© 2013 Kerala Tribal villages in the Shylet Division, close to Srimongol

Bangladesh: Tourist sights but also amazing people

Bangladesh is one of the most untouched Asian countries in terms of tourism. We’ve been travelling there for 10 days and during those days we’ve only seen a single tourist, who wasn’t actually a tourist but an expat. If you have 10-15 days of holidays and are willing to travel to beautiful countries where nobody goes, Bangladesh is your ideal holidays destination.

Maybe the lack of tourists is due to the lack of clear information on how to get a Visa. If you are travelling around the world, as we were doing at that time, and you can’t ask for the visa in your country, nobody knows if you can do a visa on arrival or not. For instance, at the embassy of Bangladesh in Indonesia, they refused to give us the visa because we were not living or working in Indonesia. And they insisted on telling us that there’s no “visa on arrival” option for us. The embassy in Spain was not more helpful. They told us they had no idea if it was possible or not. The official pages of the embassies or the Bengali government (which look like pages designed by a 13 years old guy learning to code in the garage of his parents) are full of wrong information (wrong phone numbers, directions, visa conditions) and don’t help much more.

Thanks to a friend that is living in Bangladesh and who insisted that the visa on arrival was possible, we flew to Bangladesh without a visa (but with crossed fingers) and managed it once in the airport. BUT we received the visa due to an invitation letter from the Bangladeshi company of our friend and had assistance from an airport clerk to “negotiate” our visa with the visa on arrival office. We were the only non-Bangladeshi in the plane, so we couldn’t see what others did. In the end,  we still don’t know if everyone can do a visa on arrival or not…

Besides the initial burocratic staff, we’ve loved the country.  The most important tourist attractions in Bangladesh are:

- Dhaka itself (and within Dhaka, Old Dhaka is a must!) where you can live the chaos in the most chaotic city (in terms of traffic) we’ve seen in the world (taking a tricycle was more dangerous than swimming with sharks while drinking a glas of blood), beautiful labyrinth streets, an explosion of colors coming from the local clothing, the stressed daily life… A good thing we did the Vipassana Meditation course before going there.

- Chittagong, a hilly region with many forests and lakes. Unfortunately we weren’t able to go when we were there due to strong islamic protests in that area. Check the political situation in that area at your embassy (if they pick up the phone) before you go to Chittagong.

- Srimongol (or Sreemangal) in the Shylet Division, famous for its tea plantations, pineapple plantations and bitter nut plantations, its forests, and tribal villages of Bangladesh. We visited two tribes there: one small hindu community, living in hand-made mud houses without electricity and only one “public toilet” (the toilet being two rocks on the floor) for all the community, they are known for the home-made sugar cane juice they produce and the clothes they do. The very first indigenous who came to that place where Burmese escaping from their country; they’ve stablished there and this is how this small community has arised, they have not merged with bengalis. There’s another tribal village which is a small christian community living in a forest. The  shape of their eyes is closer to that of a thai than of a bengali, and they are known for the production of the bitter nut. They have their own little school thanks to a NGO and their own little church in the community. There are more tribal villages with their own traditions and cultures different from the bengali living in the Shylet Division. You’ll have to ask for a guide to bring you there as you can’t go without introduction and wouldn’t even find them by your own. You’ll need around 2 days to visit the Srimongol region (perfect as a plan for the weekend if you are living in Dhaka!)

- Sundarbans, where Bangladesh merges with the sea and the famous bengal tiger lives. You can’t go there by yourself, you have to go with a pre-booked tour (lot of travel agencies organizing tours in the Sundrabans are based in Khulna, you can call them or email them), as you could get lost in the forest and the tiger may eat you… As the time we were there, there were no tours available (sometimes the travel agency tells you that they have a tour, you book, but two days before departing they inform you that the group has been cancelled so also your tour… real case :( and we couldn’t afford a private tour (more than 200€ per person per 4 days). We have a friend who did it and he didn’t see any tiger, but the mangrove forest with its rivers where amazing.

We want to go back to Bangladesh when the protests diminish in order to be able to visit all the areas we couldn’t. The few things we were able to visit where like a pearl. Here some pictures:

Bengali’s rickshaws are known for their colors

 

Waiting for the train somewhere in Bangladesh

Rickshaw’s traffic in Dhaka

 

Chaos in the city (Dhaka)

 

Pacific life around Srimongol, north-east of Bangladesh

 

All bengali people are very friendly to tourists and will help you

 

Daily life in Bangladesh: how they carry their stuff

 

Women working at the tea plantations in Bangladesh

 

Bengali woman working on the tea leaves

Tribal villages in the Shylet Division, close to Srimongol

The religion in Bangladesh: The major part of the population is muslim. And you feel it on the street: some men have long beards dyed with henna (orange…) and some women wear the burka while other women wear the sari as in India even if they are muslims. Women ofthen have some part of the body dyed with henna. A 5% of the population that is christian, living both in Dhaka and in small communities. And there are a few hindus.

The food of Bangladesh is not as spicy as the Indian one. And a great thing: it is cheap. One meal can cost around 1€! They eat rice with mutton and vegetables, a lot of fish, chapatti, spicy vegetables, dhal… and also kebabs :) Not only the food, but also the clothes you can buy there are amazingly cheap (good jeans can cost around 6 €). Go there with an empty luggage and you’ll easily fill it. Transportation is also very cheap. This is, maybe the flight from Europe or the US is not as cheap as desired, but the cost of travelling around Bangladesh and of the expenses you can have there as a tourist, are very low (with the exception of the tours you may need to visit some areas).

Check the political situation before you go to Bangladesh. It’s in fact a very beautiful country, not even discovered by the bag packers yet (the catch phrase of some tourist agencies is: “Come before the tourists come”), and worth to visit, but you need to travel there when there are no local manifestations programmed. By the time we where there there were lot of “hartals” (the local manifestations), so no public transport was working, no travelling around the country either around Dhaka was possible, only the train was working. They inform about the hartal days several days in advance (e.g.: “for the next week we’ll do a hartal on monday and on wednesday”) so you know that those two days you’re blocked in your guest house / neighborhood except if you want to get some nice pictures of a burning bus or molotov cocktails being burnt.

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