Bangladesh is nice place to visit
Bangladesh impressions: land of the people
One month in Bangladesh is now behind me. My way led from the Benapole border station in India to Khulna, Mongla, Sunderban and Barisal to Chittagong, on to Rangamati, Bandarban and to Boga Lake in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Teknaf, San Martin and Cox Bazar. There would still be a lot to see. However, my visa will soon expire, my flight to Myanmar has already been booked and the political situation does not invite me to travel. On the one hand I am sad to have to go on, on the other hand it is easier to leave the country.
POLITICAL SITUATION DURING MY TRIP TO BANGLADESH
There has been political unrest and strikes since the last elections. I tried to keep myself up to date every day via the Internet and English newspapers. Since January 5th, more than 60 people have died from petrol or arsenic bomb attacks on buses or trucks (February 10th, 2015). Concerned about having to travel through more affected areas (e.g. Dhaka or Comilla) and the inconsistent situation regarding long-haul buses, I booked a domestic flight. In addition, it gave me time to be able to visit quiet areas more intensively.
If you would like to find out more about the background to the political situation, you can read about it at the German Foreign Office. There is some basic information there.
In general, I was hardly affected by the political situation. Only once was there no further travel by bus. However, other people also had the same problem and so we drove together with CNG (compressed natural gas vehicle) to a place where there was a train station. The train and ferry connections were operating normally at the time (I don't know how it is now).
The local buses run more irregularly than usual because there are fewer travelers. So I waited almost 2 hours for the bus to leave. But I don't see waiting as a problem.
On my trip to Peru and Bolivia in 2013, when there was no political unrest, the bus often only left an hour (or more) after the scheduled departure time. Although it would be high season now, many tourist offers (such as the ferry connection to St Martin) are completely closed due to the lack of (local) tourists. Many hotels and restaurants are closed. Due to the bombing, the partly existing road blockades and / or the lack of travelers, not all long-haul connections are operated in regular operation.
From an economic point of view, the political situation in Bangladesh is a catastrophe. Trade and production are severely restricted. All people who have the slightest connection to the tourism sector with their work and who have had contact with me are concerned that they will not be able to make ends meet for the near future, especially in poor regions.
With a bad conscience, I have to admit that this situation also had positive effects on me. On St Martin, for example, where I was the only ¨Foreowner¨ on the island in addition to an estimated 20 Bengali tourists, I got a very good overnight price including food. The normally strictly controlled travel permits (permits) in the Chittagong Hill Tracts were also softened for me by the conflict and with the help of the guide, whom I found by chance. I had not filled out my travel authorization correctly (according to my travel route) because I thought that it would probably not be taken so precisely.
REACTIONS OF PEOPLE
My personal résumé, as I have already mentioned on FB, is:
You don't necessarily travel to Bangladesh for the scenery or the sights. You travel to Bangladesh because of the incredible people! And because of the fascinating insight that you can get into their worlds.
In no other country have I experienced so much warmth and hospitality as here. The living conditions are extremely simple. The joy is very great when you stop and try to exchange a few words in English or just to communicate with your hands and feet. More than ¨ How are you? I am fine. Thank you. What's your name? Bye Bye. Which country? Sit-down. ¨ Not many can do it.
No matter where you go. As a foreigner, which means all people with light skin color from the West, one is always the focus.
how are you? or Which country? ¨ got called after me all the time.
I am fine. I am from Austria¨, I said several thousand times a day. The answer to that was always the same: Oh, oh, Australia. Nice country.¨
I always had to laugh when I tried to correct my nationality. My answer, No, no Australia, Austria (¨Ostia¨ - that's how they pronounce Austria.) Often led to confusion. Then I added ¨Small country in Europe. Next to Germany.¨ That often didn't help.
@ Dear Austrians, we are simply a far too small, unknown country. It just happened 98% of the time. In the other 2%, people knew Vienna as the capital and once I was bullied by a man who knew that Hitler was born in Austria.
INDIVIDUAL TRAVELS AS A BIG CHALLENGE
Admittedly, it was incredibly exhausting. Sometimes I longed to go back to my hotel room and take a break. I fell into bed every day. Towards the end I enlisted the help of a young guide to make it easier.
But these situations are simply part of a trip to Bangladesh and it is also helpful to be the center of attention. Bangladesh has almost no infrastructure designed for western travelers.
The characters are mostly in Bengali (Abugida font). It is inevitable to ask for help. And it can take time to find a person who has enough English skills to establish a basic understanding. Staying calm and moving slowly and without hectic was my motto. Above all, don't let yourself be rushed (by that I mean, for example, by rickshaw drivers who want you to get into their vehicle). If I was too “fast”, my decisions were usually not optimal.
ATTENTION AS A TRAVELER
I provoked mass crowds of people in all places where I did not move.
While drinking tea on the street, once when the bus I was sitting in stopped, at stops where I waited to continue, when I got where, or especially when I asked for directions and the person didn't or only spoke some english. She began to help people standing around or passing by. Often they stopped out of curiosity even without help, began to ask other people themselves and together they began wild discussions about the best route for me (at least that's how I interpreted it). Until I finally got the information I wanted, it certainly took a good 10-15 minutes - always.
I WAS FOREIGNER, GUEST OR SISTER
When I was not referred to as the “owner”, the word “guest” was used and that is how I was treated. Often I was invited to tea, fruit or sweets or they wanted to give me presents. If I stayed longer, I became a ¨Sister¨.
The invitation to come to their house to eat or live with them was also very common. (Twice I have also accepted an invitation to visit or to eat. But more about that in the next Bangladesh update.)
If you weren't already asked inside, it wasn't a problem to ask to look inside a house. No matter where I went, it was always the same: ¨Sit-down, Sit-down¨. If there was no place to sit, one was brought in straight away.
What was unusual about India was that ¨Photo, photo, photo¨ didn't necessarily mean that they wanted to take a photo of me. On the contrary, they asked me to take a picture of them - with my camera. At first I was confused because I waited for her to pull out her cell phone. However, anyone who owned a cell phone would also take a picture of me. But nowhere near as often as in India.
GOOD SITES, BAD SITES
Everything went smoothly 90% of the time. However, not all bliss was bliss. I also had unpleasant experiences.
People who pretended to help and charged double the price. People who helped you, but then didn't let go (e.g. someone followed me to my destination once. Maybe it was actually meant to help, but I didn't feel good about it.)
Or strangers knocking on the hotel room door.
It happened at the beginning that a person who was apparently a guide drummed on my room door shortly after my arrival to give me their contact details.
Something similar happened in another place. A man knocked on the door of my room and asked for a short talk in the early evening. The hotel apologized many times for this and from then on I felt that my room was continuously shaded when I was present. The reception staff often told me that people had asked for me, but they had sent them away.
When you knock on the call, the hotel staff are also very vehement and, in my opinion, unscrupulous. Even if you scream that the door will be opened in a minute.
In principle, nothing bad. Nobody ever tried to attack or pull on me, nobody ever tried to steal anything from me. Or maybe I was just lucky.
Only once was I very upset and also a little upset. In a relatively good and also expensive hotel, someone tried to open my room door at two o'clock in the morning. The door was rattled and drummed, even my phone rang. When I tried to call the front desk for help, I got the same crazy person on the phone. Of course I didn't open the door, which luckily I had locked with a slider in addition to locking it. The next day I asked to speak to the hotel manager, whom I made a huge riot. I don't know whether it was an employee, a guest or someone outside the hotel. With bad word of mouth, which spread quickly and well everywhere, I didn't save for the next few days. Allegedly, the hotel was later visited by police or army employees who investigated the incident. In the meantime, I hope for the employees that I haven't gone too far. From this point on, I double-checked the lockability of my rooms and asked about the security of the hotel in order to express my wish not to have any visitors during the day or at night.
It was also annoying that some people I gave my phone number to kept calling. Also the police and army posts, to whom I had to give my phone number during permit controls in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. This is normal to a certain extent, as they inquired about their whereabouts in the Chittagong Hill Tracts on a daily basis. However, some also tried their luck privately and called to arrange a private meeting. I only understood this in retrospect after I met an employee of the police who I thought I would have to give him feedback about the permit situation.
With very few exceptions, I ended up not giving anyone my phone number or FB contact. I no longer answered numbers that I hadn't saved.
Otherwise there were only the usual discussions with the rickshaw and CNG drivers who wanted to charge double the fare or wanted to insist on more money than had been agreed.
I only had to negotiate prices at markets, when buying goods such as fabrics or scarves, when buying services (e.g. tailors), about accommodation costs and sometimes about ferry or bus fares. For food and small shops, with one exception, I always got the local price straight away.
WHY TRAVEL TO BANGLADESH
The landscape is admittedly beautiful, but not stunning. As interesting and beautiful as the excursion to the mangrove forest in Sunderban was, the short visit to a small fishing village will remain more impressive in my memory. The people make Bangladesh an extremely special country.
As peaceful and beautiful as the nature in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is, the contact with the people, the tales and stories about the life of the tribal people in this region, seeing the residential houses and the agricultural cultivation was much more fascinating for me.
The beaches are nice. But there are nicer, more shady beaches, beaches where you can sunbathe and bathe in bikini. That would by no means be appropriate here. Clothing is a must. I have never seen anyone bathing in the sense of having fun / swimming / lying in the sun and relaxing.
Much more interesting on the beach were the many (actually beautiful) fishing boats and the people who worked on them. People repairing boats, emptying or adjusting fishing nets, or transporting goods to the ships.
The rivers and the sea are beautiful. But it was much more captivating for me to cross the many rivers in small boats, to continue my way with a ferry / launch or a local transport boat and to watch life on the river in peace. People who washed themselves and / or laundry, children who played and again boats, boats, boats.
Incidentally, when washing women are wrapped in long cloths from their breasts, men from their hips. But they are not by the river for fun either, but for daily personal hygiene - for washing. The river is the public bathroom. I wouldn't show myself naked to everyone every day. You?
Bangladesh is one of the most populous countries per square meter and life is on the streets. Around 165 million people live on a total area of 143 998 km². Around 1137 people live per km². In India there are around 373 people per km² and in Austria around 98 people per km².
There are tons of markets and many people simply sell their products on the side of the road or on the sidewalks. The shops and workplaces invite you to take a look. And so much is being produced. Incidentally, the main export product is jute. I saw nothing of the troubled clothing production. This is apparently only localized in the area around Dhaka. And I didn't get there any more.
Although I had the impression that the people are extremely productive, Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world.
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