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RoadNotes: Bicycle Touring Daily Journal
Bangladesh Nov - Dec, 2011
written by Gretchen Howell


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October 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 52.6 km

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 by.


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.

Lunch 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 food.

“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 kitchen.

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

We 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!

We 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.

Further 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 impressively ancient.

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 book 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 for hours.

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 days.


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

After 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 in Bangladesh?

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.

There 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 truck.

“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 ability.

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 were 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 them.

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.”

“America.”

“What language do you speak?”

“English.”

“In all your institutions and events in America you speak English?”

“Um, yes.”

“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.

We 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

Pretty 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.

I 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 bumps.


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 of pesticides.


November 11, 2011 Ghafargaon to Kishoreganj 27.3 km

Morning 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 km

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.

Although 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 girl.


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.

There 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 Chittagong

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 thought 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 km

Another 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 slog.

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.


Bangladesh women's beachwear for the very few ladies who venture into the water. No bikinis on this beach!


The sunsets in Cox's Bazar are pretty spectacular.


Bangladeshis like to tell you that Cox's Bazar is the longest sandy beach in the world.


I wasn't too impressed with the muddy sand at Cox's Bazar.


Bangladesh cycle rickshaws are used to transport people and cargo everyday.

The guy sitting with me is a local business man who wanted to drink tea with us. It's very common to see dyed orange beards like the gentleman's in the background.

December 6, 2011 Overnight bus ride from Cox's Bazar to Dhaka


December 7, 2011 Early morning ride from bus station to Mirpur, Dhaka

We 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

Not 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 pathways. 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 and 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. Some 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 here.

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 cute!


December 26, 2011 Jessore to Bongoan, India 50.2 kilometers

Tim 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 downstroke.

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 womanliness here.

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 bloodsuckers.


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.


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