Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Exploring Srimangal

Sure enough, Russell was at our hotel room at half past eight in the morning with our bikes. Both of the bikes were very basic and only had one gear. Jon’s black, Chinese-style bike creaked as he pedalled but it was impressive how fast it went! Simon’s bike looked like a western mountain bike and gave a generally gave a smoother ride, except for when the chain kept coming off!
We went for a small breakfast in the sweetshop where we saw all of the cakes. Jon had a small yoghurt-like sweet that was made presumably from condensed milk mostly, but Simon went for the cake option and had two scrumptious looking spongy delights, which were injected with syrup and then all sprinkled with milk powder. This breakfast may seem like nothing but it gave us energy to take on the whole day!
We just couldn’t wait to get on the bikes and leave the town’s traffic and noise, so off we went in the direction of tranquillity. Within ten minutes or so, we were right out in among the tea plantations where a few lonely women, dressed in bright saris and pointed hats made from dry leaves, were carefully picking the tea leaves from the greenest bushes we’ve ever seen. Although there was the occasional humming of the CNG (an environmentally friendly three-wheeled auto-rickshaw), as well as the high pitched sound of bicycle bells on the cycle-rickshaws, there were beautiful moments where the only noise we could hear was that of the wind gently brushing past the tea leaves. Having spoken to Mr Suhel, the owner of a small grocery shop in Srimangal town and active in NGO (Non-government Organisation), we already have an idea that this unique green beauty of the tea plantations is clouded by a darker misery of labourers who earn a mere thirty taka (about thirty pence) per day, but also lack access to basic sanitation.
As we cycled further past tea bushes that seemed infinite, we eventually neared the Lowacherra Rainforest where the large and small trees reach up, forming canopies; and tiny winding pathways with deep carpets of dead foliage meander randomly through the vast vegetation.
We cycled on the twisting road through the forest until we reached a small village called Kamalganj. With the smoky, acrid odour of smouldering firewood, this tiny village had no electricity and an air of subsistence rather than enjoyment. We stopped for a ten-minute break, taking a few mouthfuls of the water that we took with us in our bags, before turning around and heading back.
As we went back through the forest we heard the peculiar sounds of gibbons that called out to each other in the trees, probably to warn one another that we were there. But today this colony of gibbons got something it wasn’t bargaining for: somebody was calling back. The gibbon calls are part shriek, part unruly school-class, and part beautiful music. When they are all shouting at once, it sounds like a massive cacophony, but two curious gibbons brachiated their way through the treetops towards us with their stunning three-note theme tune. “Eeeeeeeeee Oooo Aaaaah!”, they cried, even more incessantly in response to the cheeky monkey on the ground. Can you guess who this was?

It was an experience to see the black Hoolock gibbons looking out from between clusters of leaves with their distinct white eyebrows set on their sooty-black faces.
After a fascinating time hanging out with these creatures, we went for a cuppa. But no ordinary cuppa, for we went to Nilkantha. This small café, in the middle of a tea plantation, served us up the most colourful and unusual drink imaginable. This cup of tea was served in a transparent glass, as if to show off the beauty of how one layer of one type of tea sits on top of another, altogether forming six layers of different teas.

We stayed for another and chatted to Hasan, a second generation Bangladeshi immigrant from London, who told us the interesting story of his family’s relocation to England.
After another great day, we arrived back at the hotel where we negotiated some discount with the friendly hotel manager, and before Jon knew it he was on the phone speaking to a young lady from the Khashia tribe. The words he started with were “Koblai”, meaning ‘hello’, and “Wong”, which means ‘come here’. Jon then found that his Khashia language was very limited, so he switched to Bangla using phrases such as “Bomi-Bhab”, “Amar mirghi rog a-che” and then he counted to ten. Thank goodness for the Lonely Planet guide book, which helped him with these essential phrases.
We finally decided that it was time to eat so we tried a new delicacy called Moghlai, which is like a flaky pastry containing onions, chillies and eggs; all deep fried. Where have they been all my life?!



  2. Some questions about your most recent addition to the blog:
    1)Why do you think that 5:00am is an extraordinary time to get up? Some people do this every day, don't I?
    2)What's a jackfruit please? Does it have any close relatives?
    3)Did the layers of tea eventually mix? Were they strong top to light bottom? How peculiar.
    4)What ever is Jonny saying "Wong" to a young lady for? I fear there will be 'words' if he's not careful.
    .......and finally, yes, familiar are the vitamins A to E and vitamin K, discovered in about the 1960s I believe, is injected into the heel of a newborn infant here, but there is no vitamin Z that I am aware of. Food and Nutrition was my 'major' as the Americans say, all those many years ago but long since evaporated now that I am approaching the downward slope! (Altogether now aagh!!)
    Safe onward travels. It all sounds so exciting. I can't wait to catch up with you both. We have to have a discussion about meeting up in May by the way, as our time will be limited on the 30th when we are due to see you. I have a proposition............
    Much love. Sunshine Suzi. xxxx