Sunday, 12 April 2009

From Jharkhand to Bangladesh

The long journey from Jharkhand to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, was
possibly the longest continuous journey that either of us have done at 38 hours of travelling, not including stops! We did 14 hours by train from Jharkhand to Calcutta, followed by a 3 hour train to Bangaon (on the India – Bangladesh border), and then 11 more hours to Dhaka, with our final leg to Cox’s Bazar taking 10 hours.
Before getting on the train in Jharkhand, the hotel escort said that he would drop us at Barwadih Station as opposed to Daltonganj, as we had previously planned, due to current elections and the possibility that they could turn violent. We heard that the state of Jharkhand was “lawless” so we agreed that this was the best idea. We arrived at the station and caught our train to Calcutta safe and sound.
Before boarding the train, it was mission critical that we stocked up on food supplies to get us through the night. We had to resort to a healthy diet of biscuits and one of the spiciest Bombay mixes we’d ever tried!
A few hours after we caught this train, we stopped at Dhanbad to collect more passengers, and shortly after the train had departed once more, we heard a cry from a lady sat just two bays behind us on the train. It was hard to understand, but apparently, according to a young Indian chap sitting across from us, the woman was being mugged for her mobile phone. I guess you can’t be too careful in Jharkhand! We had been playing our travel scrabble and chess, and we even acquired a small audience! After packing the games up, we went to sleep until our 4:15am arrival in Calcutta.
We had to take a taxi from the station to another train station across the city because we needed to take a local train to Bangaon. The taxi driver was a little crazy on the roads at this early hour. My guess is that he’d certainly had his coffee! We were weaving in and out of small gaps in between cars and people. It was early but it wasn’t the quietest place. People were already beginning their day of hard work. We saw an uncountable amount of coconuts ready for sale, infact some streets were full of them!
On arrival at the station, we went to get our tickets to get to Bangaon and the queue was already growing. We joined the queue in order but we noticed that people were occasionally trying to push in at the front. None of them succeeded. Finally we reached the ticket booth and an Indian man tried pushing in front of us from the side but Jon put his arm over onto the counter to stop him getting through. That’ll teach him! Our ticket was easy to get and very cheap for a 3 hour train ride! As Jon handed over the money an old woman standing next to him put out her hand and began wailing “Hari Krishna, Hari Krishna”. Instead of getting money, what she actually got was Simon wailing back at her “Harry Potter, Harry Potter”. Whilst we were waiting to catch our train we met a professor of Environmental Sciences, who was very interesting and was one of the first people we met who had a good command of English.
The journey outside of Calcutta was very scenic. There were houses made from bamboo and long leaves, such as palm tree leaves, as well as wood. These little houses had just enough space in them to hold a small family and a few necessities. Nothing more. They were nestled among palm trees and nearby fields with small brown paths running between the houses, where little children were playing happily.
As we pulled up into Bangaon a rickshaw driver met us conveniently from the train to take us to the border crossing. The journey was slightly cheaper because we had to share with 3 others. We were 6 people, plus all our luggage, in a rickshaw that is designed to take about three people and half the luggage that we stowed.
The border crossing all went smoothly, although our passports were checked several times by different people. We had to go through Indian customs to leave India and then through Bangladeshi immigration to enter Bangladesh. A member of staff in customs was collecting coins from all over the world so we left him a few examples of his first English money.
As soon as we had crossed the border into Benapole, a small town in the east of Bangladesh, we took a cycle rickshaw to the bus stop, where we caught the bus to Dhaka just in time! On the way to Dhaka we had to cross an arm of the River Ganges on a small ferry. There were tiny markets on the ferry, just like in typical streets in India and Bangladesh, and the surrounding scenery was stunning! The moon was bright and red until darkness fell, before turning white and gleaming. It was great seeing other boats passing us on the river as silhouettes in front of the moonshine.
As we reached the other side of the river, and journeyed closer to Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, we noticed road traffic increasing tremendously. On the way to the bus station in Dhaka, our bus was trying to overtake everything possible, from large trucks to cycle rickshaws. Would Simon and Jon make it to take the bus to Cox’s Bazar that night? Or would they have to spend the night in Dhaka?