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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.