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Bagerhat and Mongla


I decided just to hoof the 2 kilometres or more along the river to an elusive local ferry crossing, memorably passing on the way the suitably dodgy named Rocky Dockyard where men were hard at work constructing a sizeable ship using crude techniques or so it seemed. Even these guys wanted photos. I think its fair to say that the hull plating would not have passed my dads exacting standards, you had to wonder if it could ever be rendered seaworthy. A wooden bareboard launch took me and a gaggle of locals to the buses the other side of the river where the touts promptly had me on a bus for Bagerhat. I kept my wits about me and so got off short of the town when I spied what could only have been my primary destination, the Shaid Gumbad Mosque. Diminutive Bagerhat was another UNESCO hotspot, renowned as boasting Bangladesh's finest concentration of historic buildings outside of the capital, a smattering of ancient mosques and shrines of 15th century vintage. Starting logicaly at the adjacent museum, it was a bonus to be able to drop my bag with the ticket vendor before finding a small uninspiring collection of artifacts recovered from the locality. There were many pictures of Bangladesh's other architectural treasures and an explanation of Bagerhats inception by a dude described as a Warrior Saint. Khan Jahan Ali was the guy who 500 years ago had brought Islam to Bangladesh, incredibly with a force of only 20 men, and had founded his city here in order to consolidate his ideological gains.


There was a display of terracotta ware including animal and man figurines labelled here as toys. I had seen many of identical style in Turkey and Iran where they are considered to have been deity figures. A 15th century green glazed plate resembled Japanese work I had also seen in Istanbul. Other plates and bowls had been unusually ground from very heavy and tough black basalt. A slab of the stuff belied Islamic origins in its 16th century Arabic inscription. Kawri, a type of small seashell was used as currency here and there were Kalkas (clay pipes) and many bricks decorated with floral and geometric designs. Similar finds from Barabazar, an archaeological site near Jessore, had betrayed the site of another medieval muslim city. Unfortunately there is little left to relay its past and even the pedigree of Bagerhat's monuments is only known roughly due to the Khan's year of death, 1459, being inscribed upon his nearby tomb.

At the nearby impressive Shaid Gumbad Mosque I unexpectedly bumped into the Spano-Canadian duo again, and so we trailed round together through pretty, rustic rural scenes of fluorescent greenery, lakes where boys swam and washed, and again ran the gauntlet of the eternal "Which country?, How are you?". Kids young and not so young squabbled to have their photo taken and after checking a few other very spread out neighbourhood mosques, we finally hit upon the tomb of the top banana Khan Jahan Ali. Obviously due to its cultural significance it has long been a major pilgrimage site for Bangladeshis and it was the only place so far which had even remotely appeared touristy. We went in and had the usual scripted chat with a young suitably skullcapped Muslim caretaker with good English, standing beside the massive black basalt slab where the Kahn lay ensconced. Devotees showered his tomb with packets of inscence, which was a change from the Cornflakes and Digestive biscuits deemed appropriate in Buddhism.

Of more interest to be honest was my first encounter with a real live crocodile in the adjacent lake. It sat motionless with its snout right up against the waters edge, a local boy seemed to be its guardian and thought nothing of standing with his back to it only inches away, also opening its jaws. Fathers ritually washed their kids in the same water only a few metres away. Not for the first time it was us who had become the star attraction however in spite of the tomb, so after snapping off more mugshots and doling out addresses we jumped on a bus. I said farewell to the 2 others after the short hop back to grab my bag, then it was another 2 buses to make the connection for Mongla. As ever I got the film star treatment, one persistent devotee even woke me twice from my sleep to ask "Which country?"....... Arrival in Mongla required another river crossing from the bus, from where the town appeared small, rustic and ever friendly. It was only a matter of metres to the hotel where I'd arranged to hook back up with Ken, we had dinner and later coffee together, both times accosted by uninvited company who's exhuberance didnt allow for us to just sit in peace. It was a sure fire recipe for eventually wearing us down, but in the meantime we had to laugh. Ken had started playing with the locals at my suggestion by saying he was a nuclear scientist from North Korea, but he still got the nod of approval! After finally managing to cocoon myself under my net mossie free, I got woken up at half 10 by determined banging on the door. After being fobbed off earlier with their lackadaisical attitude, it was now imperative that I come downstairs right now to check in. Unimpressed.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Bangladesh

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