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Dhaka Day 2


I reluctantly dragged myself back up to Gulistan Crossing to pick up my new batch of passport photos, then common sense dictated that I accost an autorickshaw, known as Baby Taxis here, for the 5K trek north to the Immigration Office, eternally inconveniently situated. My heart sank when I saw a makeshift queue a mile long outside it and in trying to jump it I saw the police werent letting anyone in anyway. It was only persistence which finally saw me directed to a second gate a short hop away, where though the gate was open and uncrowded, I found the office on the 4th floor the predictable scrum with insufficient signage. It was a mad scramble just to secure an application form which upon query, despite assurances to the contrary, turned out to be the wrong one. I had filled it out and queued again just to be told as much. And so the farce unfolded, wasting a photo into the bargain. Unlike most others I was applying for a Change of Route Permit not a visa extension, and so joining the queue for the 3rd time I was then only successful in learning that unlike other applicants I needed photocopies of my passport too. Unhappy, there was no choice but to hit the street in search of a Xerox machine, kicking myself that I had not foreseen this particular predictable layer of bullshit. Pretty quickly I joined the queue for the 4th time where eventually I received a pointless unfilled stamp template and scribble, and was promptly told to go and join another queue. This one was really slow in going down and I feared that I would reach the head of it just in time to hit the lunchtime closure. It wasnt helped by an Indian beauty bellowing in my ear on her mobile so that the whole building heard it, it was in stark contrast to her prior sweetly spoken "Excuse me" in English. The paper shuffler at window no.2 subsequently gave me another similar stamp and scribble and then told me to rejoin queue no.1, I was floored. It was always a fine line to tread between keeping these jobsworths on the right side and not taking any bullshit, this was a step too far however. With only a 15 day visa and having paid 84 bucks for the privilege, I made it plain to the guy that I hadnt come to his country just to spend all that time in his office getting permission to leave. He produced a slip of paper highlighting the application criteria and I had to point out to him that I had fulfilled them all and didnt understand how I was to get my bullshit permit if no-one wanted to accept the application. I had no choice but to go back to window no.1 where this time I mercilessly succeeded in pretty quickly sidestepping it and passing over my application. The guy told me to come back in 3 days time which I was ready for, he got the no nonsense treatment from me too amid a crowd of compassionate Indians. He finally promised me results "tommorrow" which I had no choice but to accept. It had taken me until 1.30pm just to hand in a form and that form was just to get permission to leave their country, even though the visa would pretty soon say I couldnt stay anyway. It was a step down from India, almost Soviet in its pointless bureaucratic meddling, and all because I had entered by land and would leave by air. The thought of having to repeat the charade the next day did not bear thinking about.

Thrust out into the full heat of day, I tried to salvage something from it by visiting the nearby mausoleum of former President Zia, where too much money had been wasted on a pristine park, lake and polished marble, and the associated visitors centre was closed, apparently permanently. Across the road was a more important tick off the list, the Bangladeshi Parliament building known locally as the National Assembly. It was a modern architectural experiment which had taken 20 years to complete due to predictable bungling and doubtless corruption, it resembled a squarish shoulder padded pinstripe suit plonked isolated in a lake. Not far away I got stares from brightly clad peasant women using a long bamboo pole with a hook on the end of it to secure fruit from some tall shady trees. At an intersection I found a personal point of interest, another Shenyang J-6 fighter displayed on a mounting where I found renewed patience in sharing the humour with a bus crew. Waiting at the lights, they would inch forward to interrupt the view every time I tried to take a photo. After the test of patience I had just endured I still couldnt help being charmed by the locals, bureaucrats aside, and even the many police and army I came into contact with did not meddle with me as had so often been the case hitherto. With the bus routes a mystery and their constantly cried destinations imperceptible, I resolved to walk out to a local train station for a short hop north, it allowed me to check out a very modern looking church, reputedly built in 1677, next door to the Mother Theresa House for the poor. I thereupon found the railway disused, it now served as a makeshift market for very poor people proferring meagre quantities of fruit, veg. and peanuts. There was nothing for it then but to follow the tracks north, which took me past some very grungy impoverished looking hovels with unkempt kids and adults whose wretched faces and honed torsos belied short hard lives.

I finally succumbed to a bus when the route to Banani was obvious, a modern up-market enclave which transpired to be more haphazard than the glitzy boulevard I had expected. All the same I dodged the streetkids to check out my next priority, flights to Thailand, before overhearing a lard-arsed Scottish woman in a supermarket giving doubtless her husband an earful on her mobile. That dissuaded me from saying Hi, before securing good coffee at a suitably inflated price. A good bookshop promised by the guidebook was nowhere to be found, though I chanced upon a fine, futuristic looking mosque in the search for it, then a similarly elusive net cafe which was closing in ten minutes. It was in checking out a pricey diner that I saw an Independence Day discount advertised, and I guessed that had to explain the Air Force flypast I had spotted the other day, MiG-21s aplenty and then a C-130 formated upon by 2 AN-26s. Roast chicken, seemingly 3 day old chips and excellent roti made a nice change from curry and then I endured a bus ride in the rush hour for the long trek back to Gulistan and Old Dhaka. Having trailed the length and breadth of mighty Dhaka it was as quick as I could peel off my supremely sticky clothes and moulded shoes and nurse my aching and now blistered feet before falling into a thankfully gushing cold shower. As I savoured my one precious small tin of pricey 7.2 per cent Elephant Beer I chanced opening the window in spite of the mosquitoes, to find a neighbouring tenement abuzz with the sweat shop antics of rattling sewing machines and a blacksmith hammering on metal. I had recently invested in mosquito coils which had certainly done the trick, they were so strong as to make your eyes sting, but that was preferable to Malaria or Dengue I mused. Late that night I finally had a chance to sit and read a difficult to find copy of the local English rag the Daily Star. A broadsheet, it was little more than congratulations to the the Tigers on their farings in the cricket and tales of corruption and autocracy, promising for example a return to free internal politics within 3 months. You had to wonder what the excuse would be this time.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Bangladesh

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