Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Younhi Kat Jaayega Safar Saath Chalney Sey

The day begins with my still feeling so dead, it is only my incessant cough and the pain of the tooth extraction that reminds me that No, You Are Still Alive. However, my feeling of wretchedness is at a stage where I would rather be feeling wretched in Any Other Place but Home. The Toddler is reminded once again that his not eating breakfast is responsible for natural calamities all over the world, why there is no school today and for many days, and the fact that Pakistan's cricket team is still waiting for a captain. We load up and are out of the house by 830am which is a pretty good career record for us.

By 10 am Driverji has made us listen to Terey Bina Zindagi Sey Shikwa (standard driver fare, I am pretty sure they give you a cassette of Best of 70s along with your commercial driving licence) some 350 times, the Toddler has added to the mix by singing such classics as Row Row Your Boat and Incy Wincy Spider some 351 times, Gman and me have finished our sandwiches (sitting in a car is such hungry business I tell you) and we are looking for a place to have our first tea break.  Bangladesh has some interesting highway hotels, not just the tea shacks cum dhabhas that we are accustomed to, but you know serious business Highway Hotels. I suspect repatriated money and give them a nice place to have tea and pee has something to do with it. We stop at one where we can watch kites and crows fight it out over green fields and the Toddler decides he would rather sit with a family that is watching cricket on tele.

By the time its noon we are entering nice green fields and wide expanses territory. The man gets a call from Sylhet (and bear in mind we are now only 50km away) Aah so you ARE coming to Sylhet this afternoon, all that talk about booking a place the past three weeks was serious talk then hmm, well this means we should get around booking a place eh? I murmur an expletive, the man starts sputtering, the driver pipes in Sylhetis, mini-London, they are an international lot and the Toddler thinks hard whether his skipping breakfast is responsible for our current crisis. Khair, the local people quickly call back to say that they have booked us in Rose View (where all the good people stay) but I am pretty gung-ho on my nature get-away. We drive into town, the good office people are waiting bouquet in hand at Rose View (the hotel was stretching Shakespeare's "by any other name" a bit`too far, surely a view of British Immigration Services doesnt smell as sweet?), we slow down the car to tell them we are going to try our luck with Nazimgarh, one of the volunteers jumps in to "escort" us, another screams Dont Forget The Flowers. With the long weekend  it did seem pretty impossible to get a room, so I am very very grateful to whoever it was who canceled their booking so we could get to stay. The admin was very apologetic that it was one of the "awami class" rooms but it suited me fine as the main building was something that was more suited to well whatever they are doing with Murree. We were put up here, and it suited us In Love with all Things Colonial in the Desh types very well thankyou.

In the evening we set out to survey a training run by the man's colleagues (and which had brought us into town). Sylhet from what I could gauge from my three days there seems like quite a lovely place, but then there must be something in the water that drives so many of its citizens to make home elsewhere, eh? Our first evening we drove through a corridor of fruit and vegetable shops, pharmacies and miles and miles of strings of lights made up of energy saver bulbs. A sight that brings so much happiness to my eyes. I love my medicine; and my fruits and veggies more. In fact when I was a uni student in Islamabad I would spend mornings just roaming Covered Market      sighing over the fruits and vegetables for sale and was heartbroken when they closed shop. At the training venue (they were training students at a night school, these are boys who work during the day and attend school at night, how nice!) the Toddler and me were introduced with a bout of   enthusiastic clapping. See you too can grow up and get married and have a kid, now back to the books, study hard! study hard! The Toddler true to his genetic material sat in the first row and was the picture of enthu student number one.

On our way back to the hotel we made a stop at the shrine of the Sufi saint Shah Jalal. He of  turning  evil minions into cat fish and doing many a good deed fame. The shrine welcomes people from all castes, creed, colour, class but of course draws the line at people who are penis-impaired when it comes to praying at his grave. Well itna bhi enlightened moderation nahi ho sakti, even saints have standards. Gman did go with the spawn but didnt have anything other than It Was Nice to say about the saint's resting place so Im afraid I cannot report more on what you may find. I had to be content with wandering around the compound and looking at people lighting candles, washing their feet in one of the water tanks, and feeding the fish. Just behind the shrine one of the fish ponds was channeling the glass pyramid at the Louvre and there were these beautiful niches in the wall sheltering candles. The Toddler of course understood this as one big birthday party and we had to chase him before he went chuffff on all of them.

The next morning found us on the road to Jafflong. We stopped at one of the sights. Cant say much about it, basically it is a place where bus loads of picnickers stop to eat biryani, stare at men fish for river stones and stone cutters exhibit their wares when they are not chipping away at their craft.

We didnt partake of the biryani but had the most amazing carambola (starfruit, previously only known to me as one of the fruits in the toddler's picture book) cut up with lime juice, chillies and a green topping which Im praying was coriander.
Our next stop was Sharighat, where we took a leisurely boat ride --and I realize this travelogue is REALLY reading like a school essay now. Oh well. Some day I should get around to putting up a montage of all the boat rides, river cruises we have taken. Now the operating principle behind a boat ride is to think your thoughts and float  along a river being all contemplative about The Journey So Far. But considering the men in my life have very few thoughts they were all "Thinked" Out by the 45th minute. So we turn back mid-way. But not before I thought to myself that granted one should lament the lives we lost, bemoan the comradeship, the intellectuals, the loves we may have had, and the conversations we will never have when we "gave up" on Bangladesh. But sometimes we should also express grief for all the colours that will never be part of our palette because we could not respect diversity and the many other scripts and languages to write Pakistan's story. Though on our way back to Sylhet I saw many a billboard where the women's faces were blacked out or just neatly cut out which assured me that the colours of Swat have made it North East from North West.

Exhibit A

The Intrepid Traveller
Oh the pinks and the purples

So we will never for instance have a blue that can turn so mossy green in a minute
 We turned around a bend and see men washing buffaloes that had been bleached the brown of the country side. And as we approached the riverbank the sun did its thing and the water shimmered a thousand sunbeams. Or as my cousin put it very poetically when we were kids, Just like Hema Malini's dress in Naseeb, sigh!

Arhaan was happiest in the hotel or rather the trampoline on their premises and had full paisa vasool of his stay. I would have liked to take advantage of some of the facilities as well, the nice shower room- massage jets-mini spa fixture in the bathroom for one. But could not. Not enough hot water for one. And the other more demanding reason. Well let me explain. Once a long time ago when I was in school I read  about a little bird in an issue of the Reader's Digest that was supposedly pecking away at a giant 100,000 sq feet  boulder and that it will take her a billion years or more to be done chipping away at it, and when she is finished pecking away just ONE day in eternity has passed. Now dear reader, THAT is what my kid hears every time I say Mum will pop into the bath for a sec. Darn bird pecking away at boulder. I Can Never Take A Bath Till The Kid Turns 13 Ok! and by that time I fear I will be too busy stressing how he never takes baths to ever take one myself.

Anyways. After Sylhet it was the lovely tea town of Srimangal that hosted us. The drive once again was very picturesque. Rural idyll and all that. At one time I gazed at cows as the car slowed down,  and I watched as a mommy goat chewed all absent -minded at the grass as she watched one of them  feeding her calf. She shook her head just then as to say "Goodness me, is  that the time already" and scampered off where two baby goats scurried to her and latched on. If that doesnt get the cow and goat on a poster for Mother's Milk Is Best I dont know what will!

Anyways Srimangal. And Bangladesh Tea Research Institute guest house. Our driver who must have been Moses navigator as he wandered the desert, well for the initial 39 and a half years, must have passed the place some three times, the last time we ended up in the Lowacherra National Park. It was all very beautiful. The Woods Were Lovely Dark And Deep. But lets just say I Had Miles To Go Before I Could Pee.

So we returned. And finally found the guest house. A word (or two) about the guest house. It is nestled in between tea gardens, all very good. Nice bungalows and sprawling tennis courts and flowering bushes everywhere. But lets say its all Lord Dalhousie from outside and DilBahar Motel from inside.

 Lurid pinks and greens galore. They also have the surliest people working there ever. But I can understand as two of them were clearly behind on their ironing, clearly a task they had been set to by Lord Clive himself, for the duration of our stay we just saw them slaving away iron in hand bent over yards and yards of white sheets. The pillow and mattress had clearly mixed up the memo, the pillow was hard as nails, all ironing board of it while the mattress was clearly springs on wheels (which made the toddler very happy. Timpolines! he screamed and went bounce bounce bounce) But they made it up with the yummiest vegetable soup I have ever had outside of Tuscany and sourdough, yes sourdough bread that was ironically as soft as a pillow.
So if I am to ever return to the guesthouse I am going to hire a bungalow for a week, bring my own linen and preferably  provisions and buy their bread and soup (and tea).

And did I tell you about the swimming pool, our rooms opened up to it which was not so nice, but I am sure it must have made many happy to walk out of their rooms and be in nice, cold water. 

Well if you put it like this. And so ardently

 We did not have any "unusual clothes" so we stayed out of the pool 

We did return to the Lowacherra Natural Park eventually. The Toddler refused to sit in his pram and would rather push it. 

 The gibbons and other such animals did not appear and we wondered whether like us they felt a bit under dressed considering standard fare to go trekking in the woods appeared to be safari suits and saris that scream bling. 

But as we were leaving, and here I must say their hearts might have melted a little bit at the valiant trooper who walked a whole hour and whispered monkey monkey, the usually recalcitrant characters did come out and jumped about a bit. Sadly, I have not as yet taken up the man's offer to buy a decent camera yet. Matters will be remedied and I promise when Im in the area next I will use something other than the humble digital to record such moments. Till now please look at these.

 And before we got into the car, a train passed by and the toddler's cup of happiness runneth over.
 Apologies once again for the quality of the ape sightings, however our camera was pretty good capturing all the spiders in the guest house!

 Well, so this was our trip to Bangladesh's North-East in short. All too soon we were home, and I realise I must be doing something right around the house to have the man sighing You Know Our Place Is Nicer Than The Resort.

Bye bye sweeties and I am hoping one day you too can see how beautiful this world can be.

Make sure you go before you leave the house though.


  1. Wow! I never knew Bangladesh is so beautiful...Loved your narrative and Arhaan is so cute..and yaa i can so connect to that bath thing :) Even R fusses so much when I go for a bath :) Thanks for sharing the pics..they sure brighten up a dull post lunch session at work ;)

  2. ditto about the beauty of Bangla Desh.. Lovely pics - what do they call those boats? its all so very scenic and quite stunning overall. Never crossed my mind to visit BD till i saw these. thanks aneela.

  3. I'm sure you had as much fun on the trip as I had reading about it. :)

    Ah hotels, that are motels. Ugh!:(

  4. Lovely account! Hope the cough and extraction pain and wretchedness have vanished.
    Arhaan is such an intrepid traveller and trekker, the darling.

  5. That was a nice read and Arhaan is soo cute!!he cracks me up with his antics!

  6. i am pretty behind on ironing fact i am pretty behind on laundry, per se. i empathise with the ironers.

    starfruit is edible eh? i've been wary about trying...only try things i've eaten for 20 years

    rofl@ lord dalhousie on the outside. with that i demand you write for lonely planet.

  7. Ardent thanks for such a lovely post.

  8. I have eaten the starfruit at the other side of the border, up in the hills. and they are as divine! with the masala, and lime, and now i iwhs they had put some coriander too.

    Thanks for the most amazing travelogue.

    Hope you are back home and have recovered from the throbbing tooth aches et al.

  9. What a lovely account! And so much beauty all around...

    As Sue said, ardent thanks for putting it like this :-)

    And our little man is getting to be quite the intrepid backpacker, isn't he? Muchos muwaahs to him!

  10. Your header pic is awesome!

  11. R's Mom: Yes, when he moves out of the house I plan to convert the children's room into this huge bathroom spa all gadgets installed.
    Anon and the rest of you: I hope this does lead to a Dhaka Chalo program?
    Dipali: The new header pic is from Chera Dweep (St Martin's Island) kind of goes with the whole theme doesnt it? But how does one reduce it to a banner.

  12. Aneela,

    Saw your comment on and couldn't help feeling tremendous de ja vu at the jingoism that passes off as patriotism in India. Have left a very long comment there (under the name "The Biggest Loser"), not sure if it will be published though. Do read it if you get a chance. I will feel some redemption as an Indian ala those nice chaps in Mohali who gave their tickets to Pakistani fans.

    The Biggest Loser,


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