মঙ্গলবার, ১৩ অক্টোবর, ২০১৫

Dhaka--Takin' it to the Streets

After a nice long rest, availed myself of the excellent free buffet breakfast in the 19th floor restaurant.  Some Trip Advisor reviews have bemoaned the lack of European or American breakfasts, but I quite liked the Bangla breakfast which included Paratha (unleavened bread cooking in layers), daal, goat shanks, papaya and pineapple juices, coffee (instant!), mixed veggies, pancakes, toast and a few desserts, one of which was a carrot pudding that tasted much like rice pudding.  I ate a lot of the excellent daal.
Since it wasn't far from the hotel, I decided to visit the War Liberation Museum first.  After reluctantly forking over the 7 cent admission fee, I was able to learn about the ins and outs of the liberation war of 1971, the war from which East Pakistan became Bangladesh.  The atrocities committed against the Bangla people by the Pakistanis are well-documented, along with the heroic actions of the Bangla freedom fighters which included students, women and some military defectors.  One section detailed worldwide reaction to the war of liberation, including photos of the Bangladesh concert and the US reaction (Nixon backed the Pakis, but there was a lot of Democratic resistance to Nixon's support as well as various US student groups in favor of Bangla independence.  Fucking Nixon lives on, even in the hinterlands of the 3rd World).  I'll digress a bit here and say that the Banglas are big fans of the US.  Several people thanked me for the US aid as well as the movements to ensure safe working conditions for garment workers and their knowledge of US politics is quite good.
Next stop was a walk through old Dhaka which is far and away the most interesting part of the city.  Being a white guy who stands 6" taller than most locals, I became the subject of a lot of staring and questioning.  This was a good opportunity to exchange dialogue with English speaking folk, take some photos (Banglas love having their photos taken), shake hands and generally show a culture with quite an inferiority complex that they're a lovely people worthy of respect and admiration.
Cycle Rickshaw Driver
 As previously mentioned, trades tend to gather in groups and I could have spent hours watching the sometimes rudimentary ways people go about fabricating goods.  Though 16 million people somehow fit into an area the size of Manhattan (1.6 million people), there's a certain calmness in an area that might drive some foreigners crazy with traffic, huge crowds on the sidewalks, crossing streets, etc.
Yep, It Really IS This Crowded
 At one point I tripped over some barbed wire and went flying into the street, I got hit by a car (just barely) and just about walked into an open manhole.  You'd better be looking in at least 4 directions when you walk around here, but damn, it's just so fascinating to see things somehow come together in one of the most chaotic places in the world.
Then it was down to Sadergat, which is the riverbank where everything from huge ferries to rowboats take off.  I opted for a quick rowboat ride across the river and back after haggling with the rowers; one guy wanted 100 taka, but I eventually paid 5 taka (the locals pay 2). Like most SE Asian nations, everything here is haggled upon.  I'm trying to keep perspective and realize that 10 taka is only 12 cents and that 10 taka means a lot more to the guy cycling you around town than it does to most travelers.  While one doesn't want to get taken advantage of, one also doesn't need to fight like a Bangla for every taka.  That said, the rickshaw drivers will try to pull fast ones;  a ride yesterday that was agreed upon at 50 taka wound up with the driver demanding 500 taka (which is close to two days pay for some of these guys, even though the ride took only 30 minutes).  I followed proper etiquette and placed the 50 on the driver's seat and just walked away.  Today was quite a bit more difficult as three drivers agreed to take me places and none had a clue where they were going.  In one case I gave an old guy an extra 20 (25 cents) because he got me to my destination, in another I just got miffed and told the guy to stop and paid the agreed fare of 40 cents and walked the rest of the way.  The final guy got bad directions from one of his fellow drivers and wound up pedaling twice as far as he needed to.  He kept apologizing and when I patted him on the back I realized the guy was practically skeletal.  In his case, his 35 taka fare became 100 and I probably bought a little good karma.

Eating has been good.  Managed to make it to Haji Biriana for some mutton biriani.  Probably the most famous restaurant in town.  You get a plate of cumin rice with maybe 4 ounces of mutton and some hot green chile to munch on.   Total tab was 130 taka (about $1.75) for a filling meal.  You eat with your hands, though they will offer a spoon.  Also ate at a kebab house tonight and for less than $3 received a tasty spread that included mustard stuffed beef kabobs, two salads, rice and a large cold bottle of water.
$3 Buys a Lot of Food and Drink

Two days in Dhaka is quite enough.  There's limited sightseeing activity, beyond simply observing the mass of humanity.  I did make it to the National Museum, the Pink Palace, an old fort, Curzon Hall on the Dhaka University campus, and a shopping district specializing in clothing (most of it was junk and cut for much smaller people than I---too bad because I really wanted a t-shirt that had James Dean in a Laker jersey with Magic Johnson's number on it.  It just said "Angeles" instead of "Los Angeles".   One of the highlights was getting to play some cricket with a youth group.  I batted a bit and also bowled for the first time every.  Hitting isn't as easy as it might look.
My Cricket Buddies

I Liked This Guy's Beard
And Since I Needed a Haircut Anyways......

 Tomorrow I take a plane to Jessore, the gateway city for the Sundarbans National Park, home of most of the few surviving Bengal Tigers in the world.  Sorry about this annoying color; can't seem to get rid of it in this post.

  Look for a uniformed guard near the pay station for visas on arrival.  You'll see this pay point a few minutes after dis-embarking.  He expedited things and while he didn't ask for a tip, I gave him a dollar for all his help walking me back and forth between the immigration authorities and the pay window.  The only form you need to \fill out will be given to you on the plane.  Once you have the stamp, head to the far left Visa on Arrival line.  When I was there it was much shorter than any other line.  Just opposite the line is the Bangalink phone center and you can buy 1GB of data and a goodly amount of phone time for around $10; the young guys there know what they're doing and will have you up and running in no time.  They do ask for a passport photo, so bring extras.  Hotels exist in all price ranges.  I opted for the business class Hotel 71 ($29 single with huge buffet breakfast) which is about a 2 mile walk to the river (or roughly a 50 taka cycle ride).  I wish it were quieter here, but not sure you'll find any quiet hotels in this town unless you head to the distant suburbs or perhaps find a hotel down a narrow alleyway.  Most restaurants do not have English menus (though there are a few listed in the Lonely Planet).  Please feel free to subscribe to this blog and ask any questions you wish.

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