Eastcapades

The Story

DHAKA - BURIMARI BANGLADESH NOV 4 - NOV 30

eastcapades-graphics-4.jpg

challenge

+3692m/-3587m

ROUTE

1174km

    TIME

25 days

off road

27km

SYLVIA

Overwhelmed - buried or drowned by a huge mass of something, especially water; strong emotional effect

This is my third attempt to write the Bangladesh story. I have no idea why it is so hard to put my thoughts in writing and I might not be successful this time either. The country has touched my soul like no other place I have visited on this trip. Maybe because the people we met on the road have the ability to be happy in the moment even if their live is a struggle to survive for most of them. 

First some information about the country. Bangladesh, to the east of India on the Bay of Bengal, is a South Asian country marked by lush greenery and many waterways. Its Padma (Ganges), Meghna and Jamuna rivers create fertile plains, and travel by boat is common. On the southern coast, the Sundarbans, an enormous mangrove forest shared with Eastern India, is home to the royal Bengal tiger. Bangladesh is the eight most populated country in the world and approximately 1200 people are living per square metre, which basically means you are never alone. Dhaka is the capital with a population of 18,2 Million people, and quickly growing as the population moves to the capital looking for work. The politically dominant Bengali Muslims (90% of the population) make the nation the world's third largest Muslim-majority countryIslam is the official religion of Bangladesh. It is a country deeply corrupted at all levels where you only get a well paying job in industry or for the government if you pay for it. Government officials are also company owners which means they vote new laws only if they are to their advantage.

 Let’s get now to my story. After a short flight from Kunming, China, we arrive in Dhaka mid afternoon. It is chaos! Heat, noise and a huge mass of people welcomes us with big smiles on the new grounds of our cycling trip. 

rickshaw traffic jam

Like in China, we are a rare species. The only foreigners we have seen are a few tourists at the harbour in Dhaka and a journalist in a small town called Jamalpur working for Unicef about the impact of global warming on rural population.

 Our first day in Dhaka, we try to figure out our Indian visa not expecting that it would take 48 hours to complete the application form due to issues with the Indian application system. I recommend anyone crossing over land to India to charge one of the many agencies in Dhaka to complete the visa application form for you. It will save you a lot of energy and time, particularly if you have an Apple device. Once the application is submitted, it takes another 5 days to get our passports back with the Indian visa.

Our waiting time in Dhaka has also good sides. It allows us to explore all the corners of the city and start to love the rickshaw traffic jams, the colourful people always ready to smile and get a selfie taken. 

Photo credit: Siyam

There are so many places to visit in Dhaka. My favourites are the harbour with its small boats, the railway tracks with its people living alongside, or the very busy markets and streets in the old city. 

Bangladesh is a developing country however still very poor. The poorest people in Dhaka live alongside the rail tracks but in comparison to homeless in our countries, they are not alone. Most of them live with their families, have a roof over their head and can make some money by selling food or services.

Getting our visa takes 7 days and we realize we can’t cycle all areas in Bangladesh with the 21 days left on the Bengali Visa. We decide to save Cox Bazaar and the Sundarban Mangrove for our next visit to Bangladesh. Our plan is to head first North-East to Sylhet Division. Then we will cycle West across the Brahmaputra river to eventually cross the border to India in Burimari, north of Bangladesh. 

We leave our nice Airbnb early morning but not without saying goodbye to our fantastic host, Shahid. The traffic is not too bad as people start their working day later than we do. It takes us 30 minutes to get out of the city onto smaller roads on the country side. At this point, half of Bangladesh is waving and smiling at us, and I am sure that by the end of our stay, we will have met half of the country’s male population. Even though Bangladesh is a moderate Muslim country, women still live in the background so it’s always a treat for me when I have some interaction with girls and women. As soon as we stop for a picture or some food, there are 10-20 men and boys staring curiously at us.

The first few days on the road, I need to adjust to the traffic. It takes me a little while not to be scared when speeding buses honk from far away to let everyone know that they are coming and...to get out of the way. All the buses, trucks and cars have scratches and bumps everywhere. By now, I can say with confidence biking is the safest way to travel in Bangladesh because you can avoid crazy drivers by jumping off the bike. 

 On the way to Sylhet, Moulvy Bazaar Cycling Community meets us on the road for a nice chat and breakfast. Bangladesh has a large active Cycling Community. Many people of different backgrounds join the community to save their country from asphyxiation. Since we’re in Bangladesh, Frank coughs his lungs up every day because of the air pollution. Our clothes and skin are black at the end of each biking day. Their biking cause becomes self defence. Without it, they may disappear and not only because of the yearly flooding.

When we get closer to Sylhet, SCC, Sylhet Cycling Community, welcomes us on the road showing us the way into the city. Arif hosts us for five days where we get to discover the area. He lived for 30 years in Germany but came recently back to Sylhet for personal reasons. Looking for physical activity, he joined the cycling community of Sylhet and became the ‘big brother ‘ of all the young members. It is hard to explain how he empowers the young people of the community. He allows them to become their better selves. 

Arif

This cycling community is more than a cycling club. It is a social association. Some of its achievements are, helping young women to acquire freedom, improve health of a population with a 60-70% diabetes rate, decrease pollution, help families in need and much more... Arif is a key member of this community, he makes a difference, not by telling them what and how to do it, but by letting them find the solutions and delegating responsibilities. We have been very lucky to meet many members of this community. I have rarely seen so much positive energy that actually move things. The biggest concerns of the young generation we met, is the corruption in their country. Nevertheless, they don’t give up and believe in a better future. 

we wrote some SCC names on our hands so we would not forget them

we wrote some SCC names on our hands so we would not forget them

During our stay, we visited tea plantations and learned tea workers have some of the lowest incomes in Bangladesh. While the tea companies make millions of dollars, their workers die of starvation. A tea worker makes 85 Tk/day which is CAD $1/day. They are unable to feed their families and are held like slaves by the tea companies within the plantations. Sometimes, they are even not paid in Taka but only in a local currency that is worth nothing. Only designated workers are allowed to leave the plantation and children are unable to attend school. Everyone is born and die in the same place without having the opportunity of a better future. And still, they are kind and welcome you with a smile. I feel like I (we) don’t deserve so much kindness. If you want to read more about their conditions click on the following link: https://libcom.org/news/tea-workers-poorest-poor-bangladesh-21052018

 After a five day visit and many parties, we leave Sylhet with a group of SCC cyclists. They accompany us to our next destination, Sunamganj 65 km away from Sylhet. One of the girls in the group bikes for the first time such a long distance, a total of 130km as they return the same day to Sylhet. The longest distance she ever biked was 50 km. When we talk about the distance before we leave Sylhet, she looks at me and says: I will try my best to complete the entire distance...Inshallah, and she did it! There are many more fond stories I would like to share but it will wait until we’re back. The most important message I bring back home is their slogan: Impossible becomes I’m possible.

Us in traditional clothes and some of the SCC women members

For our next destination, we take a night ferry/wreck along a river. The boat looks like it is from another time, rusty and old  but not dirty. On the boat, we meet more of the poorest people of Bangladesh. And still, there is this overwhelming kindness and generosity. They offer us tea, better seats and their beautiful smiles. Our captain sails in the dark on a very narrow river without radar or light. I still don’t know how he gets us safely to the destination. 

Our next goal is Bogra. Before we get there, we have to cross another river by boat if we don’t want to bike all the way to Dhaka as there is no other bridge close by. Crossing the river is another experience and we are lucky there are no buffalos on the boat unlike other boats we have seen on the river.

our ferry

On both sides of the river, we have a police escort waiting for us. Our host in Bogra, Dollar, also part of the Cycling Community, alerted the District police to offer us protection. 

our first but not last police escort

He is concerned that a few weeks before the national election something could happen to us. Unfortunately, having a constant police escort changes the dynamics of our trip and the interaction with locals. 

The Highlight of our stay is the open air play Dollar invites us to attend on the country side of Bogra. It is a huge event narrating the history of the subcontinent with 8 stages and more than 350 actors and dancers. Absolutely stunning! Thank you Dollar.

open air play

Another enthusiastic biker, Siyam, joins us in Bogra to bike with us to Rangpur. He is my best friend in Bangladesh. 19 years old, always smiling and wickedly smart, he becomes our police escort organizer for the next 6 days. A job he did not sign up for. Nevertheless, he stays zen and the personification of happiness. 

Siyam

At some point, Frank is losing it when the police doesn’t allow us to stay in the resort Dollar booked for us. We are ready to leave the country immediately if they don’t let us stay in the initially booked place. Our unhappiness went up all the way to the minister of transportation and tourism. Siyam is scared that if we don’t go to the hotel the police asks us to book, it could have negative repercussions for him. Eventually they let us stay, for free. Well, all of you know how it is when Frank is not happy. Four police officers with rifles and bulletproof vests stay for our protection. I also start to get annoyed by the police surveillance because the only thing I want to be protected from are mosquitoes, but nobody cares.

In Rangpur, we stay with Siyam’s cousin’s family. His family welcomes us in their home. Both of us are spoiled rotten with delicious food China, Siyam’s cousin ‘s wife, cooks for us. She starts the cooking at 5:30 am in the morning preparing the first meal of the day and keeps going until our appetite is completely satisfied at 10 pm in the evening. The last evening, Kamrul, Siyam’s cousin, teaches Frank how to wear a Lungi and the ‘Lungi Dance’. After a two day visit and a goodbye party with the neighbors, we leave with teary eyes.

Siyam’s family in Rangpur

The Police escort keeps following us until Burimari, border crossing to India, where they obviously wait for a thank you tip. This is not the first time and we play ‘stupid’. Eventually they leave. While Frank goes out again to take pictures of the ‘stone’ workers (young men cutting stones into smaller ones), I hide in our really crappy hotel room from the dust and noise. Looking forward to our next adventure, the following morning, we cross the border to India. I am happy to be the ‘white VIP’ because it takes us only an hour to cross the border. The process is much longer for the locals.

As usual I finish with a few likes and dislikes:

Likes:

  • Bengali people and their smiles 

  • Colourful clothes 

  • Lush green colours on the country side

  • Rickshaws traffic jams - it is really beautiful, although it is inhuman not to allow Dhaka rickshaw drivers to switch to electrical motors to keep it authentic. Sometimes, they have more than 4 people on their rickshaw. 

  • Scary rides in CNG (Bengali TuckTuck) - it is fast and fun

  • Paratha - flat bread, the name is an amalgamation of the words para and atta which literally means layers of cooked dough

  • Hope of young people for a better future 

  • Biking communities in Bangladesh

Dislikes:

  • crazy traffic and aggressive bus drivers

  • Corruption at all levels

  • Pollution and the effects of climate change on the environment in Bangladesh 

  • Us being complacent about the workers conditions in Bangladesh 

  • Women not being as free as men

  • Good schooling is not free

  • Some parents can’t send their children to school because they need the extra income

 In conclusion, Bangladesh is more than I ever expected. There is an energy and positivism in the younger generation that wants me to believe the future is brighter. Young men support young women in their desire to do the same things as men, f.eg. biking. The young generation faces many challenges in Bangladesh but I am confident that the new generation will create a better life for all. It is fascinating to observe how Impossible becomes “I’m possible”!

Very happy (photo credit: Siyam)


 

FRANK

Bangladesh is not a tourist destination. You can tell by the lack of information available on the internet and the out of date travel books, even among the most famous travel guides.

The only time we hear about Bangladesh is during the monsoon season through flooding documentaries, headline news or when a clothing factory producing clothes for expensive western brands collapses killing hundreds of people paid few cents/hour.

 When we arrived in Dhaka we had no expectation, just the excitement to discover a country we do not know much about. 

Within a few minutes, despite a typical Asian process to get our VOA ( visa on arrival), we were surrounded by people welcoming us with smiles and willing to help us to go through the process quickly and smoothly. China was already behind us....far behind.

Our first “mission” in Dhaka was to get an Indian Visa as we will cross the border biking. E-visa or VOA (visa on arrival) are available only if people fly into India. According to some traveler forums, applying for an Indian visa in Dhaka is a bureaucratic nightmare and many give up after multiple rejections, rather flying than crossing overland. 

Expecting to be stuck for a few days in the Bangladesh capital we decided to rent an Airbnb instead of a hotel room. Good call and good choice made. Shahid, our host welcomes us in a very nice, quiet and cozy studio in a gated residential neighborhood. 

Two full days and one sleepless night to go through the online forms on a government website full of bugs and do the line up with hundreds of other people. 99% of them from Bangladesh willing to cross the border for medical attentions or on a quest of better paid jobs.

5 more days to wait for the magic stamp in our passport gave us plenty time to visit the city and figure out an itinerary through Bangladesh.

Dhaka, very polluted city, horrendous traffic, very noisy....that is mainly what you get from reviews and comments. Well, we can confirm these facts, just add 32c and a lot of humidity. Traffic is so crazy that driving and traffic rules are not applicable. 10km requires over one hour to be covered....if you go by Tuck-Tuck or by moto taxi,... and if you are lucky. 

You can see the pollution, the air is thick, yellow and our faces are dusty after only a few minutes out. A non stop honking concert reaches levels of decibels that could challenge sounds in a night club. 

However, we liked to wander and get lost in old Dhaka narrow streets and wide boulevards of the upper scale areas of Dhaka. 

Wandering to discover amazing areas, and street life in such environmental conditions is exhausting and at night we feel we have just run an ultra event. The present story could be few pages long, just on Dhaka....photos and videos may tell better. 

We were surprised by the kindness of the people met, the numerous encounters made under the excuse of selfies and the smile on each face despite the poverty and precarious life existence of some. 

With or without smiles, people of Bangladesh are beautiful, charming, friendly and always there to help you if you ask for something or.... not.

How refreshing after China!

We left Dhaka with our Indian visas but without any clear idea of an itinerary. Heading North for about a first stretch of 320km to meet Arif, “spiritual” leader of  the Sylhet Cycling community. Desperate by the lack of information and source of information, I discovered the existence of cycling communities. Almost right away 2 replies popped up in my inbox. Siyam, who we will meet later, and Arif were excited to hear about us and willing to provide tips and meet us. 

By a smoggy early morning we hit the road heading to our first destination with a detour to an area known for tea plantation.  

On the way we have been cheered by few cyclists informed by the cycling community social network. They were waiting for us at different parts of our route, happy to share few pedal strokes with us. A lunch, few more km and few selfies before a goodbye till the next unexpected encounter. Great feelings each time even if our average pace drastically dropped down. 

Popular is probably not the right word to qualify Selfies. Bengalis can easily claim the title of Selfie experts. At first we thought selfies have been done in our honor, quickly we discovered it has nothing to do with us. We have maybe contributed to force Bengalis to explore new form of exposures because of our white skin contrasting with theirs and the light reflection on my bald head also new framing angles as we are taller than most of them but that is about it. After a while we came to a conclusion that when we want to leave a party we must count how many friends are around, then multiply that number by 4 ( the average selfies taken by each person) and finally multiplied by 30 seconds needed. For a good selfie. It is all about anticipation.

Keep in mind that selfies happen at any time, not only when a party is over. 

If you are on Facebook expect a sudden increase of your number of friends within few minutes after you met people. Mark Zuckerberg does not own Facebook, Bangladesh does.

Moulvybazar, Sylhet and Bogura cycling community have been particularly special in welcoming us. And we could not thank them enough for their time and enthusiasm shown to make our experience unforgettable. 

Overwhelmed by the hospitality, we even stayed 4 days in Sylhet learning about their different athletic and social projects, sharing morning and evening rides in the country side and tea farms. 

Our last evening turned out as a big party, Sylvia being dressed with a Red Sari and myself with a Panjabi and a Pijama. A lot of fun and generosity as our new outfits were given to us as a gift.

The Sylhet Cycling Community plans a big event for 2020... we will be there. 

I could keep writing in details about all the time spent with these young adults and their bicycles but I will only summarize by saying that the bicycles are not just a toy. They are a tool for environmental concerns and education, a link between people and gender to socialize, a way to stay healthy and fit and a friendly form of transportation to explore the country side to collect informations about various needs that the cycling community could support by organizing auctions or collecting money.

They like to see each other as brothers and sisters and that is definitely the impression we keep after watching them together.

Long life to all of them

The Jamuna River runs from North to South and splits the country in 2 parts. Only a couple of bridges allow to cross the river. Leaving Sylhet, we need to cross the river to reach the Western side of the country. The problem is that the bridge is too far South and we are not keen to ride 350km just for it. We heard about “ferries” crossing the river, we aimed for that option and were excited about it. As said earlier, waterways have always been the best way to move around in Bangladesh. However, “modernity and progress” have brought projects for new roads and enhancements for those already built. Definitely improving transport time but jeopardizing river transport businesses. River boats will eventually disappear and we want to experience that form of transport while it still exist. 

We are off season so only one river boat per day for the segment of river that will avoid us a longer journey on the road. Departure at 11pm...US$12 for both of us and our bikes.

Arif, big brother and spiritual leader of the Sylhet cycling community introduced us to another cyclist living in the little town where the launch will start. We stayed for some rest at his place after our 70km ride from Sylhet. By chance our host for a few hours is a friend of the river boat owner. The crew will take good care of us and help us to load the bikes on the launch. At this time of the year, rivers are very low. The lack of depth forces boats to stop far before their usual destinations offering business to Tuck-Tuck or other forms of transport to convoy people further.

At 11pm with our headlamps on we cycled to the river and the departure dock. A drop of easily 10meters transformed the boarding process in a perilous balance exercise in a steep muddy slope. The launch has 2 levels. What we could call the second class at water level furnished with metallic chairs and a little above, the first class with seats more comfy but probably dating from the 50’s if not even before that. 

River transportations are the cheapest way to travel, so for many people who could not afford a bus ticket the second class option at less than 1$ is popular. The launch left right on time and the crew right away make us feeling VIP, as much it can be in this kind of situation. No many people on the first class deck and Sylvia can have 4 seats to lay down and sleep for a few hours. 

I was so excited by the experience that I stayed up all night wandering around the boat and in the second class deck also occupied by the noisy big Detroit Diesel engine. The noise of the engine does not allow any clear conversation. Although, the mechanic is sitting, eating and sleeping right next to the engine ready to act at any moment under the order of the captain. A string and a big bell make the connection between them. 

Here also, Bengalis like Selfies and been taken in portrait. They get used of crappy cameras, declassified smartphone or very cheap Chinese brands. Selfies are usually blurry or foggy. So when I take a photo of them with my camera, I like to let them see the result. It definitely makes their day and they ask for more portraits. The difficulty is to surprise them to have other poses than those of an army caporal.

I made a lot of friends during the 7 hours, spent time with the captain navigating only by routine. No technology, no light, just the big steering wheel and his eyes to make sure the boat stays in the middle of the river in a dark night. 

Few very quick stops on the way to pick up people and freight in the middle of the night with the almost full moon to barely see some silhouettes waiting in the muddy river banks. Unbelievable experience. At sunrise the spectacle is stunning with a pale light and foggy air. The river is by then barely wider than the boat itself. Winding between rice fields and little settlements where we can see people busy by their early morning ablution in the green brownish water. The sun quickly rising red behind few trees. The moment is magic and we realize again that we are among the last people to be able to document such moments. 

Suddenly a big net blocked the river. Terminus. Everyone disembarked, walking on wood planks to avoid the mud. A crew member confirmed we had plenty time so we let everyone going out and the freight to be loaded on the back of porters first then on carts to a few little trucks waiting few hundred meters away.

We thanked the captain and the crew while they were already cleaning and preparing the rusty launch for its return with its new cargo of people and freight. 

Another couple of hundreds kilometers and we were getting closer to the next water experience.

However, as we were getting closer the info regarding the “ferry” that would allow us to cross that wide river were more confusing.

It went from: “ferry? , no ferry” to “ yes, boat but no possible with bicycle”

Trusting there is at least some sort of a boat it was hard to imagine we could not go with our bikes. Counting on our good angel we kept going toward the river. 

People we asked along the road let us believe we could have hopes to be able to cross that river one way or another. But the road they showed us looked more like a bicycle path than a road so we were quiet concerned we were taking the right direction especially when my compass showed we were heading North while we should go West.

A motor cycle coming from behind slowed down at our level. 2 policemen asked us if we were lost. Basic English but enough to explain : “ river, crossing and Bogura ( the name of the city we tried to reach on the other side)”

Under their escort we progressed to what looked like “nowhere” , confident we were going somewhere as they kept encouraging to ride on in response to our interrogative faces.

So much white sand now covering the narrow pavement that we were happy to have our fat tires. The green surrounding totally vanished and only bright white sand gave us the feeling we were reaching the coast of the ocean. 

A little wood booth covered with a metal sheet colored with potatoes chips bags hanging and swinging in light breeze. A guy sitting there is selling snacks and cups of tea to the few people around. The light was very bright, the sun was hot, the air was humid. This place was unreal. 

The river bank gave access to the water in a gentle slope. If this is the place to embark it will be much easier than our previous river experience. 

The policemen were pampering us...not sure why at that point but they paid us a tea and let us know where to buy tickets making sure the ticket guy did not charge us more than the regular price.

No clear information about a time frame but more people were showing up so it should not be too long.

A wooden long pirogue eventually beached. Passengers jumped out of it making room for all of us waiting on the beach. Probably about hundred human being and ... 2 bicycles.

We understood we should go down quickly now...pushing our loaded bikes in deep sand and with the help of passengers already packed in the pirogue, we managed to embark our bikes. Feeling sorry for the people, women, kids, babies and other men of all ages who had to squeeze to give us room. 

The bikes were longer than the width of the pirogue, not easy to fit them properly. The boat was so packed it reminded us these photos of immigrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Not enough space to sit anywhere in or on the edges of the vessel, I stood up for the time of the crossing. Easier to take pictures. 

Zig-zagging between sandbanks, we made our way to the other side in about one hour. Another long white beach to cross toward a wall of green trees contrasting nicely in the landscape. Straw and hay covering the sand marked the way and made the ride definitely easier. Not enough, though, for the few rickshaws carrying people rushing to be on time for the boat. Feeling sorry for the rickshaw riders forced to hike and push their load of passengers not willing to help by walking. Surreal. 

Coming toward us, a group of 10 cyclists. They were from the cycling community of Bogura. Dollar was leading the group of young cyclists. Dollar is the Arif for the Bogura cycling community. About the same age, the same wisdom, both are guiding the community, educate and create harmony between all the members. We rode together the 25km remaining to the city, escorted by another police patrol. Excited by this new warm welcome, we did not wonder why we had that escort and just enjoyed the ride chatting with our new friends.

Dollar booked an hotel for us and gave us 2 hours to refresh and eat something before meeting again in the lobby. We vaguely understood that there was a play telling the story of the Indian Sub continent and Bangladesh. Only 2 nights, we were lucky we were invited for the premiere.

Showered, clean clothes and some food in the stomach we were just in time for the meeting. First surprise, Dollar and a few other cyclists showed up with their bicycles, we were invited to take ours. Oooops, we were not really dressed for biking.... we trusted it would be only a few minutes ride. It is 4:30pm......It must be a late afternoon play......At 5:15pm we were still biking, now in the country side. I risked the question.

“ soooo, how far is that play?”.... “23km, only 10 more km” 

!!!!!!

Ok, so it will be 46km return to add to the 95km already biked today. It also means a return in the dark and we have not brought our headlamps. The road was narrow and the traffic increased. No doubt a lot of people were going to the play. More investigation and we learned it was an open air play in a historical area. Sponsored by the government, at only few weeks from the election an opportunity for the minister of transport and tourism to show up and do their speech in front of an estimated 35000 spectators. It is almost dark when we arrived on site and clearly this is a big event. Laser show, big spotlights and a huge crowd pressing to the site. We are foreigners, the only one for sure, so our new friends were playing the VIP card. We were guided through a dense crowd all the way up to the front, invited to sit down on the grass right in front of the government seats.

350 actors and dancers, 8 stages and 3 hours of an amazing show...totally unexpected.

At midnight we were back to the hotel after another 23km with the only light of a full moon to light the road and to avoid all the potholes.

What a day!

Siyam is a 20 years old man, passionate by photography, cyclist and excited by the idea to spend a few days with us cycling up north. We had contact with him through a forum where I posted a note asking for info about cycling in Bangladesh. That was a few weeks ago and we promised to make it happen. Arrived by bus from his hometown, he showed up sweating in the hotel lobby around 9:30 am. We were all ready to go, time to say goodbye to more new cyclists faces, the lobby became a photo studio with numerous selfies shooting.

A police jeep with 4 policemen was waiting in front of the hotel. Dollar, anxious for our security - !?!?- requested a police escort for us and gave to Siyam a list of phone numbers to call in order to organize the escort all the way to our common destination.

That was not the plan and I can see the face of Siyam changing as, like us, he was taken totally off guard.

Siyam is not only a very nice guy with a great sense of humor, a good photographer and a good team mate he is also a perfect negotiator and communicator. The original idea was to cycle with us for about 300km to visit his cousin family in Rangpur, the last big city on our itinerary before the Indian border. 

The poor guy was in charge by the police to call every police department on our way to give them an ETA so that every 15km a new police escort was waiting for us.

A situation that totally changed the dynamic of our journey. At each stop for rest, for food or for a drink the usual friendly curious crowd was kept in distance from us. We had escorts with bulletproof vests, big guns and crossing each village was done with sirens.

I lost my temper when the police refused us to stay in a guesthouse we choose to force us to go to another governmental hotel much more expensive. A thick odor of corruption and search of privilege.

Far too much for my anarchist genes. Big arguments with the police agent destabilized Siyam trying nicely to calm down everyone. Numerous phone calls to higher grade police agent, forcing Siyam to play a new role as translator. I could see Siyam worry for himself as it sounded like he received some sort of threats. 

After a couple of hours of verbal fight and promises that I will make some big waves about that situation, everything changes and we were suddenly allowed to stay in the guesthouse....for free.

Some of the police agents definitely concerned about a detailed report I promised to do after I asked for their names and grade spent the next few hours trying to explain us they were sorry and things will be very different now. I never got their name, though.

Siyam received numerous phone calls all night about the incident. Apparently the info went all the way up to the minister of tourism.

We will now be escorted all the way to the border with police staying in each of our accommodation for another 5 days. The election only few weeks later, the government did not want to take any risk with tourists. We never felt unsecured before so for us it remains a useless initiative that soon been triggered could not be stopped. Even more, instead of feeling protected we felt more like a perfect target for anyone who may have the idea to screw up the image of the government by committing something against 2 Canadian cyclists.

We spend 2 refreshing days in Siyam’s family, though. It helped to cool down our anger for that situation. Very nice family who took really nicely care of us and everything ended up with a fun evening dancing in their apartment with neighbors. Bangladesh as we like it and as we will keep it in mind.

The good thing about the police escorting us to the border is that they were so happy to get rid of us, they eased the custom formalities and within one hour we were able to say goodbye to the last escort and unfortunately, to a country that really kick our emotions more than once.

We will be back.....

 







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