Sunday, July 6, 2014

Bangladesh Tour Journal – April 2014


My Bangladesh tour was scheduled with Advantage Travel & Tours, Poway, California to complete my visits to all the countries in Asia.  The trip combined set tours by Advantage Travel to Western India with a pre-tour to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Islands and a post-tour to Bangladesh, Myanmar and Laos.
This journal documents the Bangladesh portion on the tour.  I was joined on this portion of the tour by Del and Linda McCuen, Lynn Bishop, Mary Warren and Steve Mathews.  On this trip I roomed with Steve Matthews from Orleans, Vermont.

The journal starts with our departure from Port Blair, Andaman Islands, our last stop in India.

Saturday, April, 26, 2014: Fly Port Blair, Andaman Islands, India to Dhaka, Bangladesh via Kolkata, India

It was another rough night with a stuffed up head.  My throat didn’t hurt as bad as the night before but I coughed a lot more and didn’t sleep more than two hours at a time and at 04:00 I finally took a shower and packed.  The hotel staff set up an early breakfast for us and we left for the airport at 06:30.  I had a bowl of Corn Flakes and black tea.  The toaster burned my toast so I skipped the toast.

At the airport we had to have our checked bag x-rayed before we got checked in.  Lynn’s and my bag were selected for detailed search.  They were concerned about Lynn’s alarm clock batteries and wanted to see my container of batteries.  Once they saw them they said they were OK and we proceeded to check-in.  Only the Security Agent had forgotten to affix the “OK Security” sticker on either of our bags when he said they were OK.  The Check-in Agent saw that we didn’t have the sticker and we wheeled the bags back for the sticker.  The Security Agent Supervisor would not allow the sticker to be applied unless our bags went through x-ray again.  I had visions of him wanting me to show the batteries again.  The line at x-ray was very long but they put our bags on ahead of the line and didn’t ask to show the batteries again and we were able to get our boarding passes and drop our bag at the Check-in counter.

We were surprised when they told us they could not check our bags or give us a boarding pass for the Kolkata to Dhaka, Bangladesh leg.  We would have to claim our bags in Kolkata and have it for the nine hours we would have between arriving in Kolkata and leaving for Dhaka.

We had to fill out a departure form before going through Immigration.  It was more detailed than most countries require and we were on a flight between two airports in the same country.  Immigration stamped the form but I could not find any stamp in my passport.

We had to wait until one hour before flight departure to go through the Gate Security.  While I was waiting I noticed they had a list of prohibited items on the wall.  Again the prohibition on batteries stated “Spillable Batteries”.  When our flight was called to pass through Security Steve and I arrived at the carry-on Security Check Point about the same time.  My carry-on was pulled for secondary inspection as was his.  They looked over mine first and when through every pocket, nook and cranny on my carry-on.  Their excuse was the cables blurred the rest of the bags contents.  Again they had no problem with my packs of batteries.  They spent a lot of time nit picking the contents of my bag and yet passed every item.  Steve had to wait for them to look at his contents.  They wanted to look at his CPAP machine and didn’t understand its use.  Eventually they passed his bag.

The flight was less than two hours and a hot breakfast was served.  The “Non-Veg” meal was an egg omelet with beans.  I still was not feeling that well so I skipped the omelet and beans and just ate the roll and drank black tea.

When we landed and proceeded to claim our luggage, my bag came off first so I went in search of the guide that was supposed to greet us.  We had a long layover in Kokata and Cathy had arranged for us to have a day tour of the city.  I saw a sign for William Bishop and met Niraj.  The rest of the group soon followed and we loaded our bags in the back of a 12 seat van.  Outside the terminal area we picked up Suvendu, our Kolkata sightseeing guide.

Kolkata (formally, Calcutta) is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.  It was the headquarters for the British East India Company that ruled South East Asia before Queen Victoria became the Empress of India and made the area a colony of the British Empire and designated Delhi as the capital.
The airport is on the outskirts of the city.  They are building an elevated road to the airport and the vast number of vehicles including man hauling rickshaws, two and three wheel bicycles, motorbikes, Tuk Tuks, small cars, Ambassador cabs, buses, trucks, large and small, mixed with the roaming cattle created a slightly moving traffic jam like I have ever experienced.  At least the traffic jams I encounter in Los Angeles are mainly cars and trucks staying in their lanes, in Kolkata there were no lane markings and just a wide mass of vehicles some bucking traffic in the wrong direction.  The sides of the busses showed the scares of many scrapes and where a mass of bondo patches.  Tail light lens, despite metal screen cages over the lights were non-existent.  The highway construction contributed to the problem.

There were policeman but they didn’t appear to really guide the traffic in an efficient manner.  They appeared to only get involved when traffic came to a complete halt in all directions and then they would try to untangle the mess.

Suvendu, was an excellent guide, the best I experienced in India.  His English was very understandable and he had a wealth of knowledge about the city and the buildings we visited or passed by.

Kolkata has a metropolitan area of approximately 15.7 million people with the central business core a astounding density of 95,000 people per square km. It was previously known is a city of glaring contrasts: a curious blend of the old and the new, partly feudal, partly born out of growing urbanization, partly undefinable, a medley of the east and the west.  The graft of a European city imposed on the Asian landscape gives Kolkata its bewildering charm, confusion and excitement.  We passed many slums and then Colonial buildings.

It has an electric trolley system using cars built in the 1920’s to be horse drawn.  Each trolley had two cars, the first car in the pair charges a First Class fare and the cars have fans in them, the second car has a lower fee and no fans.  The city also has a subway system with beautiful mosaic pictures to identify the underground entrances.

Our first stop was at the Kali Hindu Temple of Kalighat.  There we saw long lines of people waiting for free food distribution outside the temple grounds.  Inside there were many people praying at small alters.  In one small building they were sacrificing black goats.  The poor goat would be led in by its owner, blessed and then its head secured in a guillotine and quickly decapitated.  The body would then be skinned and the meat cut up in an adjacent area.

We walked the area and saw many vendors selling religious pictures and small items.  Back on the bus we rode to the restaurant area of the city where we had the choice of Pizza Hut, Subway, KFC, local and continental restaurants.  We choose the continental and Suvendu dropped us off at the Mocambo Restaurant.  I had a nice cold Kingfisher beer and ordered the fish specially dish.  It came in a casserole with the fish, peas and carrots on a bed of mashed potatoes and a sauce over the top.  For dessert they served a chocolate brownie on top of vanilla ice cream.  We were happy campers!

We continued our tour of the city after lunch with a stop at the magnificent Queen Victoria Memorial Hall.  Built of white marble it was then turned into a museum.  No cameras were allowed in the museum which was a shame.

The Victoria Memorial Hall was opened in 1921.  It displays pictures and statues of men who played a prominent part in the history of India.  Lord Curzon conceived it and it is the finest and most prominent building and art museum in the city.  The white Makrana marble used in its construction is the same as used in the Taj Mahal.

The museum contains 25 galleries.  We were issued English speaking headphones that provided descriptions of the exhibits as we walked around.  The major galleries were the royal gallery, the national leaders’ gallery, the portrait gallery, central hall, the sculpture gallery, the arms and armory gallery and the Calcutta gallery.
Leaving the museum I took pictures of the grounds and then we continued on to Sister Teresa’s, Missionaries of Charity.  There we toured the Mother House which contains the coffin and the room Mother Teresa lived in during her years in Culcutta from 1953.

From there we continued our tour of the city passing by British Colonial buildings and the large complex which housed the British East India Company.  We concluded our tour with a visit to the Jain Parshwanath Temple.  It was a beautiful complex with many statues and decorative buildings.  The Jain religion is one of the oldest religions in the world and is renowned for it adherence to not kill anything including plants.  So they don’t eat carrots or potatoes but can eat tomatoes.

Suvendu, left us at this point and we were sorry to see him go since we felt he was the best guide we had in India.  We rode on to the airport and checked in for our flight to Dhaka.  I had the usually tough time passing through Security.  Our flight departed almost an hour late.

We arrived in Dhaka at 21:25.  At immigration we had to get a visa on arrival.  I was one of the first passenger’s off the plane and the first of our group to reach the Immigration area.  There was a cashier window and a sign that said visa on arrival would cost US$50.  As I approached the window the cashier directed me to a desk with some chairs across the room.  There I handed my passport to the agent at the desk with my letter of invitation and the form I had filled on the aircraft.  The agent motioned for me to take a seat.  I saw Steve arrive at the cashier window and called out to him but the distance was too great for him to hear me and he got redirected by the cashier anyway.  The rest of the group then followed Steve and I told them to stack their passports and paperwork on top of mine.  The agent asked me if I was part of a group and I told him yes, the six US passports.  He directed everyone to sit down and soon called my name and directed me to the cashier.  There I found I had to pay $51 and received some change in Tk (Bangladesh Taka).  With the receipt in hand I returned to the agent and he took my passport and receipt and put it in another pile.  When he had entered a ledger with the information for everyone from our group he handed us our passport and associated papers and directed us to the Immigration queue.  There were long lines and Steve was trying to judge which line would move the fastest when I saw at the end a sign over an Immigration desk for Visa On Arrival.  I informed Steve and the rest of our group and we queued up at that desk.  After all the previous processing we still did not have a visa until the Immigration Agent stamped a small double postage size stamp in our passport that said Visa on Arrival, Date of Arrival, Date of Expiry.  It took a lot of ledger entries and some computer entries to get to that point.

The bags from our flight were still arriving on the carousel.  I was the first to get my bag and wheeled a trolley out to find our guide.  I was waived past the x-ray machine and exited the Baggage Claim area to find a long chrome fence with dozens of people with signs greeting passengers.  I saw a sign for William Bishop and pointed to the guide.  He directed me to the end of the fence which was a long way from the exit.  I doubled back and met Mojaharul Islam, from Tour Planners Ltd.  He told me I could call him Mojah or Mojo.  I saw additional members of our group exiting the Claim area and walking in the other direction.  Mojah ran to catch up to them and a representative from the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel had called out to them and they had responded “yes”, that they were staying at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel.  When Mojah caught up to the group with the William Bishop sign they turned to him and the Hotel Rep then started to argue with Mojah that he was stealing his guests.  It was silly and we went off with Mojah to find our ride.
Two vehicles arrived and our luggage was stored in one and the passengers in the other.  Even late evening traffic was slow and we didn’t get to our room until 23:00.  The hotel had Wi-Fi in the lobby and I went down and called Judy.  I warned her that she might not hear from me for a few days.

Sunday, April, 27, 2014: Fly Dhaka to Chittagong, Bangladesh, and drive to Bandarban, Bangladesh
We had a short sleep since we had a 07:30 flight.  The opened the restaurant early for us and the ride to the airport was faster than the ride had been the night before.  We were booked on United Airways (BD).  Not to be confused with United Airlines.  I checked my laptop carry-on since the flight was scheduled on a DH-8.  Mojah handled the check-in and got each of us a boarding pass with no individual names on them.  Security wasn’t a problem and we were bussed to the aircraft.

The flight took just forty minutes to Chittagong, south of Dhaka.  There we were met by Noor with a Toyota HIACE Grand Cabin van.  Mojah and Noor plus the van would stay with us throughout our tour of southern Bangladesh.  We piled in the van with our bags in the back and three rows of double seats or the right side and two single seats on the left side aft of the door opening.  I sat in the last row single seat and didn’t have a good view of what was going on outside to the front and right side.

We crossed a long bridge with a harbor full of large sea ships as far as we could see in both directions.  We were leaving the metropolitan area of Chittagong and heading to the countryside but first we came upon a very long line of Green Tuk Tuks queued at a Gas Station.  We turned in to re fuel the van.  The Tuk Tuks and our van ran on natural gas.  The scene reminded me the Amazing Race TV show that I saw before I left the states where the contests had to refuel Tuk Tuks with color plaques that matched their assigned color.  The queue was even longer than the TV show but the actual refueling was more orderly with the natural gas hose.

We rode through countryside with fields of rice paddies, truck farms, cattle, and villages with road side stands.  At 13:00 we reached Bandarban Hill Tract - home of the Bohmong Chief who is effectively king of the Mamma indigenous people, and checked in to the Hotel Plaza Bandarban.  The greeting sign stated:
·         Lift Service
·         24 Hour Power Generator with A/C Coverage
·         Running Hot Water
·         Safe & Secured Car Parking
·         Multi-Cruis Restaurant

When a hotel advertises those items you know you are in for an experience!

Our room had twin beds and we put a bedside table between them where there was an electrical outlet.  There was one chair and a desk with no power outlet.  No closet but there was a cabinet with hangers.  It had a ceiling fan and an air conditioner.  The sink was in the bedroom and the bath had the shower in the center with no central drain, just a hole in the corner behind the toilet.  There was a balcony overlooking a green pond with people washing clothes in three areas and some swimming, bathing and brushing their teeth.
We had lunch at 13:30 which I didn’t find too appealing.  The hi-lite for me was a drink made from a local fruit that was very delicious.  After lunch I walked around the neighborhood and took pictures.  The hotel when viewed from the town was a very impressive modern looking five story building.  There was no Internet in the whole area outside of Dhaka.

At 16:30 we went on tour.  Only Steve, Mary and I ventured out.  We rode through the center of Bandarban where the sculpture in the city center round about is a fruit basket with a pineapple on top.
We rode for fifteen minutes through the country side where we saw women in the pools in a rice field catching small fish with their bare hands to the base of the Dhatu Jadi Temple (Golden Temple) which is the largest Theravada Buddhist temple with the second largest Buddha statue in Bangladesh.  There we had to walk up a steep road to a set of 150 steps with no railing.  There were posts to support a railing every five steps but the rail was missing.  Mary started up but bailed at the first landing.  Steve, Mojha and I continued on.  We had been warned in advance that we had to wear long pants and take off our shoes for the last steps into the temple area.  When we reached the top Steve decided to skip the last walk to the base of the temple.  I had changed into my sandals and airline socks so I shed the sandals and entered the walkway to a set of another 50 steps to the base of the temple.  It was impressive and had great views of the surrounding terrain.

The temple had four ornate entrances which were closed except to monks, and four standing figures between five columns between each entrance.  Small sitting white Buddha on gold thrones with different small white animal figures below them, ringed the temple.  On the back side were the traditional bell and a small pagoda.
At the base of the steps a door marked exit led me into a building with the exit hallway lined with displays of Buddha interacting with people in different scenes.  Very few people were viewing the Gold Temple and the Buddha scenes.  Mojah, Steve and I returned to the van where Mary was waiting.  We then rode back to the city and stopped to tour the Central Bazar.  There we saw dried fish, Roti being made, vegetables for sale (I wasn’t impressed with their tomatoes), clothes for sale with a tailor setup on the sidewalk, and their custom made furniture.  The carving on headboards and cabinets was outstanding.  We were back in the hotel by 17:00.

I setup my laptop on the end of the bed close to the wall outlet by the door to the balcony.  It was a little awkward but I was able to do some journal entries.

Dinner was served at 19:30.  There were a lot of different dishes, rice, noodles, cooked tomatoes, etc., again, very little appealed to me.

I return to my room and wrote in my journal until I retired at 22:00.

Monday, April, 28, 2014: Tour Bandarban area

Yea!  I finally got a good night’s sleep!  I slept soundly until there was a power outage around 04:15 and the start of the backup generator woke me and before I could immediately drop back to sleep the call to Muslim prayer kept me awake for a few minutes but then I slept soundly until my alarm woke me at 06:30.

Taking a shower was a challenge since there was a drain in the corner of the bathroom and no shower curtain.  Initially the water was hot but then turned tempid.   It turned out we had turned off the hot water heater switch when we went to bed and I forgot to check it when I started my shower.  Despite spraying everything in the bathroom with water I successfully finished and even shaved.

Breakfast was at 07:30 and I had a piece of their roti bread, an omelet, and black tea.  We were scheduled to depart on tour at 08:00 and I had to hurry to get my small backpack with several bottles of water and other essentials from my room.  In the rush I forgot my smartphone.

I was surprised to see the group entering the van.  I guess our concerns over traveling in an un air conditioned jeep changed Mojah’s mind.  Since I was the last in I ended up sitting on the back row on the driver’s side which had a window that opened.  I liked that because I could take pictures out an open window.

We left the hotel and entered the main highway, turned south for a short distance and stopped for Mojah to purchase cold bottles of water.  Ice was not available in the city.  They use electric coolers to cool drinks but they don’t have ice machines to Mojah’s knowledge.

Starting up again we took the first road to the east up a hill that turned into up and down hills with each hill getting higher in elevation.  The van was straining and the air conditioner was not turned on.  I left my window open and Steve and Mary opened windows so we had a cross breeze and the van didn’t get too uncomfortably hot.

At first we were driving in a heavy dry wooded area that reminded me of parts of Topanga Canyon.  There were a number of empty road side stands.  The higher we climbed the less dense was the woods and soon we were in areas of banana trees and other plants.  We could then view the mountains and valleys.  There were many remotely located villages on the ridges of the mountains.  A lot of the area had been burned and new planting started.  We crossed many streams and gulleys on Army Platoon style bridges.

We stopped to tour Mrolong village, one of the typical tribe villages in the area.  Mojah showed us the interior of their one room huts, many with tin corrugated roofs, and some with grass roofs.  He also showed us a chicken coup that was raised off the ground.  The homes were on stilts and the children were playing under the homes.  Overlooking the village was a concrete school house.  We were able to see the class in session with two teachers.

As we were boarding our van to leave the village, a big local bus passed by.  Every seat was taken and there were a number of young men on the roof with boxes of goods.  We soon came upon a road working crew.  They were filling pot holes with crushed bricks and sand then topping it with tar and stones.  They had a large roller to smooth the patch out.

My stomach started to give me pain and I asked Mojah to stop the van.  We were at a place with a flat area that dropped off to a steep slope.  I headed for the edge and determined I could drop my pants out of view from the road a few feet down the slope.  The area had been burned and as I started down the slope my feet got tangled in some tough vines and tripped me up.  I reached out to a bamboo shoot to stop my fall but it broke and I tumbled out of site of the van.  I think Mojah panicked when he saw me disappear and ran over to the edge and reached out with his hand.  My right leg was still tangled and I couldn’t break the vines so I had to let go of Mojah’s hand and free my foot.  He then slipped and slid down the slope a few feet so Noor came to the rescue and pulled Mojah up and then me.  They told me to just go on the flat area.  It was a quick relief and I had a roll of toilet paper and it was over in just a couple of minutes but must have looked comical from the van of passengers.

The irony of the situation was we were not that far from the Niligiri Resort on the top of Keokradong, the highest peak in the country at 4,035 ft. and our destination for the day.

The Bangladesh had an Army Post on at the Resort and we had to get permission to enter the area.  We parked at a vista point.  The area was dotted with concrete picnic tables and vista areas.  I took off to explore the area and discovered the building at the very top was a Cafeteria and that there was a helicopter pad near the summit.  The door to the Cafeteria had the unit patch that stated in English: “Country Above All – Committed and Involved”.  On the north side of the Cafeteria there was a concrete structure in the form of a map of the Bandarban area and a ladder affixed to it.  I saw pictures of the structure in other places and the ladder was included but I was unable to learn the significance of the ladder.  The whole area was spotless and very well maintained except there was no running water in the otherwise very clean facilities.

Lynn and Mary had found a snack bar with cold drinks and I joined them for a cold Coke.  I returned to the vista to inform the others of my findings and Del then took off to take pictures of the area.  I returned to the snack bar and ordered another can of Coke but they were out so I settled for a bottle of Sprite.  Mojah had some biscuits for each of us and they went well with the cold Sprite.  I talked a little with the Snack Bar attendant and he helped me wash some of the charcoal and dirt from the fall off my hands and clothes.  He told me he though his assignment at the “Resort” was “good duty”.  Mojah had heard otherwise from some of the other solders.  Of course running a snack bar that didn’t have to make a profit for a few customers a day would be good duty compared to those manning the guard posts.

There was a row of big black plastic water tanks and soon a UN Water truck arrived to either off load or on load water.  We left the area before I could find out which one.  Starting back down the mountains we stopped at two tribe village complex of the Empu and Karang villages.

We walked into the village and saw how dry the area was.  They had a large rain catchment area that was full of dry muddy leaves.  Their corrugated tin roofs had gutters that lead into a water tank.  The houses were similar to the Mrolong village with in this case a children’s play house had been constructed under the house on stilts.  At one of the houses a group of kids were sitting on steps observing us.  An older school girl in blue and white uniform got them to pose for us.  Running around the area was a family of pigs.  One managed to find some mud to wallow in.  Down a slight slope there was a group of older women washing clothes.  As we were leaving we passed a house with a small window which two little kids were looking out to form a cute picture.

We got on the van again and continued down the mountain.  There was an Army checkpoint we had stopped at on the way up where they entered our names, ages and signature in a big ledger.  On the way down we had to stop and sign that we had left the area.

At 12:30 we stopped at a road side stand and Mojha and Noor prepared fresh Papaya for us.  As we continued down the mountain I smelled the brakes burning and we stopped at the Bawm village for a brake check.  Sure enough both front brakes were glazed over and Noor had to jack the van up, remove the wheels and the brake pads and rub the glaze off and put them back on.

Bawm village was an interesting place for the van to breakdown.  It had a few stores selling tourist items.  There were several women spinning yarn and a display of very colorful table clothes.  Another store had wooden handicrafts.  There was several shaded areas to sit and across the road concrete picnic tables and a viewing area.  The group of structures was bounded on both sides by bridges.

Water flowed under the east bridge and a group of men and women were filling water containers with the clear mountain water and lugging them up the bank to a truck.  Plastic containers (the looked like white ‘Jerry Cans’) had numbers which I presume identified the owner, while large blue containers were filled from metal jugs  Downstream from the operation people were swimming and washing in the stream.  When the truck bed was full it departed and the people vacated the clear water area and move down to the ‘swimming hole’ area.

At the end of the bridge to the west there was a sign describing the Bawm people as follows:

Bawms are fond of hunting. Besides the traditional Jhum they grow orange, pineapple, banana and papya.  They also have their own tradition in handicrafts and cottage industries.  In Bandarban total Bawm population is 8228.

We had broken down at 13:00.  Noor was able to pull the wheels, fix the brakes and have us going again in just forty five minutes.  We were back to our hotel by 14:15 and had a late lunch.  Lynn and Steve skipped the lunch.

After lunch I washed the charcoal and dirt out of my clothes and wrote in my journal.  We had dinner scheduled for 18:00.  Lynn was still under the weather and he and Mary skipped dinner.  It was too bad because they served fried chicken, KFC style with French fries.  The best chicken I had on the trip to date because it was easy to determine where the bones were.

I returned to the room, wrote more in my journal.  There were a number of power outages.  I wondered if their generator was low on fuel because it would only stay on for a few minutes at a time and then restart.  Around 21:00 it appeared to stabilize and I prepared for bed and retired at 21:30.

Tuesday, April, 29, 2014: Drive Bandarban to Rangamati, Bangladesh

Our alarms went off at 05:00 and we had meant to set them for 05:30 so we both reset and slept another thirty minutes.  It had been another very restful sound sleep.  I still had conjestion but I didn’t wake with a coughing fit so I thought my cold was breaking up.

I showered but even though the hot water heater was on I soon ran out of hot water and finished shaving from the bucket of hot water I had filled before I started my shower.  We had three towels on the floor from the laundry drying the afternoon before so the bathroom floor was not slick and I covered the toilet seat with one of them.  All in all it wasn’t a bad shower.

All my clothes including the socks had dried through the night.  I was all packed by 06:30 and wheeled my bags to the elevator and down to the lobby.  Breakfast was served at 07:00 an included an omelet, toast with jelly and roti bread.  I made a tortilla with the roti and omelet.  The toast with jelly went nice with my tea.

We departed at 07:30 on the route that took us past the Gold Temple.  The terrain was flat in areas with crops and rice fields and hilly in other areas with burned ground, tall straight trees with few leaves.  When we rode up hills Noor had to turn off the air conditioning but the weather wasn’t uncomfortably hot.  We drove through the village of Bamgolhalia at about 09:00 then arrived at the Kornofuli River and had to take a ferry across the river.  When we arrived the ferry was on the other side so we saw it depart and cross the river.  It was a large flat barge that held several large trucks, a fully loaded bus with people on the roof, and several smaller trucks.  Many Tuk Tuks and motorcycles were squeezed in between.  When it docked at our end the motorcycles and most of the Tuk Tuks scurried off and up the ramp followed by the bicyclists and walking pedestrians.  Next came the trucks, big and small and then a three wheel bicycle with a flatbed holding a big plastic drum.  It was slowly pushed up the ramp preventing the bus from leaving the ferry.
Eventually the three wheel bicycle made it to the top of the grade and the bus followed.  They then let the vehicles from our side drive on the ferry.  We all walked on and rode across the river on the deck.  When the ferry docked at the other side we boarded the van and were on our way.  It only took thirty minutes from the time we entered the village until we were on the other side.

We had to stop at a Police check post to register our entrance into Rangamati District.  A big sign at the check post stated:
To enter into Rangamati District Foreigners need to obtain permission from Ministry of Home Affairs.  Foreigners to entry their name in the Check Post while entering in and also going back from Rangamati District.

About thirty minutes after leaving the Check Post we entered the BFIDC KAPTAI, Karnafully timber extraction unit and lumber processing complex.  Many logs were along the road and in the areas close to the road.  We turned off the highway to a secondary road.  A sign at the turnoff pointed down the road to The Bangladesh Sweden Polytechnic Institute.  It was a large campus with dormitory’s, classroom buildings and a sports complex.

We then started to climb small hills and leave the populated area.  Across a field I saw a grass roof house with a large solar panel.  Just past the crest of the hill the Kaptai Lake came into view.  It stretched as far as I could see.  We stopped at a road side market and Mojah bought us some bananas.  They were the small sweet kind.  We were still in hilly country and Noor had the air conditioning off to not strain the engine as we climbed steep slopes.  Soon we were down at lake level and crossed a bridge.  Below we could see logs piled up waiting to be hauled to a mill.  The houses alone the edges of the lake were built on stilts.  The lake level was very low but I could see the high water marks.

We arrived at the Parjatan Holiday Complex about 11:00.  The first building we saw was a large new multi-story brick hotel with many rooms on each floor, all facing the lake with a balcony.  We rode past that building up a slight grade to an older hotel with a Reception sign.  Mojah registered us and we then rode back to the new building and turned into the courtyard and past the new building and up the hill to a group of concrete cottages.  Each cottage had three rooms.  We were assigned to the center room.  Del and Linda to our right had a view of the lake, we had a view of the woods and Lynn and Mary had a view of the sidewalk leading to the cottage.

Our room was fair sized with electrical outlets at the head of each bed.  There was one chair for Steve to sit in when he was reading and a desk and chair with an outlet for me to plug in my laptop and work on my journal.  The bathroom had a tub with a shower and a wand but no shower curtain.  There was only one towel and Steve was able to get two more from an office two buildings away.

Our bags were delivered to our room and we boarded the van to drive back to the Registration building to eat lunch.  The lunch was not to my liking.  They had a salad but it had some hot peppers mixed in, a fish dish and the rest were rice and noodles.  I ordered a Sprite and picked at my food.  The fish was good but I was concerned with the little bones.  I had a couple of cups of black hot tea.  Lynn skipped the meal and Mary took a cold Sprite back for him.  We learned later there was no bottle opener in the room and Lynn had to search the room to find a crack where he could lift off the bottle cap.

Back in the room I wrote in my journal until 16:30 when Mojah called us to leave for a tour of the Buddha Dharma Sangha “Deshanaloy”.  The temple was about a twenty minute drive from the hotel.  The gateway to the complex where we had to remove our shoes said Rajbana Vihara.

When we entered we had to remove our shoes and it was a large campus with numerous buildings.  We first climbed the stairs to a large room that contained a coffin of a monk that the people still thought to be alive.  A number of people were praying at the coffin.  On each side facing us in the back of the room were monks, one of which looked dead to me.  He didn’t move the whole time we were in the room.  An enlargement of the picture I took of him showed his eyes open but no movement in his head.  As we left the room we had great views of the temples.  Down on the ground level we walked to the big temple and entered to view a child Buddha in gold with rows of miniature Buddha below the child Buddha.  Alongside the entrance to the altar an area contained a pit with incense and candles burning.

Leaving the temple I walked across the yard to the open sided building where 100 or so young monks were praying to the chant from a load speaker.  I couldn’t tell if a live monk was doing the chanting or if it was a recording.  We walked to another area and I saw two large stones with a plaque that read “Homage to the Tripe Gem”.  The plaque stated in English which was hard to read because the black paint in the etched writing had washed out.  From what I could make out the plaque stated:

In 1984 Venemble Sadhanaanda  Mahathera (Banabnante) was staying at the Rajbana Vihara, Rangamati and following his daily routine was giving a sermon to the lay devotees as usual.  All of a sudden he asked Upendria Lal Chakma, a lay devotee of Mitingyachati (Mitingya stream) village, under Jurachari Union of Rangamati Hill District to search for two boulders upon which Moni Rishis sat to meditate ages ago and they were lying in the bed of Mitingyachari stream.  It is most astonishing that Venerable Banabhante had neither visited Juracharinor Mitingyachari previously.
Upendra Lal returned to Mitingyachari Village and began to search for the said boulders but could not find them.  On his return to Rajbana Vihara he informed Venerable Banabhante about his failure to locate the boulders.  Venerable Banabhante told him to return and search diligently for the boulders and he would find them.  On his second attempt he along with a helper upturned the bed of the stream and finally found the boulders and sure enough the boulders bore deep worn out marks of sitting in the Lotus Position for meditation for very long periods.  On finding the boulders the news spread fast and about.  250 to 600 people of two mouzas took part in bringing the boulders to Mitingyachari Village which were there for three months before being brought to Rajbana Vihara.  During these three months many people visited the village to have a glimpse at the boulders and offered prayers.
By seeing the where about of the boulders from Rajbana Vihara “Wisdom Eyes” is a proof of Venemble Sadhanaanda  Mahathera (Banabnante) to be an “Enlightened One”

I saw the worn spots on two boulders behind the plaque.  We then left the temple and rode into the city.  It was teaming with green Tuk Tuks.  We stopped at the edge of the city at the end of a bridge where textile shops were lined up on both sides of the road.  They advertised “Traditional Tribal Cloths and Handicrafts of Rangamati”.  Linda was the only one that purchased anything.

We returned to the hotel at 18:00, and had dinner.  It was similar to lunch but instead of fish they served beef chunks.  Unfortunately the beef was in a spicy sauce.  For dessert they had watermelon that was very good.  I had a Sprite to drink in addition to the water.

I returned to my room and wrote in my journal until 21:40 and retired at 22:00.

Wednesday, April, 30, 2014: Cruise Kaptai Lake, then fly Chittagong, Bangladesh, to Dhaka, Bangladesh

I woke naturally at 05:30 and instead of going back to sleep for another hour I got up to bathe.  Before I went to bed I found the sink to be full of little bugs so I put a sheet of Bounce in it before I retired.  When I went in there in the morning the only bugs left in the sink were dead and easily brushed down the drain.  I liked to think the smell of the Bounce sheet ran off the live bugs leaving just their dead mates behind.
The tub had a wand plus the shower and rather than spray I used a combination of the wand and a bucket which I filled partially with hot water to bathe.  It worked out well and I felt refreshed.  The towel was large, twice the size from the day before.

Mojah knocked on our door at 07:30 to drive us to breakfast.  I asked him if we were returning to our cottages before we went on tour and he replied “yes”.  Breakfast was pretty good.  Each of us had two pieces of toast wrapped in a napkin and a plate of mixed fruit jelly, and an omelet.  In addition there were dishes of Indian food on the table.  I shared two pots of tea with Mary while the others had coffee.  At the next table three armed with rifles, policeman ate breakfast.

After breakfast we gathered outside to be driven back to our cottages only to be informed we were walking directly to board a boat.  Steve and I had left our day bags in our room so we walked briskly back to the cottage.  I had to take my morning constitutional and Steve left me alone in the room.  When I came out Mojah was waiting and apologized for misleading me earlier.  The two of us then walked briskly back to the Reception building and on past it to a set of stairs (150) leading down to the “Hanging Bridge”.  The bridge was built in the 1980’s to cross a gorge.  It is only a pedestrian bridge and sways as you walk across.  On the far side we climbed some steps and then walked down a path to the boat landing.  We boarded a boat marked “Tourist Boat” that had 14 comfortable plastic chairs facing forward.  The policeman joined us.  The boat had a cover with open sides.

We boarded the boat and I sat in the second row on the left side and departed the shore at 08:35 to cruise the Kaptai Lake.  The lake was created in the 1950’s when the river was dammed up to create electricity and store water for crops.

As we cruised across and around the lake we saw many fisherman using nets to catch the fish.  Several methods were used.  Near the shore the net was taken by boat to form a half circle with to points at the shore.  Two men, standing in waist high water would then pull in their end of the net to make the half circle smaller.  Eventually they were able to gather in the net and dump the catch.  A variation of the method the two men at the end of the net would be on shore and pull in their end of the net.

Out on the lake a third method was used where a floating platform served in close the open end of the half circle of net.  On the platform two men reeled in their end of the net while a group of men stood ready to gather the net and dump the catch in a boat alongside the platform.

We saw a number of boats ferrying people and goods across the lake.  About an hour out we landed on a beach to tour the Hemanta village.  The policemen were with us to stop the locals from shaking down the tourist which they have been known to do in the past.  Due to the low water level we had a long path to get to the village stairs and then had to climb 150 steps.  Every ten steps had a short landing which eased the climb.

The people in the village were very friendly and posed for pictures.  Several women were smoking a bamboo pipe with water in it.  They came out of their hut to show off.  We continued to climb up to a school.  Several classes were in session and they let us take pictures of the classrooms.  I had to “go” and used the school facility.  It was a hole in the floor with a bucket of water and a toilet brush in the corner (Very neat and clean).

Descending back to the village huts we were led to a woman spinning a colorful cloth.  We were only in the village for forty five minutes and then walked back on a path through their rice fields to the boat.  Close to the boat landing I encountered a herd of goats.

At 10:35 we were on our way across the lake, taking a slightly different route that took us closer to the shore line by the city.  The row of buildings on long stiles was a sight to see.  We even cruised by an area where we could see our cottages.  Along the shore was the typical, women washing clothes, children swimming and people bathing.

We docked in time for a noon lunch.  They served us small pieces of fish in a spicy sauce and cold water.  Back in my room I wrote in my journal until 13:45 when I packed up and set my bags outside the door.  We departed at 14:00 for Chittagong.  The terrain and villages were similar to what we had experienced the previous days except there was a lot more road work and I bounced around a lot more sitting in the back of the van.  The road was a National Highway R163, the Chittagong – Rangunia Highway with center lines in most areas although no one pays any attention to a center line.  It generally follows the Karnafully River but in some areas it was quite hilly with wooded areas.  A lot of the terrain was flat rice paddies.  The roadside stands, crowded villages with lots of Tuk Tuks, heavy trucks, motorbikes and bicycles were the same as we had seen.  We had to be signed out of the Rangamati area at a Police Check Post.  For some reason it took Mojah longer and he appeared to be in a heated discussion with the Police Office at the Check Post.

We crossed over the Isamathi River, and then the Halda River.  Entering the suburbs of Chittagong we would encounter traffic jams.  The cause in many cases was Tuk Tuks or Pedi cabs driving in the wrong direction.  As soon as we crawled through the suburbs the traffic would flow again and we would in just a few hundred yards be in rice field terrain.  The closed we got to the center of Chittagong the longer it took us to make forward progress in the tied up traffic.  I got to know every pimple on the face of the passenger in the truck next to me for so long jockeying back and forth.  The sides of the city buses showed the wear and tear of the city’s traffic with scrapes and dents along their sides and at both ends.  We encountered several double decker, red London style buses and wondered if they were left here in 1948 when the British departed and are still in use.

At 17:30 we pulled into a Continental style Restaurant only be told it was closed so we pressed on.  A Policeman stopped us an some lame excuse and it turned out he was shaking Noor down and when Noor told him it was a company van full of Americans he backed off his demand and let us proceed.

South of the city center Noor turned off the main clogged highway and headed to the Industrial area along the river front.  We were passing by large truck parking areas and could see the cargo and container ships to our east when we came upon a golf course.  Noor turned into a driveway to the Yacht Club.  It is open to Foreigners and had a nice restaurant overlooking the channel.

Mojah ordered the meal which turned out to be a modified Chinese dinner, with fried Won Tong to start followed by Egg Drop soup, fried rice and what looked like sweet and sour pieces of fish but tasted a little different and spicier than the Chinese would make.  Steve had spied a Movanpick Ice Cream box when he entered the restaurant and loves their dark chocolate ice cream so for dessert we had ice cream in a small cup.

After dinner it was a short ride to the airport (we had watched planes on final approach passing by the yacht club).  The flight was hours late and they wouldn’t even let us check in until 20:00.  Security was a snap and the terminal had strong free Wi-Fi.  I was able to have a long conversation with Judy since I hadn’t talked to her or emailed for three days.  We were in an air conditioned gate area and I was able to process a lot of email on my smart phone as we waited until our flight was called at 21:30 (3 hours late!).

It was a short forty minute flight to Dhaka and then the thirty plus minute ride to the hotel.  The traffic was a little better than when we had arrived on Saturday night about the same time to the same hotel.

When we were setting up the times for the next day with Mojah, Lynn, Mary, Linda and Del told him they were skipping the morning tour to the Sadarghat River Terminal, Star Mosque, Lalbag Mughal Fort, Dhakeswari Temple, and Central Shahid Minar.  They left for their rooms leaving Steve and I to negotiate the schedule with Mojah.  I could tell he was shocked and hurt that no one wanted to see his native city.  Steve wasn’t enthused about seeing another Mosque or Temple and we decide to skip the morning ourselves.  I asked him if he could add some of the sites to the afternoon tour and he would do what he could.  We also agreed that lunch was going to be on our own.

After washing some clothes (they were soaking wet from the high humidity and lack of air conditioning on the plane) and setting up my laptop (free cable connect in the room) I retired at 00:30.

Thursday, May, 01, 2014: Tour Dhaka, then fly to Kula Lumpur, Malaysia

I woke to the blare of the TV at 07:15.  Steve told me there had been a power outage and when the power returned it kicked on the TV and air conditioner.  I don’t know how long it had been off since I had my battery pack on my CPAP machine but my clothes were still damp.

I showered in a very humid bathroom.  Used the hair dryer to dry at least my under pants and joined Steve at breakfast.  We were the first to eat.  I had a nice egg over easy, toast fruit and tea.

After breakfast I called Judy and returned to my room to write in my journal and catch up on my emails.  At 15:00 we started our tour of the city by visiting the Sadarghat River Terminal.  There Mojah took us on one of the many huge ferry boats that shuttle people around the delta area.  They were sparsely furnished with people laying on bedrolls on the floor.  The trash in the river was unbelievable.

We rode by many of the sites we were originally scheduled to visit without stopping.  I was able to take some pictures from my front seat vantage point and then we came to the National Parliament House area.  The National Assembly Building was designed by Louis Kahn and is an architectural wonder, completed in 1982.  The complex, which accommodates all Bangladesh's seven parliaments, is one of the largest legislative complexes in the world, comprising 200 acres.  The exterior of the building is striking in its simplicity, with huge walls deeply recessed by porticoes and large openings of regular geometric shapes.  The main building, which is at the center of the complex, is divided into three parts – the Main Plaza, South Plaza and Presidential Plaza.  An artificial lake surrounds three sides of the main building.  We were able to get out of the van and take pictures from a distance, but to get a good picture of the structure you had to be a distance away.  A wide boulevard passes by the front of the complex and is painted in colorful geometric shapes.

Leaving the complex we rode about forty minutes skirting the city to the National Martyrs' Memorial (Jatiyo Smriti Soudho).  It’s the national monument of Bangladesh and was the symbol in the memory of the valor and the sacrifice of all those who gave their lives in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, which brought independence and separated Bangladesh from Pakistan.  The monument is composed of 7 isosceles triangular pyramid shaped structures, with the middle one being the tallest.  The highest point of the monument is 150 feet.  There was an artificial lake, and several mass graves in front of the main monument.  It was really impressive.

The area was crowded with visitors.  Many wanted to have their pictures taken with us.  Lynn and Mary didn’t want to walk the steps required to get close to the monument and were sitting on a side wall where they drew a large crowd wanting to take their pictures with their children.  When Mojah, Steve and I went looking for them we almost couldn’t find them because of the crowd that had formed around them.

When we left the monument we rode for an hour back into the city to stop for dinner at the ‘Hungry Duck’ Restaurant near the airport.  We arrived at 18:45 a little early for their 19:00 buffet.  It was a cute place with some interesting paintings on the walls and a big celebration was taking place at a string of tables.  When the buffet opened we helped ourselves.  It would be the last supper for the group.  For most of us it had been thirty days.  At 20:20 we left for the airport.

Check in at the Dhaka Airport was a big fiasco.  Our baggage was screened on entry and then there was one long line to the Malaysia Airlines check in area which had six stations but only two agents working.  There was no control of the queue and the agents jumped from one station to the next.  Late arrivers were by passing the lone queue and when I looked for someone in charge to get a hold on the situation he told me that they were having printing problems and that was all he could concentrate on.

Finally our group moved close to the stations.  Lynn, Mary and Steve were on one ticket, Del and Linda on a different ticket and I was on a third ticket.  As the first group was getting checked in and Del and Linda would be next, a station opened in front of me and an agent told me to step forward and I ended up getting checked in before the others finished.  Our visit to Bangladesh ended in a chaotic fashion.

It was the end of thirty days of my travel with Steve, Lynn and Mary through Sri Lanka, Maladies Islands, India and Bangladesh.  Next I was going on alone to tour Myanmar and Laos.

1 comment:

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