Bananas and dried fish at Rangpur

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I spend another day driving north through the biliard table that is rural Bangladesh. For 400 km the view from the bus has remained amazingly constant. Gloriously lush, green paddy fields of rice stretch away. It is easy to forget that this green carpet grows in the shallow water that lies across this flatness. The only clues are the gushing pipes of the irrigation systes and the regular sighting of kingfishers balanced on poles seeking their next meal from the watery lines. In some areas the crop changes and the landscape becomes more patchwork but still neat & tidily organised, even manicured. Wheat stands at an even height in tight rectangles, bananas grow in compact rows, maize stands to attention20150321022237_IMG_0165 20150321035937_IMG_0203 20150321050952_IMG_0246

like regiments and even the drying tobacco is hung like granny’s tea towels in neat lines for kilometres on either side of the road.

So how does this place work? Basically it is all based on manpower. In rural areas everything, and I mean everything, is done by hand. Any ploughing, planting or weeding or harvesting or sacking or loading is all done by manual labour. When transportation is required, to take crops, goods, livestock to and from market, then vehicles are used – hugely overpacked lorries, tops of buses, rickshaws some batery powered, some larger motorised ones like mini toy town trucks and many that still require a man to exert huge energy to get those pedals moving under such weights, all with flat beds of about a metre or two square that carry mountains of rice straw and bulging sacks of rice and 20m lengths of bamboo and 3 score and 10 bricks.

The day starts & ends at a food market. Both are equally fascinating.20150321021007_IMG_0122 20150321021450_IMG_0146 20150321021512_IMG_0150 20150321021720_IMG_0156

I arrive in a group and walk down the drag. We take & share photos of the locals. The locals take & share photos of us whitey tourists. Lots of smiles & laughter & posing. A great time is had by all.

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I get the opportunity to walk through a village and to chat with the locals. The ladies drying out the rice show off their team work and the local boys test out their knots.

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I do visit a site although, as always, it is the local people that steal the show. I’ll show it to you anyway. Kantanagar temple, a Hindu, temple, is built of brick & terracotta and every inch is beautifully embellished with exquisite plaques depicting flora & fauna & social & religious themes.

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And who is this having his lunch?

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Potatoes and picnics outside Bogra

I think I have the traffic situation sorted. The basic idea is to get from A to B in the most hazardous way possible. Rural roads have line markings, which are there to be ignored. So all vehicles, rickshaws, lorries buses, motor bikes, Tuc tucs, the occasional car, charge down the road, each comes up to the vehicle in front, belts hell out of the horn & pulls out, passes & barges in to avoid oncoming traffic. Buses basically travel down the middle, horns constantly blaring to win the ongoing game of chicken with the one coming straight at you.

In towns there are no road markings or trafficlights. So all these vehicles jam up on their road as they shuffle up to the many crossroads & then dodgem bang their way through the accumulating vehicles. A permant hold on the horn seems to help. How there are no knocks I have no idea.

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Oh, by the way you pay more for a seat on top as is only place with air con!! Strictly illegal.

So, I spend a day out in the countryside. I am getting used to the emerald green landscape. The only blot are the regular brick kilns, each with their own tall chimney belching out wood smoke. Besides the carpet of rice paddies, wheat, garlic, maize, sugar cane & jute add an extra rectangular shade to the tapestry.

Then we come across the potato market. Farmers in syndicates sell their crop at the side of the road. The merchant buys them up, bags them, sends them off to wholesalers in the towns. You have never seen so many potatoes in your life. And in 4 hours they are bought & bagged & off and the 400 metres is deserted.

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I suppose if you visit new countries you should visit places of interest

This I did but the only images & impressions I keep with me are the smiles & laughter & welcome of the local people. What a wonderfully friendly place this is.

First was a visit to Parharpur monastery complex which coincided with a number of school educational visits.

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The next place was the ancient city of Mahastangarh. Its shaded groves within the ruined battlements were the site for family picnics – all welcome!!

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Up country into rural Bangladesh

 

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An early start to miss the fanatic mania of Dhaka’s roads takes me past the parliament building & parks. Then it is out past the factories & cement works and into the flat hinterland of the Bangladeshi delta.

Bangladesh has four huge river systems flowing through it. Every year during the wet season these rivers flood and bring down from the north, India & Nepal & the Himalayas, huge quanties of rich silt and deposits it all over the flat expanses of the huge Bangladeshi floodplain. Enough rice is grown to feed the 120 million population & export some to neighbouring countries.

For 250 miles I drive north. Rice paddy fields stretch to the flat horizon on either side of the road in an emerald green patchwork of irregular shaped fields. Wheat, garlic, maize show up as rectangular interruptions to the billard table of rice. Minute blobs of colour show where farmers tend their parch. Even though it is the dry season water lies everywhere – rivers & tributaries criss cross the country side, lakes & ponds & puddles lie still as the water stagnates & waits to be refreshed by the rains. Busy, noisy roads connect equally busy villages & towns filled with people & workshops & vehicles & animals.

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Puthia is a small town with a palace & a temple located around dark green & rather murky ornamental lakes.

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Having followed the progress of Bangladesh in their World Cup game against India at every stop on route. Usually this is a small wooden shack with a handful of locals watching an ancient kitchen sized TV through an analogue snowstorm, staying for enough time to drink a cup of chain at each stop. Lots of encouraging noises & serious debate in sign language. Sadly, it is in a shack next dor to the hindu temple in Puthia that we learn that their task is too great & they have lost. Oh well, we’ll be in India for their games in the semis.

 

Arriving in Dhaka, the heaving capital of Bangladesh

Nothing can prepare you for Dhaka. It is the 7th largest city in the world and the fastest growing one. Thousands arrive from the country every day to find work & wealth. The streets are clogged with battered buses held together with fibre glass, with smashed headlights, cracked windscreens & all weather air con through the empty windows. Human sardines peer out of their mobile cans, worry sketched on their faces, praying that their interminable journey will eventually end. Caged ..?tuk tuks, yes with metal grills on either side, follow on amongst their bigger brothers. Then the cars & lorries manoeuvre into the gaps. Mix in with this the thousands of rickshaws & their wirey riders & you get the picture. Horns blare constantly as these vehicles snag their way from jam to jam. Held up stationary for 10 minutes, a quick dash for all of 2 metres to be repeated time after time after time. Any journey takes hours. Yet the air quality is good as all engines are run on natural gas so no exhaust & no pollution!!

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A bit of extra info about the rickshaw companies. There are 400,000 rickshaws in Dhaka. One guy may well own 100 or so rickshaws. Other guys will rent one out for 24 hours at a cost of 150 taka, about £1.50. The longest you can ride is an eight shift so 3 guys will each do one of these. The average each will make is 400 taka, about £4.00 a day – £2.50 profit per day. Here are some of the main men who fight the big boys through the streets.

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Dhaka holds some fascinating sights in amongst the smash & grab of its streets. The locals stand & gaze at us. All fascinated by a group of whiteys and SO friendly – waves & smiles, jokes bout cricket & laughter. Wonderful. They want to take my picture!!

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