Bangladesh brightens our day

An exchange of text messages told us that Prashant had called Biman Bangladesh and that we’d have to go to their city office to change our tickets to the afternoon flight and cough up 200Rp each for the privilege. A small amount, in fairness, for a very last-minute flight change.

On arrival at Calcutta, I got right on the phone to them and confirmed this as well as the address. Dodging two non-prepay taxis (150Rp and 100Rp respectively), we booked a pre-pay to the city centre for 80Rp. It always pays to check out the options here!

A manic ride towards Park Street where we dived out and ran to the address we had. Only to find that it was now occupied by the Deutsche Bank. Fortunately, the guard knew the location of their newer office and gave us directions. Packs strapped to backs, off we marched.

Ten minutes later, we got there and the staff could not have been more understanding and helpful. Given that we’d effectively given them virtually no warning of our flight cancellation, the change was swift. The cherry on top was that they obviously saw how stressed we were (OK, how stressed I was – Hans really wasn’t bothered at all) and waived the administration fee. This saved us a trip to the ATM and was hugely appreciated.

Another manic taxi ride got us to the airport for 12:45 where we were greeted by a huge bamboo fence around which was a massive throng of Muslims in traditional white garb. Gazillions of them. It took us ten minutes to figure out how to get through the crowd and into the airport. Security was high as they were returning from the Hajj and a large gathering of any religious group is going to make for a target by some other one.

The security staff were really friendly, all things considered, and rushed us through. The guy who checked us after the metal detector even nattered to me for five minutes about our trip around India. Then we realised there was nothing to eat in the departure lounge and they let us back out to get some grub.

Our new flight was slightly delayed, but to nowhere near the extent of our train journey thankfully. We’d also texted Rafiq in Bangladesh to let him know about our change of arrival time, so thankfully he hadn’t wasted all day waiting for us. And Hans wonders why I carry my mobile!

The plane was a dinky 100-seater, so I was a little trepeditious. The last time I was on something that small it landed three times (bounce bounce bounce), but the weather and pilot were more in our favour on this trip and all was nice and smooth. The in-flight meal was two slices of lovely bread/cake, a can of Virgin Cola and the world’s blandest cheese sandwich. Still, we weren’t expecting anything on a 40-minute flight so we weren’t about to complain.

I think I got the World’s Grumpiest Immigration Official who wanted to see business cards and details of the hotel we were staying at and of the person meeting us at the airport. Of course, I didn’t have these. The guy Hans was dealing with simply stamped everything, wished him an enjoyable stay and gave him his passport back. I know how to pick ’em.

Thankfully, up to the time of writing, he’s the only miserable Bangladeshi we’ve encountered. The crowd in the luggage hall had quite a giggle as the belt started up and an aged Muslim sat cross-legged on it started to disappear towards the dangling strips of rubber in the wall with a surprised look on his face. Fortunately, one of his younger companions rescued him in the nick of time. Well, they do have signs telling you not to sit on the thing!

Hans gave Rafiq a call to make sure he was outside and then had a bit of fun with the man at the telephone counter who tried to convince him that the 20Tk note he was trying to spend was a 10Tk. The Bangla “squiggle” for a “2” does look like a wiggly “1”, but the western-style “20” in the corner foiled his dastardly plan to rip Hans off to the tune of 7 pence.

Rafiq met us by the exit and we managed to spot him simply as he wasn’t wearing traditional white Muslim garb or a military outfit. Hans “met” Rafiq via the Lonely Planet bulletin board and he very kindly offered to meet us and get us into the city. He stuck to this promise, refused to let us pay for the taxi, and gave us tea on the rooftop verandah of his house overlooking the city.

It turns out that as well as working in the textile industry, Rafiq’s also part of a group called Dhaka Basecamp. They organise treks, trips, dives, races and so forth. And in his spare time, he picks up random foreigners from the airport and makes them feel welcome! Thank you, Rafiq – hopefully we’ll catch you again before our week is out.

As night fell, we hopped in a taxi to our hotel where we were to meet Mahmud. Another person Hans had met online, Mahmud is another proud Bangladeshi who wants to show his country off to visitors. To this end, not only had he given us some advice on where to go, he’d booked tickets, rooms, trips and guides. And paid for them. Then invited us over to dinner to meet his family.

The details and itinerary Mahmud provided were superb. I’ve dealt with actual tour companies in the past who haven’t been so exacting. We gladly refunded the outlay he’d made and accompanied him and his family out to a restaurant to celebrate his brother-in-law’s wedding anniversary. Again, our offers of payment were refused. Mahmud and family – thank you. If this is a typical Bangladeshi welcome, more people should come here.

The only downside was – again – my tummy being a little dicky, so I couldn’t enjoy the dinner as much as I’d have liked. My apologies to anyone if I seemed a little pre-occupied and not my usual bouncy self!

We’re currently safely ensconced in the Hotel Ramna where I’ve downed my anti-malarials and some anti-poop pills. Touch wood I’m better by morning.

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