Friday, March 9, 2007

Bangladesh: Bandarban to Dhaka: 19/20 February 2007 (Written 20 February 2007)

Because I had kept dozing off on the bus ride TO Bandarban, I decided to return by day to Dhaka. It was also because I still hadn’t made it to Old Dhaka, and I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t. So, on the 19th, I headed back to Dhaka. I was wrong, though; even after sleeping 11 hours the night before I was hovering between consciousness and unconsciousness, and judging by the fact that I don’t remember too much of the ride, sleep won. I did, however, stay awake for more than the journey there, and I was struck again by how green and unspoiled (to the naked eye) the countryside of Bangladesh appears. The abundance of water is everywhere, as there are rivers and lakes of a huge variety in size. Sure wouldn’t want to be here during the monsoon.

I got back to Dhaka at 6pm, and Micah wouldn’t finish work til 8. I went back to his apartment though, and already exhausted of Dhaka, I sat in his stairwell, reading. A neighbor invited me in and gave me tea and chocolate cookies, for which I was extremely grateful.

Micah arrived, then Benton arrived, and we went to the American Club, where I indulged in non-Bangla food for the first time in 3 days; felt much longer. It wasn’t a super-late night, because I was determined to get up early to get to Old Dhaka before the crazy morning traffic started.

So today, the 20th, I left Banani at 7am and was in Old Dhaka at 7.30am. Headed straight to Sadarghat, where boats proceed by the dozens on the Buriganga River. Small wooden boats steered by a single boatman, larger wooden structures with motors, huge freight vessels with peeling paint and rust all shared their home, along with people bathing and cooking and cleaning. A teenage boy immediately came to me saying that I could go in his boat for 200 taka an hour. I had read that a reasonable price would be 50 taka, so I told him no. He then said 100, and since I really didn’t care too much either way about taking a boat ride, I still rejected. As I was walking away he said 50 so I thought, ok, why not, and climbed in. I am so glad I did it. Sadarghat is the Shinjuku of Tokyo for Dhaka, with boats going every direction. We headed up for about 15 minutes and turned around; I didn’t mind, since I had basically seen what I had wanted to see anyway. When we arrived back where we started, exactly 33 minutes had gone by, according to the photos I had taken. Well, my little boatman didn’t think so. He claimed that it had been 2 and a half hours; he had gone upriver for an hour, and coming back had taken an hour and a half. A sly one, he had observed I didn’t have a watch and claimed it was now about 10am. I showed him my camera and corrected him, saying it was actually 8:30am, and he was good-natured at his defeat, but still insisted I give him 100 taka. Then 80 taka. I was not happy about this for obvious reasons, and argued that if we were really going by honest time rates as had been discussed, I should only give him 30 taka since we were only on the water for 33 minutes. He still shook his head vehemently as I generously gave him 50 taka but other boatmen encouraged me that I was ok and should go without worrying. Man, what these people will do to try and scam you.

I went to Shankharia Bazaar, where saris hang from balconies and artisans work, making bangles from conch shells, tombstones, and Hindu art. It was really nice not to worry about where I was and what to see, and at every intersection I looked at the possibilities and chose the route based on what it looked like ahead; no motorized vehicles and preferably lots of people, but not too many. The first half hour walking around was wonderful, and I found the jingle of rickshaw bells pleasant, noting the lack of horns with relief. After an hour, I was going crazy with the sound of bells in my head.

The small alleyways and markets were so vibrant, alive, and colorful. Huge smiles from men, women, and children, wanting their photos taken, with no hint of wanting money or anything else from me. It was wonderful. I got lost, probably went in big circles, and finally, at about 11am, I headed back to Banani. This was my longest Dhaka excursion yet.

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