#7 Bangladesh, Feb. 21, 2009

Dear Everybody,

In Comilla I saw what I had come for, the Mainimati Ruins of the Salban Vihara, a huge 8th century Buddhist Monastery. There were 115 cells around the walled perimeter with ruins of a big temple in the middle. The whole thing was the size of a large city block. Preceding this I toured the Mainimati Museum which houses all the goodies found at this site and two others that are similar but can’t be visited because they are inside a military cantonment. Since it was a Saturday, which is a bank holiday with government offices closed, there were a couple thousand people visiting who all seemed surprised, pleased and amused by my presence—the only Westerner. At least 10 times I was requested to pose for a picture with young men while one of their group snapped our picture with his cellphone.

Afterwards I had some Chinese food in a nice restaurant for a change of pace, but it was not too successful, as it caused me some stomach upset—a very rare occurrence for me. I took it easy for a couple of days and then I was fine. Rather ironic since this is the fanciest restaurant that I’ve eaten in since leaving Dhaka.

I took the train to Srimangal in tea country, and the following day took a tour of the surrounds by Russel, who found me at my hotel. I was surprised when we were leaving and the mode of transport turned out to be a bicycle rickshaw but actually, that turned out to be very nice—quiet, perfect air, and just the right speed.

We visited Lowacherra National Park where I had fun photographing the monkeys who were actively jumping from tree to tree. I also saw jungle fowl, which are related to modern day domestic chickens. We visited a tribal village that raises betal nuts and on the way back encountered a very friendly elephant with two men aboard. A group of students wanted to have their picture taken with me—this took quite a while until all cameras and cell phones had been satisfied. We saw tea workers clipping the tops of the tea bushes with machetes to keep them the right size; they weren’t gathering the leaves as that’s only done in the rainy season. We saw a rubber plantation and a lychee orchard, jackfruit trees and a pineapple garden, a lemon orchard and so, it was a very nice morning.

The following day Russel again picked me up but this time with a tuk tuk and we drove slowly for an hour, mostly over a rutted dirt road in a very rural area. It was quiet and beautiful as we entered the Baikka Beel Bird Sanctuary which was not mentioned in the Lonely Planet, so I wasn’t expecting much. WOW! What a surprise! There were beautiful wetlands decorated with lotus blossoms and teeming with birds. There was an observation tower built by USAID, said the poster, equipped with binoculars and a tripod mounted telescope which the maintenance man set up for my use. Some birds were familiar (egrets, herons) but most were not. I photographed many of them from the tower and again as we toured the area in a small boat polled by the maintenance man’s son. What a treat! The only problem was that the Bangladeshis (we had picked up a friend of Russel’s along the way, plus the tuk tuk driver and the maintenance man and son) seemed unclear on the meaning of the sign, ‘Don’t Disturb the Birds.’ Bangladeshis talk a lot and quite loud, and apparently they just couldn’t give it up, even when I politely signaled them to shush.

On the way back we stopped in the friend’s village and had tea, and then were pressed to visit a private kindergarten for which the friend was ‘on the committee.’ More tea, a tour of the school—I felt like Queen Elizabeth as I chatted a bit with the children and posed for every possible combination of photos on every possible cell phone. Yes, I would say the Bangladeshi people win the prize for friendliness in the world! Unfortunately when we got back Russel and I had a disagreement about money—lesson: (I should know this!) “Be VERY clear about money ahead of time.” So it goes.

I had a most wonderful train ride back to Dhaka on Friday with a perfect seat on the shady side with two open windows (some didn’t open) and going frontwards (I’ve been unlucky and gotten backwards seats lately) which makes the photography much easier. The scenery was, again, miles and miles of beautiful green rice fields with lots of human activity. It lasted five hours but it flew by! I took lots of photos.

Just toward the end it got very dusty and with most of the windows wide open, we were all covered with dust. When I got to my hotel, I showered and shampooed like crazy to get that sticky dust OFF!

Now I’m back in Dhaka but just for overnight. I’m heading to a couple of small places in an hour—Pabna, today. I’m not sure they’ll have internet.


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