#8 Bangladesh, Mar. 1, 2009

Dear Everybody,

In Dhaka, finding the bus for Padna for the next day was not easy! First I checked if a train went there—no. Then I asked a man at the train station what bus went there. He said he’d get a rickshaw and go with me to the bus station. We did, but it was the wrong station. That clerk said I should go to the Kamilpur Bus station tomorrow and I’d find a bus to Padna. Fine. Actually my LP book said Kamilpur was the government system and to ‘forget it’ but I figured out that the station was very near my hotel and how bad could it be?

The next morning I got a rickshaw to take me there, to a ‘bus to Padna.’ The rickshaw wallah seemed confused and stopped to ask a policeman. The policeman conferred with others and the opinion was we should go to the Mohakhali Bus Station, a private company station. Again the rickshaw wallah stopped to ask a policeman and that one could speak English. He told me I should get a tuk tuk since it was 7 to 10 km away. This I did, but when we got to Mohakhali station, no dice! The man there said we must go to the Gabtali Station, which is way on the edge of Dhaka. This was what I was trying to avoid by using Kalimpur. Oh well—we finally got there and I found the ticket booth (no English signs) and was able to buy an express ticket to Padna that would leave in one hour, which it did.

Again, we had a beautiful four-hour bus ride through mostly rice fields. Bangladesh clearly runs on rice! We had a rest stop at 2:30 when I ate some fresh-out-of-the-oven naan and some mutton curry—delicious! Back on the bus—.

The next day in Padna I did my sightseeing there—two palaces and a temple—not much, but a pleasant place. I missed out on seeing the best thing according to LP, a splendid 1528 pre-Mughal mosque with 15 domes. I asked a number of people but nobody knew where it was or if it was. Later in a museum in another city I saw a painting of it.

Monday I took another bus to Rajshahi, the capital of the Rajshahi District, a bustling university town. Some highlights were a cricket game at one of the colleges—all men wore white, of course; a wonderful museum with a great collection of 8th to 12th century Hindu sculpture; Baro Kuthi, the place where indigo was produced in the 1850s by the British Indian Tea Company among much blood, sweat, and tears from the farmers. It was said that “no indigo box was dispatched to England without being smeared with human blood”—all for a pretty indigo color for dyeing fabrics; and a look at the Padma River, which was nearly dry now, but a huge sandy floodplain told of what happens during the monsoon season. Across the river is India who call this river the Ganges.

In Rajshahi I often ate breakfast in a foodstand on my morning walk. They used pages of old paperback books or newspaper for napkins. Under my roti was an article in English that said that Bangladesh has the highest population density of any country in the world and the fastest rate of increase. This article said that Bangladesh’s population will double in 15 years! A doubled population for Bangladesh seems an unthinkable disaster to me. The next morning I noticed the yolk of my egg running over a newspaper picture of President Obama but the script was Bengali so I couldn’t read what it said.

Speaking of President Obama, I was able to watch his entire speech live at 8:00 AM Wednesday morning (there’s an 11 hour time difference). What a terrific speech! And the electricity, which goes off several times a day, didn’t cut out until a few minutes after the speech was over.

On Thursday I took a day trip to see a couple of interesting places—first a bus to Natore. There I spent some time looking at seven palaces built in the mid 1700s, four of which were still in pretty good condition. One beautiful building was purported to be the most perfectly proportioned building in Bangladesh. This time a group of young women in saris papparazzi-ed me with their cell phones. The palaces were set amongst a number of ponds.

 

 

 

There was also a Hindu temple with a couple of sadhus that seemed to enjoy having their picture taken.

From there I got a bus to Puthia where it turned out I had missed a huge mela with thousands of Hindus that had gathered at the Shiva Temple just two days earlier, too bad.

 

 

 

 

 

There were several more temples, some of which had a zillion little clay tablets with wonderful pictures covering them, kind of like story boards showing Mughal battles and also the stories of Hindu mythology.

 

 

At the Shiva Temple Mr. Bishwana, the government employee in charge of all these treasures found me and took me on a tour. He was mentioned in the LP.

 

 

 

 

At the end of the tour he took me to his house to meet his family and sign his book; then I rickshawed back to the highway and got a bus back to Rajshahi.

About 20 km from Rajshahi the bus stopped at another village, but then there seemed to be a problem. The bus just sat there with people talking to each other looking dismayed and surprised. More and more people trickled off the bus. I finally called out, “Can anyone speak English?” Luckily a college professor answered me and explained that as a result of a shootout the day before by a paramilitary border guard group against the army causing around 180 deaths, the government had ‘shut down the buses’ to protect security since there is a camp of the paramilitary border guards near Rajshahi. The three college professors took me under their wing and said we had to figure a way back to Rajshahi. We decided on a ‘band,’ a bicycle rickshaw but with a ‘flat bed’ instead of a passenger seat. The four of us sat on the flat bed, and off we went. After three km we came to some of the paramilitary group in front of a felled-tree barricade across the highway. They were making the people get off their vehicles and walk across fields to who knows where. When the leader saw me, he asked my country. “I’m American,” I said, and (in English) he said that I could walk on the highway, across the felled-tree barricade and soon I would MAYBE come to another vehicle that I could hire. I asked if I could bring my three friends and he said I could. We walked but there were three or four more barricades manned by two dozen men at each. I heard the paramilitary leader behind us using a bullhorn to instruct the ones stopping us to let me pass—“the American!”

After walking a few km, the rickshaw turned up again (I think that paramilitary man thought better of making this old American lady walk in the hot sun) but how did he get across the barricades? He drove us another 6 or 8 km to a place where there was a large tuk tuk we could hire. He drove us into town and let me out at the Saheb Bazar which was right in ‘my neighborhood’ so I was back at my hotel, once again, safe and sound.

Next day I took a bus to Bogra—actually two buses. For some reason at one stop, the conductor grabbed my pack and motioned me to follow him and he put me on another bus! Well, eventually I got to Bogra where I am now.

Hope you’re all fine—I am.

Carol

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