As a result of the inclement weather, we arrived from the Sundarbans tour a few hours early and I decided to catch a bus to Barisal rather than endure any further time in Mongla. Was fortunate to find a seat after transferring at the T junction near Bagerhat and made it to Barisal in about four hours, slowed by a driving rain and a ferry crossing. Barisal is sorely lacking in good, mid-range accommodation and I took an $8 room in what is supposedly the best hotel in town, the Athena International. For my $8, I got a very clean room that smelled of cat piss. Exhausted as I was, it didn't really matter and a big plus was that the room was within walking distance of the launch ghat, where I caught the 6AM ferry for Moju Chowdary Hat, where I was able to catch a bus to Chittagong, the second largest city in BD, with a population of close to 3,000,000. The exhausting trip took almost five hours on the ferry and another 5 hours on the most terrifying bus ride of my life. The Dhaka-Chittagong highway is known as the most dangerous in BD. Despite the huge volume of truck and bus traffic, it's a narrow two lane road and our driver passed on blind curves, ran CNGs and cycle rickshaws onto the shoulder and beyond, and drove on dirt sections of the highway under construction (it's slowly being widened to four lanes). I was in the front seat and after awhile, couldn't help but laugh at how crazily this guy was driving (maybe it's the valium I've been taking for sleep). Arrived at the excellent Asian SR hotel and while it's the priciest hotel of the trip ($31/night), I've got a high floor room with little street noise, a real plus in a city of this size. Had the country's standard meal of mutton biryani (and that mutton can be old) and went to bed early.
|Sonny Bono Did NOT Produce This Film|
After arriving exhausted, I fully expected to hate what is considered the most polluted city in the country. In fact, Chittagong turned out to be a pleasant surprise, with lots of interesting food and clothing markets. The main reason to stop here was to pick up the mandatory Chittagong Hill Tracts permit for trekking and it turned out to be an almost pain free experience, thanks to a kind gentleman who led me through the rabbit's warren of offices at the old British High Court Building. Prior to encountering this kind man, I got into a shouting match with an attorney who accused me of blocking his way while I was trying to get directions from a couple of other barristers. I congratulated him on being the least polite Bengali I had met on the trip and, being a lawyer, he refused me the last word and we both continued shouting at one another as he ascended the stairs and I left the building. After leaving the building with my permit, I picked up a Bengali flag and since I lost my trusty sun hat while being rushed off the bus on the way to Barisal, I found this gem of a hat.
|Not Sure What Sport They Play, But I'll Bet It's Contested In Back Alleys|
For the permit process, head to the old British High Court Building just off Station Road. Ignore the newer buildings and look for the old brick portico. From there head to the extreme left hand side of the building and go up one flight of stairs where you'll see an incorrectly spelled English sign which reads: Division Office To (instead of two). Your contact will be Mr Sharif, phone number 017770330066. This is a different place than is listed in the most current Lonely Planet (2012). At this time, the application process has been greatly simplified. While it was once necessary to account for practically every minute of your stay and the hotels you would be using (a Scot friend of mine was actually hauled out of a hotel by the police and made to stay at the hotel he listed on the application). At this time, just be prepared to list the places you intend to visit and remember that the local police have the authority to dis-allow visits to places the district commissioner has approved. I got approval for Mowdok Taung and, if allowed, I would be only the 3rd foreigner to hike to the top. Note that I wasn't forced to add a lot of the info regarding arrival and departure dates.