Easter in Tiger Country

Trip Start Feb 10, 2012
Trip End May 11, 2012

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Where I stayed
hotel castle salam

Flag of Bangladesh  ,
Sunday, April 8, 2012

I saw no tigers.....but I saw several dolphins and a swimming cobra!! 

This time, I went to the train station very prepared for a long wait with lots of stares.  What did I bring to entertain myself and everyone else?  Friendship bracelets, of course!  I don't mind the curious glances when I have something else to do--it's the awkward decision of whether I should look down, or back, or off into the distance that I mind!  So now, I can just work on my crafting project which also intrigues the general populace.  Then, I started giving the finished ones to little girls that would come up and watch.  Their wrists are so tiny that it doesn't take so long to finish them and then they get all excited :)

The train did eventually come and it is about a 9 hour ride from Dhaka to Khulna (southwest).  I made a couple more bracelets, slept (since I was recovering from one of the never-ending stomach bugs), and read through Dr. Petri's most recent grant proposal.  I have seriously learned so much in my time here! 

On the train, I was sitting next to Mr. Nazrul and his brother in law.  They were on their way back from Chittagong--an even longer journey.  Mr. Nazrul's daughter invited me to stay at their house, but as it was already after dark when we arrived and I was sickly and tired, I opted to stay in the hotel.  I told him maybe I would stay the following night.

The hotel ended up being super nice!  The Bradt travel guide made it sound pretty bad, but it was awesome.  $13 a night, wifi in the lobby, a nice restaurant, really good complimentary breakfast buffet, a salon, ac, and even a rooftop pool and fitness room that I found out about too late to use!  It was much nicer than I was expecting!  

Feeling much better after a good night's sleep with ac, I woke up bright and early, skyped the parents, and got picked up by Mr. Nazrul from the train.  His friend offered to drive me to the nearby town where I was hoping to see some mosques, etc.  This may sound sketchy to people back home, but seriously that is just how generous people are here!

 From Wikipedia, "The Mosque City of Bagerhat is a formerly lost city, located in the Khulna Division of southwest Bangladesh. Originally known as Khalifatabad and nicknamed the "mint town of the Bengal Sultanate",[2] the city was founded in the 15th century by the warrior saint Turkish general Ulugh Khan Jahan.[3]  The historic city, listed by Forbes as one of the 15 lost cities of the world, has more than 50 Islamic monuments which have been found after removing the vegetation that had obscured them from view for many centuries. The site has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 under criteria (iv), "as an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble which illustrates a significant stage in human history"[4], of which the Sixty Pillar Mosque (Shat Gombuj Masjid in Urda), constructed with 60 pillars and 77 domes, is the most well known.[2][5] Apart from these monuments, UNESCO also includes the mausoleum of Khan Jahan, the mosques of Singar, Bibi Begni, Reza Khoda, Zindavir among the unique monuments."

The main attraction is the Sixty Pillar Mosque (the Shat Gambuj).  It is supposed to be one of the oldest mosques in the country, and is described as "historic mosque representing the Golden Era of Muslim Bengal," again according to Wikipedia. The drive was scenic and peaceful, and along the way, we passed over the recently built Rupsha bridge and also drove by a mini model of the Shat Gambuj right in the city of Khulna.  We did continue on to see the real thing, though.

For an hour or two we walked around and saw Shat Gambuj as well as the Nine-Domed Mosque and actually the best-labeled and organized museum that I have gone to yet in Bangladesh.  On display were items of pottery, metal, etc. from earlier times and a pretty big crocodile body.  We also visited the place where people still feed chicken offerings to Khan Jahan's crocodiles--believing that they can grant wishes. 

We also visited some of the sights of Khulna, including the garden with bushes pruned into animal shapes. But after that, I finally traveled to Mr. Nazrul's house and met his younger daughter, Rumana (18).  She was so cute!  I also met his son and other, older daughter, Dina (22). 

Some of the neighbor kids are tutored by Dina.  They came over to learn English which was entertaining for me.  They were kind of shy but also quite curious.  Tania, Tanjila, and Tomim were all very cute (the neighbors), as were Rumana's three bunny rabbits (un-named currently).  We let them (the bunnies, not the neighbors) hop around the yard for a while and had quite a time catching them to put them back in their cage where they are safe from the neighborhood cats.  I basically just relaxed at their home and felt more than comfortable staying the night.  We took a van (bike with flat cart) around the neighborhood and to Khulna University.  The next day, they drove me to the ghat (pier) where my Sundarban boat was waiting.

It was really cool to hang out with a real family and live their life for a bit.  They were so hospitable and gave me several gifts when I left.  They also invited me back whenever I have time!  They were very sweet, and I wish Rumana didn't have finals the rest of the time I am here; otherwise, I would love to have her come stay with me for a few days in Dhaka.  

Upon boarding the ship, I saw my first dolphin! 
I was so excited to finally see some of the Ganges River Dolphins!  I kept hoping to see them in other rivers but did not.  However, the Rupsha had quite a few.  They periodically came up for air, but they were too fast and unpredictable for good pictures!
From the internet, "The species does not have a crystalline eye lens, rendering it effectively blind, although it may still be able to detect the intensity and direction of light. Navigation and hunting are carried out using echolocation.[8] They are unique among cetaceans in that they swim on their side.[9]
Pretty exciting!

The other passengers were all foreigners from Germany, Denmark, and Holland.  There was also one Bangladeshi, but he is also an American citizen.  I was sharing a room with Karen from Denmark.  She was very funny and also took care of me when I got sick!  I definitely enjoyed the company of everyone.  Six of the passengers were in their 20s (including me), and 4 were probably in their 40's or older.
From the internet, "The Sundarbans mangrove forest, one of the largest such forests in the world (140,000 ha), lies on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal. It is adjacent to the border of India’s Sundarbans World Heritage site inscribed in 1987. The site is intersected by a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats and small islands of salt-tolerant mangrove forests, and presents an excellent example of ongoing ecological processes. The area is known for its wide range of fauna, including 260 bird species, the Bengal tiger and other threatened species such as the estuarine crocodile and the Indian python. The Sundarbans of Bangladesh and India support one of the largest populations of Royal Bengal Tiger with an estimated 350 individuals. Other mammals include spotted deer and wild boar, three species of wild cat and Ganges River dolphin, which occurs in some of the larger waterways. Of the three species of otter, smooth-coated otter is domesticated by fishermen and used to drive fish into their nets." 

It was definitely very scenic and relaxing.  Most of the trip was just cruising around from Khulna, all the way south to the Bay of Bengal and back.  For once in Bangladesh, you actually went for periods of time without seeing any people, once we were far enough south.  The temperatures were actually cool and overcast for a good part of the trip which was also refreshing--especially after I got sick! 

After a full day of cruising to get there, the next day we started with a trip on a much smaller, rowed boat to look for wildlife.  We did not see any tigers, but we saw footprints which were probably pretty recent due to the rain.  We saw many birds, some deer, mudskippers galore, and finally a swimming cobra!  He was very fast and swimming right toward our boat for a little while!

After this, we headed back for breakfast (even though we were served cookies on the boat). Sadly, I was unable to appreciate the good food from the cookies on, as I was then not feeling well :(  I wasn't super sick until later on, though, so I did make it on the hike out to the beach! 

After a 40 min walk or so we came to where the beach usually is.  The guide looked quite surprised upon our arrival to find water and no beach.  Apparently it was a very high tide!  After several promises that there were neither crocodiles nor shark, I still went in.  That's what I came all that way for!  Eventually some of the other boys came in too.  We enjoyed the water, but headed back when the sky started to look ominous.  The boat picked us up just as the gusts and rain started and we were all served green coconuts to refresh us.

At 4 pm was another hike, but I was feeling too sick to go and was sick for the rest of that day and all night.  It sounded like it wasn't too much to miss, though.  Everyone wore one-size-fits-all boots and several of the ladies got bad blisters. There were no tigers and it was pretty cold, too!

The rest of the trip just consisted of relaxing/recovering and driving back upriver to Khulna.  Mr. Nazrul also picked me back up from the boat and offered to let me stay at their house again since I wasn't feeling well.  I figured I would recover best at my own apartment, so I headed back on the night train instead.  I slept on and off and was quite happy to finally be safely back at my own apartment with hot water and air conditioning when necessary!  Dhaka had quite some rain while I was gone and was full of puddles, but it was nice to be back.

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