Benapole, Jessore, Khulna & Dhaka Wed 21 April to Wed 19 May 2010
Crossing through the border from the Indian side of Haridas Pur to Benapole in Bangladesh went smoothly. We were surprised that the Bangladesh side seemed in better shape than its Indian counterpart with newer cleaner buildings and even air conditioning - a good idea in the heat!
The inspection was fairly cursory -they didn't look too hard - just checked our engine number. One of the officials asked Andrew for "a gift" but we said we had no money on us and had to go to the ATM. This lead to a discussion as to what this was and it was explained that foreigners use plastic money! He didn't press it, so not too bad on the bribery front!
So - off we drove into Bangladesh and more particularly to the town of Jessore just 30km from the border. We had heard that Bangladesh driving was very very crazy so, particularly as we were very tired after the rush across Indian we decided not to drive far for the first night. The roads were surprisingly good - wide and fairly good condition - but boy the driving was crazy..in driving just 30km we saw 2 pretty bad accidents - a collision between 2 trucks, and one between a tractor and a cyclist …not nice! We had also read (which is good advice in India too) never to stop for a traffic accident as those involved are often dragged from their vehicles and beaten by angry onlookers and this has allegedly happened to people who came along later and just got caught up in it all. No worries for us though - the drive was uneventful and we pulled up in Jessore in plenty of time to sort out somewhere to park.
On the advice of the LP we found Banchte Shekte just outside town. This was a very special place to stay - an NGO the name literally translates as "learn to survive" and it was set up by a local lady Angela Gomez and is a training centre combined with a guesthouse. The cost of staying here goes directly to funding their various projects. We went and met the people at the centre and they said we were welcome to camp there but due to the intense humidity and heat and as we were both feeling a bit under the weather we took a room for a couple of days - a bargain at just 300 BDT (or Bangladeshi taka) which equates to approx $4.60 Aus.
The guest house has a lovely setting - with a fish pond in the middle surrounded by trees and birds and with a model farm from which people are taught farming methods. Other projects in the complex which we had the chance to visit include a free physiotherapy clinic for disabled children and a computer centre at which local young people get IT training. We met Angela and she was a fascinating lady who deservedly won the Asia Nobel Peace Prize for her work, during which she faced death threats from detractors for doing work to improve the lot of women and children with health and education centres. Many of the workers in the guest house who we got to know had had horrific experiences re: domestic violence and trafficking and Banchte Shekte give them the training and chance to build a new life. Some of Angela's stories re: child trafficking - which is apparently still a big problem here - were very harrowing so we were very pleased to support such a great organization whilst having a nice relax for our first few days here. Please see their site www.banchteshekta.org to find out more about the great work of this organization.
There wasn't really much in the way of tourist attractions in Jessore but it was a pleasant enough little town and we spent the time getting some little jobs done (new Bangladesh phone numbers organized, website for India completed) and just chilling out. Bangladesh is similar to India but definitely different with its own "feel' We were surprised at how much cleaner it is here - the streets don't have piles of rubbish and the little road side cafes are immaculate. Pretty impressive. Also we're in a Muslim not a Hindu country now so there aren't cows wandering the streets everywhere- those you do see are safely off the road and actually look much healthier and better kept then their sacred neighbours!
The people of Bangladesh are extremely curious. In addition to this fact there are a lot of them - over 150 million making Bangladesh one of the world's most populated countries having 1,090 people per sq km. These 2 facts combine to ensure we are never lonely! Western concepts like personal space have no sway here and staring is not considered rude - so often we have a crowd of gawkers watching our every move which takes a bit of getting used to! With those who have a bit of English it's a lot easier but no less intense …..questions questions …… - what is your name? what country are you from ….what is your job?…how much do you earn ? .. are you married? do you have children? Actually this later one is a bit of a show stopper. We always say we are married as it just makes life easier - and when we say we don't have children people are HORRIFED. Why??? Sometimes getting a bit irritated by what would seem to be to us to be an intrusive question - I say "because I have medical problems" thinking this will shut them up. Nope. Then we get "what sort of problems?" and they want to drag me off to their doctor!! Sometimes now I just say we have 2 grown up kids at home. This tends to satisfy I just have to make sure I to tell Andrew so he doesn't let the cat out of the bag later on! The Bangladesh people are very interested in education - and we are often asked what our qualifications are , and then told theirs and their kids. You can tell some of them are very unused to foreigners as once or twice we were asked quite seriously if we were Japanese!! Similar we have a laundry bag we bought in India with a picture of one of the Hindu gods on it and when carrying it I was asked if I was Hindu. You can't convert to Hinduism so this wasn't really possible! It is also a somewhat unnerving experience to be filmed with a mobile phone whilst eating your lunch! All in all the interest is friendly and the only way to cope is to embrace it and have a chat back - though it tends to slow progress!!
After a couple of day we left Jessore and our friends at Banchte Shekta and drove through the chaotic rickshaw jams on to the town of Khulna. This pleasant little town set on the river Bhairab is the starting point to visiting the nearby Sundarbans National Park. This park is a somewhat forbidding place being home to the largest mangrove swamp in the world and to the highest density of wild tigers (the mighty Bengal tiger) in the world. Actually we had somewhat mixed feeling about this when we heard the statistic that on average 120 people -one every 3 days - die at the paws of these magnificent creatures. Indeed Angel Gomez's various help groups and charities had one particular group which focused on tiger widows and orphans. We really want to see then - but not too close! We had come down here to try and organize a tour into the jungle the only way in but due to the weather most of the tours were finished for the season - it being way too hot for tiger spotting. We had planned to head down and have a go at finding a boat but around this time Andrew didn't feel too good having some stomach pains so we decided to hang a couple of days in Khulna and see how he felt.
We couldn't find a good camp spot - none of the hotels had anything suitable - so we booked into a hotel again. The currency here is Bangladesh Taka BDT one $Aus is about 65 BDT. So far prices seem cheaper than Indian- our hotel room at the Hotel Jalico had a TV a private bathroom and was pretty comfortable and came in at 650 BDT - 10 Aussie dollars so we treated ourselves. For the first time on the trip we admit defeat whilst this intense heat goes on it's too hot for sleeping in the car. It'd be different if we had a nice shady area - but we haven't! On the subject of costs diesel here is 42 taka a litre - about 65 cents Aus cf 34 rupees or 80 cents in India. Both a damn sight cheaper than Australia and the UK!!!
Khulna itself was a pleasant enough city with a bustling old area on the river front. We overlooked a Hindu temple from our hotel room and one evening we heard music and we watched a range of singers and musicians playing which was lovely. Bangladesh is predominantly Muslim 83% and there are 16% Hindus. I had read Lajja (Shame) written in 1993 by Taslima Nasrin a very disturbing book which deals with the massacre of the Hindus following the 1992 destruction of the Babri Mosque in India by Hindu fundamentalists. The book has made her into a Bangladeshi Salman Rushdie as death threats were issued against her and she was forced to flee and now lives in exile. Thankfully we couldn't see signs of this tension here, there were Muslims listening to the Hindu ceremony and everyone seem to get on well.
There is far less English spoken here than in India - which can lead to confusion - for example we had some sewing repairs to do. Usually you wander into a market and find a man with a sewing machine but we couldn't find one. We asked and people tried to help but we ended up first at a shop selling sewing machines and then one repairing them!! Eventually someone took us through a gateway and up several flights of stairs. There we emerged on a roof top and into a dimly lit room where 15 or so young men were sewing away. We caused a great deal of excitement and they all wanted a picture before the overseer chased them back to work! We established that they worked from 9am to 10pm -there were mattresses at the back where they had a sleep in the middle of the day. It looked a hard life - not sure what they earn but it wouldn't be a lot. They put in a zip for us and sewed some buttons on and mended some ripped clothes -we asked how much and they wouldn't say "as you think" so we gave 200 BDT which is $3 Aus and it was obviously better than the norm as they were thrilled.
Near to Khulna is an area of huge interest the Unesco protected Bagerhat. Amongst the beautiful green paddy fields and scenes of rural life are many ancient mosques and mausoleums - including the Shait Gunbad Mosque the largest and oldest mosque in the country which appears on the 50 BDT note. The area around was very lovely and there was a rural market selling fish rice and vegetables in full swing. So far begging hasn't been as prevalent as in India (maybe as less tourists) but those beggars that do exist tend to hang around Mosques as it is a big teaching of Islam that it is the religious duty of the rich to support the poor. We bought rice for some very hard cases - old and disabled people. It is a hard one we try not to encourage begging but with little in the way of welfare here you have to show some compassion.
The reason there are so many buildings in this area is largely due to one man. Khan Jahan Ali is one of the country's most revered figures. A Sufi or Muslim saint he originally came from Turkey settling here and founding the town in the mid 15th century. His name now equates with this pre-Mughal style of architecture in Bangladesh. The Mosque which was built in 1459 the same year he died is very impressive - topped with 77 domes and interesting tiling and brickwork. We also visited his nearby tomb which was near a pond which allegedly has a few crocodiles lurking - though it's still a sacred place in which to bathe! Ladies weren't allowed in the tomb area but Andrew took a picture for me.
So as mentioned the plan had been to go tiger spotting - but around this time Andrew was really not feeling well. Everything we read said that the medical treatment wasn't great here. To get some advice we rang the Australian embassy and they recommended we go to the Apollo Hospital an American hospital in Dhaka. After Andrew being so sick that time in Laos the last thing we wanted was him getting ill away from good medical help. So - we put the tigers on hold - hopefully we'll fit a trip to Sundarabans in on the way back.
In the meantime we drove the 280km north to the capital city of Dhaka. The drive was fairly uneventful - driving still a bit crazy in parts but the roads actually pretty good, in this area anyway. We did have a little bit of excitement though. You have to cross by car ferry across the Padma River from Daulatdia (Goalundo Ghat) to Aricha Ghat. We pulled up and got our ticket but no one could tell us where to go- there was one ferry there but they said "VIP...VIP only…" We drove up to see what the story was as we could see no other ferries. We got to the loading area but nothing seemed to be happening. Suddenly we heard sirens and a convoy of 4 cars arrived flanked by police. The police jumped on the ferry and had a look around and then they all loaded on. There were various men in suits and one of them spotted us and sent a security guard to speak to us - we were then waved on "please you are our guests" and off we set. It was only half way across when we got talking to one of the party that we realized we were on the deck with Sheikh Hasina - the Bangladeshi Prime Minister! She never got out of her car - the black one towards the back of the ferry in our picture- but it was a bit exciting knowing she was there!! The river was incredibly wide in parts - it felt like being at the centre of an inland ocean.
We hit the incredible traffic of Dhaka with some trepidation...a crazy mass of cycle rickshaws tuk tuks (called baby taxis here) and crazily overloaded vehicles. Actually you don't see the bullock carts in the city as you do in India. In fact due to the banning of diesel cabs and the increase of CNG fueled cabs the air quality here is way better than expected - far better than say Delhi , Kathmandu or (the worst of the worst) Jakarta. Indeed Bangladesh is very progressive in this area- it was the first country to ban plastic bags - and puts a lot of more developed countries to shame in terms of environmental awareness.
We lucked out as we went past an ambulance and asked the driver the way to Apollo Hospital - he was going very near there and so we followed him. Mind you this was a bit hair raising as we had to keep up with him and he weaved through the heavy traffic like a madman. We made it in one piece and checked into the Apollo - they wanted to run various tests on Andrew to get to the root of the problem so we were checked in. The Apollo was very nice - perhaps not quite up there with the Bumingrad in Bangkok but a close second. So we checked into our room - I had a little sofa bed too - and Andrew got kitted out with his snazzy pink pajamas! To cut a long story short we were there for 3 days whilst Andrew had tests and treatment. It was found he had a stomach infection. The treatment he received was really good and we were very well looked after - we'd definitely recommend Apollo if you're unfortunate enough to fall sick in Bangladesh.
After Andrew's release we went looking to find somewhere to stay in Dhaka. Again sadly we didn't think camping here was a very real option. The main foreigner's enclave here is the district of Gulshan - where all the embassies are located as well as most of the posh hotels and restaurants. We were keen to stay here mainly because the embassies are here and as the traffic is so bad it takes all day to get across town. We went to a couple of places which were a bit pricey for us - until one of the managers suggested a friend who had a room to let - and that's where we've been to date. We have one room in an apartment block with a/c and TV for approx $12 Aus a night which seems pretty good and we've been there for the last week.
We then looked into getting our next Indian visa - which was when we had a bit of bad news. As mentioned before getting visas into India is becoming increasingly tricky due to paranoia generated by the terrorist situation. We know now it is virtually impossible to get a new Indian visa without a 2 month break - so we had accepted spending 2 months in Bangladesh. Actually now we're here we realize there is a lot to see and with the delay caused by time in hospital we were quite happy with this. What shook us up was a statement on the Indian High Commission's website for Bangladesh saying that usually they do not grant visas to foreign nationals here unless they are employed in Bangladesh, and that you have to return to your home country (we don't really have one!) Obviously this would be a terrible blow for us. We'd have to pay for 2 flights to Australia and back and a visa back into Bangladesh and a visa to India - which we soooo can't afford. We got in touch with the Australian embassy to ask them to give us a letter of support. We're aware that there's not a lot they can do but we have heard of other travellers in similar situations who were assisted by a letter from their embassy. They didn't answer their phones for a few days (there was a problem with them apparently ) so we were forced to turn up there which we did on Thursday - just missing the weekend (which is Friday Saturday here). Not a bad letter - it doesn't say a lot - but sort of outlines their support for what we're doing. Fingers crossed it works! We also have to go to the Passport and Immigration office to get our initial 30 day visa for Bangladesh extended by one month. We hear rumours that this office is an icon of slowness and inefficiency so fingers crossed again!
Meanwhile in the midst of all this we have managed to see some of the sights of Dhaka. We have been getting around by both tuk tuk and cycle rickshaw - partly to give Andrew a break from driving and partly due to parking problems - but to be honest we might be better off driving! The driving is pretty crazy (as mentioned repeatedly!) and in addition it is very hard to make yourself understood. Little English is spoken and often we ask for a destination the guy drives/pedals of all enthusiasm and we eventually realize he has no idea where he's going!! We whip out the map but it often doesn't help. The good side is English speakers always come to our aid before we ask and we muddle through but it is often very frustrating. Furthermore we always have a fight on for the fee- they charge tenfold what locals pay and even when we negotiate a fee in advance we have a row on at our destination as they then want more so it is never easy. Actually we have had one or 2 who are fine and we now ring them directly which makes life easier. There aren't many foreigners here and we are seen as being very rich - far from true sadly!
Anyway - we thought we should get our heads around Bangladeshi's short history as a country so our first stop was the Liberation Museum. This was a fascinating- if a bit disturbing - insight. Neither of us knew much of the history of this area and were shocked by what we found. During partitan in 1947 what is now Bangladesh became East Pakistan - purely on the basis of religion the 2 areas had little else in common. Tensions built up -particularly due to the fact West Pakistan controlled the finances to their own advantage. Matters came to a head over language when West Pakistan sought to ban the use of the national language Bangla in East Pakistan replacing it with Urdu and even ban the Bengali poet Tagore from being played. This lead to a rebellion and ultimately a war between East and West Pakistan between March and December 1971. With the help of Indian and Japanese forces the east won and the land of Bangla speakers (Bangladesh) was officially formed in December 1971. What happened just before was shocking - an estimated 3 million people died, 200,000 women were raped and 10 million people displaced. The museum detailed this in a display which was somewhat shocking in parts and very disturbing. You couldn't take pictures inside but we took one of the flame which burnt to honour the war heroes outside- indeed monuments to these heroes exist in every town. It was very interesting. And we'd definitely recommend a visit early on in a stay here as it does aid understanding of Bangladesh's history. The museum is in the process of moving to a new building please see their site for details www.liberationwarmuseum.org We also saw the National Museum which was interesting (particularly about the area's strong past links with Buddhism which we weren't aware of) and had a display which overlapped somewhat in parts with that of the liberation museum. Again no photographs.
We took a cycle rickshaw down to the chaos of old Dhaka and particularly the Buriganga River which flows through the centre of Dhaka and is of great importance to both the city and the nation. We took a wander along the busy waterfront area thronging with fruit stalls and millions of warehouses with people loading and unloading goods. We then stopped at busy Sadarghat boat terminal to get a boat.
It was interesting watching both those hard at work and those having a break. The men were either sleeping or playing cards, and the kids who work unloading the boats and running errands were playing board games or taking turns jumping into the -filthy- water. We negotiated a rate (again we had to bargain hard) and took an hour up the river in a little wooden row boat.
Everywhere you look there is frenetic activity - kids playing, men working repairing or stacking boats and big ferries ploughing up and down and almost running little boats like ours into the bank. It's no safer than on the roads!!! Everyone seemed pleased to see us.
Old Dhaka is very atmospheric. Impossible to drive here the best way around is by cycle rickshaw. These are incredibly brightly decorated here - and taking a ride in one down the wildly twisting streets is an exhilarating experience.
We actually visited the area - Bangsal or Bicycle Road where this rickshaw art is carried out but sadly we got there on Friday afternoon (the holy day for Muslims) and everything was shut! There are allegedly over 600,000 rickshaws in Dhaka and believe me it feels like more!
Whilst in our old city tour we took in the Sitara or Star Mosque which dates from the early 18th century. It has a striking mosaic tile decoration much of which has been radically altered from the original Mughal design. A great deal of the redecoration was done just 50 years ago with English and Japanese tiles including one depicting Mount Fuji. It's a striking building which appears on the 20 taka note.
We then went just down the road to see the Armenian Church. Founded in 1781 the church was/is the centre of a small Armenian community that settled here in the late 17th century. Much plundered and damaged during the 1971 war, it remains an interesting building still lovingly tended by the caretaker. It is generally kept locked but you can ring the bell to get a private tour! Apparently the Archbishop of the Armenian Church in Australia (we didn't know there was one!) visits once a year. There were various graves - some very ornate - but our favourite was the skull and crossbones one - apparently that of an Armenian Pirate King!
The Lalbagh Fort is another atmospheric sight in the old city. It was built in 1677 by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and handed down to Shaista Khan for completion. It was never actually completed due to the death of Khan's daughter (she is buried here) which seemed a very bad omen. However a few buildings were finished and the complex - very Mughal with a laid out garden and a few tombs/mosques is quite impressive. There is also a small museum containing some very good Mughal paintings as well as fine examples of calligraphy- mainly ancient copies of the Quran. The Mosque in the complex Quilla Mosque appears on the 20 taka note.
All in all we enjoyed Dhaka- the old city contrasted with the newer part which was pretty affluent with a lot of building going on. The only problem was walking around which, even in posh Banani where we stay is a bit of an obstacle course as everywhere there are gaping open drains which make walking around particularly at night very dicey.
As movie stars now (!!!) we were interested to note that Dhaka has a movie scene (Dallywood) which whilst not being quite up to Bollywood's standard turns out a fair few movies and the brilliant colourful posters advertising up coming attractions were everywhere. It also has an excellent pirated DVD scene and we stocked up on plenty of new movies at 60 taka (just under 1 Aus $) a go …Bargain!
We have been pretty impressed with the restaurants in Dhaka. The cleanliness of the eating places is pretty good. There are some very high end places (we couldn't afford those) but quite a good variety of cheaper places too., Compared to India there is a lot more meat here - including beef as it's not sacred in this Muslim country though there's no alcohol. It isn't actually banned and is allegedly available in the top end place - but you never see it for sale. Some places are BYO for Westerners - though they often have a notice saying consumption of alcohol is illegal for Bangladeshi citizens. It's probably as we are staying in an affluent sort of area but we've noticed how liberal it is here compared with India. Lots of younger girls seem to smoke and hang out in mixed groups - we didn't see this much in India - but as I say it's probably just the trendy yuppy scene here. Bangladesh also seems very go ahead compared to India in having many WIFI facilities available. In India you have Cyber cafes - but it's rare to find a café style place where you can use your own laptop for free whilst eating /drinking. There are heaps of these places here - in Gulshan anyway. We also got to New Market a large market selling anything and everything and I arranged to get a couple of cotton salwar kameez (the local outfit of a long tunic over baggy pants) made as well as stocking up on music and DVDs (see above.)
So - all was well until a few days ago when we had a bit of a problem. As mentioned Gulshan is an up market area and in a poor country this can bring problems with it - there are quite a few street kids and beggars here - though less than say Delhi. My big problem came on Tuesday night. We were walking home after dinner at about 8.30 pm and Andrew was a few feet ahead of me. I saw a car coming close towards me but didn't realize what was happening until the guy in the back seat snatched my bag and accelerated dragging me down the road for 3 metres backwards I was pretty shaken up and bruised and I hit my face smashing one side of my jaw and hurting my teeth. Andrew pelted after the car and almost caught it. The police appeared out of nowhere (there are police with guns everywhere here - yet still this happens!) and picked him up and they gave chase but too late. Many people came to help me but all said the same - it happens all the time here. The thing is - whilst there is poverty here the ones who did this weren't poor. Opposite us there are building site workers sweating it out all day for around 200 BTD (approx $ 3 Aus) and the cycle rickshaw guys also do it hard. The guys who got my bag were driving a newish quite flash Toyota which aren't cheap here. Probably rich mens' kids and junkies everyone says - but who knows. This is the first incident of this kind we've had on our trip and it shook us both up. Thankfully Andrew had the passports and cards on him but we lost some cash, my sunglasses our camera batteries and 2 pen drives various bits and bobs (my hairbrush make up etc) and my diary and notebook. We were lucky as my notebook did turn up. I'd written our numbers the front and a Doctor nearby spotted it in the garbage and picked it up so we got it back. Not a good experience and it's made me a bit nervy walking the streets at night but I guess it happens all over. Just it's never happened to me! We made a police report and hopefully we can claim some of it on our insurance- though not the cash and it's a nightmare finding receipts for all these bits and pieces so not sure how much we'll get back. I guess all we can think is it could have been a lot worse! The police said Andrew really shouldn't have chased them as often these guys carry guns which is a horrible thought.
After Andrew's week in hospital it's my turn now and I've had a few days of intense dental treatment. One of my crowns was shattered and when I saw the dentist I found out that as well as a lot of repair work on the damaged area I needed a great deal of other work done - oh joy!!! So there began a week in which every day started with a good 2 hours of drilling!! Not fun but my dentist a lady by the name of Fathana was very good. She is apparently the dentist to the UN ambassador for Health in Bangladesh so I felt in good hands!!
So as at Sunday 9 May - we remain in Dhaka watching the political wrangling in the UK political scene on TV so we know which government we're eventually going back to! We have to stay here whilst I have a couple more dental appointments and also we have to try and get our visa extension for Bangladesh as well as our new our Indian visa both of which we hope to achieve in a couple of days -wish us luck!!! After this our next destination is the tea plantations at Sylhet division.
Sun 9 - Wed 19 May 2010 Update:
As I type this on Wednesday 19 May amazingly we are still in Dhaka. Shortly after our last entry we made it to the Indian High Commission to sort out our new Indian visas. It was very different from other Indian visa centres we'd dealt with as we were the only foreigners. Usually it's pandemonium in these places with travellers everywhere but here we sat in an empty waiting room before being ushered into a room for an interview. To our immense relief we were told that as we were there with the car our visas would be allowed and we would not have to return to Australia. We still have to be out of India for 2 months before we get our new 6 month visa which we pick up on the 21st June. Big sighs of relief all round, if they'd really taken a hard line that we had to return to Australia it would have a (very expensive!) nightmare.
We also braved the Immigration and Passports Office which as predicted was not easy. The problem is they just aren't geared up for tourists - I guess they don't get many. Thus there isn't much in the way of English spoken. This means getting to understand the process is not easy and you repeatedly join the wrong queue before finding out what you're supposed to do.
Eventually we found the right queue to join, filed all our forms and were told to come back in just over a week. The visa is far pricier for Australians than for any other nationality - a whopping $150 each - we asked why and were told this was the same amount as Bangladeshis have to pay to go to Australia which we couldn't really argue with!! Anyway when - a couple of days ago - we turned up to pick up our visa we were horrified to find that the 60 day extension we had requested (and paid for!!) had been ignored instead we had only been given 7 days i.e. one more day than we had still on our existing visa! After some tense meetings with the Director in charge we were assured that we could turn up at the end of June to pick up our 60 days visa. We left reassured but the next day a Special Branch police officer turned up at our room and started questioning us. We had to go to Special Branch HQ the next day -where thankfully all went well. The Special Branch officers were actually very friendly (to the extent of sharing their delicious lunch with us!) and we were once again assured that our 60 day extension would be available in June. Not sure why we had to have this "Special Branch" interview - whether it's a usual part of the process or we were a special case - but all's well that ends well I guess. So with nothing to stop us heading off now we can finally leave Dhaka!
Whilst here we've continued to experience the diversity of Dhaka - from the cool bars and restaurants where the trendy youth gather to smoke flavored tobacco in hookah pipes (in the absence of alcohol!) to the crazy traffic jams and chaotic markets of old Dhaka.
It is amazing how young some of the kids here start work and when we eat in local eating houses our waiters are often under 10! Similarly when we are travelling in the baby taxis which incidentally are all caged in here (this is not good if the driver thinks he's in the Grand Prix and swerves all over the place but at least you feel safer from muggings!) every time we stop we are surrounded by young people and children some as young as 6 or 7 dodging the traffic to sell car to car. They hawk everything from cigarettes to popcorn to towels and books. It's a tough life and sadly it means they're missing out on school so these low skill underpaid and dangerous jobs are all they are ever likely to achieve. In the depths of the huge markets there are also teams of very young children working in the photo copying centres which put together the masses of pirated photo copied books - which are also sold on the streets.
Back in Banani (the affluent suburb we are staying in) we have spent a great deal of time dodging the intense heat whilst using the free Wi-Fi in the nearby cafes (and eating way too much of the delicious food here!!) and watching our new stock of DVDs in the air conditioned comfort of our little room! We also found time to get to the Aussie Shop - we stumbled across this not far from where we were staying - and stocked up on some vegemite- a bit pricey at $8 a jar!
After the bag snatching we are now quite ok - thanks for all your good wishes - and my dental repair work is finished. We are definitely a lot more jumpy now, especially after dark, and we always leave the bag behind and travel very light. Our nerves were not helped when just a few days later we witnessed another mugging in which a Bangladeshi lady was pulled off a cycle rickshaw. The criminals - on a motorbike not a car this time - got her bag and she looked like she'd probably broken her wrist poor girl. I think we'll be nervous whilst we're here!
So - with visa issues all sorted we plan to spend today packing and doing a bit of shopping (our first aid kit which was lost in India still needs replacing) before finally heading off tomorrow. We have changed our route a bit and now intend to head first to the Rajshahi Division in the north west, an area rich with archeological remains, before later taking in the Sylhet tea plantations and the coastal area of Cox's Bazaar. So, we've plenty to see before we're due back in Dhaka on the 21st June to pick up our visa extensions and our Indian visas. We'll try and keep the updates coming.