Three weeks of cycling through Bangladesh has been an interesting experience. This is the most densely populated country on earth, with about 160 million people packed into a relatively small space. I was literally never alone - wherever I looked I could see people, and when I stopped a large crowd would immediately gather around to stare. Very little English is spoken, and road signs as well as writing on buildings etc. is mostly in Bangla (different alphabet). However, I found the people to be extremely friendly and welcoming, often buying me tea at the roadside stalls and thanking me for visiting their country. There are very few tourists, and in these 3 weeks I only spotted a handful of foreigners. In the cities and towns the main form of transport is the cycle riksha, often clogging the narrow streets and bringing traffic to a stand-still. In the capital Dhaka, a city of 15 million, there are apparently more than 600 000 of these riksha's. Flat-bed "cargo riksha's" as well as bicycles are also prevalent. Bangladesh is a beautiful green country with water everywhere (reportedly more water flows through this country than through the whole of Europe). Many of the rivers are navigable, and boats of all shapes and sizes are used to ferry passengers and a variety of cargo. On a few occasions I had to take a ferry ride across wide rivers where there are no bridges. In other places I crossed bridges a few k's long. I also visited the 2nd largest city (Chittagong), where the ship-breaking yards on the beaches North of the city can be seen from the road (I was not permitted to take photo's or even enter the yards). I also went further South-East (almost as far as the road goes) to swim at the beach of the "holiday city" Cox's Bazar. In Comilla I was interviewed by the editor of the local newpaper, Bakin Rabbi. He and his wife (Shahan) invited me to stay for the night, and they fed me so well that I must have made a big dent in their food budget. The most dangerous thing I found in Bangladesh is the continuous stream of busses on the main roads. The bus drivers obviously have visions of Grand Prix racing as they charge flat-out through villages along the crowded narrow roads (I did see quite a number of accidents). I suppose the next most dangerous thing was at Cox's Bazar, where I woke during the night to find a cat burglar on the ledge outside my 3rd floor window fishing for valuables through the burglar bars with a bamboo pole (he managed to escape with 2 banana's). I've now returned to India, and am back in Kolkata with a brand-new visa. All I need now is money, as my stash has just about run out. Daily distances cycled since my last report are:- Bangoan 81 km; Jessore 48 km; Faridpur 98 km; Manikganj 68 km; Dhaka 68 km; Comilla 95 km; Chittagong 163 km; Cox's Bazar 172 km; Chittagong 152 km; Feni 98 km; Comilla 60 km; Dhaka 97 km; Faridpur 128 km; Jessore 98 km; Kolkata 127 km. Total distance since the start of this jouney is 30 605 km.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Since leaving Delhi it seems that I've been playing a bit of a survival game on the roads, particularly the first part of the route. About half the distance of this leg was through the state of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India. Through this area I was traveling on a narrow, crowded, bumpy road with 2-way traffic. If I said that I was run off the road a hundred times a day I wouldn't be exagerating by much (mostly on-coming overtaking trucks). Varanasi was my 1st rest stop, where I arrived in the chaos of traffic jams and narrow winding alleys. This city on the Ganga river is the most holy place for hindu's, and people come here not only to bathe but also to cremate their dead at the waterside ghats. I was fortunate to experience a pre-dawn row-boat ride up the river along the ghats (photo), from where you can see cremations in progress, hundreds of people bathing, people worshiping and ringing bells at the temples, and even "laughter yoga". After Varanasi I cycled mostly on a new highway, with a diversion to visit Boddhgaya - the origin of Buddhism. I visited the temple built at the place where the Prince sat under the Bodhi tree and became enlightened, thus becoming the Buddha (photo inside temple). While I was on the road India celebrated the festival of Divali, a big annual occasion involving lots of fireworks. In some of the towns one side of the highway had been closed off to make way for the festivities, and some people took the opportunity to dry their rice in the road or even use it as a threshing floor (photo). It is also common to decorate animals such as cows and goats at this time (photo of painted horns). In India anything goes, and the dual highway often became just two parallel roads with traffic in both directions (especially in the vicinity of towns). Now I'm in Kolkata, resting my backside and recovering from a sprained thumb and bruised knee due to a fall on the way in to this city (I was trying to avoid being crushed by a truck which was speeding up the off-ramp on the highway). Kolkata is a large (15 mil), interesting and chaotic (Indian) city, and I've walked and taken the metro around a bit to see the sights (photo: Victoria Memorial). Daily distances cycled since Delhi have been:- Garmukteshwar 101 km; Rampur 104 km; Miranpur 108 km; Sitapur 130 km; Lucknow 98 km; Sultanpur 146 km; Varanasi 158 km; Sasaram 125 km; Boddhgaya 143 km; Bagodar 134 km; Asansol 139 km; Burdwan 111 km; and Kolkata 115 km. Total distance since Cape Town is 29 052 km.