Hanging out in Dhaka now outside on a porch overlooking down on the dark restless city listing to the most peaceful soothing relaxing calming sounds of Enigma which are effectively drowning out the incessant noise of the horns below. A cool exotic breeze is flowing and this is as far from “home” as you can get. Got all our tours setup today for the rest of the trip – heading down deep into the Mangrove swamps into the largest Unesco heritage site in Bangladesh – borders southern border with India, not far from Calcutta. Taking several short trips outside of Dhaka the next few days to get feel for rural life.
We have been eating like the kings – rather expensive actually several dollars per meal when we could be eating much cheaper than that even. We ordered Tamarind juice and were shocked when we tried it. It was an Indian curry totally blended as a fruit drink, basically curry in drink form! Tons of spices and black pepper. We added several ounces of tomato sauce and could hardly stomach even a small sip. Agg. The Bangladesh food is so far quite good, much better for me than the Indian food, there are curries but so far are not as strong.
As we waited at the country’s top Sari shop, located next to a polluted lake with tons of slums and housing on its shores, a photo I took here I appropriately titled, “reflecting waters”, we heard screaming, sounds of men yelling. Then we saw tons of men running fast down the street and traffic started piling up. A total mob soon ensued with men yelling and physically fighting with several drivers in the middle of the street. This was quite scary but we were at a distance, most definitely feeling the fear, but feeling relatively safe. This happens every so often in Dhaka when traffic accidents occur. Last month a Canadian officer was in such an accident and he was dragged out and beaten on the street. Needless to say, this was scary to watch in real life.
There is nothing like taking a bicycle rickshaw on the streets of Dhaka at night this time of year. A cool breeze, perfect temperatures and all this chaos around you, which may stop at a round about and you look around and see all these fancily dressed sari wearing women sitting in rickshaws next to you, and you reach out and shake a hand or two and say hi, until the seconds of calmness evaporates at a snap of a finger.
All vehicles are fighting with each other and the rickshaws are among the lowest on the totem pole. Hands held out, however, seem to stop the cars when they want to turn the three of us piled into a colorful rickshaw and off we went. We barely fit with my friend sitting in middle stretched out full length with her head all the way in the back in the canopy of the rickshaw and the rest of us barely clinging to the outside. We got up some good speed and then abruptly stopped when we crashed into the rickshaw driver in front of us. One friend went flying off the side of the rickshaw onto the street, but was not seriously hurt.
Then we tried to enter an extremely chaotic street and a policeman came up to us with his long stick and said no, we are not to go. Our friend argued with the policeman and finally we prevailed; they do not like rickshaws to be in with gas vehicles as they tend to slow down and cause complications in traffic. After a year and a half of living in Dhaka, our friend has some scary rickshaw stories and CNG stories, (CNG similar to Tuk Tuk in Thailand but all run on natural gas as diesel banned here). During his first week in the ‘Desh Dhaka his C&G tried to go through a deep pool of water in the road. Unfortunately there was a big pothole hidden under water and the entire C&G vehicle and our friend tipped over and our friend found himself lying face down in the water, fortunately not injured.
The policeman sometimes beat the rickshaw drivers like animals with their long batons. We have seen them already hit a few of the drivers. The drivers seem very friendly to us – they receive more money from foreigners, which is nothing to us actually, and they are always smiling and talking with each other.
Our friend was on one ride which ended very abruptly a few weeks ago. A policeman stopped the driver from entering a certain street and then started hitting his rickshaw very hard. Then policeman pulled out long knife and started cutting all the tires. The driver interfered with his body and hands and the policeman started cutting the drivers hands. Our friend then jumped out and kicked the policeman and started hitting him and then the policeman ran away. Traffic is very lawless here and I am sure a bunch of other things are as well based on what we’ve seen and heard. It’s absolutely brutal.
We are getting some fascinating videos with the highlights being our face to face interviews with the rickshaw drivers. The congestion is unbelievable, totally coming to standstill at round abouts where there are no lights and if there are stoplights drivers totally ignore them. The government builds foot bridges over busy intersections but these are often not used. Work week is Sunday through Thursday. Friday is the big holiday. What took us 15 minutes on Friday to drive, typically takes 2.5 to 3 hours to drive home after work. My goodness.
The poverty here is abject and we haven’t even been to the rural Desh yet. Perspective hits from all directions when we spend money here. Something like the cost of my camera would take 60% of the country 3.5 to 4 years to earn enough. For budget travelers this is certainly one of the cheapest countries in the world.
I will leave you with quote we found on one of the buildings, which seems in-congruent in a country such as this:
“Always remember money is not everything; but make sure that you have made a lot of it before talking such nonsense.”