Bangladesh - The Friendliest People
by Günther Eichhorn
In January 2019 I visited Bangladesh for 4 weeks. The trip was a small group tour organized by Nijhoom Tours. There were four other people in the group. The tour was very well organized, everything worked very well. The only inconvenience was that the van was not quite large enough to be comfortable when we had our luggage with us. I can recommend the tour organizer.
I left the USA on 31 December and arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh late on 2 January. I relied on visa on arrival. It worked, but it took almost 1 hour of waiting before I got the visa. The owner of Hijhoom Tours was waiting for me and brought me to the hotel in Dhaka for one night.
The next morning the tour began with a city tour of Dhaka. It included a rickshaw ride through old Dhaka. In the evening we boarded a ferry for an overnight trip to Barisal. We had sleeping cabins on the ferry. We arrived very early in the morning and drove to the hotel for a shower. We then drove to the Kirtankhola River, part of the Ganges delta. We spent most of the day on the boat, visiting different sites along the river, including a brick factory. In the evening we returned to Barisal.
The next day we repeated the boat ride on the river, visiting among other places the floating rice market. In the evening we returned to Barisal for a second night.
The next morning at 5:00 we left for a trip on the Rocket Paddle Steamer to Hularhat. It was an interesting ride. We then drove to Bagerhat to visit several historic mosques. The Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the evening we drove to Mongla for an overnight stay.
The next morning we boarded our boat for a two-night cruise through the Sundarbans. We made several excursions on a rowed boat, and several walks through the forests. We did see a few birds, but not as many as I expected. We did not see tigers. We did see Chital (Axis axis, german: Axishirsch, french: Cerf axis) or spotted deer, and Wild Boar (Sus scrofa, german: Wildschwein, french: Sanglier). The The Sundarbans is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On the way back to Mongla we visited the Crocodile Breeding Center. From Mongla we drove a couple of hours to Khulna for the next overnight.
From Khulna we took the train for about six hours to Rajshahi. In the afternoon we visited a silk factory in Rajshahi.
The next morning we drove to Sona Masjid and visited some of the remaining archaeological sights of Gauda, which was the ancient capital of greater Bengal in the medieval period with a rich history.
Our guide was constantly on the phone during the beginning of the drive. Eventually we found out that the police was informed about our presence. They were afraid that there might still be some unrest in the area after the recent elections. They forced us to take a couple of armed police with us to guard us during the two days we visited the area.
On the second full day in Rajshahi we drove to Bagha and visited the Bagha Mosque. This magnificent mosque was built in 1523 by the Sultan of Bengal, ornamented with beautiful terracotta. We then drove to Puthia and visited its beautiful temples and palaces. The largest number of historical temples of Bangladesh are located in Puthia, most of which were built in the 19th century. We then drove to Natore and visited the palace of Rani Bhabani which was built in the colonial period. The whole Rajshahi division and part of current day West Bengal was once ruled from here, and the queen was called "the lady of half of the whole greater Bengal".
The next day we drove to Kusumba to see the Kusumba Mosque, a beautiful stone-built mosque from the medieval period. Then we visited a local village. We then drove to Paharpur and visit Somapura Mahavihara, a huge Buddhist monastery from the 8th century. The Ruins of the Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From there we continued to Bogra for the next overnight stop.
The next day we visited a village on one of the islands in the river Jamuna. We then continued to Rangpur for the next overnight stop.
The next day we visited the Tajhat Palace a beautiful palace in northern part of Bangladesh built in the colonial period. After that we visited the nearby Hindu temple dedicated to the Goddess Kali. We continued to Dinajpur to visit Kantajew Temple, which is the most beautiful Hindu temple in Bangladesh. The whole temple is decorated with beautiful terracotta plaques describing epic Hindu stories. We also visit the Nayabad Mosque built by the Muslim workers who came to build the temple. We then flew from nearby Saidpur Airport back to Dhaka, where we stayed overnight.
The next day we took a train to Srimangal, a four hour train ride. We stayed in Srimangal for two nights. In Srimangal we visited a tea plantation and a local village where the tea plantation workers lived. We tasted the famous 7 layer tea of Srimangal.
The next morning we visited the Lawachara National Park. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. We walked through the park to see the Western Hoolock Gibbons (Hoolock hoolock, german: Westlicher Weißbrauengibbon, french: Gibbon hoolock occidental) and several monkey species. During the walk in the park we visited a tribal village of the Khasi tribe. In the afternoon we visited the Baikka Beel, a wetland sanctuary for migratory birds. Unfortunately, no migratory birds were in the sanctuary.
The next day we drove to Sylhet for a two-night stay. After we arrived, we took a boat ride on the Lalakhal canal to the border with India and visited a local village.
The next day we visited Jaflong, on the Piyain River, near the border with India. The main activity there is collecting stones from the river and crushing them to make building material. It is quite an interesting operation. Part of the visit was a short visit to a local village of the Khasia tribe.
The next day we visited the shrine of a Sufi Saint Shah Jalal. We then flew back to Dhaka. We stayed there for two nights.
The next day we drove to Sonargon, the old capital of the Bengal region. We visited the medieval period Goaldi Mosque, and the abandoned merchant city Panam Nagar. We also visited a nice museum about Bangladesh culture, and an arts and crafts market. Back in Dhaka we visited a small school in the slums for slum children that is run and financed by a local woman.
The next day we had an early morning flight to Chittagong, followed by a four-hour drive to Rangamati on Kaptai Lake, a large reservoir. We took a boat ride on the lake in the afternoon.
The next day we drove to Bandarban for a two-night stay. On the way we visited the Golden Temple, a nice Buddhist temple.
Next day we visited local villages and had a boat ride in the afternoon on the Sangu River.
The next day we drove to Cox's Bazar, a four-hour drive, for a two-night stay. That afternoon we visited a refugee village of Rohingyas from Myanmar.
In Cox's Bazar we visited the fishing port, which was quite interesting. We then drove to the dry fish center where they make and sell dry fishes in large scale.
The next day we flew back to Dhaka for the last night in Bangladesh. The next day I went on another city tour of Dhaka. The return flight was late at night.
The people in Bangladesh are the friendliest that I have experienced anywhere in the world. Many speak at least some English. They are always curious about where you come from and what you do. They want to have their pictures taken and they want to take selfies with you. In one of the museums there were a lot of local people. I could hardly concentrate on the exhibits because of the never ending requests for selfies with me by the local people. It was quite an interesting experience.
There are lots of beggars in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a fairly poor country, so there are lots of needy people. On the other hand, they are supporting the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
I felt quite safe everywhere in Bangladesh, since everybody was friendly and helpful. Even when we had the police escort in Rajshahi I didn't feel uncomfortable. There was no evidence of any unrest anywhere we visited.
I liked the food in Bangladesh. It is mostly spicy, which is fine with me. For the first couple of meals I had chicken, which was a mistake. They were free running chicken, so there was hardly any meat on the bones. After that I selected mostly vegetarian meals or meals with boneless chicken. A couple of times I tried beef, but that was quite touch meat. Our guide cooked for us several times. He was a great cook and always produced excellent food with a lot of different dishes.
Beer is a problem in Bangladesh, since it is a Muslim country. Only a couple of the hotels had a bar, the rest of the time I needed to find a local store that sells alcohol. My guide was very good at that task, but even with that there were a few days when I couldn't get beer. For the boat tour in the Sundarbans I bought beer in advance. They put it in their refrigerator, so I had nice cold beer. On a few occasions I had bought beer in advance for upcoming dry towns. Since I didn't have a fridge in the hotels I had to drink warm beer. Such is life
Traffic in Dhaka was really bad and chaotic. There are traffic lights in Dhaka, but they are completely ignored, everybody pushes right through. In other larger cities the traffic was pretty bad as well. On almost all roads there was lots of truck traffic, which made for lots of hairy passing situations. Our van was a bit small. It was okay for five people plus the guide and the driver, as long as we didn't have out luggage with us. Whenever we drove with luggage, some of it was on the seats, so it got very cramped for us.
Bangladesh is the friendliest country that you can imagine. I had a great time, the tour was well organized. I can really recommend a visit to Bangladesh.