What’s Going On In The Desh?

The India-Bangladesh border at Akhaura, is definitely the most unorganised crossings I’ve ever had the displeasure of going over. It resembles a building site that has no concept of health and safety, the computerised system didn’t work and our Indian visas were barely checked by the aging customs officer. A good hour was spent hopping from building to building before we could finally cross the rubicon, and into Bangladesh. Some time was spent waiting for the Chittagong train at Akhaura station feeling like a caged animal in an extremely twisted zoo, but that’s another story. In the meantime a hungry beggar woman came over on her honkers with the usual trouser pulling whilst giving it the ‘feed me’ gestures. I normally deal with beggars in Asia the same way I deal with beggars at home, by completely blanking them. However, on this occasion I offered her a banana, only to have it rejected in preference of money, so the first thing I’ve learned about Bangladesh is that beggars can be choosers…


Chittagong takes its name from an ancient phrase ‘tse tse gong’ which means ‘war should never be fought’, but to put it simply, Chittagong is not worth fighting over. The sprawling, chaotic mess which makes Middlesbrough look like the green capital of Europe, is an interesting but not too pleasant place to spend a few days settling into Bangladeshi life. We took a local row boat over the Khanaphuli river from the oldest part of the city, Sadarghat. Apart from being followed and gawped at over on the other side, there was a stomach churning meat market which was enough to make any man turn veggie…

Sadarghat ferryman

Stop and stare

”Butcher, you got a cow’s head?”


What’s everyone looking at? Ah yeah, me

Rangamati is only a few hours away in the area known as the Chittagong hill tracts. The hill tracts is the stronghold of the Adivasi (ethnic groups). It has a troubled history, most notably an extended period of guerrilla warfare that was brought on after the government attempted a genocide to rid the area of all Adivasi. Kaptai lake was constructed in the 1960’s as a source of hydroelectricity, in the process 40% of the Adivasi cultivation land was submerged underwater.


Accommodation in Bangladesh had so far seemed pretty good value for money. That was until we returned home one night to find our room infested with singing, dancing, rock ‘n’ rolling cockroaches. It was reminiscent of the scenes from MTV’s obscure 90’s movie Joe’s apartment…


In this first week or so our travel plans have been severely disrupted due to some political tension taking place, that I was completely unaware of. Since early this year Bangladesh’s governing party, the Awami league, has been bringing to trial war criminals from the Bangladeshi liberation war of 1971. Ghulam Azam, former leader of the opposition party, Jamaat-e-Islami, at 90 years old was sentenced to 90 years imprisonment, a number of other Jamaat members have been sent to the gallows. Even though Jamaat-e-Islami only possess 5 seats of a possible 300 in the Bangladeshi parliament, they still have the power to call nationwide hartal (shutdowns) in protest to the tribunal’s decisions.

Always habidah habidah balclatnatabip poona…

During these hartals, public transport doesn’t operate which led to us being stuck in Rangamati and Chittagong for longer than planned. Some of the clashes have turned violent, busses have been petrol bombed throughout the country, all this and the fact that now it is Ramadan, so day time food is hard to come by, I’ll admit this isn’t exactly the perfect time to visit Bangladesh. So far it has been very frustrating, but if it means living on the edge whilst eating nothing but salted crackers during daylight, so be it, I’m determined not to let it spoil my summer ‘holiday’ in the Desh. The question on my mind, what will happen in 90 years when the 180 year old Ghulam Azam has served his time?

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