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To Chittagong

When we got to the Dhaka train station, we were ushered behind the counter of the ticket office, where the attendant booked us our seats. For our night train to Chittagong (Bangladesh's second largest city) we opted for the slightly less luxurious non-AC cabin. We were spoiled however by the ticket salesmen, who had reserved a private two-bed cabin for us (what a lovely surprise). We gushed about the lovely train to locals, who didn't believe that they could possibly be as nice as in India!? Hmmmmmm..... Arriving early in the morning in Chittagong, we headed to the strip of hotels around the train station, many mentioned in the guidebook. Of course, we had to first check out the cheapest of the bunch. We agreed to take the room before the gigantic rat scuttled passed the door in front of the largest cockroach carcass we'd ever seen. Thankfully the rats and cockroaches were discreet and this was the last we saw or heard of them. Other than the staff barging into our room unannounced every hour or so to offer us something, we were very satisfied.

The main purpose of our Chittagong visit was to pick up a permit for travel to the Chittagong Hill Tracts. An area of Bangladesh bordering Burma, whose non-Bangla residents have been fighting with the government for a few decades (more on that later). We rickshawed our way to the District Commissioners office, who issued us a permit within 30 minutes for all the areas we wanted to visit. We had expected a more difficult time getting permits, so we now had the entire day to visit Chittagong. Chittagong's main tourist attraction has long been the ship breaking yards, where ships from all over the world come to be taken apart piece by piece hundreds of Bangladeshi workers. The yards have now been closed to foreigners for a few years, due to tourists raising world-wide publicity for the awful working conditions of the yards' employees. We decided, that being the country's busiest port, we should spend some time at the water. We took a rickshaw to the main boat terminal following these instructions from the Lonely Planet: "You can hire a boat from the boat terminal to go across the river (Tk 20, 10 minutes)to the fish harbour and market. The Marine Fisheries Academy is housed in a new building with a small museum."

We boarded a boat taxi on a small dock, we were quite certain that we were not at the main boat terminal, but according to the map we were in the right place. On the other side of the river there was no sign of a bustling fish market. We followed a long pathway next to a tall, barbed-wire fence. We ended up at a dusty, empty square with a few small shops. We were greeted with looks of surprise as we inquired "which way to the fish market?". Someone eventually managed to explain that there was no longer a fish market OR that there was no fish market that day OR that the fish market was only in the morning OR that there was never a fish market here in the first place. On to plan B, to the Museum! Even more confusion about this one. Finally someone understood Fisheries Academy/Navy/Army and we were led through fields, onto the other side of the barbed-wire fence. Our local guide dropped us off at the main administrative building and said goodbye. We entered the quiet building looking for someone to show us to the museum. Someone eventually appeared directed us to a room where staff seemed to be eating lunch. An older man got up to talk to us: "You want to visit our museum?" (incredulously). "Ummmm yeah". "How do you know about our museum?" (now suspiciously). "Ummmm, actually its right here in our guide book" (extra cheerily). The fact that their Fisheries Museum was mentioned in an international guidebook was all it took to really perk people up.

We ended up in a waiting room awaiting instructions. The older man popped his head out of the neighbouring office: "Can I have the book please?" (we gave him the guidebook). A few minutes later he exited the office, quite pleased: "Ok, He will see you" (excitedly). "Ummm who will see us?". "The principal will see you!" (obviously!).

Now we were in the spotless, air-conditioned office having been granted an audience with the principal of the Bangladesh Fisheries Academy. We had a long friendly talk, the principal spoke perfect English and gave us a description of the school. We felt completely out of place in our grubby clothes but we kept it cool, even though we were thinking what the hell are we doing here? Once we had passed the examination, we were finally allowed to see the museum. We were escorted there by two academy teachers and one lab technician. The sign on the door said "Museum", which we suppose is how the writer of the guidebook might have heard of its existence. Clearly, the writer had never visited however. It wasn't a museum at all. It was the school's biology lab! A collection of fish from the Bay of Bengal sitting in jars, suspended in formaldehyde. We tried to seem as interested as possible, but there only so many brown flaky fish bodies one can be impressed by.

The two teachers who showed us around were extremely friendly and talkative. They were shocked and appalled to hear that we were teachers visiting as part of our 3 months of vacation. After taking a few photos with us, they called down to the dock to make sure that the military taxi didn't leave without us. We were given a ride back to the other bank, along with other employees of the Bangladesh Navy.

4 comments:

Jean said...

a bit slow at first... but you made me laugh so hard as I sat(walked?) in your shoes in the "museum"....you just have to love travel

Papa

Jean said...

still laughing :-)

Nora said...

This sure doesn't show well for Lonely Planet! But you're not alone…and at least you guys made the best of it! Glad to read that Bangladesh is an interesting place to visit. I’ll be sure to visit there myself.

mom said...

When is the next installment?