Friday, 24 April 2009

Leaving Srimangal, but to where exactly?

Our final day in relatively peaceful Srimangal was spent having a small snack with our friend Russell, taking it easy at the internet café, and haggling for pineapples, mangos and lemons so that we could make a fruit salad. There seems to be little variety in Bangladeshi food and we were craving fruit, so we prepared a juicy salad mixture for our journey leaving Srimangal. The market from where we bought the fruit was situated on many dusty smaller roads and fly-infested alleyways away from the main town. We made sure to look very thoroughly at the fruit before buying it, as we did not want the pineapples into which creatures had bored holes.
On Thursday morning, just after midnight, we boarded our train to get to Dhaka; and, thankfully, this train looked far better than the Jalalabad Express that we took last time. Before getting onto the train we were trying to make sense of our tickets that were typed out in Bengali, but not having a lot of luck. Fortunately, a kind man called Shuhel Iqbal Chow, who is currently serving in the RAB (Rapid Action Bangladesh: the most honest and reliable police force in the country) came to our rescue and directed us to our coach, and ultimately to our seats. Bangladesh is legendary for the way its people show countless acts of kindness to visitors: this man was on his way to Dhaka not just to get back to his home and immediate family, but to meet his aunt and uncle, not to mention his cousin who was flying in from London that very morning. But something was more important to him: getting us onto our onward connection safely! So he joined us in the taxi to the bus company offices, sat with us chatting as we waited to depart, and finally joined us for a few miles on the bus.
Here he told us about the great tragedy in his life, the fact that his seven year old son was seriously ill with heart and lung problems. Whilst his time in the army had taken him to many fascinating locations, including Saudi Arabia, where he was able to complete his Haj pilgrimage, his son back at home had been very ill. Shuhel also asked about fitness and training, and what he should take to get himself into better shape. As a small way of repaying his diligence we gave him a month’s supply of multi-vitamin tablets, which clearly bemused both him and the bus steward as they were called ‘A-Z’. Is there a vitamin Z?
Our journey was to be another epic one, including crossing back over the border point at Benapole, and again into India. But this time, things did not quite go according to plan. Nobody at Shohagh Paribahan buses, nor in the Lonely Planet guidebook had mentioned ANYTHING about a departure tax at this land crossing. And we needed the money to change into Rupees on the other side. Oh dear…
“I do not think you are listening to me,” said the bearded boarder official.
“No, I’m not, and I don’t think you’re listening to me, either” said Simon. The might of Bangladesh officialdom was making it clear that nobody would be going anywhere until 600 Taka had been paid at the strange little window entitled ‘Departure Tax’. The determination of our fearless travellers was making it clear that there was NO cash to cough up. Stale mate? We were passed from uniformed official to uniformed official, and each time declined to splash the cash. But this time the insistence was more forceful and the official, more official-looking:
“Right then, we’ll just sit here for the rest of time” was Simon’s final trump card, at which point he folded his arms and plonked himself down upon the large desk with a dull thud. After a short but painful pause, ALL the boarder guards and official staff erupted into cackles of spontaneous laughter. “OK, you can go now…” sniggered the one with the most stripes, and our crafty pair legged it. Without paying the baksheesh due to the poor lads carrying their backpacks…
After nearly four more hours of bumpy and painfully slow bus journey, the daring duo arrived back somewhere which, hitherto, was only briefly hinted at, some weeks ago. Somewhere now to be tackled in much more depth. Perhaps the most captivating and fascinating city in the world, with its quaint yellow, antique taxi-cabs and its vivid and compelling street life. Somewhere which immediately conjures up false prejudices in the mind’s eye of those who have never been here, and somewhere which, once visited, has already formed an indelible image in the imagination: an image of nostalgia and dreams. Where are we now then? Oh, Calcutta!


  1. Of course u dummiez vitamin’ z ‘is the natural suspension of consciousness during which the body restores itself.
    Lucky getting away with not paying the tax it appears it should have only been 300 Taka about $3 look at the section “do” on this link.

  2. Simon , How on EARTH did you have the nerve to plonk yourself on the desk and refuse to pay. You and Jon have got a lot of nerve!! I would have been quaking in my boots. They could have arrested you and thrown you into a dingy Indian jail never to be seen again!!