Laid Back in the Back Waters

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I hopped a train (meaning I went to the train station, fought with the cab driver as he tried to get me to go to stores where he got commission along the way, waited in my lines, was told I needed my real passport and not my copy, had to go back to my hotel, and then I found a closer random booking office where the supervisor helped me 10 minutes before closing) to Kochi, India in the beautiful state of Kerala. My trip to Kochi (also called Cochin and pretty much interchangeable with Ernakulum) is the product of something unique. Everywhere else so far on my trip has been meticulously planned in advance. What cities to go to, what are the different ways to get there, what places do the guidebooks say aren’t worth going to, etc. Kerala wasn’t on my radar at all until I started traveling. When I would talk with people about my trip and mention India, everyone said that I had to go to Kerala and I decided to listen to their advice.

With the last minute ticket buying, I ended up traveling in general sleeper class, i.e. below third class. This just means that there were three beds bunked, fine, and no AC. Also fine. I had the bottom bunk and I was just about to doze off when I was tapped gently on the shoulder. I opened my eyes and a man politely asked if I could move my backpack on the floor. I kind of waffled because there really wasn’t too much room, it was discreetly tucked under the table, and I always try and request the lower berth so I have the access to my bags on the floor. After making a fuss, he said, “Oh well are you sure you can’t move it? Because it’s in my spot?” They had sold him a sleeper spot for the floor. So I moved my back, he laid down a sheet and promptly fell asleep right there on the dirty floor next to me. India.

I arrived to a rainy morning in Kochi and arrived at my “home stay.” The popular thing to do in Kochi is to check in at a “home stay” but they’re really a lot more like bed and breakfasts. I had a great room at the Bastian Homestay with my two big necessities, wifi and hot water. I took a big nap before setting out to explore the tiny town. I was so glad to have a day just to wander around the streets of Kochi because it really is just a great place to wander. The small seaside town isn’t a beach town per se, but it still has that laid back feel. There are lots of little shops and restaurants and, I know a lot of people hate this, but it really does cater to tourists in a good way. The different districts of the city each has its own unique feel. Fort Cochin is the main hub where I just walked in the rain, had some tea, and looked at a lot of the old Portuguese architecture. If you follow the main street along the peninsula, a 20-minute walk will bring you to the other side of the city, Jewtown. Actually called Jewtown, it’s kind of just like it sounds. There’s a synagogue and stars of David on the walls. It’s incredibly interesting to see the Indian take on Judaism.

A 500-year-old Portuguese church.

So the beach in Fort Cochin isn’t really scenic, but these Chinese fishing nets are oddly compelling and very atmospheric.

 

Jewtown windows.

That evening I took my requisite cooking class. The highly acclaimed Cook N’ Eat cooking class with Leela wasn’t really my favorite class. If you would’ve asked me 2 months ago what my ideal cooking class was, I would’ve said it involved me doing minimal work. Now, I think it requires a full hands-on experience, especially if you have no idea what you’re doing. Leela mostly just prepared the dishes in front of us in her humble little kitchen. We learned that masala isn’t one thing, but just a word that means “a collection of spices” and that chicken masala is different than beef masala is different that fish masala. “We” prepared fish masala, an amazing pumpkin masala dish that I plan on serving at future Thanksgivings, a requisite eggplant dish, and an Indian bread, chapati. Everyone else made beautiful round fluffy ones, but mine turned out oblong and hard. Oh well. I went out for a drink with a pair of British school teachers (whose names I’m not even sure I knew then… Matt? Hmmm They really liked the TV show Suits and uniformly thought most of their students would turn out to be delinquents.).

Leela in her kitchen.

The next day I did the big activity you’re supposed to do in Kerala, I took a river cruise on a “house boat.” There are actual house boats you can rent and spend a few nights on, but I just did a day trip, which was more than enough. Cochin and the neighboring town of Alleppy lock in a bit of a delta and this tropical river system is called the backwaters. I loaded on to a giant covered rattan raft and we just floated on the rivers for the day. It was extremely peaceful just sitting, staring at the lush tropical scenery. I took the time to talk with a lot of the other travelers and get more advice on where to go to India. One group of British college grads had spent a month mountain biking in Kashmir, two other British girls had spent two weeks mostly in Kerala, and everyone had great advice for me.

 

These are the kind of boats we were on. They just floated down the rivers in pure tranquility.

That night, I worked on buying my next set of train tickets to Goa, which is always easier said than done (two train stations in Kochi, both of which told me I was at the wrong one and needed to go to the other…). I spent the night staying up way to late talking with the new residents at my hotel. Another pair of British school teachers spending a month in India who were drinking a lot of wine and an Australian guy who was taking a gap year traveling the world.

Kerala is the first place in India I’ve been that really had a traveler feel where you could meet other people and just relax. Cochin was just what I needed at this point on my trip – beautiful scenery and some great travel advice about where to go next.

Mysore ass from Bangalore.

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I did something that in the India travel business is known as cheating – I took a plane flight.

Train travel in India is a very complex maddening system and it doesn’t do well with spontaneous travelers. The general quota for most trains sells out 2-3 weeks in advance. There are these emergency train tickets called tatkal tickets that you have to be at the train station the day before at 10AM or else! (except everyone can buy them online?!? or possibly 6 days in advance? It’s all unclear), and then there’s my favorite thing, the foreign tourist quota. There are about 10 tickets or less on some of the major trains that get released an unspecified amount of time before the departure. To get this tickets, you have to go to the train station from which the train is departing and buy them on site. You wait in a long line just to get the reservation form, for which no one behind the counter will loan you a pen, and then you have to wait in the line again. Once at the front of the line, you have to fight with the person there, convince them that you know what you’re talking about (when I usually don’t) and then you ask for the supervisor and upon showing him your passport, you finally get the ticket. When I say that this is my preferred method of buying a ticket, I’m sadly serious. This was all too much to handle and process for my first major time trying to buy a foreign tourist ticket and I just ended up flying. It saved me 36 hours. Sue me.

When I arrived to Bangalore, I met up with a good friend of mine from high school who lives in Bangalore. My friend Anu picked me up and drove me around town to see the sights and a couple of things from her own life. We first stopped by the beautiful department of Justice and then went to a family favorite restaurant where I got some delicious and very cheap Indian food. We then stopped by Bangalore’s famous Bull Temple and paid a quick tribute to Ganesh. We did some shopping in her favorite district called 4th Block (I think) and then visited another temple. It was great catching up with an old friend and we had an amazing dinner that night, too!

Vidhana Soudha – The state legislature building.

The bull of the famous Bull Temple is extremely accessorized.

BANGLES!

The arbor up to one of Anu’s local temples (I’ve completely forgotten the name…)

There’s not too terribly much to do in Bangalore although it is a fairly clean city  and I think it’s one of the wealthier cities in India. People rave about their botanical gardens, but I wasn’t too terribly impressed, although in India, you take every bit of green space and quiet that you can get!

Lalbagh Botanical Gardens.

Dinosaur topiaries at the Gardens.

One of my days in Bangalore I decided to take a “day trip” to Mysore. I’m not sure I would whole heartedly recommend this solution because I was left wanting a little more Mysore and with too much bus travel. What they say is a 3 hour bus ride is actually a 30 minute ride to the bus station, a 30 minute bus ride to another bus station and then a 4 hour drive to Mysore. Not cool.

Look at the numbers on the face of the clock. Very cool.

The major attraction of Mysore is the Mysore Palace. Since it’s only less than 100 years old, it’s still pretty well preserved and the inside is this beautiful mix of Indian and British influence. Unfortunately, it’s one of those horrible places in India that won’t let you take pictures inside. I’m always frustrated by this since I have my fancy camera, but I also have a fascination with audio guide tours (like… the production and quality of the audio guide tour and not so much the information they have to give) so it was still a great visit.

The Maharajah’s Palace.

That afternoon I was wandering the vegetable market in Mysore with my usual Stanford cap and my Stanford backpack and I heard someone say, “Hey are you from Stanford?” I turned around and I met two Stanford sophomores who were teaching English in the state of Tamil Nadu. I ended up spending the whole afternoon with Liam and Shannon, taking an informal tour of all of the workshops of the backstreets of Mysore. I can’t really put into words what I liked about Mysore so much except that I think it was the right size. It had one big attraction which gave it a tourism infrastructure so there were restaurants and things, but it also seemed that the people there just wanted to live their lives. It’s definitely worth going to if you ever swing by India.

Natural powders for paints at the market.

 

The very colorful Mysore Vegetable Market.

Well-sorted bananas.

The crowd actually cheered when they heard their train in the distance at the Bangalore train station.

Bites in Bengal

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For this installment of the food post, I decided that there wasn’t enough interesting food in Bangladesh on its own. Plus, if I did one post for all of India, it would be massive. Fortunately, the northeastern section of India is actually West Bengal and a lot of the food is very similar. I threw in the state of Orissa too because I could, even though their cuisine stands a bit apart from anywhere else on the subcontinent. Enjoy!

Don’t panic! This is a picture from before I shaved in Bangladesh. One of the workers there was just obsessed with my camera and took a ton pictures of me eating with my camera.

Here is that man.

Samosas for lunch. Mostly everyday.

I was in Bangladesh during Ramadan and traditionally, the muslims break their day long fast with a meal of iftar. Iftar, for us, is basically a lot of fried breads and vegetables. Delicious.

How have we not thought of this? A fried egg in a baked potato. Genius.

I have yet to figure out what the mysterious vegetables in this type of curry. It’s just all so green. Any guesses?

So much curry. Not complaining.

You get a lot of meals that are bizarrely sectioned. Exhibit A.

 

I got a meal at the food court in the mall. Sue me. Here is an Indian take on food court fare from “Dosas and More!”

Roti and Coke.

It’s not the best picture, but Subway has special local Indian subs! I’ll have a footlong Chicken Tikka!

An Orissan sampler platter. Let’s zoom in, shall we?

One of these vegetable medleys was sweet. Not okay!

Left to right: Mysterious but delicious veggie curry, a wonderful pudding dessert with cucumber, and some kind of chicken that was tangy but too bony.

More extremely sectioned meals. It’s called Thali and they’re always exciting.

This mutton curry was so spicy I almost died.

 

I can’t even remember what I loved so much about this “American sweet corn” but it was crunchy and sweet, fried in masala or something. I don’t know enough about food.

This is a sad picture of delicious onion kulcha, another kind of delicious Indian bread.

A Tropical Puri-dise!

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Excuse the terrible pun. I had to because when you go to the tropical paradise beach town of Puri, there’s really not too much to do but kick back, relax and enjoy a little bit of peace and quiet.

Camel rides on the beach!

I spent my first day in Puri just wandering around the beach and the town. Coming from the craziness of Kolkata I was just excited to get out and have some peace and quiet. Of course, the one main road in town still had motorcycles beeping, but I could escape it and that felt great. The other thing that really struck me is that as you go to a more rural town, you see more cows. Put simply, cows are considered sacred in Hindu culture and it is wrong to bother a cow. This gives them free reign of the roads and they just wander around like stray dogs.

It’s called The Burning Ghat. They are constantly burning trash and incense. Very smoky.

I actually ate the food from this bakery. They have to keep nets over their food because there are so many flies.

Monkeys run around like stray dogs.

So do cows. Just a cow casually blocking traffic. Typical India.

I think Lonely Planet might have oversold the town, but it does fit one of my favorite criteria of travel. It is truly a place that Westerners don’t go on vacation, but Indians do. On my train, I met a couple going there for their honeymoon. It’s a little dirtier than the best place, the roads are all poorly kept, and the restaurants are decidedly local. But that’s okay. It certainly does feel undiscovered by tourists, and I know that is something a lot of travelers desperately crave.

I also learned how to navigate India’s public bus scene. Sometimes, the buses can be even quicker than the trains. Fortunately, every single time I’ve gone to take a bus, all of the locals are eager to help me. Reliably, you just arrive to the bus station and the first person that sees you asks where you’re going and they all whisk you to the bus. You will also be the only white person on the bus so the conductor figures out where you’re going, and tells you exactly when to get off. I’m so thankful that the people of India are looking out for me and I would never get anywhere without being able to ask the thousands of questions to locals and their eager responses.

The place I was going on this first bus adventure was about an hour away to the famous temple of Konark, The Sun Temple. It was built in the 13th Century by a pious King whose name I can’t pronounce and he built a beautiful temple on the ocean facing the sunrise. Since the 13th century, the ocean has receded about 3 km, so now it just sets in a field. But that doesn’t make it any less impressive. The temple is built in a uniquely Orissan style of architecture and while I don’t understand the subtleties of the style, it is unique for having a lot of details on the exterior and a very plain interior. Since the interior of the temple was closed off some 60 odd years ago for safety issues, you are just left with the intricate designs of the outside.

The temple originally had two giant towers, but all that remains is the SMALLER one. That’s right. The giant temple in my pictures is the little guy. Also, the temple was built to look like a giant chariot. It has horses and animals “pulling” the temple and the base of the temple has giant stone wheels that double as sundials! I was left kind of in awe by this very unique temple.

The entrance to the Temple of Konark.

Konark – The Sun Temple.

Uh-oh. I forgot to mention that they really liked the Kama Sutra.

I spent the afternoon going to a couple towns that sell locally made crafts. The towns themselves weren’t that interesting, but they sold beautiful crafts and trinkets. I again got to know the great local bus system visiting the towns of Pipli and Raghurajpur. Pipli has woven goods adorned with tiny mirrors lighting up the stores with a single ray of sunshine. Raghurajpur is famous for their sandalwood etchings. I picked up some good souvenirs and returned to town.

Days of craft shopping.

I encountered my first bit of monsoon season in Puri and the town was attacked by a thunderstorm that night. The power went out a number of times while I was eating dinner and in my room – although I was always prepared with my headlamp!

I also had my most near-death experience to date. It was walking down the main street in Puri, a small dirt road wide enough for two auto rickshaws (basically a tuk tuk). As is typical in India, a large group of cows was taking up half the road, just lounging around. There wasn’t enough room to go around the cows on the outside, so I had to go around through the middle of the road. Just as I started to pass the small herd, one of the bulls decided he was bored and mounted the cow in front of him. She was inevitably startled, yelped, and lumbered forward. I was also startled by the cows in heat charging at me and jumped back, further into the road as an auto rickshaw zoomed by honking and actually hit me. I was okay, but was just incredibly startled. I really hate the cows.

Get. Me. Out.

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I left my friend Yoshika in Dhaka early in the morning and took a 35 minute flight to Kolkata, India! I’ll have just over a month in India so I was really hoping I would like the place. Kolkata was not going to make that easy for me. In Ho Chi Minh City, I bought a photocopied version of a Lonely Planet guidebook to India so I had some good reference points. Terrifyingly, all of the reviews of cheaper hostels and hotels were abysmal, citing bed bugs and thefts. I decided I would stay somewhere without bed bugs so I went to the “posh” district of town, Tollygunge.

My first day in Kolkata I decided I hated it. I vowed almost as soon as I arrived that I would book a train ticket out for the next day. I spent my first afternoon there doing something actually pretty cool. I visited the Kalighat Temple. This is a highly functioning Hindu temple where Kolkata supposedly gets its name from. It’s very important for some such reason and I enjoyed wandering through the streets as everyone knew that the white person must be looking for the only attraction in miles and directed me there.

When you arrive, you are greeted by a priest (or someone who says he’s a priest) and he tells you that you can’t take pictures and to take off your shoes. He whisked me through the temple as I watched people frantically worshipping. The first place he took me to was the goat sacrifice area. As if on cue, I saw a man carrying over a goat, ready to be sacrificed. The only way I can describe the sound the goat was making is that it was screaming. I chose to watch and before I even realized, the goat was beheaded. I was told that the temple sacrifices between 30 to 40 goats each day. Wow! He then showed me various other shrines and gave me a red string bracelet called a mauli to grant the blessings he gave me. Definitely a highlight of Kolkata.

This was the Mother Teresa home for the sick and dying. Right behind it to the right is the Kalighat Temple.

I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around town. Part of the charm of the town is supposed to be the English colonial architecture in India, but most of that beautiful architecture has been left unpreserved and is decaying most ungracefully. It’s not only ugly, but depressing. There’s little beauty in this breakdown and I really struggled to find the joy in Kolkata. I was so disgusted by the constant mud, the loud loud traffic with their reliance on horns instead of blinkers, that I made my way to the train ticket office and booked a night train to Puri for the next evening. I filled my first day with visiting the depressingly contaminated Hooghly River and a few markets. I just spent the whole day walking around and determined that the next day I would hit up all of the sights I needed to see before I left.

You can actually see the trash floating down the Hooghly River.

What is supposed to be appealing about this city?

Well this is a nice random building.

This is a great example of how that colonial architecture could look pretty, but there’s so much decay and sadness. Also, those trams are impossibly thin.

This beautiful mansion is surrounded by a tall fence and the guards chase you away from the beauty and into the muddy streets. Talk about income inequality.

The hectic fruit market.

The next day I had a big laundry list of places I wanted to visit. First stop, The Indian Museum. I figured it would be India’s version of The British Museum. It’s not. Just a few old statues and lots of fossils. Stop #2, The Marble Palace. I picked up an entry pass from the tourism office the day before and went to this extremely bizarre place. It’s a mansion still owned by some eccentric rich man who just crammed the place full of 18th centrury classical statues and portraits. Stop #3, the house of Nobel  Laureate Tagore. His house inspired me to read some of his literature, but there’s nothing too interesting there if you are not a Tagore devoté. Stop #4, The Mother Teresa House. If you didn’t know (and I didn’t), Kolkata was where Mother Teresa got her start and did most of her work before expanding her schools and hospice centers for the poor worldwide. It was actually emotional seeing how humble she was in her small little room and I got a little emotional looking at her grave and hearing about her struggles with her faith and her purpose in life. It was some powerful stuff and I plan to read a little more about this amazing woman. Stop #5, Victoria Memorial. It’s a memorial to Queen Victoria. Need I say more?

The Marble Mansion is one of the most bizarre places I’ve ever been. Unfortunately, there is a trend in India where you can’t take pictures inside of attractions. This is my only picture before the guards snapped at me.

Mother Teresa’s bedroom for 40 years. She was so humble.

I may or may not have cried while at the Mother Teresa House.

Well finally some peace and quiet!

The Victoria Memorial at sunset.

I think I spent about 36 hours in Kolkata and it was too long at that. I’m glad I went, and it’s off the checklist, but I’m not interested in returning at all. And I wish I had a picture of the train station because it looked like a refugee camp. And there’s a road going through the middle of it. Through the middle of the building. Indoors. Maddening. But I hopped a train to the quiet beach town of Puri and never looked back.

 

Tea Time in Bangladesh

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So this post has been a long time coming, but I was not only without internet, I was without my computer for the last few days so there’s no judging me too harshly. I promise I’ll get up to date by the time I leave this hotel… maybe. The downside of that is I’m very tired and loading all of these pictures took forever, so this one is going to be low on text, high on beauty.

My visit to my friend Yoshika was two-fold. I got to see Bangladesh and she got an excuse to leave Dhaka. We joined up with her two friends from work Val and Rachael and set off on a train to the north of Bangladesh – to a town called Srimongol. I honestly knew nothing about where I was going and just went along for the ride and what a great ride it was!

We were afraid that our practically steerage class tickets on the train were standing room only, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that we had seats! Sadly, none of my pictures of the train itself turned out, but in comparison to my others, it was a relatively earthy group. It was the kind of  train that had people sitting on the roof. Our five hour train ride whisked us north to the region famous for its tea and monkeys.

Leaving Dhaka…

…And into the country side.

We went to our eco-cottage and found ourselves right in the middle of a tea plantation. We spent our first afternoon just lazily wandering around the spacious tea plantation and the town. Certainly not the worst way to spend an afternoon in a place as beautiful and rich with life as Srimongol. It was one of those places where we really felt off the beaten path and could claim the weekend as our own.

We walked alongside the women carrying tea for about 20 minutes. They were not pleased.

One of the main highlights of visiting Srimongol is tasting their famous 7-layer tea. It was apparently invented by this one family who set up one teahouse in the middle of nowhere, but this teahouse was closed for the summer! Fortunately, the only knock-off 7-layer tea place in the city was just around the corner from our eco-cottage.

Srimongol is famous for their 7 layer tea! You can actually taste the difference between the layers although by the end they’re all kind of gingery.

The next morning, we took off to see the other main attraction of Srimongol, the Lawachara National Park. This park is famous for the Hoolock Gibbon, a rare-ish monkey native to the area. What they don’t tell you is that you are more likely to see the famous banana spiders of Sylhet. We set out at dawn in order to catch the gibbons still active. The park was just a 20-minute walk from our cottage so we were there in time to see a few gibbons swinging from the trees high above us. However, as soon as we began our hike, all signs of monkeys and friendly creatures were gone. We were just left with spiders. And they were everywhere. Our guide apparently would hack away the webs from the trail and we would crawl underneath the remaining web above. I say apparently because I was in the back of the group, letting each of the far braver girls find the webs first and tell me how to best avoid them. We must have spotted fifty spiders in our 2-hour hike. I’m getting nervous just thinking about them.

And the famous giant spiders of Sylhet!

Icky.

So you can’t tell that there’s a monkey in the picture, but there is.

We spent the late morning hiking and driving to a couple of the local tribal villages. I honestly don’t remember their names, and I’m not sure if I knew them then, but they were incredibly fascinating. Bangladesh is a mostly Muslim country, but the first village we visited was Christian. They showed us their copy of the Bible written in their local language and I could make out words like “Jenisis” and “Eksodos.” The other town was a Hindu town where our guide lived. He welcomed us into his home and we shared tea with him and his wife.

We spent our afternoon on the most gorgeous CNG ride, winding our way through the pastures and countryside. The CNG rides were always a little terrifying. The backseat of a CNG is just big enough to squeeze three women, so Yosh, Val, and Rachael were set. Since women were not allowed to sit in the front with the driver, that was always my task. The steering wheel is dead in the middle of the seat, so as a passenger, I was left with just enough room for a leg and half. I always had to hold on to the roof of the CNG as we zipped along and needless to say, there was no such thing as a relaxing our spacious CNG. Nevertheless, we reached our destination, the magnificent Madhabpur Lake. We just lazily walked around the lake and took tons of pictures.

This is one of my favorite pictures of the trip so far.

Our humble little eco-cottage.

The final day we just spend wandering the city of Srimongol itself. This turned out to be a little more typical of the Bangladesh experience. It was a muddy, noisy and confusing place. After trying to find “the” “Rickshaw Art Center” (which turned out to be a garage that worked on rickshaws), we just spent the afternoon shopping. We somehow ran into a local boy named Hasan. Since there wasn’t any school (and we could never figure out why that was), his hobby was meetin the few foreigners who did pass through town and practicing his English. He spent the whole day translating for us and helping us barter for clothes and gifts. It was a great weekend trip to a beautiful part of the world that doesn’t get much attention.

So maybe Srimongol itself isn’t too different than Dhaka.

Rickshaw Art is so beautiful and unique, it almost makes rickshaw travel pleasant.

I’m with our friend/”guide” in Cambodia! His English was incredible.

And another one of my very favorite pictures.

Off the Beaten Path in Dhaka

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So I made this known on facebook, but I did not have the smoothest trip between Hong Kong and Dhaka, Bangladesh. When I arrived at the Hong Kong airport, I was told that my itinerary reference number was not the same as my itinerary confirmation number, but no one could explain the difference. But the itinerary I had from United was different than the itinerary Thai Airways had. Their itinerary had me out on a flight the next morning that physically couldn’t make the connecting flight. It was a flight that arrived in Bangkok at 9:30AM to make a connecting flight that left for Dhaka at 9:15 AM. WHAT?!?!?!?

The airline was actually super helpful and put me on a flight to Bangkok the night before and I got to spend the night in the lovely Bangkok airport. In all seriousness, it’s actually one of the nicest airports I’ve been to. While I had to go through security once I landed and they confiscated my bug repellent(!!!!) they have little lounge areas with leather couches that seem almost tailor made for sleeping. I got a better night sleep there than in many a hostel or sleeper train before.

Landing in Dhaka.

The kid in front of me on the plane kept turning around and trying to get me to kiss the girl sitting next to me and then giggled every time.

Fortunately, all of the hassle was worth it when I flew to Dhaka and my good friend Yoshika met me at the airport. We got into a CNG and headed off to her apartment in Gulshan, the “posh” expat part of town. The nice part of Dhaka looks like the average parts of Bangkok, which is to say that its clean enough and very crowded. We spent the afternoon lazily walking around, spotting the newly cleaned Gulshan Lake, and getting ice cream!

Kind of beautiful, right?

We had a surprise guest that night. Yoshika’s land lady’s cat who ran away came back. We (read: Yoshika while I sat and laughed) were left with the task of coaxing Doris back in while not getting fleas. A fun night to be sure.

The next morning I slept in just a little bit and took of to old Dhaka, the main part of town. It was about a 45 minute ride away and as you got closer and closer, you could see the roads becoming less maintained and the area getting poorer. Now I never made it to the slums of Dhaka, but you could have fooled me. Old Dhaka is certainly the poorest and dirtiest place I have ever been. Most of the roads are dirt, and even more seem to be mud. The main river that runs through the town, the Buriganga, is a polluted pea green.

The back seat of a CNG. They’re called tuk-tuks in other parts of the world, but in these you’re locked into the backseat, like a cage.

Boats on the Buriganga.

The muddy streets of old Dhaka.

The old town, however, is not without its charms. Since the roads are such a poor quality and the citizens are so poor, there are very few cars. Many times while walking through the busy streets, the lack of technology actually made things eerily quiet. I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere so busy, yet so quiet. It was almost peaceful. Almost. Also, I’m not sure if it was because of Ramadan or the culture or what, but there were only men wandering the streets. Since I am also a man, everyone was very friendly and wanted to talk to me and know hoe a crazy white tourist ended up in Dhaka. I made my way through town, passing the river, Bangshal St where they supposedly make rickshaw art (but I never saw any) and then up to the New Market – a rundown but evidently newer multi-story market place.

Traffic outside of New Market. Miserable.

People traffic too.

New Market seems to be a misnomer.

I had to include a picture of these mannequins for several reasons, but mostly because they freaked me out.

More Old Dhaka.

That night, Yoshika and I cooked for ourselves and I got to show off my fancy cooking class skills and I made the papaya salad that I learned to make in Vietnam! And it was actually kind of successful! The following day, I realized that it might be my only day in the foreseeable future to sleep in, so I took full advantage of just having a lazy day, doing some laundry, and wandering the expat area. I ended the day by meeting my brother’s friend Karina out for dinner. She was a local so we ended dinner by running some gruesome errands. We went to a nearby market where she bought some chickens. Not chicken, chickens.

WARNING – THINGS GET GRAPHIC!

I was clearly the first Westerner to ever step foot in the back alley slaughterhouse and the workers there were endlessly fascinated by me as I took pictures of all of the happenings. As you enter, it looks like an abandoned warehouse and you walk by goats and chickens, presumably in line to be slaughtered. Since it was 9 at night, there were also people sleeping on the concrete next to the livestock. As we went deeper into the slaughterhouse, we came to the chickens. The workers selected some choice chickens and without any pomp or circumstance, they swiftly chopped off their heads. Now, the saying goes “ran around like a chicken with its head cut off” and now I know why. They threw the decapitated chickens into an empty barrel. Then, all you could hear was the ominous thumping of the flailing headless chickens against the inside of the barrel. After 2 minutes, the thumping stopped and the workers knew it was time to start cleaning the bird. Needless to say, even on my sleepy day in, I still got to get some good local experience.

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