Far from the madding crowd… in god’s own country 

Palolem.  I could have stayed there forever.  The bus dropped me (for once) in front of my hostel.  SUMMER by thehostelcrowd has recently opened its doors.  It’s a bizzarre construction with the chill out zone outside the hostel itself on a mezzanine level. But the rooms are clean and spacious, and the only bathroom is close to the European standards.  The included breakfast is also very generous and the guys adapted to my dietary restrictions. 

But I went there for the beach so I was curiousto check it out… and this time it was more than decent.  It is a big and wide streak of sand, with very shallow waters.  It didn’t give me much of an opportunity to swim as I’m used to but I was still very happy.  And although Palolem is a very popular place for tourists the place is very quiet and peaceful.  There are a few very nice restaurants.  I tried Magic Italy,  an Italian (doh!) restaurant where both pizzas and pastas are very good.  Then I also tried Zest that is a very cosy place and even if the food is very good an interesting is far too expensive.  Then I had lunch once at Avocado Garden where I tried the vegan burger and I had a hard time to finish it.  

During my days in Palolem I spent some time with Chim a very pleasant girl met previously in Jaipur.  Chim has a shop in Palolem where she sells her own design clothing,  soaps and most interesting she sells pure coconut oil.  And although this was not time to make it she took me to the “mill” where she gets it done. The mill is still built of stone and until recently it was operated by bulls.  Now they modernized and it’s a small tractor that does the “dirty” job.  But it is still oil cold pressed and it couldn’t be more natural than that. 

So I after extending my stay in Palolem twice and getting some sun tan I was ready to leave otherwise I would have stay there for the entire time I had left in India.  On the night of my fourth day I boarded a train at 12.40am (one hour late of course…) and got off in Cochin in the afternoon of the following day.  I left Goa to Kerala,  god’s won country as they call it here.  The landscape is beautiful but it is more trafficked than Goa and I had time to get used again to honking and traffic after the peaceful break of Palolem.  

Hostel by the Sea is a hostel located in a kind of government building. Very curious by all in all not bad.  They don’t have hot water (because the temperatures outside are hot!) or PoS machine but it is very cheap and very conveniently located.  Cochin (or Kochi) is a very small town on the sea where Vasco de Gama landed first when he arrived in India.  There is really not much to do and after a couple of laps the tour is done but still a nice place for a couple of days. You can take the ferry to the mainland for 4 rupees each way and it’s a 20 boat ride but the mainland Cochin is just another big city not particularly interesting.  After 2 days there I was supposed to go to Alleppy to your the backwaters but if I wanted to visit the east coast I didn’t have time.  I had to decide what to do.  Alleppy?  Munnar?  Madurai  or Pondicherry?  I decided for the last one and took a direct bus at 4pm scheduled to arrive at 6am the following day. 

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Poha and techno music at breakfast 

At Mumbai train station I bought my ticket to Goa for the following day and then I booked a Uber to go to my hostel.  The stupid driver took an eternity to get to the meeting point and he dropped me off half way through.  I protested of course but there was really nothing else I could do so I got off the car,  I told him to f#ck off and booked a second car.  And this time the driver took me to the right address in a very polite and friendly way.  Arrived at Welcome guest house  I was taken aback by the horrible choice I made.  Of course I checked first on Trip Advisor and Booking.com before but somehow I got tricked.  The reception of the hostel was smaller than my bathroom and the room (just one) is behind a curtain behind the reception.  Basically on the street.  Thankgod the place is located in an alley so it is still pretty quiet.  But I had the “last” bed,  in the middle of the room,  no electric socket,  no head lamp.  Of course I asked to get a better one but the guy at reception replied it was all booked.  All the guests were local except from me and another western guy.  

I resigned myself and said that it was only for one night but when I woke up in the middle of the night because this Indian guy was snoring like a pig with sinusitis (he woke up the entire dorm!!!) I realized that the place was “all booked ” because there were a few friends of the receptionist passing some hours there and now they were gone.  I was furious and changed my bed with one close to the wall so I managed to at least charge my phone (my tablet,  iPod and power bank were all dead…) and when it was 6 am I got up and left for the train station where I boarded the 7.10 am train to Goa. It was supposed to be a 12 hours train ride but we left 20 minutes late and by the time we arrived at destination we were 1.30 hours late.  From the station I had to drive 20 minutes to get to the hostel and I had to bargain some 1/2 hour to finally meet a guy decent enough to not take complete advantage of me.  With the wind in my hair (…) we drove on his motorbike and when I arrived at the hostel it was already almost 9.30 pm.  

I usually book 2 nights wherever I go but for some reason unfathomable to me this time I just booked one.  The managent at Folklore hostel were super nice and professional in a friendly way when I did the check in and when I told them I was planning to stay 2 nights they told me that they were fully booked for the next couple of days.  The hostel is recently opened but it works very well.  Spotless both the rooms and the bathroom, decent Wi-Fi and good breakfast.  I had Poha and black tea and it was nice and quiet in the garden but then for some reason they decided that they needed some music to accompany the breakfast.  And they thought that techno music full blast at 9.00 am was the best option…. But then in the following days I discovered that techno music is pretty popular here.  It doesn’t matter time or place. It always sounds appropriate… Figures…. Since I couldn’t spend another night at Folklore I booked a couple of nights at Caterpillar hostel some 10 minutes drive from my previous location.  And it was one of the owners and managers of Folklore to drive me there!!!

Caterpillar is more expensive and less nice thank Folklore but still a nice stay,  as I could use the kitchen and cook food for myself.  As soon as I checked in I walked the 10 minutes that separate me from the beach and what a disappointment when I got there!!!  There were lost of bar all playing loud music,  people screaming on the shore for getting splashed by friends,  water scooters and banana boats.  Not what I really expected.  

On my second day there I had breakfast at this place called Michele’s Garden Cafe (there is also a guest house annexed) . The place is very nice and the food pretty good but a little too pricey for the amount they serve. Then for lunch I followed Happy Cow advice and went to Bean Me Up where I had the best vegan lunch so far.  It was massive and a bit expensive but it’s all local organic food and they make their own bread.  But this unfortunately was not enough to keep me there longer and although I finally managed to move out of the city and get to the beach I was still not satisfied and after a couple of days in Anjuna I decided to try my luck and move further south to Palolem.  

Long distance (night) trains and the impossible slumber 

I arrived in Varanasi the ancient city, the sacred city after a bumpy, cold and sleepless night ride.  It seems I’m not getting much sleep anywhere these days. As usual the bus stopped in the most unlikely place and from there we had to find our way into the city.  Of course there were plenty of tuktuks waiting for us but I tried to book a Ola cab (the Indian version of Uber).  When it works Ola works pretty well but when it doesn’t…. Well you can imagine.  I booked three times a cab and one of them cancelled on me,  the other two didn’t show up.  In India money is apparently not an issue.  If you feel like working you do,  otherwise you don’t.  So in the end I had to resign myself to share a tuk tuk with a guy from Belgium that was in my same bus.  We agreed on a price but arrived in the city the tuk tuk driver told us to get off as he “couldn’t go any further “. There is apparently a restricted area in Varanasi,  but from where we were many tuk tuk went further… Anyways… So me and Belgian guy had to take a rickshaw,  that dropped us 5 minutes away… 

We got off pretty angry and parted our ways.  I had booked at Chatter box hostel and he was going some place else.  I started to walk and found out that there is a “pedestrian area” in Varanasi where cars and the likes cannot enter as the alleys are very narrow.  But motorbikes are of course more than welcome honking their way through the maze.  And cows of course are welcome (gigantic cows),  and stray dogs and their puppies are welcome so you have to walk your way skipping motorbikes,  cows and their enormous  dumps, dogs and vendors.  

The entrance to Chatter box is pretty dodgy and there’s no sign to indicate that the hostel is there but then the place is pretty neat and very quiet and I was,  at least for a few hours,  alone in the dorm. As I was tired from the previous sleepless night I took a nap and then decided to go out for lunch.  Following the directions and suggestions of “Happy cow” and went to Nyiati cafe.  The place is very small therefore usually full but the food is very good,  fresh and inexpensive. 

Satisfied with my lunch I went back to the hostel to find out that I had a roommate, Angel from Madrid.  We started chatting and had a good connection straight away so we decided to stick together for a few days. In the evening we had dinner next door , in this pretty famous place called Brown Bread Bakery (not to be mistaken with the one of the same name located close to Golden Temple,  pretty horrible place).  I had enough of thali,  rice and fried food by then so I tried my luck and ordered a pasta with walnut sauce and a salad to share with Angel.  The salad was OK,  the pasta not so much but hey,  this is India,  you’re not supposed to eat pasta!!! After dinner we went to the banks of Gange river to assist to a very strange ceremony of dances,  songs and fire.  Very complicated and really interesting.  They perform a lot of acts of devotion to whatever god they have and then in the end they wash their heads with the river waters…. when in the meantime a few blocks down they wash and burn dead bodies or else in some case they drown them with a stone tied to their feet. 

The following morning we went again back down the river banks to assist at the washing ceremony when people take a plunge in the Gange before going to work and so use the same plunge to wash themselves.

  

The following day Angel and I boarded a train,  my first train!!! headed to Khajuraho to visit the “Kama Sutra temple“.

While walking around the city I realize how good it was to have Angel on my side as he was showing off his muscles – he’s a PE teacher – and so people,  men to be precise,  were intent to check out his body and I was the invisible side kick.  

The night ride on the train was far better than the one on the bus but I still couldn’t really rest.  Indians can be very noisy, many snore (I’m not being racist,  it’s a fact confirmed by locals) and the berth are not extremely comfortable.  Moreover as it happened in the bus,  I got frozen by the gusts of cold night air coming in from everywhere.  On the train,  thanks to his “good body,  good muscles” Angel made friends with this local guy who at some point got stuck something in his teeth.  As he was trying to get it out with a piece of paper I offered him my dental floss only to discover that he had no idea what that was. So I told Angel to teach him how to use it… and Angel told me he had no idea either!!! 

Arrived in Khajuraho we took a tuk tuk to our hostel called Prem’s home stay that a girl from our Varanasi hostel had talked about with much enthusiasm.  Prem’s place is a bit far out of the city but it is a very pleasant place,  quiet and peaceful.  The room we got was nice and clean and Prem is extremely helpful and friendly.

  

The morning after our arrival we rented  bicycles and went visiting the famous Kama Sutra temple.  The complex is pretty impressive,  in the very center of the city,  clean and well maintained.  In the area is possible to visit some 6 or 7 beautifully decorated temples and some of them have on their walls some pretty explicit sex scenes which is very curious considering the fact that Indians are not open about sex affairs and naked bodies. 

That night we had dinner at Raja’s cafe. The food took a long time to arrive.  I was in the mood for salad and I ordered one with sprouted lentils.  Such a disappointment.  The sauce they used was something weird with a particular unpleasant taste so I had to eat a cookie afterwards to clean my mouth from that horrible taste.  At night Angel had belly issues due to the fact that he had milk for breakfast that morning (having milk is not good for your health, I tell this to everyone!!!).  But he decided that he was willing to travel the following day as planned and at 9.30 am we boarded a train to Udaipur.  Although Khajuraho and Udaipur are only 800km apart,  it took us 21 hours to reach our destination.  The train network in India is pretty complex and not necessarily user friendly. 

Another almost sleepless night and we arrived in Udaipur,  a very nice city on the lake Pichola,  kind of quiet (as quiet as India can get that is) with a very nice Royal Palace to visit.

  

We booked a room in Hotel Lake Star that looked very good in the pictures.  Arrived there we discovered that the place is under a major restructuring so not at all what presented in the pictures.  Still our room was nice and clean and I couldn’t wait to have a good night sleep in my bed!!! The next morning we had breakfast in a cafe nearby called Little Prince restaurant by the lake.  Awesome food and good prices!  

In Udaipur Angel and I decided that out ways were to part.  I wanted to move south to reach asap Goa and some quiet beach.  Angel was going back to Delhi to catch the flight to his next destination. I planned to spend just one night in Udaipur and the second night take the train to Mumbai but I discovered that the direct train to Mumbai doesn’t run on Monday.  Of course… So the option was to spend two days travelling and sleeping on trains or stay one day more in Udaipur and take the train on Tuesday night.  You guessed right.  I stayed one night more and not to pay for a double room all by myself I checked in at Banjara hostel. Not the best place I’ve been,  management is pretty unfriendly and uninterested but the room was OK.  The first day after Angel was gone I took back my role of “stupid tourist with a lot of money ” and I wasn’t invisible anymore. Darn!!! I tried to book my train ticket over internet only to discover that international cards are not accepted so I resolved myself to go to the train station.  Where once again I was the “STWALOM” and I had to pay 100 rupees extra just for being a foreigner.  …

That night for dinner I met with Sanjay a very smart local guy met through Couchsurfing and we had dinner at Dream Heaven where I had a veggie burger with a ton of fries. Yummy! That same night I was back on a train with Valentina and Javier a couple met thanks to Angel.  Some 14 hours later (and another almost sleepless night) we were in Mumbai. 

Ladies and gentlemen meet Annapurna 

So I finally left Pokhara direction Nayapul to begin my longed for trekking.  At this point I really needed a change of scenery and the idea of spending time on the mountains was really appealing.


After two hours drive we arrived in the Nayapul village.  From there I started walking and I didn’t stop until I got to Jinhu.  It took me the entire morning and when I got there I was ready to give up.  I was so tired that I had a hard time to talk and as soon as I managed to have a bed I  took a shower and went to sleep.  It was around 4pm but it felt like midnight.  I walked 17km up and down the mountains without any previous training and it had been hard.  

The last time I did something similar it’s when I was a kid and we went to the mountains with my family.  After that no mountain walks for me so much so that I had forgotten what it meant.  I love walking and the nature but this was another level of walking.  When you walk in the mountains you realize how nice it is to walk on a plane road,  on a paved road where you don’t have to check every step you take or be careful not to slip down the slope.  I have to confess that I wasn’t really prepared for this.  All the people I asked about the trekking to Annapurna Base Camp told me that it was pretty easy and duable. They were lying.  It’s not a complicated walk but it’s physically demanding.  And I have been  joined in my opinion by the people I met along the way.  

The second day I met two girls,  from Spain and from Uruguay and the trek has been lighter.  Not that the walk was easier, exactly the opposite as a matter of fact,  but simply for the fact that I was not alone and that I was able to distract myself by talking with someone else made things easier.  By one o’clock we arrived at our second stop in Sinuhua at 2340m of altitude.  We were all pretty tired so we decided to spend the night there.  It was starting to get cold and the fact that there is no heating whatsoever was not a reason for joy.  Nepalese people don’t use heating.  Ever.  They just content themselves with wearing warm clothes and drinking hot tea.  We were pretty cold and very tired but we managed to spend the night having some sleep. 

Third day began and the altitude and lack of oxygen started to be noticed.  Thankgod the walk was easier than the previous days so we managed to arrive in Deurali at 3200m,  almost 1000m higher than our previous stop.  The cold was worst and that night although exhausted I couldn’t sleep a bit.  In the meantime a couple of italians had joined the team and waling with Martina and Raimondo was a “nice little walk” uphill.

The following day was supposed to be the day that we reached the camp.  ABC is located at 4130m of altitude.  I was always the first to arrive (even though I was the eldest of the group!) and after I arrive to destination I had to wait a couple of hours to see all the others arrive.  The cold at that point was really bad and I wasn’t really prepared for it.  Inside the hamlet it was around 10° C whereas outside after sundown it got to -3. And no heating at all.  I couldn’t believe it.  I’ve never be good with cold weather although I had to admit that I got better with years but that was really too much.  There was no way to get warmer.  I kept on drinking tea (that means also peeing a lot at night) but I couldn’t get warmer.  It was just impossible.  When I was a kid and went to the mountains with my family it was cold outside but inside the hamlet it was really hot.  Here no.  Nothing,  not even a chimney.  We were all freezing and we were afraid to go to bed as the bedroom was colder than the dining room.  It had also started to snow and the fear of getting stuck there was growing fast.  We were actually looking forward for the following day to come so that we could leave and get to warmer temperatures back in Pokhara.  The night went by and thanks to the fact that we covered the windows with the extra mattresses in the room we managed to be less cold than the previous night.  A couple of times I had to wake up to pee and had the chance to see the myriad of stars above my head (as the toilet of course was outside the room).  There is no light pollution there and it’s possible to see all the stars in the sky.  Amazing!!! 

Morning comes and it was a fantastic sunny day.  We had breakfast at 6am and after a few (hundred)  pictures we made our way to descend.  At the beginning we were very careful so not to slip on the snowy terrain but when we reached the not snowy area  we walked as a fast as our soar muscles allowed us.  I was in pain for the extra exercise and for the cold and really desperate to go to a warmer climate.  Once again I arrived first (and alone) at the accorded meeting point some 9h later.  I had lost everybody along the way but I was really decided to get over with the walk as soon as possible.  The last part before checking point was a stair of some 400 steps upwards.  I thought I could die.  But I didn’t and arrived at the hamlet I managed to get a scorching hot shower after 4 days of barely washing in freezing cold water.  It was bliss.  I had dinner and went to bed.  Completely exhausted.  

The following day the others had not yet arrived so I decided to continue by myself and get to the bus to Pokhara the quickest possible.  I thought that the way uphill was over but I have never been so wrong.  Again the last piece of walk was upwards and when I arrived in Landruk I realized that the only way out was a jeep that costs 1500R  (roughly 12€/14$) that is a lot of money here.  But at that point I couldn’t walk anymore.  Had I taken another step I would have probably had a heart attack so I accepted the be taken for an idiot and pay 1500R against the 200 that paid the locals. 

The way down was horrible and the “road” was not paved or smooth in any way.  Two hours in a tumble dryer and some more on a “decent ” road later I finally arrived in Pokhara and to prize myself for my accomplishment I had a very good pizza at “Godfather’s 2” 



The trekking has been one of the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life and luckily I didn’t know much about it.  Had I known more what was expecting me I probably wouldn’t have done it.  It’s not difficult but it’s really tough.  It’s physically demanding and the altitude doesn’t help.  I wasn’t too affected by altitude sickness but my muscles were all soar and two days after I still have some problems walking properly.  And it’s also mentally demanding as you have to decide that even though it’s tough you wanna get up there and most of the times you feel like you wanna give up and go back to the start.  And the fact that people at the hamlet take advantage of the situation is not helping.  The farther up you go the more expensive things are.  For a roll of toilet paper you can pay up to 2€. But then you see the “goat men”, usually boys who move merchandise up and down the mountains on their back and you understand why things are so expensive.  There is not other way to move stuff.  There is not drivable road so all goods need to be moved by men or mules.  And you wander how they have built “houses” up there.  

But then the fact that you have to pay for recharging your phone,  for hot shower and so on it gets on your nerves.  If you ask for blankets you can get the answer that they don’t have enough.  It’s hard.  It’s trying but once you get up there and see the beauty of the mountains covered in snow you understand why you did it.  

I am very proud of myself and happy I did it.  But I won’t do it again.  Ever.  Don’t make the same mistake that I did and think that it’s easy because everybody say so.  It’s not easy.  It can be done by anyone decently active in sport but it’s not a weekend walk in the countryside.  You need a little preparation.  Don’t forget  hat, gloves and scarf (I had none of them of course).  Bring a small backpack full of warm but light clothes.  Bring a power bank and possibly two even though up there there is no network and the phone in airplane mode lasts a lot longer. Download maps. me (available for Android and iOS) as it works very well on the mountains and you don’t need internet connection. I had cramps on my back, I had a hard time to lift the tea cup on my last day. Drink a lot of water and take some rest every now and then.  Bring some food like dried fruits or nut for the walk.  Bring teabags so you just need some hot water (and you save some money).  Buy bags of dried noodles so again you will just need some hot water. And if possible bring your own sleeping bag.  But most of all don’t underestimate it.  Mountains are beautiful but cruel at the same time.  A simple mistake can ruin the entire trip (I almost killed myself a couple of times!!!) 

Now back in Kathmandu I really miss the quiet and peace of the mountains. I really managed to detox myself from the use of mobile and now it’s almost annoying.  The green, the tweets of the birds,  the sound of the river running in the valley.  But the cold I don’t miss at all.  Winter is coming in the city too and soon it will be cold. I thought that some time away from the traffic of the city would help me to be more patient with people and traffic in Kathmandu.  But it’s exactly the opposite.  

Nepal has been the greatest deception of this trip.  I was so looking forward to come here and now I can’t wait to leave.  I’m waiting for my Indian visa and as soon as I have a verdict I will leave this country probably never to return again.  It’s a shame but it’s part of the adventure.  Sometimes you are lucky.  Sometimes not.  And now that it’s finished I realized I really enjoyed my time up the mountain.  I was too tired and too cold to see it back then.  But one thing it’s for sure… The beach is the best place to take a relaxing walk!!!  

Sometimes 

Sometimes things are not easy.  Sometimes things don’t go as planned.  Sometimes you are not prepared. 

I left Bangladesh with a little sadness in my heart.  My 2 weeks spent there had been fantastic and although I really wanted to visit Nepal I was a little sad to leave all the people I met there that have been so kind to me.  As usual I didn’t bring any money across as I prefer not to change currency.  I arrived at Kathmandu airport and after all the paperwork for visa (that luckily I could pay by card) I was ready to start my journey. 

At the airport there is only one ATM.  And it was out of order… Thankgod the taxi driver agreed to take me to my hostel anyway and stop along the way to let me get the money.  I tried a few ATM but none would work. As we were getting closer to the hostel I was starting panicking.  I had only a few rupees that Joy,  my host in Bangladesh had given me.  And that was it. 

We arrived at the hostel and the guy at the reception was nice enough to pay the taxi for me.  Obviously by the time all this happened the driver was already asking for more (1000 instead of the 700 agreed at the airport). 

I paid without saying anything because I was too stressed and didn’t want to make it worst.  After checking in at Pomelo house hotel I went around the city trying desperately to get money from ATM.  Without any luck.  The stress at that point was sky high and I was on the verge of a breakdown.  One of the CSer I was in touch with contacted me and invited me to his place for dinner.  I was so thankful because with the little money I had in my pocket I wasn’t able to buy any decent food. Shalik lives in a two rooms apartment.  And when I say two rooms I really mean two rooms.  Adjacent but not connected.  The bathroom is on the stairs and common to the floor.  In one room there is the “kitchen” and one bed.  In the other room,  the kids’ room,  there are 2 single beds. His wife doesn’t speak a single word of English but she’s been very nice and prepared a lot of good typical Nepalese food.  When I asked Shalik how they met,  he explained to me that his was an arranged marriage.  They actually met 10 minutes before the ceremony but they’ve been together for 8 years now.  In Nepal divorce is legal but not well accepted.

 

After dinner I went back to the hostel and I was so tired by the day’s events that I fell asleep right away. The day after I tried again to withdraw money from ATM but without any success.  So I resolved to call my bank and after a long chat and many explanations the guy on the phone told me that my card was not compatible with Nepali ATM machines. I was desperate.  Shalik was so nice to lend me some money but I couldn’t go very far with that.  I could have a decent meal and then some but nothing more than that.  It was so frustrating.  I had the money in my account but there was no way for me to get it out. I wanted to cry.  In the meantime another CSer contacted me and he also tried to help me.  Gokarna invited me for coffee and drove me around the city in his motorbike.  But my problem was not solved and I couldn’t really relax and enjoy the country.  I thought of “cashback” but in Kathmandu very few places have card machines and those that have it don’t even consider cashback. It was a catch 22 situation.  I managed to pay the hostel by bank transfer and they agreed on giving me cashback. It wasn’t much but it was something. 

 

And then I thought about money transfer something that I have always considered with horror.  But I had no choice.  I downloaded the app and tried to make a transfer to myself but the stupid app only allowed me to make the operation in cash.  I was stuck again.  So I called a friend in Spain and he agreed to do it for me.  Earlier I had moved to Gokarna house so at least I didn’t have to worry about rent and food. 

Joan made the transfer right away but his credentials needed to be checked.  So the money was not available for a couple of days.  I was a little more relaxed now but still I really wanted to get the money.  Chances are that theses days is holiday here, “Thiar Diwali” some sort of feast of lights,  so almost everything is closed.  Western Union included.  So at the moment I’m still waiting to get hold of my money.  Hopefully tomorrow the situation will be back in order and I will be able to start to enjoy Nepal.

 

I’m so grateful to have good friends.  It’s the most important thing in this world. And you know that you can count on them especially in hard times.  And it warms the heart. 

Bangladesh – summing it up 

October 16 – 9.01am. Gate 1X at Dhaka international airport.  My flight is in 2 hours. 

My adventure in Bangladesh ends here,  where it started 2 weeks ago.  Just 15 days have passed but I feel I’ve been here much longer.  In these 2 weeks so many things have happened,  so many wonderful people have crossed my path.  I still cannot believe at what I’ve faced during my stay in Dhaka and surrounding.  Dhaka,  a city that I didn’t even know it existed, has stolen my heart.  And not for the city itself.  As I said time and time again,  Dhaka is not a beautiful city.  It’s not even a friendly city. 

 

Everything is a mess,  it’s dirty,  is tourist unfriendly,  it’s chaotic,  it’s hot but Bengalis  are the most amazing people I met in my life.  To them the guest is the king,  the guest deserves all their attention,  the guest has to be attended in every possible way.  The guest doesn’t have to miss of nothing.  

During my stay in Bangladesh I’ve felt like a movie star.  Never in my life I had so many pictures taken.  Strangers in the street,  at the restaurant,  in the park stopped me to take a selfie with me.  I have been stared at and scrutinized to the point of being uncomfortable.  But I felt like home everywhere I went. The Bengalis heart is bigger than anyone’s heart.  I’ve been helped by total strangers,  I’ve been given food and drink for free,  just for being a guest.  I’ve been asked time and again where I’m from and what do I do in Bangladesh (just visiting???  As if they could not believe that someone wanted just visit their country). 

Bangladesh,  where men go hand in hand on the street,  where the ads are still hand painted on the walls,  where having drinks means drinking tea at the closer “tong”, where there is no official bus stop and traffic lights are non existent, where Barcelona is know for Camp Nou (Sagrada Familia… What’s that?), where people eat with their hands,  has a special place my heart. 

But many of the people that have accompanied me these days have a dream to leave the country.  Usually to Canada or Germany.  I discovered that there is a big community of Bengalis in Italy.  Youth don’t like their country,  they wanna flee,  they believe that everything is corrupted and that there is no future for them here.  Government doesn’t make things easy for anybody.  This is a jungle (especially in the traffic)  and everybody tries to survive as best as they can.  

Once again I didn’t travel to the “best” parts of the country.  I haven’t been to Cox’s bazar,  the longest beach in the world,  I haven’t been to the islands or haven’t seen any waterfall.  But this place will always be special to me.  

Thank you Joy,  Shoshee,  Rossi,  Rasel,  Pryom,  Adnan,  Shammi,  Mukul,  Shariful, Dola,  Ishti and everybody else for making this trip memorable.  You will always have a friend in my.  I will never forget you. 

Can’t find the words

I’ve been in Bangladesh for more than a week now and somehow I can’t find the words to tell my story so far.  To begin with Bangladesh make me think of several different countries : Laos for the poor state of the roads, Vietnam for the constant annoying use of horns to communicate in the traffic,  Myanmar for the men in “skirt” and finally India (although I haven’t been there yet) for the amount of people and the chaos everywhere. But at the same time Bangladesh is just Bangladesh.  Full of colors,  trash,  contradictions and most of all its fantastic people so welcoming and generous I have not words to describe. 

During my trip I have been blessed with the friendship of many beautiful people but Bengals are another story. Without them I could have not survived Bangladesh.  This place is a mess (I hope this will not offend anyone).  There are no rules and the few that have been enforced are constantly broken. In the words of one of my local friends “we like to break rules”. And it’s clear everywhere you look.  But then the generosity of people is something I have never seen in my entire life.  Bangladesh is a very poor country.  It’s story is a sad one and this relatively newborn country has been catapulted in the 21st century without any parachute.  People are noble but have no money.  Everyone dreams of travelling away from here.  Everyone dreams of going abroad.  Foreigners here are a miracle and I felt like a start here with the pros and cons that this carries with it.  People stare at me and I  mean STARE.  Sometimes I feel like an alien,  been scrutinized to check if I behave somehow differently. I also kinda learn how to eat with my hands (the custom here)  to feel less alien.  But still people stop me in the street to ask where I’m from and why I’m here as if they couldn’t even consider the idea of someone wanting to visit their country just for the sake of it.  They ask you very personal questions (how much do you earn?),  they’re extremely curious towards all that is “out there”. 

But the didn’t let me pay for anything.  They turn their place upside down to make me feel at home.  I cannot even buy a bottle of water because “I’m their guest” so they take care of everything. I’d been hosted mainly by students and unemployed and still wasn’t able to pay for anything.  

I’ve spent 2 days in Dhaka as I’ve arrived.  The city is simply horrible.  Once again no rules,  in traffic and in construction.  There is no city center and to do 5 km it can take you up to 2 hours. Despair has had the best of me a couple of times but there is really nothing you can do about that.  The streets are shared between cars,  rickshaw,   goats, CNGs cows and some stray dogs.  There is no direction for circulation.  You can go anywhere.  I thought I would die more than once here but apparently I’m still alive.  I’m so surprised I still haven’t seen any street accident but I guess they got very skilled at driving in chaos.  The heat is scorching.  They keep on telling me that I should have come in winter,  in a couple of months.  And I agree with them.  There are no trees on the streets so walking around during daytime is a torture. So I took an offer from one CSer to visit his university campus and stay with him a couple of days.  Jahanginagar university is an hour out of Dhaka and comparing to the city is heaven on earth.  The stretch of the area is equal to a small village.  There’s green everywhere and in some corner you have the feeling you’re in a forest more than in  University campus. 

 For a few days I felt I was back in school and for a moment I longed to be a student again,  when life was without worries and everything was still possible. Shariful and his girlfriend took me also to see the liberation monumentBaliati Palace and on a trip on the river. 

 Than one of my CSer host has invited me to Sylhet and there I  met a lot of his friends that have taken care of me as if I was a king.  We went to visit his campus far smaller than the previous one but still very green and an oasis comparing to the oven that the city is. Then Joy had to go back to work so I stayed a few days more in Sylhet where his friends have invited me to dinner at their place and prepared a specially cooked for me vegan dinner.  It was delicious!  Shammi is an excellent cook and very passionate about food. 

The following day they took me to Sreemongol where there is a protected area of a forest some 3 hours train ride outside Sylhet.  At the train station I was of course the main attraction to a point that it was very uncomfortable.  People were staring at me and kids were flying in flocks like flies to honey.  The train ride was an adventure by itself and once arrived in Sreemongol we needed to rent a local “van” to take us to the forest of Lawachara National Park

 

Once again as a foreigner I had to pay 10 times (literally) what the locals paid but it was worth it.  The park is beautiful and still pretty wild.  In it you can see a train passing through,  monkeys and if you’re lucky enough other wild animals.  Inside the park live some local tribe that are pretty much self sufficient with what the forest provide and from the selling of betel nut (yuk!) 

After the park we visited some beautiful tea plantations, a crop very common in this country, and we took the 8.30pm train back to Sylhet.  We were exhausted.