A Travellerspoint blog

Dhaka

sunny

First priority today was to secure some passport photos for a bullshit permit I had to secure, a waste of valuable time I could have done without, and in the end I didnt wait around for them to be processed. My main goal for the day was to hit the Liberation War Museum, a tribute to the most defining moment in Bangladesh's short 37 year trip to nationhood. I really struggled to find it though due to a bad map and finally resorted to biting the bullet and accosting a rickshaw, other locals had to tell him where to go but the farce was complete when it transpired to be closed even though there were 4 guys on the gate. In a big contrived loop I then passed by the suitably grand whitewashed High Court buildings and then Curzon Hall, a more extravagant and ornate facade in red brick. Next there was a small mosque and memorial shrine in a large park, the spot where the (West) Pakistanis signed their surrender in 1971 and East Pakistan (Bangladesh) subsequently declared herself a new independent nation.

NATIONAL MUSEUM

Bangladesh was so backward that they hadnt even cottoned on to the ubiquitous tourist extortion typified elsewhere and so it was refreshing to only have to pay a 5 Taka entry fee (with 133 to the pound!). A very large and remarkably presentable building, it started chronologically with the usual boring geological collection, but a storyboard did remind me that the subcontinent had once been attached to Antarctica. It had drifted north rapidly it would seem, only colliding with Eurasia 10 million years ago and consequently creating the Himalaya. Perversely, shallow marine sedimentary rock of what had once been India's north coast was thrust up to become the worlds highest mountain range. Also of note, if world history should be considered over 24 hours, then life is only just over 4 hours old and man a mere 28 seconds. With Bangladesh being very lush scenically, there was a very large plantlife section which outlined everything from common crops, fruits and veg., trees, flowers and of course spices, with preserved examples of each. There are around 7000 species of rice worldwide of which around 4000 are grown in Bangla, 3 crops are reaped a year, known as the Aman, the Aus and the Boro. Other common cash crops are tea, jute, cotton, and silk cotton, which looks just like sheeps wool. Common trees are the Mango, Jackfruit, Ebony, Teak, and Palmyra Palm. The Rubber tree, indiginous to Brazil, is now being cultivated and a display showed how after tapping into a tree the sap is collected to be melted in vats, made into sheets and hung out to dry like washing. Many natural dyes are still in use, such as Lemon Grass, Dhalia, Ebony, Marigold and Indigo, which can be dark blue, light blue or green. Many spices are grown of course and paper is made primarily from bamboo treated with Sulphuric Acid. Oil yielding plants are Soya Bean, Mustard, Ground Nut, Coconut and Til. Notable local vegetables are Kassave, looking almost hand-like, Sweet Potato, massive 3 foot long Radishes, another known as Elephants Foot and another very strange turd-like tuber known as Tannia. White Gourd is a very large tuber like a melon and the Sweet Gourd appears to be a pumpkin. It was interesting to see Okra still on the plant, not dissimilar to Cannabis it seemed, it was the leaves which more closely resembles ladies fingers though! Interesting fruits included the Elephant Apple, clustered together like bunches of very large grapes, Betel Nut which resembles a perfectly round pale dappled green cricket ball, also Chalta, a grapefruit sized green tomato. The Indian Olive is ten times the normal size and the Wood Apple similarly massive. Others were Guava, Bullocks Heart, Carambola (Star Fruit) and Papaya. The Palmyra Palm fruit is a football sized brown ball like a coconut but as I discovered the flesh is thinner and more rubbery. Finally Jack Fruit can weigh up to 40Kg, fleshy and containing seeds, it is a Bangla staple, tasting like a poor mans grapefruit.

Moving on to the animal section, I was immediately amazed at a replica of a giant Saw Fish caught in the Jamuna River, measuring 5.8m x 1.8m. It was a pregnant female which had been holding 22 young, it was the length of a bus. Common lizards were feisty looking beasties up to a metre long and the Indian Python can reach 6 metres, too thick to put your hands round. The indiginous Cobra lives in ground burrows and another local is the Golden Tree Snake, very slender. Bees nests in this nick of the woods were shown to be simply a drape of honeycomb hanging from a tree branch completely covered in the beasties, and as an important resource the life cycle of the Silk Worm was explained. A very comprehensive collection of indiginous and migratory birds was then displayed, ranging from the mighty White Backed Vulture, looking for all the worlkd just like they do in the cartoons, and the miniscule Tickell's Flowerpecker. The Oriental Magpie-Robin was represented, a slightly pied blackbird which is the national bird of Bangladesh. Many birds were fantastically coloured, such as the Black Headed Oriole which is bright yellow in the main, and the Blue Throated Barbet is coloured like a parrot but looks nothing like one. Rose Ringed Parakeets were a first sign of the tropics, a large and very common green bird with a red beak and multi-coloured band around the collar. Drongos and Mynas are talking birds and the Baya, a small scruffy brown bird makes very impressive nests resembling upturned bottles.

Onto more conventional animals, if thats how you can describe the Pangolin. Its a funny looking critter resembling an Armadillo which grows up to 1.7 metres in length. Covered in scales, its a nocturnal insect feeder with most strangely, a prehensile tail. The monkey section depicted Capped Langurs, a golden coloured gibbon like creature with black spikey hair! The Rhesus Macaque was more familiar but the Hoolock Gibbon was less robust, and black all over except for a white band across the forehead. The Leopard Cat appeared just as it sounds, a slender mog akin to a normal tabby but spotted and with a pointed face, and the Crab Eating Mongoose had the look of the virulent predator it is. Porcupines are also found in this nick of the woods. Elephants of course are found both in the wild and domesticated for carrying timber or performing acts. The most sensational looking beastie had to be the positively pre-historic looking Gangetic Dolphin though, black with a long narrow beak (rostrum), bearing very prominent sharp teeth. Its a fresh water fish eater with very small fins and tail.

Depictions of the largely agricultural economy were represented with dioramas of a farmer ploughing with a brace of oxen, wearing a woven reed hat which made it look synonymous with Vietnam. The middle class farmer by comparison sat on his verandah sooking on his pipe while the women did all the work, pounding wheat into flour using long staffs! Other miscellaneous artifacts were a very large shield and assortment of spears, of the 20th century no less, and what were described as Nakshi Shika, decorative pot holders made of jute. There were very ornate coronets as worn at weddings, made of Shola (sponge wood) and woven textile circles attached to sticks were used as rudimentary fans. Heavy duty spikes mounted on a base served as coconut scrapers, used for removing their flesh.

Many models of differing boat designs again looked very Far Eastern and a tribal section showed dress and implements of the Garo people, tending towards a Burmese influence. Their ceremonial dress looks like a giant Christmas cracker! There were more bow and arrows and the native "bagpipes" were actually a solid wooden instrument resembling a bong, with a wooden flute and four shorter pipes protruding from the spherical base. The Tripura tribe, again of more Burmese leanings, is signified by the womens wearing of very long metal spiral arm bands. The Chakma tribe was represented by a photo collection where it seemed the thing to do was to balance a bottle on your head. They had a quirk of painting pot lids to show deity figures.

The next section, and my legs were killing me by this time such was the scale of the collection, was on Hindu temple sculpture. This was a fantastic collection, epitomised by the Serpent Doorway in black stone, a 10th century marvel. There was also an 11th century wooden totem. There were Sanskrit inscribed stones from the 9th to 12th centuries, some also in Arabic and Persian script. One from 1254 AD detailed the construction of bridges and mosques and another told of the Islamic conquest of Sylhet in 1303 AD.

Finally, a section of ivory carvings, jewellry and coins, with most notably the ivory throne of the Maharaja of Dinajpur, 18th century with lions for arm rests. There were very fine figurines and a chess set but most incredible of all was a large carpet of woven ivory strands, it must have taken forever to make.

All in all a very fine, indeed surprisingly good museum which beat the pants off the Iranian equivelant for example. As a bonus, it also transpired that there was a Japanese Film Festival taking place here to celebrate 35 years of Jap-Bangla diplomatic relations. I sat in for the conveniently English subtitled "A Class To Remember" and though not exactly raptured by it, it was certainly a change. I walked out after an hour with the gist of it, having precious little time to spare for Dhaka as it was. After securing beer at a rip off price from some shady hotel, where the boy still had the gall to demand baksheesh, I hit upon a net cafe in a modern shopping suburb before luckily bagging a bus back to the old city at the first attempt. Without Ken, the inquisitive approaches had lessened noticeably, but then they probably saw at least a few white faces around here, I had seen 3 myself since my arrival and a black guy for good measure. Coffee was still singularly untraceable. Back at the hotel everyone was glued to India v Bangladesh in the Cricket World Cup. As the wickets fell there was a volley of cheers and the "Teenage Tigers" of diminutive Bangladesh scored a major upset in defeating their neighbours.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Bangladesh

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