Bangladesh and Nepal

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I have pictures from Nepal, and text from Bangladesh. To skip down to Bangladesh, click here.


Pauline and I spent about a month in Nepal around February, 97.

Tibetan New Year's flags

We spent most of the time in Kathmandu, but took most of our pictures while trekking. The trek was ten days in the Himalaya. The bus dropped us off at the highest place that the road goes in that area, then we walked for about six days up, and four days back down.

It was the Tibetan New Year at the time, and we were very close to Tibet. The picture above shows the flags that were flying to signify this holiday.

Kyangjin Gompa

This was the goal. Kyanjin Gompa was the last stop on our trek (so naturally it's one of the first pictures on this page). The village itself is at 3,800 meters (about 12,500 feet). The mountains surrounding the village include Langtang Lirung, at 7,246 meters (about 23,700 feet). To put this in perspective, Mt. McKinley (the highest point in North America) is only 6,197 meters (or about 20,320 ft).

Kids Joimah and her brother

Some kids we met along the way. I love their clothes. This girl in the picture on the right is named Joimah. She was hilarious, a real little matron. Her family ran one of the tea houses we stayed in along the way (just a place to eat and sleep). The first morning we were there, she burst into our room and woke us up, asking, "Something Tea?" So we said sure, and had a cup of tea with her.

Joimah used to save candy wrappers in the folds of her clothes, and her brother (also in the picture) used to keep little bread sticks under his hat.

Rob relaxing

Here I am sitting in Langtang (3,500 meters). It got fairly warm in the sun, but in the shade it was still February (and high altitude).

Note the stones on top of the awning above me. They used stones to weigh down roofs and other things that might otherwise blow away in the strong winds.

And now...the climbing yak. I guess that people put the hay in the trees to keep it from blowing away. This yak had no trouble getting to it.

As I moved closer to get a better shot, some passing villagers spotted me and thought I was going the wrong way on the trail. They were sweet, and kept yelling and pointing the right way.

Climbing yak

Waving hello to Pauline in Langtang. The river was all ice, but I wasn't prepared to test it.

Once again you can see the stones weighing down the roofs. Don't ask me why this fascinates me. I have no idea.

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In Malaysia, I had a Bangladeshi friend named Jamal, who had promised me that his family was waiting for Pauline and me to get there, so that they could show us around. So we went.

Until I get around to writing something here (or at least scanning in some pictures), I have put selected bits of Pauline's Journal here. I love her journal, it's almost stream of consciousness, and it's incredibly descriptive. This journal is not divided into parts, but I've just picked some spots that you can jump to if you want:

“The Rocket”

Meningococcal Meningitis shot

Biman Airlines - Dessert on board was an introduction to the Bangladeshi rice-based sweet sweets - this one custard-like with bitter almonds as the unmistakable flavouring, small green kernels on top. After the meal I took pen and paper to the rear of the plane in order to have a flight attendant, Zahir, write a “vegetarian caution” in Bangla!

It came out something like this:

I am vegetarian. I do not take fish, meat or egg. Please give food consisting only of vegetables. Make no mistake about it. Pauline. [Unfortunately, we often found ourselves eating in places where the waiters couldn't read. They'd pass the note around until someone could figure it out. rl]

January 4th, 1997. Foggy and cold. 10:40pm Gallery of Bangladeshi's behind the gate at the airport, swaddled, silent, black. What are they doing?

400taka for a taxi from the airport, to a hotel some English-speaking Bangladeshi recommends, and as always, takes commission for. We ride with a Townsville lad, who spends six months of the year travelling on his Harley-Davidson, chipping away at a round-the-world goal; and a smooth, brown, scruffy “swaggie”-looking Japanese man, crashing his trolley-bag behind him, sneakers hanging by the laces from his backpack. Skittish and loud like he's on something but effortlessly concealing his 58 years!!!

The hotel, a certainty at the airport, turns out to be fully booked and the Bangla guy gets easily agitated asking us to call hotels from our guidebook, or one from a stack of business cards in his wallet. Apparently the Indian Prime Minister is in town. Its no great mystery that the guide tells us that now, and not before assuring us all rooms. On the phone, some numbers have changed, we're all standing out front, trucks merrily painted drive by the rows parked in the black street. More and more men gather round, silent, smiling, staring. The Japanese man raises his voice and flaps his arms at the Bangla guy for not following through on his offer, mosquitoes hover, this hotel wants to put all four of us in a room together, the Japanese man gets ready to just set up camp in the hallway at Reception, we give him the room, get back in the taxi and drive on to another hotel, double the original price and then some. Tired and eager to be rid of the helper.

Next morning I need some serious motivation from Rob. I know its brutally hot out there and I have to don a long dress, long-sleeved shirt, buttoned all the way, and at the cuffs. We go to the bazaar by the river, searching for “Zico Garments” to meet Mr. Babul. (A perfect name we think) We sit drinking tea amongst wall to wall shirts and impossibly bright cardigans. Jamal never did phone to prepare the family for our visit. The backpack filled with aforementioned sundries is regarded with little more than a nod, sideways tilt of the head. Rob trying to impress upon them its all from Jamal, you know, friend, from Malaysia?

Even though we didn't stay in their home as we'd hoped, their hospitality (understandably wary at first) is well placed. Jamal's father and Shamim, Jamal's brother bring fruit and formal greetings most humble, it's early in the morning and the room is messy.

We had moved to "“Hotel - al - Razzaque” on North-South Road in Dhaka's old city.

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There were notices (in English) for spittoons in the corners of each floor, of the stair landings:

“cleanliness is the part of faith” and “use me, don't spit everywhere.”

Even the Pink Palace has silver-plated spittoons (a ridiculous word) dating the early 1900's. Is this something we are to admire...

Betel-nut “blood” spats. A digestive and mild narcotic, it is taken with lime paste and leaves. It stains the lips and gums orange to a deep burgundy.

During Ramadan (or Ramzan in Bangladesh) spitting seems to reach epidemic proportions. Men, Women, Children and LOUD. Ramadan is the Muslim month of fasting, being 1997 it begins January 10. Dawn to dusk it is forbidden to partake of any food or fluids including one's own spit. Physical pleasures and “impure” thoughts are also forbidden. Iftar is the meal/feast taken at nightfall, another just before dawn and the Sehri “call to prayer”. Iftari is food eaten at Iftar.

Some Iftari: vegetable patties (prepared by grating and frying)
lentils with chili and onion (whole chilies sticking up out of the mound)
eggplant dipped in bright orange batter and fried
moori-cheera - rice bubbles with cold lentils resembling chickpeas (interesting texture and temperature)

The restaurant below the hotel has cubicles curtained off from the large eating area. Women eat with their husbands and family in relative seclusion and (surprising) comfort. Adolescent boy waiters are friendly, dutiful, and retreat from your table with "honour". Food is the same all day long, mutton/chicken briyani (a rice dish common in Indian cuisine), watery dhal (cooked lentils ground into a thick soup consistency), roti (an unleavened bread) if you ask, and a dish of grated cucumber (once coming with a spicy radish-like dressing). Espresso cups of thick sweet cha (tea). Roasted coriander seeds as digestive.

Shobji, (vegetables) only served at 12pm, is a spoonful of what looks like the filling for mum's samosas - potato with lots of spices and onion. Very tasty despite the presentation.

Chokputi on the street: chickpeas with tamarind, spices and grated boiled egg on top.

The building of the “Leprosy and Tuberculosis Treatment/Research Centre” bears a picture of a man vomiting up blood.

Old Dhaka City is frenzied day and night. Rickshaws and Baby Taxis (tuk-tuks) hurtling along or banked up in jams. Bells and horns and smoke. We bury our faces in the openings of our shirts, eyes stinging. Imagine this in the height of summer? I don't dare. Women are hard to find on the streets but are brilliantly adorned, saris and gold nose rings/jewelry sparkling. A different set of physical characteristics but indefinable. Dark skins, some black, but many more with grey, hazel, green eyes. Business men dress like Westerners. Others very proudly but poorly swathed in sarong and embroidered woollen shawls/capes/“blankets”, or shirts with woollen vests and patterned neck scarves. Don't they feel the heat?

Salwar kameez - long-sleeved knee-length shirt worn over pants is worn by unmarried women and religious men. Little box hats and stiff, crocheted ones.

Sari - worn by married women. It is one piece of fabric tied first at the waist then wound around the body, finally draping the head. Tight, cropped “blouse piece” worn underneath.

Bangladesh is known for its fabric - cotton and silk. Loom-embroidered muslin or silk - Jamdaini was originally exclusively woven for the imperial household. Textiles ventalis: fabrics woven “of air.”

Jute - Bangladesh is responsible for 80% of the world's production . The demand is now steadily in decline.

Pink pearls - gleaned from River oysters. “River Gypsies” sell these and herbal medicines to neighbouring communities.

There are approximately 400 Bengal Tigers in the Sunderbans Forest (“beautiful forest”). The tigers grow to two metres and weigh up to 290kgs.

baksheesh - supposedly the term for tips, but far more frequently, money for beggars. Rob keeps a pocketful of one and two taka notes but how can you discriminate? Some people are obviously disfigured, blind, disabled, others showing no outward signs, some downright healthy-looking children trying their luck, we're sure, on foreigners, the locals don't even take the beggars into their gaze. Some are persistent and follow us, mumbling incessantly. Giving feels less like helping them, more like buying relief and peace for ourselves.

Sugar like pots of wax, “hello friend” the market men call out breaking off a piece for us to take.

Goiters: men (mainly, also the case in Indonesia) with bulging necks developed because of iodine deficiencies. If only iodine was added to table salt maybe this would be overcome.

Chickens - Moorgi (rooster) Moorga (hen) Baccha (chicks) tied by the feet, hanging in groups from people's hands in the market, on a bus. Bamboo baskets the size of kiddie pools.

Pulling out the guide book for a map, see the people swarm around us, put it away and they take backwards steps but stay and watch us, blocking our view. So many times we become one of the exhibits in a museum, the attraction at an attraction. Snake charmers in North-South road, just walking by us they try to look inconspicuous, the lengths they go to are priceless, pathetically obvious.

ANZ Grindlays [Rob's note - This is a bank] - Western woman “innocently” asks Security guard how to change big taka to small notes and she automatically goes to the teller ahead of a queue of 20 or so Bangladeshi men. Ace! On the way out I thank him, he shakes my hand gives his title and assures me of repeat service.

AMX Bank - the stock exchange has spilled out onto the street, hundreds of men charging share certificates at passers by.

[Rob's note - We had a run-in with a guy who told us he'd “Hijack” us. He followed us for a long time, so we visited a guy we had met earlier, and he was incredibly nice to us for several days. His name was Captain Zahir. Back to Pauline....]

Captain Zahir's office is our refuge after the not-to-be-taken-lightly yellow-eyed "hijack" man encounter. Zahir has the smile of Ian Reid (sleazy at worst), and the kind of display of generosity that can come of being financially comfortable.

A night tour of the Public Assembly Art Gallery and political monuments (Zahir is a political science major), Arrong handcraft department store, dinner at a Thai/Chinese Szechwan Restaurant paid for by our host, with an agonizing vegetarianism debate, a box with two of just about every kind of Bangladeshi “sweetmeat” made, (cloying and redolent of rosewater, one in particular was bearable, nice actually, a kind of cheesecake texture with honey and coconut).

Clearly we have now had tour representatives from the old city and the new city. Shamim [Jamal's relative] apologetic for all the shouted greetings he thinks are exclusive to his country!

Cross the River with Shamim through ghettos of clothing manufacturers, dark cavities raised off the ground, antique manual sewing machines busy, lines of jeans drying, dye-lots green, black and navy (Banga Bazaar and Export). Rickshaw ride out to terraced rural area, a raised path winding between recessed paddies of some unidentifiable crop. Dusty, tiny barefooted girls with matted hair, crusty faces but bright floral frilly dresses. And smiles. We sit on two straight-backed wooden chairs drinking coke from faded, scratched bottles, in the middle of the lot which will some day be Shamim's house. Bamboo frame is ready on one narrow end, the roof, thatched, level, and covered with corrugated tin. Neighbours peer and giggle over fences and edge their way toward us. A peaceful place, Shamim says is targeted for major development, lucky for him as it will increase the value of his property.

Mattress shops - hand stitched mattresses, big hessian bags of raw wool and cotton.

Paper bags of spices: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods.

Hessian bags with necks rolled down so curry powder, turmeric and garam marsala may be trowelled into steep peaks.

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6pm Friday January 10th. Dhaka to Kulna via Mongla.

[The Rocket is the name of a paddle boat that travels south from Dhaka]

BIWTC Rocket “Ostrich” 1st class at 750taka each. Colonial style paddle steamer, clean wooden cabins with cane chairs out on the covered deck and long tables in common meals area. Townsville man is also in 1st class.

Meals are expensive on board, more than 160taka not the 45taka for dinner and 20 for breakfast we read about in the guidebook! We wrestle down to 80taka each for shobji the first meal. We lose a 500taka note or rather it is stolen from Rob's wallet which was in his jeans pocket. He left his jeans hanging up in the bathroom for less than twenty minutes. We eat lunch for free after explaining our situation and learning that we're not able to change t/c on board. Lucky.

Buffalo nodding over ledges.

Boats with huge rear paddle steered in figure eight's.

Mangroves gone adrift move so quickly down-river to commune with the solid carpet of stationary ones, it is the same sensation as like two trains at a platform, one leaves slowly, one is stock still, but which is which? Looking at the water, it feels as though we are still gliding along - when firmly docked at one of five ports.

Kulna 7:45pm Saturday

Society Hotel. First time I have slept under a mosha (mosquito) net.

Late at night, four flights of steps in a dark damp vault lead us to a roof top “temple” where we eat dinner. Three good types of shobji and eggplant with dhal and rice. 20taka each. Served to us by a family, a boy and two straggly but very beautiful girls, who emerge from a cramped glowing room, sleepy-eyed.

Sour marinated chili olive-like fruit.

After posting letters we walk to the riverside by the brick-stackers and take tea with a “Chicken Food and Pesticide Supplier” and his friends. Later someone fetches misti doy - two saucers of apricot coloured cow's yoghurt. In passing we had only asked where we could possibly get some, then felt bad when they insisted we eat it in front of them while they observed Ramzan.

That's all we've got here so far.

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