#3 Bangladesh, Jan. 25, 2009

Dear Everybody,

Khulna was a nice, rather large, town but it was a little difficult to find my destinations because the rickshaw wallahs didn’t know where the hotels or internet sites were. They need more tourists here! Still I managed.

A really lovely day—I went to Bagerhat over the Rupsa Bridge on a country bus, then got a rickshaw and asked him to take me around to the eight 15th century mosques, a 15th century tomb (Khan Jahan) and a 17th century Hindu Temple. The biggest mosque, Shait Gumbad Mosque from 1459 was magnificent with its 77 domes. All of the sites were interesting and satisfying to see.

But the more interesting part of the journey was the rural setting—the air so soft, the rice fields so green, the countryside so beautiful, watery, and quiet—yes, it was a fine, fine day.

Interesting with the people living their lives with these historic mosques in their backyards; taking milk tea with a group of men and children whom one man endlessly lined up just so, for me to photograph;

answering the “Your country?” question at least 30 times; until finally the sites were seen and I got a really country bus back to Khulna. It only went on the little roads, stopped often, had tiny uncomfortable seats, was stuffed to the gills, and even carried six young men on the roof—I could see them in our shadow!

Needless to say, getting back took a long time but eventually we were let off near the river—silly me, thinking we would again cross the Rupsa Bridge, but no! We all walked down to the river and all leaped onto a boat, which was about 10′ by 30′. It had deck planking on which we stood with nothing to hold on to! A few of us sat on the gunwales which were 10 inches high—the rest just stood, balanced, as the boat bobbed across the river.

When it was time to leap out, I grabbed a man’s hand indicating that he should help me, which he did—and then he said, “Thank you!” All of us disgorged into an outdoor vegetable and fruit market where I got one of the waiting rickshaws. I had mine take me to the Grill House for a nice 3:00 Linner, and then back to the hotel to watch the inauguration in the evening.

At about 5:00 PM (6:00 AM Eastern) the TV quit working! Of all times! After an hour it came back on and I was pleased to watch the doings until 2:00 AM my time (3:00 PM Eastern). What a thrill—being here in Bangladesh makes it all the more meaningful to understand the privilege of being an American. It’s priceless!

I wanted to buy a ticket for the Rocket, a big paddleboat that goes from Khulna to Dhaka, a 27-hour trip. What a process: 1) I walked across town to the office marked on my Lonely Planet map; it was closed. 2) Later I had my hotel desk clerk call on the phone and I had a conversation with the man who spoke pretty good English; I said I’d come at 9:00 the next morning; 3) The next morning I again walked across town to the office which was now open but nobody was there; 4) A man finally came and asked me “First Class ticket?” When I nodded ‘yes’ he indicated that this office did not sell first class tickets and did I want a rickshaw? 5) He gave the rickshaw wallah instructions to go to the correct office; 6) The office turned out to be next door to my hotel; The man was in but I could not buy a ticket now, but he confirmed my reservation; 7) I absolutely had to have a cup of tea and tell him about my whole lifestyle (marriage, divorce, children, where I live, how I live, my former job, how much money I earned, etc. etc.) before I could get away. Yes, everything takes quite a while in Bangladesh!! But that’s what makes it fun!

One morning I visited the Hindu temple across the street from my hotel (yes, there are some Hindus in Bangladesh, too). Sounds of drums, cymbals and singing with an occasional toot on a conch shell drew my attention. They were cordial to me with their nods and smiles, and a woman gave me a ‘blessing’ by putting a Hindu symbol on my forehead with her finger dipped in some whitish, chalky liquid.

Thursday I planned to go to Mongla and got a rickshaw to the bus station, but they were having a two-day hartel (strike) so no buses were going anywhere—back to the hotel for another day. The next day the strike was over and I made it to Mongla, a tiny town that is a big port for goods entering Bangladesh.

Boy, if you want to be the center of attention, come here! I had two dozen children accompanying me as I perused the town and four waiters watching me eat lunch with rapt attention, making comments about me to each other.

There was a very interesting 1992 Catholic church in Mongla—beautifully colorful with dramatic modern stained glass windows. There was a women’s sewing center there, from which I bought an embroidery and found that inside the church, the 14 Stations of the Cross were framed beautiful embroideries from the sewing center, also.


*Quite a few of the older men color their gray beard or their gray hair with henna, which turns it a startling carrot-top red.

* When I take my morning walk there are groups of middle class men walking for exercise wearing sneakers, sweat pants and jackets.

*Bangladesh is the size of Ohio and has a population of 180 million, plus it’s half water.

*This Muslim country really takes their ‘no alcohol’ seriously. I checked an international hotel one noon for a beer or glass of wine—alas none to be had so I’m a teetotaler!

*On the buses, the ‘conductor’ pounds once on the side of the bus to signal the driver to STOP, and twice to signal him to GO. Today, coming back from Mongla, as we neared Khulna, two men stood in the aisle and donned trousers, modestly pulling them up under their lungis (the traditional skirt-like tube of cloth most men wear) which they then removed.

Yesterday morning I set out to see a bit of the Sundarbans—the largest mangrove forest in the world—with a guide and boat who took me to the Karamjal Forest Station. I had a big boat with an upper deck that seated 11 just for me—no other tourists.

The Forest Station had built wooden walkways over the muddy forest floor. I saw a crocodile swimming, two small deer among the trees, and five monkeys on the walkway. In fact, the male monkey wouldn’t let me pass so I had to turn back! There was also a little zoo.

On the way back we passed many homes on the shore with people washing clothes, carrying water, cooking, carrying on with their lives—a great photo op.

I will see more of the Sundarbans on a four-day boat tour. It is home to about 300 Royal Bengal tigers. Unfortunately some have learned to attack and eat humans. About 120 people a year fall victim to the tigers. Have you seen the Discovery Channel show about this? If you don’t hear from me after my tour to the Sundarbans, you’ll know the tigers got me!


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