time.
After 40 mins chatting over coconuts we headed to the meat market, more fun and I got some nice photos – one was an old guy in his stall (below), the other was a 96 year old man who (although very shrunken) could have passed for a 70 year old (without many teeth). He was strong and we had plenty of laughs with him also.
Next stop was the fish market which was a fairly standard fish market, then off to a restaurant for lunch.
It was quite a nice looking restaurant – as I sat there I looked down and saw on the tile floor just beside my foot a massive cockroach going for a mid day stroll. When I commented on it the man at the next table apologised and gently put his foot on it – I thought if he squashed it we would all be knee deep in blood and guts – it was that big, but he just held it in place until a staff member came over with a hammer and squashed it spraying cockroach all up the side of my leg. Fooled you – I meant to say a staff member came with a tissue and took it away (to fillet and cook for the next customer??)
Anyway I had a bit of a laugh with the cockroach wrangler about his foot skills, and about the size of the cockroach. I thought he was overly concerned about the cockroach – until I realised he was the restaurant owner!- anyway the meal was beautiful, I didn’t find anything obviously resembling cockroach in it, and I have survived bowels intact (thus far, fingers crossed).
At that point we realised we were supposed to have checked out of our rooms 30 minutes before. So we quickly made our way back to our “Hotel”. Mohiuddin departed before me to catch the rocket back to Dhaka and I went to the train station (this will surprise you) to catch the train.
The train left exactly on schedule at 2.50pm for the 7 hour journey from Khulna to Rajshahi.
Nothing at the station or on the train was written in English – not the numbers, or anything so finding the right train, carriage and seat is a bit tricky. Luckily for me I became instantly fluent in Bengali, so I found my carriage and seat.
Unfortunately my seat didn’t have a window – only a wall – so it would have been hopeless for photos. But the good news was I was the only one in the compartment so I took the best seat and settled in, A few more arrived – including the man whose seat it turned out I had taken. There was a bit of a discussion between him and the train guard, but I had taken the pre-emptive step of befriending the guard early on (just in case), and it paid off as I was left in my prime seat (for the time being, more on that soon), and the other guy got the windowless seat.
I took a few photos, but it is hard from a moving train, so I decided to walk through every carriage to see what was interesting on board before it got dark. I was in the 2nd carriage from the front and there were 15 carriages behind including a canteen car, a generator car, and a carriage with half of it acting as a Muslim Prayer carriage – which was to cause me some grief on the way back.
I got right to the back of the train no worries – at one point I had a beggar sitting on the floor grab hold of my leg and wouldn’t let go – so I dragged him a few steps along the carriage and I think he let go, well he wasn’t there when I got to the end so I assume that’s what happened to him.
I took some photos of the policemen that are on the trains with their guns, and worked my way back forward.
I had left my bags in my carriage with a family that I had befriended and I was confident they would be ok for the 10 minutes I planned on being away.
But working my way forward in one carriage all of a sudden I got to a closed door which was piled 1 meter high with bags and padlocked. I thought what the hell? where has my carriage gone – it was my moment of confusion. How had a locked door appeared in front of me, piled with bags when not 10 minutes before I had come that way?? Then it was explained in Bengali that it was the Prayer carriage and it was prayer time, so it fills up with the followers of Mohammed, they get locked in until they have done whatever they do and then they get let out. I would have to wait until they finished for it to be unlocked again allowing me access forward to where my cabin, and hopefully my gear was. How long? I asked in my fluent (joke) Bengali – maybe 40 minutes was the answer, shit!!!
Since it was still about 40 degrees I went back to try and find a seat to sit down – I found one in the last carriage. As soon as I got seated a miracle happened – the train stopped at a station, up I bolted – out the door, and onto the platform. I was trying to be cool and was trying to slowly make my way forward through the masses when the train sounded it’s horn. Then it started to move, I decided not to worry about being cool or polite any more and started to go as fast as I could forward to try and get in front of the prayer carriage and therefore to my carriage and bags. I was surprised at how fast the train accelerated – before I got too far it was going as fast as me, one final panicked burst and I jumped onto the train just in front of the prayer carriage. I have decided that I am no threat to Usain Bolt. I was rather sweaty but relieved to find all was well in my carriage.
Less than 30 seconds after I got back my friend the guard came by and told me there was a problem – after travelling for 3 hours where I was, it turned out I wasn’t even in the right part of the carriage for my ticket. So I grabbed my bags and trotted down to the back compartment of the carriage to a normal seat. I nicely ejected the man who had been happily sitting in my seat for 3 hours and took up residence in seat 1, carriage 1 (rear end).
The man from my seat was now next to me. He jabbered away in what he though was English, and I nodded my head understanding nothing of what he said, the man in the seat in front stood up, leaned over the back of his seat and joined in – they must have had the same English teacher because he was just as garbled.
Mr Ejected then started tapping my legs and his legs while he jabbered. I had no idea what he was saying and he stopped talking. Then he started tapping our legs again. Finally I understood the problem, he was Muslim, so our legs could not touch – nor our arms – because I had shorts on and a tee shirt – I apologised for any offence. He was fine then proved he wasn’t offended by ordering a cup of tea, some toast and something else brown but unrecognisable for me (cold crumbed chicken, 2 pieces maybe) which he insisted on paying for. The cup of tea was wonderful but the toast was crap, and I wasn’t going to risk the brown things. He was dozing beside me so when he wasn’t looking bit by bit I jettisoned the food out the window. I did it in small bits so every time he woke up and looked at me he thought I was eating it. He kept asking “you like” – I said yes, not wanting to offend him, but being careful not to be too enthusiastic in case he ordered me more.
Finally the train reached Rajshahi 90 minutes late. Just before we reached our destination I asked Mr Ejected if he knew of a Hotel. I had nothing booked. He conferred with a young guy in front of us (named Rony) and gave a couple of suggestions. I disembarked with Rony who insisted on taking me to the Hotel, he paid for the “auto”, and kept an eye on me as I haggled rates. The Hotel is “Hotel Nice International” – and for me it was perfect.
Room choice was 3500 Taka with air con, or 1800 without. Being a cheapskate I saw that there was a fan in the 1800 room and thought that would do. Turns out the room I got has air con anyway so I am here now at 1.10am in my NZD$36 room. Good internet, I have turned the water heater on, have done my email, will upload some more photos and hit the sack. Another day over.