Bangladesh is such a place where birds sing merrily during winter even when half of the world is covered in snow. This is a land with rustic beauty where boatman sings a melancholic Bhatiali song while plying the boat amidst the river and folk singers spread music and love everywhere as they move.
This country features a hustling and bustling city life, yet showcases glimpses of tranquility in the ethereal greenery, especially outside the concrete jungle. Well, the fact is that not only the citizens of this country rather foreigners who have visited this country at least once have been taken aback by the hospitality and beauty of this country. A few travelers who had visited our country shared their experience with ‘the hood’ recently:
Jessica Mudditt has traveled to Rajshahi, Puthia, Srimangal and the Sundarbans in Bangladesh besides the capital city. Her explorations have unraveled various intriguing aspects. She went to the snake charmers in Ghuradia. “That was incredible,” said Jessica. “But I think the Sundarbans was my favourite. We made friends with other travelers on the boat. The scenery was really beautiful and it was a really relaxing experience to float along the river – especially as the sun sets each evening. We had a lot of fun having ‘mud baths’ and we jumped into the water off the boat one afternoon. We were laughing and having a great time when a friend later informed us there were crocodiles in the water. I’m so glad they didn’t come to say hello!”
Jessica also had the chance to participate in a number of festivals here. “Pahela Baishakh was really different from my usual experiences of New Year’s Eve, which tends to end late in the night and involves a sore head the next day! I had my face painted and hung out with friends at Dhaka University. The artwork on display was beautiful. I also went to Ashura and Bishwa Ijtema – both were incredible and completely unforgettable. I was a bit unsure about going to Bishwa Ijtema as the crowd was enormous and I was a lone female, but I had only positive experiences and found people to be very kind and calm. The self-flagellation festival of Ashura was a bit dicier as some men were a bit, shall we say, enthusiastic, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.”
Jessica leaves a suggestion for those who are planning to come to Bangladesh. “My advice to fellow travelers would be to avoid making travel plans during festival times and not to try to pack too much into one day. Avoid foods in places where there may not be refrigeration. One of my biggest mistakes was eating fried chicken on a train to Rajshahi. It made me really sick! I was confined to my hotel room and felt pretty miserable and lonely.” She further added, “For women, it’s also important to dress appropriately – I had some salwar kameez tailored at New Market very soon after I arrived. I didn’t spend a lot of money on the material. Later I learned that I had been dressing like a maid, so I went to Aarong and got some better ones. It was a pretty funny experience.”
Jed Archdeacon, working as an executive chef at Radisson Blu Dhaka, also has a vibrant experience here. He shared, “I have traveled to old Dhaka Town recently. This may not seem a journey but believe me to get from the hotel to Old Dhaka Town was quite an adventure. I really loved the character of the Old Dhaka Town. Some colonial style buildings have British influence / Pakistani influence and with the large Hindu community quite a lot of old buildings and temples with Moghul heritage were present too. Lots of fresh fruits and roadside snacks were there to enjoy as well.”
Jed found the food scene to be quite vibrant. “Food is extremely important here. Even when I see the international influences in the restaurants located at Banani and Gulshan, the most diversity for me is in the street food. There is really a lot of energy coming from the stalls with people appreciating the taste, smell and just snacking everywhere. I love it! I found also Bangladeshis are very passionate about Western Food which makes my job so much more enjoyable when people really get into the food.”
Jed reminisces his first Pohela Baishakh experience in this way, “It was so much fun. I totally loved it. Even though I was working the whole day and night, the atmosphere in the hotel was great. There was a bunch of happy people just wanting to celebrate and party –something similar to the people in my home Australia.” Jed’s advice to travelers would be to be aware of local culture. “As you are a visitor in Bangladesh you must have an understanding and appreciation of the way things are done here though they may be different from other countries!”
Kirsty and Mark Bennetts, a couple who have been traveling together for eighteen years, have been documenting their travels on their personal travel blog, Kathmandu & Beyond. They had spent three weeks traveling independently around Bangladesh in February 2015. “Besides Dhaka, we have taken a boat trip to the Sunderbans and traveled on the locally famous Rocket ship. We also traveled to Kushtia, Rajshahi and Srimangal.
Towns and cites in Bangladesh can be hectic, so Srimangal was a refreshing change of pace. We spent time walking among the tea plantations and of course sampled the famous seven-layer tea. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to travel to the south of the country - we’d love to return and explore Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar.” The couple has a yearning for spicy foods which was very much satiated here. “We’re big fans of spicy food, so the food was a real treat for us! Wherever we travel we prefer to eat in local restaurants and we had lots of opportunities to do this in Bangladesh. Often we would just see what the locals were eating and selected whatever looked good from there.”
“The overwhelming impression we left Bangladesh with is the friendliness of the people. We even wrote a post entitled “Are the people of Bangladesh the friendliest in the world?” for our Kathmandu And Beyond blog. Everywhere we went, we were met with broad smiles and people wanting to talk to us and take a selfie! One such memorable occasion happened while we were walking in the gardens at Kuthibari near Kushtia.
We were almost mobbed by a large group of girls all wanting to take photographs of us. Such experiences help travelers like us feel connected to a destination,” said Kirsty.
Her advice to the travelers here will be, “Expect the unexpected and travel with an open mind. Enjoy the journey and don’t expect to arrive anywhere quickly! Also, one should consider local culture and dress modestly.”
Tiffany Hodge has an insuperable connection with Bangladesh and the culture here. “I have been to Dhaka, Bhola, Mongla (near Sundarban, Sylhet) and Cox’s Bazaar,” she said. “It all began when I had come to Bangladesh for a university trip in January 2001. I knew pretty much nothing about Bangladesh then. Nine months later, we had the terrorist attack in September 11. I had no idea of Islam or Muslim world then, but I was really dismayed with what I was hearing from US media which was mostly anti-Islamic that time. I wanted to find out more and I surprised myself when I had taken the decision to graduate school to study Islam. I wanted to study Islam particularly in South Asia- a large part of that was because I really wanted to learn Bangla. I got fellowship to study Bangla in Calcutta which was before American Institute of Bangladesh Studies started in Dhaka. I really enjoyed learning the language. Since then I have been to Bangladesh five or more times.”
The last time Tiffany had come here was in March 2010. It was for her dissertation research on the application of Islamic law in rural areas of Bangladesh. For Tiffany, Bangladesh was a second home. However, during her long stay here, not everything was always easy. The orphanage in Charfassion Bhola that she co-founded to improve the lives of children there led her to many adventures. She had seen two cyclones, though fortunately they were not too big. She was even mugged. “I was mugged during Eid, 2009. I have been coming to Bangladesh for many years and I have been feeling very comfortable and put my guard down. I was on a rickshaw by myself in Banani one night when the mugging incident took place. I am sharing this experience to remind others that no matter how comfortable you may feel and how much you may know the native language, always be alert and take precautions to be safe. Despite of all that, I continued to come to Bangladesh for how strongly I felt for it, especially for the works I was doing at Charfassion orphanage and for the friends I had made here. I must mention the Director of the Orphanage and his wife, especially his wife. My friendship with her grew stronger over the years. Technology helps us remain in connected even now. But I miss the conversations we would have, at night when there was no power. We would talk about things of her life and mine. I feel like in some way my understanding of Bangladesh comes from her and I am so thankful to them. Bangladesh has a rich diversity and it shows that religious and cultural heritage can live side by side.”