Trip Start Jan 01, 2010
57Trip End Jun 30, 2012
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So, after having entered the country through the little used border (among foreigners) of Burimari, at the far North of the country, and a first night in Bogra, I spent my 2 first days in the country exploring the archaeological sites nearby : Mahasthangarh and Somapuri Vihara in Paharpur, a Buddhist monastery, "the most impressive archaeological site in Bangladesh", according to Lonely Planet. I was a little bit disappointed by the latest, totally ruined, with only the main shrine still standing-up
Anyway, it was funny to stay 2 nights in Bogra. The staff at the (very cheap) guesthouse was friendly, and I could have a first taste of Bengali meat, after 4 months of an almost vegetarian diet....
But Bogra was still a rural town and, for New Year, I wanted to be in a bigger city where I hoped there would be more vibes. However, I was not expecting to join a party in a country where alcohol is banned, and where I had not seen any other foreigner yet. Since I wanted to visit other places around Bogra, Dhaka was too far away to be reached before midnight. So I decided to stay in Rajshahi, an university town 3 hours South of Bogra. University mean young people, right ? To be easier to meet some friends, I found some people on Couch surfing. There were only 3 members in Rajshahi, but I got a positive answer from Dr Bihan, an university teacher. I hoped he would put me in touch with some of his students....
Stopping en route in the towns of Natore and Puthia, both of them desperately little interesting, I finally arrived in Rajshahi at 4pm. When I went to the railway station to make inquiries for a train to Dhaka for the next day, there was one leaving at once, and I thought about jumping into it
But I gave Rajshahi its chance and called Dr Bihan for him to pick-me up. He arrived 20 minutes later, and instead bringing me to his house, he led me to a hotel. I was disappointed at first, because Couchsurfing has not been created to sleep in hotels, so I told him I could handle it alone; there was a guesthouse for 1$ per night nearby. He tried to dissuade me, telling me this kind of places were too dangerous for foreigners, and that he would pay for my stay. At first I refused, but this guy was a real Muslim, and I knew by experience I could harm it behaving like this, and the hotel he led me was fantastic : double bed, hot shower and satellite TV with the French channel TV5 MONDE. And it was only 8$, a fortune for me, more than my daily average budget, but still only 8$...
So, I accepted and I also accepted his invitation for dinner. When he asked me what I wanted to eat, I said without hesitation "beef, a lot of beef". So we went to a kebab restaurant, where, I realized it the next day, I ate too much. He told me that Bangladesh did not celebrate New Year, at least not the New Year of the Christian calendar, only the Muslim New Year
The next day I was sick; my body did not appreciate so much meat. But still, I was healthy enough to follow Sohag, the student in zoology Dr Bihan had sent to show me around. From the Padma river, the natural border with India, to the Research Museum, we spent a couple of hours touring the city on a cycle rickshaw. It was the first time I actually climbed in one of this things, even after almost 6 months in the Indian subcontinent, because I never found it well to have somebody get so much tired for me, in exchange of a few rupees (a few Takals in Bangladesh). After we went to the university to meet Dr Bihan, and I knew what was waiting for me there.
In India, people asked me all the day if they could make a picture together with me, even girls regularly asked me... As a matter of fact, afterwards they could show the picture to others saying : " this is my great friend from France". I usually accepted to be used like this, because I found it funny, except when the girl was too ugly or when the guy looked like a tout or false tourist guide, because they could use the photo as a scam with other travelers : "This is me with this guy from France, I guided him to this place..."
Dr Bihan was the head of the zoology department, with 33 teachers below him and supervising a couple thousands of students, and when he offered me to visit his university, I knew two things. First, I could not refuse, not after what he had done for me, and secondly I had to behave professionally, being very polite and distributing smiles to everybody. So, as expected, we went to a tour, greeting students, professors and even his boss. And, as expected, Dr Bihan never mentioned we had met on Internet only a few days before... Knowing I was helping him, it made me less uncomfortable as being his guest, actually it was part of the game. Because, I was really his guest, in the Muslim tradition of being a guest : he made a point paying for all my expenses : rickshaw, lunch and even my train ticket to Dhaka. He told me he would leave to an expedition into the Sundarbans (inside the Ganga delta) a few days later, and if he had known before I was coming, he could have including me in the expedition. I am sure he was not lying to me, too bad !
Sohag, his student, stayed with me until my train to Dhaka left
There was no credit in the prepaid chip, but early the next day, as I was exploring the city, I received an alert telling me that 20 rupees (around 0,33$, which allow to call for around 20 minutes) had miraculously appeared on the account, together with a SMS from Rafi, wishing me a good stay in Dhaka. Difficult not to love being back in a Muslim country...