24, 2011 Siliguri to Jalpaiguru 41.9 km
The roads in this part of India are very poorly
surfaced. We'd make much better time if we weren't having to swerve
around potholes constantly. Getting out of Siliguri was simpler than
we'd thought it would be and we got out to the relative quiet of the
countryside soon enough. Stopped at one nice-looking place for lunch but
the men there were quite reluctant to do any cooking. So we continued on
and came to a place with women in the kitchen and got a bang-up meal.
People here are gearing up Diwali celebrations. I've
never seen an Indian festival so I was a little disappointed to be
missing it. Tim is a bit more cynical and says Indian celebrations are
crowded and noisy spectacles, and not to worry as they love a good party
and there will be plenty more. Diwali is the festival where people throw
handfuls of colored dust at each other, which sounds picturesque but
could make quite a mess of our panniers and cameras.
We found a grungy little place to stay in Jalpaiguru
and some greasy samosas for dinner. The young man at the guesthouse
seemed a bit touched and very excited about our bikes. He found many
reasons to come knocking at the door, motioning that we should come
downstairs and give him a ride.
October 25, 2011 Jalpaiguru to Patgram, Bangladesh
We were woken up by some knocks on the door. The kid
downstairs wanted to unlock the bikes, I suppose to go out for a morning
spin. Tim had to let him down. While we were loading the bikes, Tim
noticed that his rear rack was broken! It's not on a stress point, and
with the weight of the pannier it should stay together. Later we'll look
for a shop selling hose clamps. What another piece of bad luck. Tim is
really depressed about all the equipment trouble he's been having.
The ride out to the border was uneventful except for
the bridge over the Teesta River. We were trucking along on fine, smooth
pavement and good traffic when we came up to a line of stopped cars.
Taking the shoulder and the empty right lane, we wove around, made it
over the bridge and a few kilometers later finally came up to the cause
of this major traffic blockage. It was a huge truck that had bottomed
out in a deep pothole, causing the oil pan to break and spew oil all
over the road. One lone policeman was directing traffic around the
stranded truck. The backup in the other direction was just as
ridiculous. It must have taken hours for the trucks and cars and buses
to get through but the bikes and motorcycles managed to pick out a lane
through just fine.
The scenery today was quite stunning, and really
reminded me of riding in Indonesia last year. Flat rice fields, the rice
ripening and turning golden, more cows and goats trotting around,
bamboo, bicycles and banana trees. We stopped for lunch at a tiny town
and ate fried rice with dahl while a crowd watched. Three little boys
were especially funny; they sat in a row on a bench nearby and held up
newspapers, pretending to read while they spied on us.
Soon enough after lunch we came to the border area - a
very casual affair. The Indian immigration was a couple of sticky shacks
and shipping containers. A very nice young man was our helper, and after
he led us down dirt paths passed a little dirty swamp full of trash to
the various offices, he took us to his shack where we could change our
Indian rupees to Bangladeshi taka. The rate is good right now. The
Bangladeshi side was slightly more official. The first office was a more
substantial shack, the second was down a wandering path next to a
building site where a much nicer immigration office is being
constructed. I think there was a moment of disapproval when we admitted
that we weren't married (usually we say we are, but it seems a bad idea
to lie to immigration officials) but that passed quickly enough when we
asked for some Bangladeshi pronunciation tips. And then, bam! There we
were riding bikes in Bangladesh, our third country in six months!
I have learned a long time ago, no matter where I am in the world, the highest
ranking officer in charge is the one I want to make friends with - whether it be
police or military. This Indian Army officer who oversaw our check out of
India was delighted to pose for a picture after some chatting. After I
showed him my card he requested I include him in the next book.
First thing you notice about Bangladesh: there are a
million bicycles. Rickshaws, wagon carts, Indian Heros, all with bells
that sound like old-fashioned telephone rings. The next thing you
notice: everyone is staring at you, and they're mostly men. Not bad
staring, just curious staring. There were some ladies in groups, dressed
in colorful veils and scarves. I cycled next to a bicycle wagon full of
ladies and they chatted with me happily enough. I didn't understand a
single word but it was a nice conversation nevertheless.
We scooted through the first town, Burimuri, where
supposedly there is a guesthouse but we didn't see it. The next town was
only 12 kilometers away so we kept on going. On the roadsides, there was
a bit of quarry work going on. A little prehistoric looking with all the
manual labor. Fred Flintstone with his dinosaur would fit right it.
There are piles of big rocks being made into smaller rocks, either by
grinder machines, which look like they occasionally grind an arm or
finger by accident, or by old men, women or small children, chipping
away at rocks with little hammers, looking like prisoners from old timey
cartoons. All in the hot sun, no shade, looked like pretty horrible
work. At least the rock chippers got a kick out of seeing two weirdos on
bikes riding by. We got a lot of laughs and yells and waves as we rode
Our first impression of bicycle touring in Bangladesh was good - Besides a few
trucks and buses the country uses pedal power more than any country I have
visited so far. Gretchen has to cover up a little more because of the
Muslim traditions but the local ladies in the back of the "bike trucks" are very
talkative and friendly with her - the men, thinking I speak Bengali, talk my ear
off but the women seem to avoid me.
Soon we came to a more populated area and decided we'd
better ask for directions to a guesthouse. I found a well-dressed man on
a motorcycle to ask and fortunately he spoke English. In the short time
it took for me to communicate what we needed and he graciously offered
to escort us down the street, we attracted a humungous crowd of people.
Just curious, not hostile in the least, but disconcerting. This might
take some getting used to. Our new best friend led us to a hotel, helped
us check in, and made sure we were comfortable before leaving. Our room
has two fans, a TV, and two mosquito nets. I'll say we're comfortable!
After a shower, I put on my baggiest shirt and my long
skirt. I don't own a headscarf so I tied on a bandana. Close enough.
When we got on the street, I noticed that most men here have longer
skirts than mine. And we attract some attention. We went into a
restaurant and sat at a table with two bright high school students. They
helped translate for the twenty other guys who dropped by to ask what we
were all about. We ate something nice, eggs and veg fried up in a bread
thing, and then something sweet. Then we walked around the busy streets
for awhile. There are a million bike shops. We saw a guy truing wheels
by candlelight. The gear is all clunky and wrong for our bikes, but it's
still cool to see. The rickshaws are lit by oil lanterns that hang from
the bottom of the carriage. Tim walked into a cellphone store to ask
about data modems and we realized we'd attracted quite an entourage. No
less than 15 men and boys followed us into the tiny shop, just to see
what we would do.
October 26, 2011 Patgram to Rangpur 91.7 km
Last night we got some map help from people at the
restaurant, good thing as there are several possible routes to Rangpur.
The road we ended up taking was slightly shorter than the rest, but
definitely long enough. Surprisingly, the roads are all well-paved and
we even saw a road crew working on potholes with the skinniest
steamroller I've ever seen. Not many private cars on the roads. We
shared the day with bicycles galore and humming electric three-wheeled
share taxis, made in China. Bangladesh does considerably more trade with
China than India does. There is even a cable channel from Macau with
Chinese subtitles here.
was chaotic. Let's just say that restaurants in small towns will take
some getting used to. We pulled into the yard of what might be a place
to eat. I waited outside with the bikes and a rapidly forming crowd
while Tim scoped out the eating possibilities. With dozens of eyes on
me, I had no idea where to look. Should I stare back? Look at the
ground? The sky? Tim returned looking confused.
“There's rice. I don't know what else.”
“Let me look.” Desperate to be out of the limelight, I
went inside the dim building. The benches and tables were full of men
drinking water and chai. One man showed me a cupboard in the back
containing a bowl of rice and some bowls of... other stuff. Looked like
“Let's eat!” We leaned the bikes against a wall
outside where we could see them from our table and sat down. With a
crowd watching and commenting on our every move. Actually, everyone was
very nice, showed me a basin where I could wash my hands, even fetched a
bar of soap. While we were wondering how to order, dishes began
appearing on the table. Did we want rice? Sure. A bowl of dahl? Great.
Samosas? Delicious! A stringy bit of chicken? Mmm, why not? When the
curious crowd outside clustered too closely at the window, the crowd
inside shooed them away so our view of the bikes was never obscured. One
brave soul quizzed us about our nationality, marital status and number
of children. We lied a little. Well, Tim lied. I didn't get asked
anything. There was one other woman in the place, working back in the
We rode into Rangpur. According to the Lonely Planet,
“The central area is a rainbow-flavoured lollipop of markets and
rickshaws.” I don't know about rainbow-flavoring, but there are a great
many sari shops, jewelry shops and cell phone shops. My favorite are the
book shops, full of English titled text books filed in complete
disarray. “The Essentials of Algebra, Principles of Mechanical
Engineering, Macroeconomics.” In our search for a restaurant, we
wandered down streets clogged with people and found a Hindu Temple where
Diwali celebrations were revving up.
October 28, 2011 Rangpur to Mahasthangarh 98.3 km
left town through the maze of tiny streets, heading out towards the main
highway. About 2km from the hotel, Tim got a flat on his front tire,
most likely caused by over-filling the tube in the spare tire. We drew a
good audience while he changed it out. The lady of the home we were
parked in front of brought me a chair and enjoyed telling the crowd of
on-lookers about these strange Americans who'd landed in her yard.
Fifteen minutes later we were rolling again. The road surface on the
highway was great. In general, the roads in Bangladesh have been smooth
sailing, much better than Indian roads. Perhaps since they carry less
traffic, although this highway was more crowded than we'd experienced
before. We shared the road with trucks carrying loads of bananas, hay or
bags of cement. Along with the usual hoards of bicycles, rickshaws,
motorbikes and baby taxis. The baby taxis are three-wheeled tuk-tuks,
usually powered by Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), making them quiet and
less smokey. Tim thinks it's probably Liquid Petroleum, as we can't
quite make out how natural gas would get compressed.
Cyclists in Bangladesh know all about drafting, while
I am still in the beginner stage. I really hate not being able to see
the road directly in front of me. And for some reason, I can't feel the
draft. I am slipstream frigid. Totally faking it. While I struggle along
with the learning process, other cyclists are drafting off of me. One
young high school student got up next to Tim for a chat. He was fast
too, on his one speed little Hero. With his school books clipped to the
rear rack and his pencil box in hand, he rides 17km to his school and
has plans to go to Delhi for University to study engineering. Smart kid!
passed banana plantations where huge bunches of green bananas were
getting loaded into trucks. A hay truck passed us, brushing our heads
with its bushy load of dried yellow hay. Brick kilns with tall chimneys
dotted the roadside. Goats and sheep nibbled in the recently harvested
rice paddies. Trains of bicycle carts trundled along, drafting off each
other to ease the burden. CNG taxis buzzed by, passengers craning their
necks to get a good look.
We stopped for lunch, again in a tiny town. I really
liked the food. Rice, dahl, two types of sauteed veg and hard boiled
eggs. We had a crowd as usual. People seem much more interested in
looking at us than fiddling with our bikes. I got some pronunciation
help with my tiny Bengali vocabulary. I'm starting with “How much is
it?” and “Good day.” Greetings are a bit complicated as there are
different greetings for different religions. It's safe to assume that
most people here are Muslim, so I will stick to that. The Hindi greeting
is very similar to Nepali so that's easy. There's another for “Hello,
Christian,” but I haven't got that one written down yet.
on down the long straight road, Tim pulled over to find a bush. We found
out then that it's nearly impossible to have a private pee here. Not
only did a crowd materialize out of nowhere, but men and boys were
angling around to get a better look. There was some pointing. I hereby
vow to just hold it.
Even on a perfectly flat road (there was one slight
rise as we crossed a bridge), 98 kilometers is a long day in the saddle.
Our goal was the ruins at Mahasthangarh, where the guidebook promised
there was a small guest house with three rooms. The guesthouse is meant
for visiting archeologists and we were dearly hoping there wouldn't be a
crowd of diggers filling the rooms. As we neared Bogra, the road surface
got worse and the traffic more deadly. In a crazy market town with
trucks and buses roaring around, I finally spotted the sign leading out
to the ruins and we rode the 1.7 kilometers out to the site as the sun
was nearly setting. To our great relief, we were told that the
guesthouse was empty and we were led into a garden to the most tranquil
little oasis. What a lovely place and we had it all to ourselves! Tall
ceilings, clean mosquito nets, surrounded by gardens, quiet, no stairs
to climb, a gated place to lock our bikes: I was overjoyed. 200 taka per
bed, less than US$2.50. I'm pretty sure I would have died if we'd had to
ride another 15 km into the city at night.
The next day we walked around the ruins. It's mostly a
wall that surrounds what used to be a citadel. It dates back to the 7th
century, which sounds impressively old. Inside the wall are farmers'
fields and some mounds. There's stuff under those mounds, I'm sure
that's what the archeologists come for (besides their cushy guesthouse)
but to the untrained eye, they're just grassy lumps. So we looked at the
fields and farmers and goats and cows, the odd pair of lovers snogging
in quiet corners. When it got too sunny, we went to the museum that
houses the treasures unearthed from the many mounds. Lots of Vishnus and
Krishnas and Ganeshes and Buddhas. The Islamic period came later. Tim
liked the busty Hindu goddesses. I was hoping for a gift shop with
postcards but I was denied.
Not much remains beyond the walls, but they look
We had to run down to the town of Mahasthan to pick up
dinner. What a crazy ride! I guess I like weaving through traffic and
pretending to be a bicycle messenger, but the million staring eyes is a
little exhausting. So nice to escape back to our fortress of solitude
for another night.
October 30, 2011 Mahasthangarh to Bogra 15 km
Good thing we had a short ride today because Tim has
done something to his back. This morning he could barely throw his leg
over the bike. Once we were riding it was okay. I had scrawled a drawing
of the Lonely Planet city map of Bogra for my handlebar map case, to
avoid having to fiddle with the
in traffic. The ride was fine until we got into town proper, then it
turned into rickshaw, tuktuk, motorcycle explosion! Total rush trying to
navigate through the stop-and-go, squeeze-into-every-little space
traffic. Would have loved to get photos but too scared to try. I was
looking for my first landmark when a well-dressed man on a motorbike
asked us to stop for a photo. He and everyone else whipped out cell
phone cameras. Paparazzi! I did my best to not look sweaty and insane.
Our friend on the motorbike offered to show us the way to the hotel we
were aiming for. Peddling madly behind Tim's bike and our motorbiking
guide, I realized I'd been completely off with my map. Good thing we're
in a country of kind helpful people or we'd have been going in circles
Even though I tried to get Tim to stay downstairs and
let me carry everything upstairs, he insisted on lugging his bike
upstairs and wrenched out his back even worse. I made him take one of my
hoarded Valiums and put him to bed. I believe we'll be here for a few
Bogra is a fairly large town and the streets are seething with rickshaws, cargo
bikes and three-wheeler motorcycle taxis. Upon entering the city, we were
encompassed by this novel traffic jam.
November 2, 2011 Bogra to Kazipur, 68.8 km
examining Google maps, we'd planned an escape from Bogra along side
roads to take us south on small roads, instead of riding on the main
highway. We wanted to head east to the banks of the Jamuna River and
then head south to Sirajganj. After asking a few times, we found
ourselves on a fabulous road. Lined with tall shady trees, surrounded on
all sides by blinding green rice fields. The road was slim and smooth.
Occasionally we passed through a tiny village, stopping once to buy
bananas and sweet bread. Boys on bikes rode alongside to ask the
standard questions: What your country? Your position? Your wife? Why you
The road meandered sweetly through turns around small
villages, ladies spreading rice on the pavement with their feet, and a
whole lot of poop patties drying on the roadside. Sometimes the poop was
plopped onto the sides of houses to dry, or glopped onto sticks. Poop
sticks, handy for burning in cook stoves.
We had a quick and exhausting lunch with a large
staring crowd. When we asked to pay for our chapati and eggs and tea, we
were charged 300 taka! We've got to start asking the price and
bargaining before sitting down to eat, as that seemed quite high. We
rode out of town with a few boys on bikes tagging along. We followed
their directions but later found ourselves back on a road that seemed
much too familiar. Somehow we'd done a great big loop. We stopped near a
school to ask again and saw a white woman and her local companion. She
was a volunteer at the school, and her friend from out of town so we
couldn't clear up our direction issues, but it was fun to compare notes
on Bangladesh, especially when the school let out and we were surrounded
by hundreds of excited young students.
I had an idea where we'd taken a wrong turn, so we set
out again. We should have stayed with the river instead of turning away,
so we set out on a dirt road at the water's edge. It was a footpath,
really, and led us wandering around little huts and tiny garden plots.
Pleasant for awhile until the surface turned to deep sand. Tim's back is
still hurting, so pushing the heavy bikes through sand was a struggle.
Finally a nice man on a motorbike took pity on us and led us to his
house for some water and biscuits. While I tried organizing the children
for some photos, our host tried to convince Tim that we really should
take a bus. No, we like this, we reassured him, so finally he set us on
our way with a friend to guide us back to the main road.
Back on paved roads, we fell in with the bike, goat
and cow traffic. A truckload of terrified cattle passed us, one cow
squirting a stream of diarrhea that barely missed us. By the time we saw
a mile marker, the sun was getting low and we still had 27 kilometers
till Sirijganj. Not wanting to ride in the dark, we asked at another
dusty town and finally got led to a quiet room. I'm not sure who uses
this guesthouse but it sure did save our hides. We had a bit of company.
While Tim was taking a shower, he heard some giggles outside and
suddenly a stick came thrusting through the open window! Some men came
by to take us to dinner, and although Tim really wanted to rest his
back, we couldn't refuse. We met some local politicians and teachers. I
wanted to adopt the young boy that worked at the restaurant, but settled
for tipping him.
November 3, 2011 Kazipur to Sirijganj, 32.85 km
Sometimes it's hard to take the amount of attention we
get in Bangladesh. I opened the hotel door this morning to find two men
standing outside, obviously waiting for us to do something interesting.
I walked to the restaurant across the street, ordered breakfast, and the
sweet little waiter kid put it carefully on a covered plate and walked
back to the room with me to deliver it. Breakfast taken care of and our
destination for the day only 26 kilometers, we planned to spend a few
hours in our luxurious room. Not happening. The same two guys kept
knocking on the door. When we opened the door, they liked to come in a
look at our stuff. Then they would motion something about food. Finally
we gave up and left. The caretaker got angry when we didn't give him
backsheesh. Since he'd knocked endlessly on our door and generally been
a pest, we didn't feel like giving him money. But still, it wasn't a
happy feeling we left with.
were small textile factories lining the road today. Noisy clanky weaving
machines and clouds of flying lint floating from doorways. There were
also wood shops with large unsafe looking saws and piles of eucalyptus
logs. We passed a miles long line of green CNG three-wheelers waiting at
the fuel station. Some sweet and chatty high school girls gave us
directions into town where we might find a hotel. It turned out to be
palatial according to our low standards. Very clean and comfy and no one
knocking on the door. I slipped out later to buy oranges and samosas for
dinner and was confronted by seething crowds of people. It is
unbelievably crowded here! Our sleep was interrupted only by the
bleating of a sad lonely goat tied up in the courtyard below us.
November 4, 2011 Sirijganj to Golpalpur, 53.9 km
Just outside of town we came to huge toll bridge where
bicycles are definitely not allowed. There were a couple of bored armed
guards who offered to call the 'boss' who would escort us across. Just
let us go, we'll be quick about it, we begged but they were having none
of that. As they held large rifles, we felt obligated to stay and wait.
Their rifles were ancient-looking with actual bayonets. From China, they
told Tim, 1956. So possibly these exact guns were wielded against
American soldiers in the Korean conflict. They certainly looked
well-used. These soldiers were none too careful with their guns, that's
for sure. One guy had his rifle slung so casually that it pointed
directly at my stomach. I moved. He and his gun followed. I moved again.
Tim asked him, “Please don't point your gun at my wife.”
Begging for permission to cross the Bagabandhu Toll Bridge. The guards, although
happy to chat with us, were not convinced. We waited over an hour for 'the boss'
to arrive and give us a ride. Eventually we gave up and found some Chinese
businessmen who gave us a ride across the bridge in the back of their pickup
“It's okay, okay! No problem!” The man helpfully put
his hand over the muzzle of his rifle.
After an hour we were bored and impatient and the boss
man seemed a figment of imagination. I started checking out passing
trucks for a likely hitch. As long as it wasn't full of shitting
animals, we could probably fit into any sizable vehicle. I saw a pickup
truck with an empty truckbed. The passengers were Chinese men and their
local driver. I motioned to their truck bed and made signs of loading
our bikes in and they happily waved us over. A minute later, we were
zooming over the bridge. Really, there was no shoulder so it might have
been a little dangerous trying to ride bikes over the wide expanse. At
the other end, we hopped out.
“Xie xie ni wo du punyo!” I called.
“Oh, you speak Chinese!” they exclaimed, not knowing
that saying thank you my friend was about the extent of my Mandarin
We rode down the wide flat road, passing a railway
station where a train was being loaded. Crowds of passengers clustered
on the roofs and clung to the sides of the locomotive. How they all hang
on there, I cannot even guess. We came to another line of stalled
traffic and started picking our way along the sides. Miles and miles of
stopped cars, bus passengers sitting on the roadside waiting for
something to move. An ambulance slowly wound through the jam. We guessed
that there might be some bloody carnage blocking the road ahead, which I
was especially un-eager to see. The map showed a small road cutting
north to rejoin the highway some 10 kilometers later. It seemed a
reasonable shortcut. A few people pointed at a dirt road that seemed to
be headed the right way, so we turned off.
We were jumping the line between the lanes in a 10km Bangladesh traffic jam when
we had to pull behind this truck due to lack of room - not even a touring
bicycle could fit. I did not realize I was under these cows until the drool
dripped in front of me.
For a few miles we rattled along little roads, some
paved, some smooth dirt, passing rice paddies, small farms, tiny
villages, kids playing in mud, men washing their bulls in the water.
Finally we came back to a paved road but we
mystified by the map and the directions we got. People kept telling us
Guesthouse 5 km, 10 km! This mysterious hotel never materialized and it
was getting late. Finally we met a nice University student who wanted to
help us out. He took us to the village commons where there was an old
palace. Yes, a real palace, with columns and everything. It used to be
inhabited by the old zaminder, the local landlord of British days. Our
friend was unable to locate the caretaker with the keys, so sadly we
weren't able to camp out in the luxuriously molding old building.
Instead he led us to a fenced in school yard. We had quite a crowd. We
set up the tent in the dusty yard and had dinner with our new friends at
the scarred wooden desks, a crowd of curious on-lookers gathered at the
door to watch. The older men were quite brave about coming in to
introduce themselves but the ladies and girls shyly stayed outside.
“You must invite them in,” our host told me, so I went
to the door and asked the ladies to come in. Two high school girls
finally agreed to come in and sat with us until embarrassment overcame
Later we excused ourselves and climbed into our tent.
An hour later, we were woken by a light shining on the tent.
“Hello, are you sleeping?”
“Yes,” said Tim.
“What country are you from.”
“What language do you speak?”
“In all your institutions and events in America you
“I come to learn your customs and culture.”
“Okay, in the morning, okay?”
“I must work tomorrow at 7am. May I come to talk to
you at 6am?”
“Okay.” Tim is a paragon of diplomacy. I don't know
how he found the patience to be so nice, as I was gritting my teeth
during the whole interaction.
November 5, 2011 Golpalpur to Madhupur, 55.5 km
Our 6am visitor never arrived. We woke up early to the
sounds of school starting and a line of faces at the fence having a good
look at us. We washed up at the water pump and took down the tent. Then
Ginok, a University student we'd met last night, came by to take us to
her house for breakfast. She lived on a farm close by, and after eating
we wandered around to look at the crops and meet all her family. It was
really interesting to learn about the fish pond and different crops. Her
father was an old freedom fighter and very keen to talk with us. With
the war for Independence ending in 1972, there are still plenty of folks
around who remember the fighting.
After we left, it still took quite a bit of riding to
get back to the main road. When we rejoined the main highway, we were in
a completely different spot than we'd expected. The map may have showed
an approximation of our backroad, but the length and direction were just
a guess. Even though the road was interesting, we'll think twice before
taking off on any more shortcuts.
went through Madhupur, a medium sized town full of the usual hustle of
trucks and traffic. Outside of town we came to the turn off for Madhuper
National Park, our goal for the night. We ate lunch at roadside
restaurant and had a nice chat with a local businessman. He told me that
the thumbs up sign actually means something quite negative in Bengali
but most people recognize that westerners mean it positively. I hope I
haven't offended anyone, as thumbs up is a regular bit of my sign
language communication efforts.
We entered the park and it was lovely to be in the
relative peacefulness of the forest. After 8 kilometers, we came to the
Pirgacha Christian Mission, where the Lonely Planet said we could rent a
bed in the dorms. Bad information, unfortunately. Father Homerich told
us he's written to LP many times asking them to remove his listing, as
he was quite unhappy with the weirdo travelers that keep showing up on
his doorstep. Originally from Michigan, Father Homerich has been here
since the fifties and was also a freedom fighter in the war against
Pakistan. He's a colorful old character and we had a good chat, but he
was insistent that we not stay. The park is dangerous, crawling with
leopards and the occasional cut-throat. Not safe for tourists.
Disappointed, we started back to town. Tim got a flat tire about half
way and we ducked behind a parked truck to change it out. It didn't take
long for people to find us out, and in the 15 minutes of tire changing
in the hot sun, Tim had a group of about 20 onlookers.
Back in Madhupur, we found the guesthouse in a rotting
old building. I was shown the luxury suite, a moldering dark room with
tattered curtains. I asked for a more economical room and got a sizable
double with questionable mattresses. Anticipating another battle with
bedbugs, I finally bought an aerosol can of bug spray and fumigated the
beds before we went out for dinner.
At Madhupur National Park, we tried to get a room at the
Christian Mission. Despite what the Lonely Planet says, they do not rent
rooms to travelers. The mission is run by Father Homerich, originally from
Michigan. He's been here since the 50s and was a Freedom Fighter in the War
for Independence. One of a kind character!
Repairing a flat tire (puncture) in Bangladesh drew a huge crown - this was
just the start. Removing all my touring bike panniers and digging around for
my pump was big news in this village.
November 6, 2011 Madhupur to Mymensingh 47.6 km
easy ride today. We passed plenty of cattle wearing flower leis and pink
bonnets on their way to market. Mymensingh is a pretty nice little town,
lots of old British-y buildings gracefully crumbling into dust and mold.
We had a big walk-up to our hotel room. For dinner, we walked out to the
main street which was so ridiculously crowded. I've seen mosh pits less
crowded and it was claustrophobic and difficult to walk. Mixed in the
crowd were little sights of horror. A small naked child covered with
horrible burn scars, laying on a blanket and a man squatting next to
him, hands outstretched to the crowd. A sign with a large cartoony
condom at the end of a dark alley, some ladies of the night lurking next
to a sign announcing “Brothel for safety of sex workers.” We finally
found a kabob place and had some very nice food. We met a University
student who explained that tomorrow the town will be deserted and quiet
as it is Eid.
thought Eid was the post-Ramadan celebration, but apparently there is a
second Eid in November. It is celebrated with a visit home and a bit of
animal slaughtery and a big dinner. Father Homerich called it 'Bloody
Eid' and told us the 'streets would run red with blood.' Imagine our
surprise the next morning when we found the
streets were empty except for the occasional dead cow. Dead cows are a
little stinky and the blood and guts attract a few flies. So it was a
strange and somewhat hilarious day, up until the part where Tim's
tottering old computer decided to just break down completely. As every
single shop was closed, we couldn't find any resident tech-geniuses to
get it going again. We still needed a few days off before getting on the
bikes again, so mostly we rode around town on cycle rickshaws. They are
great fun although I always feel like I might go flying off on the
November 10, 2011 Mymensingh to Ghafargaon 40.57 km
There was a massive traffic jam as we were trying to
leave town. Not an accident this time, just the bus station. A few
policemen were hopelessly attempting to direct the traffic and having no
effect at all. We headed south along the river down a steadily worsening
road. We knew we had to cross the river but the map was unclear on our
path. Ferry or bridge? We found one point where there was a ferry but
the get-on was at the foot of a huge escarpment that would have been
impossible with the bikes. The road got worse and worse with ruts and
potholes. Around lunchtime, a man on a motorcycle invited us to his
home. I had a nice wash up at the backyard pump and then sat down to a
huge plate of beef. The rice was steamed with cinnamon and eucalyptus
leaves, so delicate and delicious. And there was a big plate of fried
eggplant, my favorite. Tim mostly ate beef while our host and his family
watched us. When we were finished, the men of the house took their
lunch. When they finished, the wife and the little girls, two gorgeous
little cousins, finally got to eat. I guess this is what Eid is all
about, just like Thanksgiving with so many delicious leftovers that you
have to drag in strangers off the street to get it all eaten. We were so
full by the time we got back on the bikes, we could barely stay upright.
In the next town there was a railway station so we
decided to look for a hotel. Two nice young men doubled up on a
motorbike led us to a cheapy guesthouse and helped us check in. There
was a wedding feast in progress there so our usual crowd of on-lookers
was very nicely dressed. The room was a tiny dirty cell. Only 120 taka,
so at least the price was right. We were visited by a man with his two
nephews. He spoke very good English and his nephews obviously thought he
was the coolest uncle on the planet for being so conversant with
foreigners. For dinner I wanted to run down to the market to find some
noodles and oranges. The boy at the hotel came with me, I believe just
to make sure I wasn't bothered on my own.
My bug spray wasn't quite up to the task and the bed
bugs got a good feast that night. Finally I gave up, blew up my camping
pad and slept on the floor. I'm afraid we'll get bed bugs hitching rides
on our bags and I'd especially be unhappy if the sleeping bags catch
cooties. It's hard to resist just spraying everything with toxic doses
November 11, 2011 Ghafargaon to Kishoreganj 27.3 km
found me exhausted and a little bloodless. Tim's back is still giving
him trouble so we made a rather miserable pair out on the road. We
watched the train leave the station with hundreds of people on the roof
and then resumed our search for some way across the river. Finally we
came to a nice new bridge, much too big for the occasional traffic that
uses it and completely out of place. The roads continued to be bumpy and
sandy, although at one point we suddenly came to a long stretch of brand
new butter-smooth pavement. It only lasted a few kilometers, out there
in the middle of nowhere, but we sure enjoyed it while the good riding
lasted. We rolled into Kishoreganj before too long. Found one, two,
three hotels – all full! Another holiday? We were finally rescued by
Micheal, a Mennonite with crystal clear English who led us to another
hotel. There was another wedding feast going on, apparently this is the
time for wedding feasts and hyper children were having a grand time
pushing all the elevator buttons. We thought surely a hotel with a lift
was too expensive for our cheap ways but Michael got us a perfectly
decent room for 240 taka. It was clean, quiet and smelled like air
freshener and bug spray.
Tim decided he just couldn't wait to get his computer
fixed so we set off in search of a tech guru. And oh, how terribly we
were deceived. The kid we found seemed to know exactly what he was doing
as Tim explained that he needed Windows reinstalled. He called some
friends over, who discussed the problem and produced various start-up
disks and external drives. A few minutes later, poof, there went all of
Tim's hard drive! His website and all his music was gone in a flash!
We'd thought everything was getting backed up and reinstalled from the
external drive, but somehow all the important things got left out.
So there was nothing to be done about it and Tim was
very unhappy that night.
November 13, 2011 Kishoreganj to Bhairab Bazar 65.9
It took us awhile to get out of town. The thing is,
there are no traffic lights and no traffic rules. At intersections,
everyone rushes in to occupy every bit of space. When they're all
squozen in as much as they can, they lay on the horn. There are some
police trying to direct traffic but generally they get ignored. So just
a small amount of cars and rickshaws can quickly get snarled.
Wall poster of pilgrims at Mecca. Everywhere you go in Bangladesh you see
pictures and paintings of Mecca.
We asked a number of people for the right road, but
since the small road near the railroad tracks and the main highway end
up in the same destination, we got waved on towards either. I tried
asking for the “Big road, not small road” with little success. Not that
we dislike the small roads. Generally the small roads are more peaceful
and interesting, it's just that the pavement has a tendency to
disintegrate and disappear, bringing a 20 kph pace down to 7. As we had
perhaps 60- 70 kilometers ahead of us, speed was important.
So of course we ended up on the small road and passed
through a couple villages. One creepster on a motorcycle got his kicks
staring at my legs for awhile and I was thankful once again to be riding
with Tim instead of alone. One man told us to continue straight for 6km
and turn right at the crossroads. Low and behold, he was right on the
money! At 6km on the dot we found the crossroads and rode out west to
the main highway. A bit more stressful riding as the large trucks and
buses tend to take up more than half the road, but we made excellent
time for the remainder of the ride.
our goal was Brahmanbaria, we decided to look for a hotel in the first
big town, Bhairab. We asked a rickshaw wallah to lead us to a
guesthouse. He took us deep into the bazaar (turn left at the pink
sheep!) and stopped at an unmarked door. As usual, I went up to look at
the room and Tim guarded the bikes. Inside, I was asked to sit down
while the room was cleaned but every time I asked how much the room cost
the man at the desk pretended not to understand. Thinking he might not
be in a position to negotiate, I tried to be patient. Finally a man with
no shirt on asked if I was 'husband wife' and told me to bring up my
things. Price? No answer. Look at the room? Reluctant agreement. We went
upstairs and they showed me a tiny dirty room. Price? 100 taka. No wait,
1000 taka! No, no, I told him. I pay 100. The men got angry. 1000 taka!
I laughed all the way out the door.
Downstairs, Tim had attracted the usual curious mob.
One man spoke decent English and offered to lead us to another hotel. It
turned out to be less than a block away. The room was huge, airy and
clean for the reasonable price of 350 taka. Sold! The owner showed up
later, a bodybuilder named Read (same as capital of Saudi Arabia), who
was thrilled to practice his English and send out helpers to buy us
dinner and tea. He lent Tim an internet stick (dongle) for the duration
of our stay, so he could start downloading some of his missing software.
I was happy to stay another day so I could get a photo of those pink
sheep. He told us our first hotel was a 'dirty man' hotel and no place
for a lady. Perhaps that's why the price was so high, it came with a
November 14, 2011 Bhairab Bazar to Srimangal 100.4 km
The big bridge leading out of town was a toll bridge
and we worried whether we'd be able to ride the bikes over. The signs
said no bikes or animals but instead of being stopped by gun-sloppy
soldiers, we were waved on without paying a toll. We continued on the
long flat highway. Brick kilns and dry green rice fields lined the
roads. We saw a huge bat, hanging dead by its feet from a power line.
The highway traffic was not too busy but sometimes nerve wracking. We
made decent time on the unbroken pavement. After lunch, we came across
some incongruous convention centers and clubs with bus parking,
strangely alone in the middle of rice fields. We're closer to India,
perhaps these are for Indian businessmen? Maybe they're the drinking
clubs mentioned in the Lonely Planet. Giant billboards of pretty ladies
in shimmery saris advertising steel sprang out of the roadside.
were a couple of turn-offs that didn't quite jibe with the map. Slightly
confused, we asked directions and made our way north. Suddenly, hills
with tea popped up. Hills! Even after 80km of riding, we were both
energized by the rolling terrain. Coming into Srimangal we passed a few
eco-resorts. Perhaps this is where all the tourists go? Stopping on the
main street just at sunset, I left Tim on the sidewalk swatting at
mosquitos while I went to go check out the three guidebook hotels. Eeww.
Overpriced, stuffy and way too many stairs. I don't imagine that getting
listed in the guidebook really brings in droves of tourists, but it may
have driven up prices. Frustrated, I trotted down the street to a
fancier hotel, which looked out of our price range. The owner was an old
queen from New York who offered me a discounted room.
November 17, 2011 Dayride: 50km
Srimangal has some real potential for bike riding. It
would be nice if there was a map, or perhaps some street signs, that
gave some hint as to the way back to town. We had a lovely ride out to
the National Park. We talked to some British tourists who were out on a
nature walk with their guide. As our usual crowd of paparazzi gathered,
the British lady got quite uncomfortable. I guess maybe we're finally
get used to this crowding thing. The rest of the ride was sublime. I got
such a kick out of riding up and down hills again. We tried to follow
the directions we'd been given to go on a big loop that would lead back
to town. We saw a man lead his water buffalos to a river. The two huge
beasts plopped into the water and splashed their horns about, really
very adorable for such large plodding animals. We passed tea plantations
where the ladies were carrying the day's tea pickings in head baskets to
be weighed. They lined up at the scales, colorful saris and green
leaves, graceful and tired from the day's hard work.
Tim said we were headed the wrong direction but I was
stubbornly positive that we'd made a loop. So it came as a surprise when
we rolled up to some soldiers who informed us that we were now at the
Indian border. We had to retrace our way all the way back to town and I
had to admit that Tim had been right. But on the plus side, we've now
ridden from one side of Bangladesh to the other!
November 20, 2011 Train ride from Srimongal to
It took a bit of doing to get down south. We tried
buying a bus ticket but they said we couldn't take the bikes on the bus.
Which seems ridiculous as we see buses with all sorts of stuff tied on
top but everywhere we asked turned us down. I talked to the station
manager at the train station, and he said we had to send the bikes ahead
on the mail train. We were terribly nervous to send the bikes off alone,
both of us sure we'd never see them again. That evening we caught our
passenger train down to Chittagong. The seats were comfortable enough,
not sleepers like the Indian Train but at least not overcrowded either.
When we got to Chittagong, I had to leave Tim with a
pile of bike bags in the terminal and go off in search of our bikes.
Some little train station urchins came with me and led me to some long
warehouses at the end of the tracks. I poked into a few offices and
storage spaces before I found the bikes waiting patiently. I'm sure they
were just as happy as I was to be reunited. We loaded up and pushed down
the street to find a hotel. The road next to the train station was
packed with hotels, all mysteriously full. Finally I found a room, none
too cheap and up many many flights of stairs. Exhausted from the long
train ride and worry of the day, we collapsed for a few days.
Chittagong is an interesting town. It could grow on
you. There is a maze-like market behind us, twisting around and around
forever. Beside the railroad tracks there is a tragic shanty town of
extreme poverty. The CNG taxis are encased in wire to keep you safe
inside. The restaurants are full of child workers, who always break my
heart. A little north of the city are the ship breaking yards. I'm sure
it's all environmentally disastrous, but I'd still love to get a look at
how a giant ship gets taken apart.
November 23, 2011 Chittagong to some horrible little
town, 49.6 km
We should have camped at the National Parks along the
way. Along with the tea plantations around Srimangal, this is nearly the
first road where it looks possible to camp. Leaving the city was very
interesting. Had to take some gnarly little roads through town to find a
big bridge over the river. We
for sure bikes wouldn't be allowed but looks as if everything is
allowed: rickshaws, cargo bikes, herds of goats, everything! The road is
mostly okay but crowded with huge buses on their way to Cox's Bazar.
Around lunchtime we were both feeling a little sick: could be the
exhaust or maybe we're coming down with something. We came to a dirty
dusty bus stop town where I spotted a hotel. I left Tim sipping 7Up and
went to investigate. While I was gone, a fight broke out amongst some
men at the bus stop. Like any interesting event in Bangladesh, it drew a
huge crowd of onlookers as the four men gestured and yelled, a very
junior-high sort of fight. Our room was in a barely finished building
that smelled like wet cement and cat piss. We fell asleep immediately,
then had to force ourselves up and out for dinner.
November 24, 2011 Bus stop town to Cox's Bazar 97.8
long day of riding next to lots and lots of buses. There were a couple
of National Parks that looked interesting, but besides that it was a
Cox's Bazar is one huge building site. We saw a hotel
under construction that advertises a revolving restaurant and a cable
car. Close to the beach, there were lines of shops selling things made
out of shells and things made out of dried fish. I wonder who would buy
a 2 foot long dried fish? Not Tim, he was gagging every time we walked
passed the dried fish place. I looked and looked for postcards but
apparently they have not arrived in Bangladesh.
We found a cheapish hotel off the strip. An English
speaking guest helped me negotiate the price. Our hotel is nice except
for many mosquitos and one porter kid who loves knocking on our door.
The restaurant across the street has decent food, lots of veg. The beach
is a little weird. Any Bangladeshi will tell you, it is the 'longest
beach in the world.' It is a nice long beach but the sand is muddy and
it's not a good place for swimming. Big crowds of very clothed people, a
few brave souls in the water, umbrellas for rent at the water's edge.
Lots of little kids selling polished shells or very ugly jewelry. People
asking for photos with us. Luxury hotels in fenced off lots, street
after street full of concrete shells of construction.
December 6, 2011 Overnight bus ride from Cox's Bazar
December 7, 2011 Early morning ride from bus station
to Mirpur, Dhaka
got off the bus around 5am after a long night of not sleeping and
bounding over bumpy roads. Later I read in the Lonely Planet that the
Chittagong to Dhaka night bus was particularly NOT recommended, as there
are tons of night time accidents on that road. Large buses cannot enter
Dhaka during daylight hours, so we disembarked just outside city limits.
At a dirty gas station, Tim called Muntasir, who sleepily told us that
his friends were on the way to lead us into the city. “Just look for two
Trek mountain bikes.” Easy to spot in the land of rickety one speed
cycles. We had sweet tea and bread and watched a pile of dirty puppies
playing in the gas station grease while the city woke up around us. Soon
our guides arrived and we plunged into the traffic behind them. What a
relief to have someone else navigating! We were free to concentrate on
keeping up with our young leaders while they dashed and wove around the
thousands of rickshaws, cargo cycles, CNGs and snorting buses. A good 15
kilometers later, we arrived at Muntasir's apartment block.
Muntasir and Tim met through a mutual cycle tourer
friend years ago and have been corresponding ever since. Muntasir
publishes a magazine called Kewkradong about cycling, trekking and other
outdoor adventures in Bangladesh. His friends are all outdoor
enthusiasts, a crew of movers and shakers with ambitious plans for
expeditions and social businesses. travel and social businesses.
Waiting for us at Muntasir's apartment was a box of
replacement parts that Tim's parents had forwarded from America. We
spent a couple hours in the garage, replacing racks, chains and tires.
We packed Tim's new tools and spare parts in new panniers from Ortlieb.
I got a new bike bell. It has a compass. Very cool.
At the same time, we were trying to complete the
application process for my next Indian Visa. How much easier life would
be if I'd gotten an Indian Visa in America! Tim's got a ten year visa.
I've had to settle for six months at a time and everyone warned me that
the Indian Embassy in Bangladesh was very stingy with its visas. Most
people are happy to get three months. I would have been happy to even
get an appointment at the Dhaka Embassy. Their process of handing out
appointments is a ridiculous online system that is always busy. After a
few days of futile attempts, I tried for the Chittagong office and got
an appointment. Unfortunately, this meant we would be out of Dhaka for
the Victory Day celebrations and a group bike ride that would have been
good fun. Stupid Visa office.
December 14, 2011 Train ride to Chittagong
We caught the early train to Chittagong. It was an
hour late arriving and we met a nice Swedish Bengali man and his
daughter. They were going to his old village near Chittagong to start a
school. It was interesting talking to his daughter about the differences
between Bangladesh and Sweden culture. She was so obviously western in
her mannerisms. Also, her cousin was there to assist them and having a
local to tell us which train to get on was very helpful. The train
station was full of shocking beggars.
December 15, 2011
We had our appointment at the Indian Embassy this
morning. I managed to make mistakes on my application. Twice. Since it
was a printed application, we had to take CNGs to the internet cafe to
make another print out. Twice. I felt very stupid by the end of the day.
They said it would be ready in no less than four working days, but with
the holiday and weekend that turns into 6 days and we have no idea how
long I'll be permitted to stay in India. It does make planning the
onward trip a little difficult.
December 20, 2011
We picked up my Indian Visa and despite all our
fretting and worrying, I got the whole six months! There is that silly
rule about being out of India for two months, which is a day after our
Bangladeshi visas run out. So no matter what, we will have to overstay
our Bangladeshi visas. The website says that we'll be charged 200 taka a
day for staying over, but the guidebook says the fine can be arbitrary
and steep. So who knows what will happen.
December 21, 2011
We took the train back to Dhaka. Muntasir's family is
visiting so we are staying with his friend this time around. It's very
nice to have a home to stay in for a few days.
December 23, 2011 Dhaka to Mawa, 50 something
so terrible leaving Dhaka except for the bit by the river where roads
were a bit iffy. I had street names but as there are no street signs, we
had to navigate by compass. Finally came to the bridge heading out of
town. We saw the paddle boats, the ride to the Sunderbans that I would
have dearly loved to take. The river scene looked a little prehistoric
in the misty cold light. One man on a cargo bike asked Tim for his wife
and another passenger smacked him in the head. We stopped for samosas
and met some reporters who wanted to take photos. We had quite the photo
session with traffic stopped in all directions. Too bad I'm wearing my
goofy cold weather clothes! Later Muntasir passed by, hanging out of a
car window to film us. Stopped for tea and took some more photos. He
gave us directions to the ferry across the Padma, said he had actually
driven there and turned around, it was a madhouse as people are leaving
for the holiday. There are plenty of holidays here and it seems funny
for a Muslim country to be having days off for Christmas. Got to the
ferry town and it was complete chaos. Cars and buses stacked back for
miles. Had to walk along the side on narrow
At one point I got stuck between a bus and fence, ended up dragging my
bike along the side of the bus and scraped off some chunks of old dried
barf in the process. Since it was nearly four and likely to be dark
before we managed to find a boat across, we started looking for a
boarding house on this side. Huge production and we were center stage,
trying to push the bikes through lines of overheated buses parked nose
to tail. Conflicting info from everyone. Finally a young boy dressed in
a baggy jacket offered to help. He was lame in one foot and cross-eyed
so when he asked people they were quite horrible and tried to shoo him
away. Tim left me in charge of the bikes and went off with our young
helper. I was so stared at that two veiled ladies actually stepped
forward out of the crowd to come stand at my side
ward off the malevolent looks. See, everywhere we go, we get helped. Tim
came back with good news, there was a guesthouse, grungy and horrible
but there. The bed fairly writhed with insect life. My can of insect
spray is long gone, so we threw the tent down to make a barrier between
us and any bitey inhabitants.
We had a fairly decent meal at the restaurant across
the street but the bathroom at our guesthouse was so unsanitary I could
barely bring myself to pee in it. Then the hotel guys set about knocking
on the door and trying to make us leave. One man motioned at the orange
in my hand and said, “No orange. No orange. You get out!” They seemed to
be trying to make us go to another guesthouse but it was after 10 and we
were settled for the evening.
December 24, 2011 Mawa to Faridpur, 50 something
Woke up in the awful sailor hostel, sweating inside
the tent and then the hotel guys started banging on the door and being
unpleasant again. We left quickly and went out to the boat loading area.
There were nice places to eat at the Mawa side but we decided to get the
boat crossing over with first. When we got to the docks, we realized
that there were several boats to choose from.
passenger only, stuffed to the seams with people, some for small cars
and some full of buses and trucks. We took the small car ferry as it
seemed the nicest of the bunch. There was no safety equipment that I
could see, but the boat did seem seaworthy. It was a cold morning,
everyone bundled up in scarves and blankets. One man told me that global
warming was causing the cold, as it never got this chilly in Bangladesh.
We shivered for the hour across the Padma River, which is the Ganges in
India. We wove around sand bars and tiny islands. When we stopped the
first time, our new friend, a Christian from Dhaka, told us to wait
onboard and leave at the second stop. At the second stop, we had to wait
for another boat to leave the dock before we could unload. The
restaurant pickings were much more limited in this town, no hot chapatis
It seemed a long day in the saddle and a bit of a
struggle with the cold. Everyone we passed by seemed to be wearing every
scrap of clothing they owned. We had a nice tea stop in a small village
and after that the air seemed a bit warmer and the riding a little
nicer. Actually, it is nice countryside here and I wish we didn't have
to hurry. We do have to hurry. Our visas expire today.
We followed a kid on a cargo bike holding a huge
basket of chickens. When he saw I was taking his picture, he kept
looking back to pose for me. We followed him right into Faridpur and he
stopped at a store to ask directions to a guesthouse for us. We ended up
at the Raffles Hotel, quite luxurious compared to the disgusting place
where we'd slept last night. There was a working lift so we didn't have
to carry the bikes up the stairs and no one came a-knocking. For dinner
we wandered down to a busy night market. I got to pet a little lost baby
sheep. We both liked Faridpur and if we weren't in a hurry it would be
nice to stay here another day.
December 25, 2011 Faridpur to Jesspur 95.6 kilometers
Long ride today after sitting so long. I am really out
of shape. Tim kept us going at good clip to get into town on time. Good
that he is so aware of rate, sunset time and all that because I would
have completely blown it. Had to ride a lot faster than we did yesterday
but I was feeling much better and could keep up. Also finally dug out my
bike computer from its hiding spot. Tim was right, again, I ride much
faster when I can see how fast I'm going.
We celebrated Christmas by mooing, quacking and
clucking Jingle Bells at farm animals. I jingled along with my new bike
bell. We drew a huge crowd at snack time. I was very impressed with the
tea man's long tea-serving stick. He was a real pro with the tea and the
cheapo Indian flick on the TV behind him was particularly hilarious. I'm
sure he's no millionaire charging 3 taka for a cup of tea and a few more
for single cigarettes but judging by the rows of seats he's got stacked
in front of his stall, he does alright bringing in the customers. Of
course, our presence brings in the crowds big time. Four deep at this
place so you know there's not much going on in that town.
For a Christmas gift, Tim treated me to an expensive
room with an actual hot water heater. Oh boy! First hot shower in ages!
Neat little place too, NGO-run hotel with Women's Training Center. They
get a fair amount of traffic from their Lonely Planet listing. We hired
a CNG to lead us to the hotel as the sun was setting and I was very
worried it may turn out to be like the Christian Mission place that
hated its LP listing but no, they were fine with us being here. Only
issue was the guy telling Tim that us overstaying the visa might cost
US$50. I could have smacked him in the head for that. Tim is pretty
worried now that we'll be overcharged, even though the guy later
clarified that he was talking about the one Italian volunteer who had to
extend his visa.
Long flat straight roads today, mostly good surface
although the paving was that pokey sort that seems rough on the tires,
not the nice smooth surfacing. Got a little tiring after 60km but we
timed our breaks well. Saw an accident where a truck smooshed into a CNG
and the little cart got knocked over on its side. I didn't look to see
if anyone was injured but couldn't help noticing how many people were
running to help tip the thing back up and perhaps laying hands on
someone who was injured. I had a sudden flash of what might happen if
Tim or I got in an accident and how much it would freak me out to have
people swarming around me like that, all reaching out to touch me and
manhandle me back up. It would all be meant in the spirit of helping,
but I know from experience that when I fall off my bike, I react quite
strongly to anyone trying to touch me. Anyway, gave me shudder and made
me decide to never have an accident here. Nor in India, just to be safe.
Oh yeah, I wore my knee high stripey socks today. For
Christmas and because it's still a little cold. Wool is a wondrous
thing, I wasn't a bit overheated. Tim says he used to wear all wool
racing gear, back in his college racing days. It must have been pretty
December 26, 2011 Jessore to Bongoan, India 50.2
was quite the star at the border. My big idea was to wrap myself in
bandages and play on the border guards' sympathy so they wouldn't charge
us for overstaying our visas. Since I stayed outside to watch the bikes,
I didn't get a chance to show off my pretend wounds. Tim told the
customs agent that his wife (meaning me) was sick and throwing up. The
agent astutely asked if I was barfing in the mornings, then
congratulated Tim on his upcoming fatherhood. In all the excitement, he
forgot to count up the number of days we'd been in Bangladesh. Genius!
Tough ride today. Not so long but my legs were
hammered from the past three days of riding. I was trying to hurry, and
my quads felt like they were being stabbed with big hot knives at every
India is noticeably richer than Bangladesh, even in
this scuzzy border town. More stores, nicer wares, women on bikes, more
English, more shopping. We had a nice wander through the market and
found a sugar vendor who sold sugar cakes and liquid brown sugar. The
vendor gave me a yummy little chunk to try. Then we saw a bull in a
jewelry shop, stopping in for a snack and a pat. This pot-bellied old
Hindu guy was petting the bull's big head like they were very good
friends, those two. The animal had obviously been combed. Funny that we
just passed a cattle market yesterday, and we regularly saw carts full
of cattle skins in Bangladesh. And here they are gods. What a big funny
messy animal to have as a god.
December 28, 2011 Bongoan to Barasat 50ish kilometers
It's nice to be back in India and be able to see and
interact with women again. The women in Bangladesh were largely behind
closed doors, under wraps and very subdued. What a relief to see women
on the street, their hair uncovered, smiling and laughing and generally
being animated. It must drive the Bangladeshi men crazy to see all this
On our way down the road today we actually saw another
cycle tourist! He yelled to us from the other side of the street and we
stopped on the side of the road for a big chat. He was English, on a
ride around the world and off to Dhaka to meet some friends and fly on
to Thailand. He said he rode with a map but not a guidebook and kept a
pace that would have killed me. He told Tim that he'd seen his business
card before. The man at the Bangladeshi embassy in Kolkata had shown him
Tim's card when he said he was cycling to Dhaka.
We stopped at the last village before the outskirts of
Kolkata. Once again, we're constantly tricked by the Hotel Restaurant
signs. Hotel usually means restaurant, except when it means hotel. Very
confusing. We found ourselves at the Pasha Hotel, decent enough place
with a locked garage for our bikes. Before dinner, we visited a bottle
shop and splurged on a few celebratory beers. The bed may have had
bedbugs; I had some bites the next day but they don't itch as terribly
as bedbug bites usually do. Perhaps I'm just getting used to the little
December 29, 2011 Barasat to Kolkata 28.1 kilometers
Cycling into the city was a big adventure. It starts
off slow, then you hit the airport, then the roads turn into spaghetti.
I'd plotted a route using Google maps but some advice-givers on the side
of the road said that road would be too crowded. We took a by-pass route
and I'm sorry I can't describe it for anyone interested in following our
route. The CNG three wheel taxi (I guess they're just three-wheelers
here) are quite dangerous and swervy and I yelled at a few of them. We
almost turned in the wrong way on a very busy one-way street. Everywhere
we rode, there was still plenty of bicycle traffic. Bike riding in
Kolkata is perfectly possible and people do it everyday, it's just a
matter of figuring out where you're going and not getting killed along
the way! Finally we turned in at Sudder Street, the backpacker ghetto.
The guesthouses were all decorated for Christmas, a comforting thing to
see, and as soon as we'd slept the nap of the dead, we started meeting
other travelers. I like Kolkata a whole lot more than the other times
we've visited, possibly because the weather is cooler, there are more
backpackers, we have no visas or embassies to deal with and we're
staying at a place with no mice or bedbugs.