#9 Bangladesh, Mar. 10, 2009

Dear Everybody,

Bamm! (once again!) What was that?! Somebody was pounding on my hotel room door and calling plaintively. Knock, knock, oooeeeehiiii! Bang, bang, bang! I was really frightened—the door was none too sturdy and he kept it up, banging and calling. I finally shouted, “Stop that!”—as though he could understand that. I could smell a strong floral perfume. Finally he left and all was quiet. I discovered that it was only 10:00 PM but I had been asleep. I wedged a chair between the door (which opened into the room) and my bed’s footboard.

I had just changed to this hotel from another that had too many insects chewing on my wooden headboard and making other assorted noises in the still of the night. It was carpeted and I think the cockroaches, beetles, carpenter ants—whatever—hung out in the carpet. This new hotel had cement floors and this aspect was much better.

But this ‘visit’ was worrisome—I slept at attention the rest of the night but by morning I began to wonder if it had been the elderly proprietor, possibly bringing me a mosquito coil although it didn’t smell like the ones I knew. Later I found out it was the proprietor and he was bringing me some air freshener which he demonstrated to me the next day. I was very relieved that it wasn’t some returning hotel drunk. At the same time, isn’t 10:00 PM a bit odd to be bringing air freshener? I decided to wedge in the chair again the following nights.

I made a day trip to the oldest city in Bangladesh, called Mahasthangarh. It dates to at least the third century BCE and lasted until about the 14th century.

The museum had a lovely collection of artifacts from Hindu, Buddhist and Mughal cultures as each group replaced its predesessor.  There were also the ruins of a 6th century Hindu Temple. All the ruins were pretty far gone, but inside the perimeter walls, what a bucolic and serene scene.

A few goats, cows, people, many birds, blooming trees, and q u i e t! How pleasant
.

The next day I visited the most impressive archeological site in Bangladesh, called Paharpur. This is the site of the largest Buddhist monastery south of the Himalaya; it was built in the 8th century. It had 177 monk cells around the perimeter of the walls and a 65-foot high stupa with three levels decorated with wonderful ceramic tiles depicting gods, animals, people, fish—even a rhinoceros that is now extinct in Bangladesh. There was a museum that had a collection of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu sculpture from the monastery, who all occupied it at one time or another. There was even a miniature model of the complex in front of the stupa from those times. It was quite a challenge getting there and back—four rickshaws and four buses in total, but it was worth it.

On to Rangpur. Another bus ride through the beautiful rural countryside and this time I spotted two new crops—corn and cotton!

Rangpur was a nice, cheerful town, not too big, so easy to access the rural areas (potato farms and livestock) either on foot or by rickshaw. One of the sights was the Tajhat Palace—wonderful rajbari from the 19th century. I couldn’t help but fantasize about making it a hotel—it was so beautiful but beginning to deteriorate.

Then I visited a Kali Temple—Kali being the Hindu Destroyer god—but I’ve never seen a Hindu temple like this before. The LP said it is a “Bengali vision of an English adaptation of a Florentine dome.”

 

 

 

 

 

The best part was the interaction with four women, one of whom unlocked the temple for me (Kali with black ferocious face was inside) and then offered me a cup of tea a few steps away at her home. How lovely!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third stop was at Carmichael College, established by the British in 1916 with splendid architecture of classical British with Mughal elements. It was apparently class registration day. There were long lines of students (gender-specific lines) waiting to register. The atmosphere (albeit March) was almost Minnesota-fall-like and so it took me back (waaaay back) to my own college registration days.

The electricity had gone off sometimes in other towns, but Rangpur took the cake. It seemed like every time I went to the Cybercafe to do email, it was off, or it went off while I was using the computer. This also made watching movies on TV pretty frustrating.

One day on my morning walk I apparently wasn’t paying attention and I got a little lost. I walked past a building with mosaics of animals on the front—maybe a zoo, although the LP made no mention of it. I went back another time and sure enough—a zoo with lions and tigers and (Himalayan) bears. There were hippopotamus, hyena, porcupine, deer, cassawary birds—in fact many exotic birds—along with lots of visitors. The animal that attracted the most attention? ME!!

This morning I took a bus to Dinajpur and spotted another crop on the way—tobacco and lots of it. Dinajpur is the last town on my itinerary before returning to Dhaka.

Carol

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