17.03.2014 - 18.03.2014
The plane landed in Dhaka at 11.30am and we moved through the chaotic airport full of people ignoring announcements to immigration. The Bangladesh immigration officers seemed concerned that we weren't travelling with mobile phones and hadn't pre-booked a hotel in Dhaka, asking us repeatedly how were they going to get hold of us? For a short time we thought we might be spending the next three weeks on a Thai beach rather than in Bangladesh, but after long debates and radioing through to higher authorities we were finally allowed a visa and entry into the country. We finally made it out of the airport at 1 pm and we climbed into a tuk tuk, peering through the grates on the door and windows to our first glimpses of Dhaka's tatty, dusty streets as the driver weaved in and out of large Tata trucks and peddling rickshaw drivers. The traffic in Dhaka is supposed to be the worst in the world and to be honest the driving also isn't far off.
We took a room at Hotel Ramna based in the Gulistan area of the city, fairly central for the tourist sites. Our first rickshaw ride and we balanced ourselves on the narrow wooden seat with the colourful embroidered hood pulled up around us still feeling a little vulnerable when moving past the big buses and trucks. We arrived at Shadarghat and by the time we had bought our tickets to enter we had created an intrigued crowd keen to know where we were from, what we had seen in Bangladesh and to shake our hands. A young lad nominated himself as our unofficial guide walking with us alongside the row of boats and passenger ferries, a crowd following behind. We moved on through the busy streets asking local advice for how to get to Hindu Street. After a little backwards and forwards we were directed to a street where crowds were forming keeping a safe distance from the colourful people emerging covered head to toe in paints of all colours. We had been told it was a Hindu holiday, and two men who had obviously been celebrating hard greeted us and drunkenly told us of the troubles Hindus can have in a country that is 80% Muslim while covering our faces in paint and insisting on many photographs and tea in their homes. Where it was getting late and we were shattered from the early start we went back to the hotel and spent the next hour scrubbing our faces and clothes to get the paint off!
After breakfast we walked to the BIWIC office to book the Rocket Steamer boat, feeling like we had a new found celebrity status with all the stares and smiles we were attracting, it's amazing to visit a country where tourism is still so new and the interest from the people so genuine and warm. The staff were so helpful and with the date of our first class boat ride secured we hired a rickshaw to find an internet cafe. This proved to be harder than we first thought and it took over an hour, our rickshaw driver patiently asking many locals who seemed so certain when they pointed him in yet another different direction. Once found, we used our time to book tickets for the T20 cricket and accommodation as it seemed internet access might be hard to find!
The next day we checked out of the hotel and headed to the train station only to be adamantly told the next train to Sylhet was fully booked. As we walked away from the queue debating our next moves we were called back by the throng of people and found that two seats were somehow now available. There seems to be a black market for train tickets in Bangladesh and we think this is the only way we managed to scrap some seats for the long journey. The train was comfortable and very sedate compared to the Indian trains, a smattering of people selling chocolate and crisps, and tea was served to passengers in fine china cups and saucers.