Thursday, February 08, 2007

Another Traveler's Notes on Bangladesh

On Wednesday we moved from the Pacific Inn guest house to the new and modern Radisson, where we planned to stay for our last three nights. I am so glad. It is clean, comfortable, the air conditioning works great, and there are no mosquitoes (which carry malaria here).

The location is closer to the airport, but further away from the hubub of the city, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Dhaka is very dirty, smelly, crowded, and noisy, but it is also very interesting. I would not have wanted to spend my whole time in Dhaka in a place where you can forget that you are in Dhaka. In the city you can travel around on a rickshaw for around 50 cents a trip, and watch people cooking and selling all kinds of things on the street, building things, and generally being very busy. Rarely do you see anyone just hanging out.

People stare at Americans, and this made me uncomfortable at first, but I have gotten used to it. There are few Westerners on the streets in the city (and even fewer in the villages) and people are very curious in a good-natured way. Often young people will ask in English "What is your country?" Girls and women seem to like talking to me in the limited way we can. Their lives are still pretty limited by tradition (for most, but not all--and those who do travel independently do so only after a great deal of inner and outer struggle, I think).

If I were coming here again I would probably choose to stay at the Sheraton or the Pan Pacific hotel, which are in the middle of the city. We chose to come here instead because we need to leave for the airport at three a.m. and wanted to be sure to be there on time.

The best days here have been in the villages, and we had a terrific treat when an aquaintance took us on her boat on one of the many rivers. We traveled through emerald-green rice paddies to a village where we took tea (as they say here) at a tea shop. The tea shop man made the tea over a kerosene fire (there is no gas or electricity in this village), and it was delicious. They drink very strong red tea mixed with a lot of boiled or condensed milk and lots of sugar. They call it "cha."

Anyone visiting Bangladesh should include a village trip if it is at all possible. Otherwise, you will not see what everyone agrees is "the real Bangladesh."

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