We arrive in the university town of Rajshahi in the afternoon. This town is situated on the Padma River in Western Bangladesh and is on the border with India. We settle into a hotel and hope like hell we can find somewhere passable to eat. We find a slightly bizarre and dimly lit Chinese restaurant that has a dwarf decked out in formal military gear (including large hat) as doorman. It's like something out of Twin Peaks! It's a good find and we end up frequenting this place for the next two days.
We take our first cycle rickshaw in Rajshahi.
They are amazing with every surface decorated with paintings or colourful plastic designs. The back panels depict scenes from famous Bangladeshi movies - most of which involve guns, knives and blood!
We need to change some money in the town and end up being invited into the back office area of the bank. There are no computers and the place is drowning in paperwork. We sit and wait amongst towering piles of ledgers (some nearly reach the ceilings) during the lengthy process of exchanging US dollars for Bangladeshi taka. Our next trip is to the train station so we can buy our train tickets to Dhaka. In another demonstration of hospitality we are guided by a train employee from the ticket window into the office on the other side and given chairs to sit down on while our tickets are issued!
The next day we take a local bus to visit a village nearby called Puthia - our first sight seeing in Bangladesh. After getting bustled onto the correct bus, we soon attract our 'helper' for the day.
He is a university student studying history and is very keen to practise his English. He keeps repeating, with an enormous smile, 'I am feeling very, very happy to be speaking with you' and praises me on my 'very fine behaviour'! We get dropped on the highway and take a cycle rickshaw with him to the village. Our new friend directs us to the caretaker of the area, who turns out to be a real character. He is Hindu and has been looking after the rajbari (palace) and temples in the area for many years, as his father and grandfather did before him. The rajbari was built in 1895 and is now falling into ruin, although there is still a college housed in the building. The temples
behind the palace are in even worse condition, except for one - the Govinda temple, which somehow survived various invasions.
The building has 5 domes and is covered in intricate carvings in terracotta which depict the Ramayana and other Hindu legends.
We have a very interesting tour around the other dilapidated temples and are joined by another student (of Theatre & Art) who is researching the carvings. Somehow we end up sitting amongst a plethora of paperwork in the 'Land Office', which now occupies one of the palace buildings. The 'spokesperson' of the office leads yet another cordial interrogation and when he has exhausted all questions he simply says 'thank you' and indicates that we can go! Before we can take leave of our helpers (we have 4 in tow now).
we have numerous photographs taken and I am given a mobile phone to have a conversation with one man's daughter (who is studying English)! This place might be difficult to travel, but there's no shortage of people to help you out (as long as you're willing to answer their questions!)
We head off really early to the train station in Saidpur. Being so early there aren't too many people in town to stare, but the train station is busy. We stand with our backs to the wall with the ever increasing starers pressing in around us. I get my book out and start reading as I don't know where to look, but Tim's theory is to not do anything at all as they find it all the more interesting! We soon attract a 'helper' who is also catching our train and speaks passable English. He guides us along the platform and when the train arrives directs us to a spacious compartment where we can shut the door on the staring. Now begins another cordial interrogation, involving many personal questions: 'Why are you here in Bangladesh?', 'What is your relationship?', 'What are your academic qualifications?', 'At which institution did you gain your qualifications?', 'What is your profession?', 'How much do you earn?', 'What is your aim in life?' and the all important 'How do you feel about Bangladesh?'. Another popular one is to ask how much a kg of rice costs in Australia!