My stay in Dinajpur was pleasant and restful. The town was quite rural, my hotel room was very cheap ($3.37) and the people, as usual, were very interested in ‘this foreigner.’ The sights in town were minimal (a falling down rajbari (palace) but with two bright working Hindu temples). The streets were the interesting part—a pair of boney oxen plodding down the main drag; a group of women using hammers to pound on new bricks to make pebble-sized pieces used for road construction;
One day I went to see the Kantanagar Temple, the granddaddy of these 18th century Hindu temples. The bus conductor put me off at a tiny village and from there I walked a couple of km across a huge floodplain with a (now) tiny river running through it. Over the river was the strangest bridge I’ve ever seen—it was made out of woven strips of bamboo forming a mat that was supported by some poles stuck in the sand. It cost five taka (7 1/2 cents) to cross it! As I was wondering about its safety, two young boys went bouncing and jouncing across it so I crossed too.
By and by I came to the Temple. Wow!
It was built in 1752 by a maharaja from Dinajpur. Every square inch was covered with sculpted terracotta plaques, each one telling a story or representing some Hindu deity or mythical character. There were people riding water buffalo, horses and elephants; people dancing, loving and praying; people rowing boats and fighting battles; people smoking hubble bubble pipes and on and on. It was about 50 feet square with three storeys and had three arches on each side of each storey.
For someone who thinks religion causes more bad than good, I certainly do enjoy seeing all the religious edifices all over the world—yes, they definitely add a lot, culturally. In fact, I think there are very few people in the world who have seen more temples, mosques, churches, or monasteries than I have. Odd, isn’t it?
The buses were really scary in Bangladesh. The highways, while in good condition, were very narrow. Barreling along, buses and trucks blared their horns constantly to warn that they’re ‘Coming Through’ and all the motorscooters, bicycle rickshaws, bands carrying huge loads, bicycles and pedestrians had to watch out. The buses met each other, missing by inches (I’m not kidding) but they did manage to miss each other! On the buses, the women were encouraged to sit in the very front seats or on the covering over the motor (it’s padded) but of course this had no backrest. The other thing is that if the bus collided (a good possibility) or had to stop suddenly, all the women would go careening into the windshield. Consequently, I wouldn’t sit there, which caused some consternation with the conductors. But all my bus trips in Bangladesh are over now, and I’m safe and sound at home!
Good grief, Dhaka made the news again! Nobody had ever heard of Dhaka until I came here, and since I’ve been here it has made the international news twice; once for the murder of 150 army officers by the paramilitary, and second, for the big fire in Dhaka’s largest shopping mall. Wasn’t it sprinklered? Probably not. So it goes.
The last night I spent in Dhaka I was again invited to Mahmud’s house for a delicious dinner. His brother, Mahfuz, came and picked me up at my hotel. On the way there Mahfuz pointed out the shopping mall that had burned. He said that the seven people who died in the fire were all or mostly all fire fighters.
Yes, I’m home now after a very enjoyable and adventuresome journey. Bangladesh was a unique country to visit. The pluses were: the perfect weather, (Jan.-Mar.) the friendliness of the people, the cheap prices, the colorful street scenes; riding in bicycle rickshaws; TV in almost every hotel room with BBC or CNN; and bus rides through the beautiful countryside. The minuses were: the crowding causing a cacaphony of sound everywhere all the time and traffic jams both as a pedestrian and a vehicle; the mosquitos (although I usually had a net); the poverty; and the overwhelming friendliness of the people, which never let up. (I’ll bet I had my picture taken a hundred times!)
Don’t visit Bangladesh until you are an experienced independent traveler as there is little English and no tourist infrastructure, to speak of. My visa was number 1454-08, meaning, I think, in the first 11 months of ’08 they had only issued 1454 visas—or maybe 454 if they started with 1000. It was wonderful, though—a place I’ll always remember!
But, as Dorothy says, there’s no place like home! That is until tomorrow when I’ll be planning my next trip! Thanks to all of you who emailed me—it’s always fun to hear.
Roger and out—