The western world (as I know it) has an incredible amount to learn from the hospitality provided elsewhere. It is 9.49pm and I am lying on a bed in a room that is shared as a living space for a lovely Bangladeshi family. There is no ceiling, so each room opens at the top to reveal the corrugated roof and sounds float between and in from the outside. Some people are still up and chatting.
I had a pleasant farewell with Futu’s family in the morning. Futu prepared me butter toast and an egg for breakfast. I sent off messages to my new friends to explain that I am leaving. Then I was off. I enjoyed the ride. The road would swap from being busy around the town centres to relatively peaceful in between. Some of the in-between sections took me through beautiful scenery. Rice fields shone in the sun and occasionally I would pass through a wide tunnel formed by the interwoven branches of magnificent trees that lined each side of the road and were ‘clothed’ in magical moss and ferns. When I got hungry, I found a place selling bread and curried vegetables. It was half the price of what can be found in Kolkata.
Eventually, I came to the border town and had to tackle immigration. The Indian side went pretty smoothly until they asked me how many rupees I had. I was automatically honest and said 2,000r, then got a shock when an officer said I can’t take it with me. It turns out you can’t take cash out of India. I explained that I was returning to India after Bangladesh, so why couldn’t I have some cash ready for my arrival. Two officers discussed the matter with each other, one fighting on my behalf. The first officer was having none of it. He said I’d have to get back and exchange it for Bangladeshi Taka (which would be a bad rate). I solved the problem with some quick thinking, which is rare for me when it comes to logical, practical matters. I opened my wallet and said I would check how much I had. My wallet has two sleeves for notes. I keep larger notes in one and smaller notes in the other. As I opened my wallet, I was able to keep the sleeve with the larger notes closed. I pulled out the few crumpled notes from the other sleeve, which totalled 350r. ‘Oh’, I said. ‘I only have 350r’. But you said you had 2000r. ‘Yeah, I made a mistake’. Hmmm. Ok. You can take 350r. Score!
I was stuck in Bangladeshi immigration for a couple of hours. The border crossing is a well-oiled machine for the Bangladeshis and Indians that frequently make the journey. Not so for a foreigner like me. Firstly, I was told to wait, for no apparent reason. After 15 minutes I asked why and was told they were waiting for one particular guy to deal with me. A guy eventually came and looked at my passport. I then watched my passport get handed around the entire place for about 15 minutes. No one seemed to know what to do with it. Eventually, I was taken into an office. The passport had made its way to the Immigration Superintendent, the big boss. I was drilled with questions: Why do want to come to Bangladesh? Do you have friends here? Do you know anyone here? Where is your invitation letter? ‘But there is no requirement for a letter!’ How much money do you have? [After the money issue on the Indian side, I decided to hide some cash while I passed the border, in case I have an issue with bringing too much money into Bangladesh]. ‘US$50 and 500 taka’. The visa is US$50. ‘Yes, that is why I have US$50’. So you have only 500 taka! That is not enough. You can’t come to Bangladesh with just 500 taka. [So my idea to hide money backfired] ‘I have a bank card so can get cash from ATMs whenever I need it’. In the end the Superintendent called an even more senior person on the phone and was told by them that they could let me in. So followed another long wait as a bunch of paperwork was filled in.
The funny thing was that as my passport got handed back, everything changed. I received a big smile and an enthusiastic ‘Welcome to Bangladesh. I hope you like it. Here is a number of the Officer In Charge at Jessore police station. If you have any trouble whatsoever, just give him a call and he will help you. We have called him to let him know you might be in contact. Be safe and have a good journey’. All of a sudden I was on the other side of the fence and free to explore a new country, my ninth so far.
I immediately felt at home. I was greeted by passers-by with ‘Hey Brother’ as I rode through the busyness of Benapole and into a scenic rural area. I quickly realised the rickshaws passing me silently are electric – India really needs to borrow the idea. At one point a driver of one of these stopped ahead of me and waved me down for a chat. With very simple English he managed to invite me to his house. After a moment’s hesitation, I agreed. He said it was back the way we’d come a little. He drove off and I followed for a short while before I started changing my mind. The sun was getting low and I didn’t want to end up on a wild goose chase (I was remembering the time I was told a house was 500m away when it was actually about a 30-minute ride away). I waved him down and said I was going to continue on to Jessore. He insisted I came with him to his house. I asked how far it was. 1km. I relented and followed him. Less than 1km on we turned off the bitumen road and entered a narrow paved road that quickly turned into a rough dirt track. We bumped along slowly, passing through village scenes. The noise of the road disappeared and in its place was peace, quiet and very beautiful scenes of village life. Eventually, we pulled into a courtyard. We’d made it. I parked up my bike as my friend Shazan stood proudly as a crowd of people gathered. The next while was a blur of meeting people and having photos taken. I was happy to meet two awesome guys (Imran and Juju) who could speak good English and they became my buddies. It wasn’t long before a feast was placed before me. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast (it was now around 3.30pm), so I was starving. After eating, Imran gave me a tour of part of the village surrounds, explaining a little about their life. They are subsistent farmers. I was shown mahogany tree plantations (also the site of their cricket pitch), rice fields, banana trees, mango trees, beans, goats, cows and chickens.
Shazan insisted that I needed to go to the police station so they can get permission to have me stay. At the police station I was led into a little office and under the stares of a small gathering, I was drilled about what I was doing in Bangladesh and why. I don’t know what power the police have but it seems everyone is being careful where my presence is concerned. The guys at the border control and again here. Maybe it comes from an awareness that the presence of a foreigner could receive attention from undesirable people, like the terrorists who murdered a bunch of foreigners in Dhaka in 2016. By the time we escaped from the police station it was dark. On the way home we stopped at a teashop and I had to meet someone from the local government. Finally, we made it home. I spent the rest of the night hanging out with Juju.
|Accommodation||House of a friendly family|
|Distance ridden today||49.41km|
|Average cycling speed||15.9kph|
|Total distance ridden||14,437km|