Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Rickshaw Roadblock


Crossing into Bangladesh at Tamabil in the North East of the country was a slow and time consuming affair due to the fact that we had to wait around for the guy in charge of Carnie de Passage to return from prayer. After 3 and a half hours we were back on the road, heading straight to Dhaka as the roads were largely empty and covered in perfect tarmac.

Road to Dhaka

With 150 million people Bangladesh is the forth most densely populate country in the world, with over 1000 people per sq km it only lies behind the tiny states of Monaco, Singapore and Malta.

Bangladesh has had a troubled past.

After a bloody war, Bangladesh separated from West Pakistan in 1971 with the help of the Indian Army, leaving a shattered and broken country with a ruined economy.

When a famine struck in 73-74 it set the war ravaged country back even further. General Ziaur then took over and martial law was declared.
It wasn’t until the formation of the Bangladesh National Party and the appointment of President Zia before the country started to move forward.
The previous gains in the economy started to unravel in the early 90’s, causing mass protests and wide spread strikes resulting in Zia’a wife taking control of the party and become the new Prime Minister in 1991.

The constitution states that at the end of their tenure an independent caretaker government should be appointed to organise an election within 90 days. As nobody could decide on a caretaker government a military government was appointed and after increasingly violent protests emergency rule was declared in 2007.
With the country in suspension the government attempted to stamp out corruption; Bangladesh being rated as one of the worlds most corrupt nations second only to Nigeria.

Despite the poverty levels, the predominately Muslim state has managed to avoid the extremism that has blighted other countries in the region.
Still one of the poorest countries in the world, the economy has been growing at a rate of 6% in recent years due to an emerging textile industry hopefully providing a brighter future.

As we approach Dhaka the traffic started to swell dramatically to the point of complete conjestion, with only 1 way in to the city we had no choice but to tough it out with the buses, cars and large numbers of Tuk Tuks.

It has to be said it’s the worst traffic I’ve ever seen in my life. With the Indian style of driving in full effect, vehicles where diving for the smallest possible gap opening up in front of them.

After 2 hours we finally made it to national stadium area and found a run down hotel with off street parking. At 30 dollars it was a bit of a shock to the wallet but we had little choice after being turned away at several hotels not allowed to take foreigners due to government restrictions.

Dhaka is a crazy city with the most mind blowing traffic. it’s the only place I’ve ever seen a traffic jam consisting entirely of rickshaws.


After several days spent finding out about flying myself and the bike to Thailand we decided it was time to get out of the big city.

Because of limited time, Herbie needing to get across to Mumbai and meet friends and me meeting friends for Christmas in Thailand, we had to make a decision on where to go next. The longest beach in the world at Cox Bazar or the largest mangrove forest in the world at The Sundarbans….
With both of us planning on being on the beach in 2 weeks time, The Sundarbans was the obvious choice.

South West bound it is…..

Taking a ferry across was an experience, with the usual scrum of people crowding around us and the bikes for the 2 hour crossing.

The Padma River is the exit point for all the rivers in NE, NW India and Nepal. In fact so huge it’s not possible to see the bank on the other side. With it’s slow moving nature the channel for the ferry needs to be constantly dredged creating large sand islands in the middle of the river estuary.

River Dredging

The ferry ride and river life

We parked up at Mongla on the edge of the Sundarbans and arranged with a local boat operator to be taken on a day trip into the National Park the following day.

Road to Sundarbans

The Sundarbans……..

The Sundarbans, meaning ‘beautiful forest’, covers an area of 10’000 sq km, half of which is water, rivers and tidal creaks ranging from a few metres to a few kilometers in width. The forest is home to deer, wild boar, otters, monkeys, crocodiles, various snakes, river dolphins, 300 different bird species and of course the animal most people want to see the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger.

With the tigers ability to swim and the impenetrable nature of the forest it is said to have the highest tiger density in the world with an estimated 200 -450 animals living in the wild.
It was once said that The Royal Bengal Tiger in the Sundarbans had developing an usual taste for human flesh giving them the dubious reputation as the most dangerous tigers in the world. More recent studies have shown this to be inaccurate, with a large proportion of the bodies found in the forest being a result of the Hindu ritual of burning bodies and floating them down the sacred Ganga river at Varanasi in India. In fact, the tigers predominately prey on deer, boar and fish, only turning to attacking fishermen in old age when they’ve lost their agility and canine fangs.

We had a really nice day cruising around the rivers and tributaries but had seen
very little bar some deer and crocodiles, to be expected.

In the Sundarbans

Getting back on the bike the next day, i head off back to Dhaka and Herbie to Calcutta in India. It had been the best 5 months travel of my life. I couldn’t have asked for a better travel partner and had also made a really good mate.
Herbie, safe travels on your way back home. I’ll see you Switzerland on my way back to England.

Heading back to Dhaka the floodgates opened on an oil leak I’d been nursing for the last 3 months. I limped back to Dhaka after buying some oil to top up the bike on the way back. It would have to wait until Bangkok to be fixed.

Racking up the miles

I cleaned the bike up as best I could, took it to the air freight company, watched them crate the bike and go through all the paperwork. The bike would be going on the same plane as me heading towards Thailand.

With no real tourist industry Bangladesh is a challenging place to travel.
It was certainly the worst poverty I’d seen on the trip. With unemployment running at very high rate the amount of begging in Dhaka was quite staggering.
Education seems to be a big problem. I’d met so many people, young and old, that had never attended any form of formal education.

Saying that, the people had been very friendly. Good people.

Next stop Bangkok……