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Dhaka Day 3


Waking up dog tired with bad feet, I pondered that it wasnt worth killing myself for this country, it was a pity though that half of my visa time was being wasted. I got the usual star treatment for brekkie, one boy at the restaurant even knew my hotel and room number, I really was famous! Having chanced upon a revelation in sachets of Nescafe, I asked for hot water and received what resembled mirky tepid dishwater, but the boys were too friendly to decline their attentions so I took the chance with it anyway. No messing about today, I accosted a rickshaw for the short trip to the As.... Manzil (Pink Palace) where the boy asked for "dosh", but that was OK, that meant only 10 Taka. The most visually impressive building in the whole city, it really was bright pink and sat nestled in its grounds, a haven of respectability from the thriving bazaar and riverbank outside. It had been the 19th Century seat of the local Nawabs (moslem princes) and had played host to many dignitaries over the years before falling into decline in the early 20th Century. Excellently restored, it now uniquely houses contemporary furniture as well as a museum display of household artifacts, portraits of Lords Curzon and Minto amongst others, and storyboards which explained its important role in the foundation of the All India Muslim League (1905), the pre-emptor of the partition movement, the first provision of a filtered water system for the old city and the introduction of electricity therein also. Another 10 Taka note took me through a bustling bazaar where people tried to squeeze past each other bearing all manner of unwieldy loads on their heads. A woman carried a bail of hay and men balanced massive sacks of round metal pots. Giving up on the bicycle gridlock I hoofed the last part, receiving friendly directions to the Bara Katra, one of the oldest remaining buildings in Dhaka and sadly now in a sorry state. Subsequently encroached upon by the bazaar, a thoroughfare now passes its once proud arch, resembling the stalagtitic architecture of a mosque. Outside I watched men loading long single axle trolleys with bails of treaded rubber just as I had seen in the National Museum, before accosting one of the inquisitive kids to point out the way to the top. The mini muslim dressed in pristine white Shalwar Kameez and skullcap was perhaps a resident, it had the suitably guarded appearance of a medrese and the doorman rushed off presumably to acquiesce permission for my visit. There was little of note in the building itself besides a dark atmospheric staircase, leading to a ramshackle hotchpotch of rooms where men lived and prayed, and the roof was merely a flat platform from which to admire 2 crumbly end towers and the unlovely city skyline. This was promptly juxtaposed by a lengthy procession of Hindu women outside, proferring offerings in their palms, lead by a small brass band in garish garb akin to Sgt. Pepper. Another rickshaw then took me to Lalbagh Fort, another of the cities top attractions and the only one with an inflated foreigner price. At 50 Taka (less than 40p) I decided this one was a fair cop though...........

Having filled the morning with a smorgasbord of culture, I now had to rush for the days most important appointment. A Baby Taxi was more the order of the day to take me the considerable distance back up to the Passport office, and I tried to approach it with a renewed sense of patience and humility. It was a fight to get in the gate this time, with some being let in and many others not, there was no discernible basis upon whom in particular but my white face got the vote though. That scrum led to another upstairs, where passed from counter to counter and back again I had shutters closed in my face by a doppleganger for Colonel Gaddafi, before finally being proferred the same bullshit form I had already filled in the previous day. I made it clear I had already done so but no, whether they had lost it or not was unclear but I had to fill it out again anyhow and waste another photo. Another elbow charge later, the Top Dog bureaucrat had to force back a grin it seemed, maybe even he accepted that asking for more photocopies would have been beyond the joke. I still got the "come back tommorrow" routine though which I had to put my foot down at, I played the hard done by routine to an audience of fellow sufferers and made it plain to the guy that (falsely) I was leaving for Chittagong that night and no I wasnt coming back to Dhaka. He grabbed a sheet of paper amid vague rumours of an early result. I was under the impression that he was about to bang out my permit there and then but no, it was something else, after being pointed out to a Big Cheese Supremo during a rare fleeting visit from upstairs, I was incredulously offered another 2 forms to fill out. Very closely resembling the original application form, I could now see that this was actually the permit itself, it just needed the obligatory stamp and scribble from Big Cheese. Fortunately by this time most other victims had been sorted out or palmed off and the place was notably quieter, after a couple of false alarms one of the permits was handed back to me duly paw marked. It was hard to appear happy about it but I kissed it and offered my "don-nobad" thanks to Top Dog. To be fair to the guy I could see that he never stopped, even if it was performing pointless tasks in a exercise in inefficiency. All the other faceless wonders just seemed to shuffle about aimlessly and paper shuffler extrordanaire Colonel Gaddafi was a dead loss.

With the full day gone I now struggled to decide what to do with my new found freedom, it was half a thought just to get the hell out of Dhaka ASAP on a night bus, but much as the visa countdown prompted it, I simply couldnt be arsed. Out on the main road I elected to hunt for a bus to Motijheel, a poor man's CBD close to my digs which promised a bit of civilisation and just about the only part of mighty Dhaka I hadnt hitherto seen. Incredibly, the first bus I hit upon at random was going there, it was impossible to read the Bangla destination boards but I always seemed to hit the jackpot first time. It was a sticky, shin bashing, cramped ordeal on too closely set seats through the rush hour madness, but by now I knew the city and so knew when to get off at least. Even this was a fright though. Trying to force myself through the barrage of humanity frantically trying to get on, I lost my footing and was lucky to escape a bad accident as I fell out onto the road. I glowered in the direction of the driver who thought it perfectly acceptable to allow such scrambles to avail at 10 miles an hour.

It was purely by chance that I then realised the airline offices were in this part of town so I took the opportunity of checking out the schedules of Biman Bangladesh. Reassured just as the website had advised that most of the domestic flights had been suspended, it was on a whim then that I booked a seat going to the city of Sylhet the next morning, it was only a tad over 20 quid. That was only after I'd nipped out in search of an ATM though, the head office of the national carrier didnt accept credit cards! That was so Bangla. After seemingly paying the special white mans price for poor quality chicken rice and cold hot water for coffee, I searched in vain for alco-free beer but was glad just to be on the move again. Back at the hotel I fortunately hadnt quite got as far as the shower before a power cut struck, a vagiary which I thought Dhaka at least normally escaped from, and I opened the window to see the neighbouring sweat shop still tinkering away by candle and lamp light. With my mp3 player freshly wiped, I didnt even have any music to resort to in the dark. Ever decreasing circles........

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Bangladesh

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