Thursday, December 22, 2005

Welcome to the land of the Bengal Tiger (or the other reason why that Nike T-shirt cost you £20 instead of £50)

Tourists? What tourists?

Well, I’m finally here, welcome to Dhaka, capital city of this tiny South Asian country we call Bangladesh. On arrival at the airport from Dubai I was slightly amazed by the doubling of terminal space especially at Immigration because its usually pretty crowded. I however wasn’t surprised at the different tourism board (not the one above) billboards practically begging the occasional pleasure-seeking tourist to ‘avail’ the city’s tourist facilities. I’ve got to admit if there’s one thing this country is really good at its institutionalized begging!

If its not the tourism board it’s the government asking foreign countries for financial assistance. Hell, Bangladesh is home to the largest Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in the world (in terms of staff numbers) which more or less does what the government should be doing – developing the country!

I’ve tried promising myself that I won’t verbally abuse this country by pointing out all that’s wrong with it whilst knowing very well that its still in its infancy – the country only gained independence from Pakistan in 1971 – visit this link for a concise history of the country. But what else is there to be said for a country that’s been voted the most corrupt not once, not twice but five times in a row.

Here’s an interesting viewpoint: Due to what appears to be the extreme backwardness of the country, one must learn to do without certain things we take for granted back home. For example, if your skin colour is a considerably lighter shade of brown (i.e. you look foreign) your best bet to not be picked out from the crowds on the street (probably by pick-pockets or street-side hawkers or worse...kidnappers) is to take a plunge in your fashion-sense (what IS fashion anyway?) and wear very crappy clothes be they hand-me-downs from the cousins here or the crappiest trouser-shirt combination. I guess it’s the same old story in many developing countries cos’ almost everyone’s an opportunist on the street!

I’m just so frustrated with the pace of change here, every time I come here its like going back to the 80’s if not the 70’s and I don’t just mean the local equivalent of elevator music (or ‘Muzac’ to give it its proper name) or the upscale stores all still playing Chris De Burgh’s ‘Lady in Red’ or something of that era (yuck)!

Still, things are changing albeit at snail’s pace, I was here back in 2002 and I guess very few things have changed in Dhaka city, of the few the most noticeable must be the absence of the black and yellow three-wheeled ‘Baby Taxis’ or tuk-tuks as they’re known elsewhere in Asia. I remember just how much noise and air pollution they’d produce and how dangerously ill-balanced they were.
Now, all of these baby taxis have been replaced by green-coloured larger three-wheeled ‘CNG’s (or Compressed Natural Gas) baby taxis. They run much cleaner and quieter than their predecessors. This still hasn’t had much of an impact on the smog situation in the city but it’s a definite improvement. Most vehicles in the country are slowly being converted to CNG as its proving to be more efficient than petrol or diesel and its cheaper.

About my visit to Bangladesh this time around, I’ve made it a point to visit as few relatives as humanly possible as I’ve planned to travel around this allegedly beautiful country. Staying with the ‘rellies’ – as I like to call them, is the social equivalent of sinking sand, once you step in you can’t step out! Hence my previous decision. Of course there will always be the initial chorus of gasps from them but I’ve managed to hold my ground so far with the further aid of Mother dearest who usually has her way of smoothing over the cracks my explanations leave behind (my Bengali leaves little to be desired and it can get me into sticky situations with people here).

So the shortlist of places to visit this time around is as follows:

- The Tea Gardens of Sylhet in the North East of the country

- The dizzying heights of the Hill tracts of Chittagong in the South East

- The worlds longest uninterrupted sand beach in Cox’s Bazar and hopefully the
beautiful Island of Saint Martin in the Bay of Bengal

I sort of had an idea to go to the protected forests of the Sundarbans where you’ve got the best chance of spotting the native yet highly reserved Royal Bengal tiger and possibly the world’s largest mangrove forest but that plan got shelved due to the lack of time. In fact the whole trip to Oz has been shelved because my best friend from school Mo won’t be in Melbourne in time, so I’ve had to reallocate the time spent there to here in Bangladesh and to Singapore and Malaysia.

Oh well like the stand-up comedian Steven Wright once said, ‘You can’t have everything, where’d you put it?’. I’ll be posting more of my views as and when I get time and as usual they’ll not always be of much informative significance, just my usual two Pence (or Cents depending on where you’re reading this from).


Anonymous said...

OMG that was hilarious! You surely know how to compliment your country to attract newcomers (tourists)(hehe)
1st, I don't know how to match stripes with checks to fit in with the locals. I think I'd rather walk than ride those carts you speak about or they should give helmets to wear just in case. (tongue out)
3rd count your blessings MOM bails you out with the rellies. Mom's are good for many things.
Was a funny story....keep up the good work....Its nicely written!

Razib Ahmed said...

"I’ve tried promising myself that I won’t verbally abuse this country by pointing out all that’s wrong with it whilst knowing very well that its still in its infancy – the country only gained independence from Pakistan in 1971."
Bangladesh has a civilization of more than 2300 years old. If possible go to BOGRA and visit Mahastangar. Paharpur was one of the largerest educational institutes in South Asia more than 1200 years ago.