Written 12 April 2016, 7pm
So I woke up at 4am, caught the 6.30am flight to Sydney, then on to Kuala Lumpur and a few hour later on to Dhaka.
The K/L to Dhaka flight was interesting – it was full of returning construction workers, and most of them couldn’t read or write so I filled in approximately 20 arrival cards for them on the flight which helped pass the time. The routine ended up being – they would pass me the paperwork along with their passport which I would have to decipher. The tricky part was putting down their home addresses – it was a game of charades trying to get them to understand I wanted their home address – plenty of laughter up and down the cabin – most home addresses seemed to be only one word so I don’t know how they got on when they got off if you follow my drift!!
Anyway I had to get a Visa on arrival which was very simple but like everything here also hard. But after going to one counter to pay and another to get a stamp I was good to go – I tried to get a double entry visa since I am leaving Bangladesh on 25 April returning again on 5 May, but despite my best efforts I failed so will have to do the process again in May. The weird thing was I had to give them photos, forms etc. – they looked at them then handed the whole lot back to me – they kept nothing, so the system is slightly bizarre.
Next drama was my driver whom the Hotel assured me would definitely be there to meet me wasn’t. I had about 10 people come up to me trying the usual scam where they pretend to ring the hotel, but it’s really their friend, they proceed to tell you that there was a problem with the driver and just get the taxi. It’s an old scam but I wasn’t fooled. But despite hunting around terminal 1 and 2 to find someone with a sign with my name on it I gave up. So in the end I haggled with a driver – paid him $5 less than the Hotel was going to charge me anyway and I arrived at the Hotel at 2am – that meant 26 hours travelling completed.
The Hotel is called Hotel 71 and it is in a better part of the city. The Hotel is great, I grabbed 4 hours sleep and was up and off.
Dhaka is like bedlam on steroids, but having been to Asia plenty I am fine with that intense stuff – in fact I love it. The first thing I had to do was find the offices for the Bangladesh Inland Waterways Transport Company to try to book a ticket on the overnight paddle steamer to a place called Hularhat. You normally need to book up to one month in advance but I was hopeful of performing some magic and getting a booking for tomorrow night (13th).
I figured fronting at their office would give me the best chance, so I hired a cycle rickshaw and after a short(ish) journey I eventually found the office and did front to try and get a cabin for tomorrow night.
No can do they said (but in Bengali). In anticipation of that I had befriended a local who had crap English, but good enough to be a go between. With him with me we commenced battle in their stuffy little dark room called their office.
I knew that bribes (baksheesh) normally work so in the end I offered to pay for both beds in a cabin plus an extra 300 Taka (Bangladesh currency) for Mr No if he would become Mr Yes. Miraculously a cabin became free and I was booked – only thing is it’s 2nd class so no air con.
Total booking for the 10 hour overnight journey cost 2000 Taka – $37 NZ including the bribe!! – my bribe was $5.55NZ (300 Taka). The overall price works out as the same price as my Hotel, but obviously includes 10 hours of travel through the myriad of waterways.
I am booked on the MV Ostrich which is the fastest paddle steamer in the fleet – it goes on the day I wanted to go, so it all fell into place nicely. More on the MV Ostrich later.
Anyway with my vital task completed I headed off by cycle rickshaw to see some sights – Hindu Street (Shankharia Bazaar) – a small alleyway crowded with shops of all sorts, Ashan Manjil – the Pink Palace – a real big beautiful stone palace that someone decided would look good pink so the whole thing is bright pink.
Sadarghat boat terminal was next – that is where I depart on the MV Ostrich tomorrow night – I hired a man in a little boat to take me across the other side of the river – we dodged big ships coming up and down river, then I got off on the south bank of the putrid Buriganga River where I had spotted some ships being cut up for scrap.
After a couple of minutes gesturing a rope was thrown down and I was hauled up a near
vertical gangplank of sorts on board a half cut up ferry boat. Had 10 minutes on there, looked better from on land, back down the rope to shore for more photos, then back across the River which had an immense amount of rubbish everywhere on the banks.
Then I went and had an explore of the steamers lined up on the north side of the River – I just walked onto each one and looked as if I knew what I was about – people looked but no-one stopped me – they were all friendly. In all I went onto probably 8 ships and wandered about taking photos.
Then I found 3 paddle steamers tied up – so onto them I wandered also exploring empty spaces, halls and even cabins. The last one turned out to be the MV Ostrich – my bed for tomorrow night.
The Ostrich was built by the British in 1929, it is painted bright orange so is easy to spot!
There are periodic ferry disasters in Bangladesh but I would be unlucky to be on it the day it sinks – besides – just because I am travelling on a 87 year old poorly maintained, crowded paddle boat through 600ks of waterways and rivers in Bangladesh at night doesn’t mean it’s a recipe for disaster. Or am I missing something!!
Next stop was the Star Temple – a small Mosque – so it’s shoes off and zip on the lower part of my shorts to turn them into longs. I went into where all the men were washing their hands, faces, feet etc and decided that it would be good to rinse my feet in cold water also – so I sat down with all the Muslim men and proceeded to cleanse my stinky feet – felt magnificent, but I wasted my time – the inner Mosque was shut because it wasn’t prayer time, only the very outer part was open and it wasn’t much to see. So off outside, bottom of pants off and shoes on again.
Next stop the Liberation War Museum. Semi interesting stuff and lots of exhibits about a war most people know nothing about. Basically Bangladesh was included in the partition of India when Pakistan was formed. The East and West of India had large Muslim populations which became East and West Pakistan ruled from current day Pakistan. Those in the East wanted independence from the West (current Pakistan) and had a war to get independence. India sided with them and with India’s power they defeated Pakistan, got independence and became Bangladesh.
After that I was knackered. So I walked back to the Hotel, got here at 5pm and after spending the whole day out in temperatures close to 40m degrees decided that I am not going anywhere.