Bangladesh may not be the ideal getaway holiday destination but I must admit it has a lot to offer. My first experience of how the country and it's people look like dates back to 2008 when I along with my parents and my elder brother travelled from Agartala to Kolkata via Bangladesh. Our bus 'Shyamoli Paribahan' departed at around 1:30 PM from international bus terminus, TRTC krishnanagar Agartala. It was not long before our journey came to a halt as we had to step out and get our passport verified by the officials at Akhaura Border check point. At this juncture I must mention a very important fact. I was travelling without a passport because back then it was legal for a 8- year old to travel without one. All I had was my name printed on a separate page in my mother's passport without a photograph of mine. None of us were aware of this that I travelling without a passport is going to cost us 6-years later. It took around one hour to get all the formalities done and our journey was again back on track. I vividly remember that I kept looking outside the bus window with great curiosity and enthusiasm, why not this was the first time I was in a foreign land.
I remember having seen lush green fields on either sides of the road, bare chested children playing cricket, partially damaged houses, roadside tea stalls, poor people lying here and there and a good number of autorickshaws. For a large part of our journey this was what I saw, which created an impression in my mind that most of the citizens of this country are poverty stricken and find it hard to keep their kitchen fire burning. Our next stop was a three storey hotel which had a restaurant in its ground floor. All the passengers got down and headed straight towards the food counters. Luckily we had our own food with us and the only thing we had to buy was tea. After a short break our journey resumed, our next destination being Mirpur, Dhaka. As we got closer to our destination what I noticed is large crowds all around, market places, bad traffic management, garbage on the road and all these added to the suffocation we were already having due to hot and humid weather conditions. We reached Mirpur around 8:30 PM and had 45 minutes before boarding the next bus. We spent the that time in a waiting room which had age old lights, fading walls, noisy air conditioner and a smelly washroom. No wonder it was very difficult out there and I and my father waited outside for the bus to arrive. The bus wasn't on time and it arrived around 9:40 PM. This time we were delighted to see a Volvo bus because it had air conditioner, super comfy seats, a small TV and to add to all these they were going to serve us dinner. I was super excited but my excitement was short lived as I didn't get the dinner I was expecting. Anyways what they served was a packet that had in it two slices of bread, a banana and a patisapta stuffed with kheer and a bottle of water.
As the night set in Dhaka seem to glitter with highrise buildings and skyscrapers all around. There is no denying in it that Dhaka is the cleanest and the brightest place in Bangladesh, after all it is the capital of the country. I finished my dinner and dozed off. The next thing I remember is my father waking me up in the middle of the night to show me something which till date is one of my most cherished memories. I along with my father got off the bus to find ourselves in the middle of a river!!
It took me a while to sink in what was happening. We were actually crossing the 'Padma' river on a thing which they call as launch. Now launch is something like a boat which is huge in size and has the capacity to transport 10-15 buses and a few cars at a time from one side of the river to the other. The launch was a double decker and we went upstairs to have a look and what we saw was a good number of people relishing the famous 'Padmar illish' at around midnight!!! Truly those were fascinating scenes and something which is worth remembering. We reached 'Benapole' border check point around 5:00 AM and had to get our documents verified one last time before leaving Bangladesh. We then entered 'Petrapole' which is the Indian side of Petrapole - Benapole border check point and there the officials from India verified our passports once again.
Picture: Benapole border check point Bangladesh.
Then we waited for some more time for our next bus to arrive. It finally did arrive at around 8:30 AM and got us to our final destination. Thereafter I travelled through Bangladesh twice, one in the same year while going back which also includes a one night halt in Dhaka and the other in 2014 when I was not allowed to enter India!! Both the stories are quite different from this one which I will narrate in part- 2 of this blog.