I remember just over a year ago someone asking me where I thought I’d be in a years’ time. I stuck a wet finger in the air and said “probably Bangladesh at a guess”, which at the time was less a certainty and more out of hope to be honest! But here we are, one year into our travels, and more by luck than judgement, we are in fact in Dhaka, Bangladesh! Before carrying on with the story of our travels here’s a few statistics on our first year…
- Total distance covered to date: 18,078km (11,233 miles)
- Average per day over the whole year: 49.5km (30.5 miles)
- Number of days in the saddle: 258 days
- Average per day whilst in the saddle: 70km (43.5 miles)
- Number of countries: 19
- Number of capital cities: 12
- Number of punctures: one
Anyway, on with the story…
At time of writing we are still in Dhaka awaiting new India visas to be processed. This enforced downtime has given us a great opportunity to have some proper R n R before we head into South East Asia. Before arriving we realised that we’d probably have to spend quite a bit of time in Dhaka – other travellers applying for India visas had reported spending at least a week here. They’d also mentioned that it’s dirty, smelly, overcrowded, etc, etc, and hadn’t had many positive things to say about it. So, we’d assumed that our stay wasn’t going to be very pleasant.
Well now that we’ve been here for over a week we can honestly say that we’re really enjoying it – we think that the other travellers must have been in another Dhaka as we would really recommend this one as a travel destination! Even though our general expectations are much lower than when we started our trip in 2018 that shouldn’t take away from the fact that the city isn’t too dirty or smelly (other than the bit by the river which, quite frankly, honks!) and the people are great. We’ve had numerous occasions where we’ve been looking a bit lost and someone has spontaneously helped us out. At one point we thought we could apply for our India visas in Khulna and that we could avoid Dhaka completely. Turns out we couldn’t and that Dhaka is the only place in Bangladesh where we could apply for Indian visas – and we are so glad that this is the case.
Friday 29 March 19 – BD Cyclists “Bike Friday” – 43km
During the Independence Day cycle ride we were told about Bike Friday – a weekly get-together of the BD cyclists. There was the choice of beginners or advanced rides and as we hadn’t been on our bikes much recently we opted for the beginners session! Actually the advanced ride is for people wanting to do proper training and we’d only hold them back or get lost. So, at 6:30 on Friday we were outside the parliament building in the centre of Dhaka with Fahadul’s friend Sifat and about 50 other cyclists for a short trip out of town. The roads were still remarkably busy, even at that early time of day, but within 40 minutes we were out into open countryside.
An hour in we stopped for breakfast (paratha, fried eggs and dal), which Sifat very generously treated us to. For those reading this from the South West of England, the chap on the right of the picture below (beside Sifat) spent 7 years living in Taunton and 3 in Chard – it’s a very small world!
Breakfast was followed by a cha, which is generally drunk at the end of breakfast – not during (spot me in the background)…
Back in the saddle and for a short while the navigation (not mine I hasten to add) went a bit ary and we ended up on some narrow paths into open fields, despite the fact that we were only 19km outside the city…
Then, once the main group had started out for home, we were given special treatment and taken on an extended detour to take in the riverside, which was all very pleasant.
The BD Cyclists then guided us back to Fahadul’s apartment just before midday – 40km under our belts! What was interesting to see during this ride was that the Bangladeshi cyclists were also stared at by the locals as leisure cycling is still unusual here. So as westerners with loaded bikes we are a ‘triple whammy’ in strangeness so-to-speak!
The rest of our day was spent packing up and moving to our Air BnB about 2km away. Fahadul and his family have been so welcoming since we arrived and though they tried to get us to stay longer we think that a week is more than enough time to impose ourselves on them. Our new abode is basic, but it does mean we can spread out a bit as is our way when we’re given the opportunity!
Saturday 30 March – Tues 2 April
Apart from chilling out and stocking up on supplies for our onward journey our enforced downtime meant that we’ve also been able to do more sightseeing. On that point, we don’t think Dhaka is the best capital city for tourist sights. We have been to nearly all of the ‘to do’ places and to be honest they are a bit underwhelming in comparison to other capital cities. The most interesting thing about Dhaka for us is the ‘everyday’ – which we just love and is something we’re seeing all the time.
So we visited Ashan Manzil, a colonial palace with architecture influences from the Mughal period. It’s right next to the river, was the home of many Bengali dignitaries over the years and played host to lots of high ranking individuals including some from the time of the British Raj…
One of Dhaka’s nicknames is the city of rickshaws – this is very apt as they are everywhere (apparently about 400,000 of them). It’s not a tourist thing to take one – it’s a bona fide form of public transport that locals take. In fact speaking of tourists, including our visit to the Indian visa centre we have only seen 4 westerners in the city since we arrived!
We took another walk through Old Dhaka where there are regular rickshaw traffic jams and we’ve even seen a bit of tension and shouting when things get bad…
Old Dhaka does definitely feel overcrowded and a bit claustrophobic – especially when a huge elephant walks through…
To top things off we were also involved in an accident between a rickshaw that we were in and a car. Just a bump really, but enough to throw me out of the rickshaw! The rider and driver had a heated exchange (it was the driver’s fault) and then carried on their way.
A second nickname for Dhaka’s is the ‘City of Mosques’ and although there are quite a few we don’t think that it rivals Istanbul on that score. The call to prayer in Istanbul was definitely much louder than here! We visited the Khan Mohammad Masjid (mosque) which is on the list of ‘to do’ sites in Dhaka, but to be honest we weren’t too sure why as it’s not that impressive…
We also visited the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque, which we didn’t think was that impressive either. Though we were told it was okay for us to go inside by one guy we were then told politely to leave as women aren’t allowed in the main part. Not wanting to cause offence we left – but it just added to our disappointment. Sorry Dhaka, your mosques aren’t a patch on the beautiful ones in Istanbul!
We went to see the university and specifically Curzon Hall, which was mainly built in colonial times with Muslim influences…
Finally we went to see the eternal flame which commemorates freedom fighters that took part and died in their independence war against Pakistan in the early 70s…
On this particular trail Martina noticed that we were being trailed by a rather weird bloke who had followed us from the national mosque to the eternal flame and kept praying towards us (the only way I can describe it really). Anyway, after another 10 minutes of walking with no obvious sign of him going away we asked a couple of security guards to tell him to poke off. It did take him a while to get the message, but we finally got rid of him and continued on our way home. Although we didn’t feel threatened and it’s was broad daylight, telling the guards had obviously been the right thing to do!
So we finally got a text and call from the India visa application centre on Monday morning to say that our visas had been processed and that we could pick them up. This meant a few hours stuck in traffic getting to the centre and back, but it was all worth it as we now have a visa each to re-enter India and means we can continue our journey east. But we aren’t going straight to the border just yet as we still have some time left on our Bangladesh visas that we mean to make the most of.
Of course we could have then packed our things and got on the road straight away, but we made the decision to stay until Wednesday. Our AirBnB was booked upto that point and rather than waste it we thought that we could do some more planning, pack at our leisure and also have one last lunch with Fahadul and Sheuly. Plus there was time for one last selfie…
Note Martina’s new dress and shawl – presents from Sheuly.
We have genuinely had a great time in Dhaka and it is a bit of a wrench to leave, but on with our journey and into our second year on the road….
Some random Bangladesh observations…
We’ve noticed in India and Bangladesh that eating food is a functional activity – people will come into a cafe/restaurant, order, eat, pay and go and that’s it. In general it’s all done and dusted in about 30 minutes unlike in Europe where it’s often a time to socialise or relax and can go on for hours.
Compared to India we’re not as impressed by the cafe/restaurant food in Bangladesh. Sheuly’s home cooked food was fantastic, but the restaurant food we’ve found isn’t as nice and tends to be very oily. There is much more meat in Bangladesh and far fewer vegetarian options than in India, so we’ve had to start eating meat again. The only real vegetarian options are dal and subji (vegetables) with rice and/or paratha, and we need a bit more variety than just that!
The humidity levels have definitely gone up. Sunday was a very sticky 94% with temperatures of 32 degrees which has sparked a few thunderstorms. There was a particularly active storm that evening, with almost continual lightening, that lasted about an hour and knocked out the electricity. We have had a few power cuts (non-storm related) whilst we have been in Bangladesh and thankfully all of the accommodation has either a generator (in hotels) or a massive battery which kicks in when the power goes down. Power cuts are common here!
Though there are feral dogs in Bangladesh there certainly aren’t as many as in India or, in fact, some parts of Southern Europe. We’ve not had any instances of them chasing us on our bikes either.
Some other long distance cyclists had blogged that Bangladeshis were kings of the selfie and when we read this while in India we’d felt a sense of dread coming here. But we’ve had hardly any requests for selfies since we’ve been here and certainly nothing like the ‘just one selfie’ brigade we had in India. We can only assume that the other cyclists hadn’t been to India!
In the sub-continent as a whole things happen much later in the day – for example it’s difficult to find anywhere open at 8am but most things are still open at 10pm. This means that they tend to eat much later than in the U.K. and will think nothing of having dinner at 10:30pm when we’re more likely to be in bed!
The intensity of people staring isn’t as bad in Bangladesh as it was in India. We’ve found that people will generally have a good look and then get on with whatever they were doing, whereas in India they’d just keep on staring.
There’s a lot less clearing throats and hocking lugies in Bangladesh, which is a good thing in our book!
In Bangladesh poached eggs are in fact fried eggs!
Bangladeshis are a patriotic lot and are very proud of their independence from, firstly the British, secondly the Indians and finally Pakistan.
Comment by Margo
Margo 5 April 2019 at 3:12 pm
Gosh that year flew in! Hard to believe it will nearly be the beginning of a countdown. Loved reading your blog this last year and look forward to many more interesting stories and photos over the next year. You are both looking amazing!
Comment by Denise
Denise 5 April 2019 at 2:17 pm
Can’t believe you are twelve months into your journey! I thoroughly enjoy your post dropping into my emails on a Friday afternoon and reading about your adventures. Continued safe travels Denise ( Sue’s friend)
Comment by Martina
Martina 5 April 2019 at 3:22 pm
Thanks Denise. So lovely to know you are still following us and enjoying the blog. Hope to see you when we come visit Slapton on our return!
Comment by Ronan, Nikky & Tom
Ronan, Nikky & Tom 3 April 2019 at 4:01 pm
Wow! Twelve months on… I wonder where will you be in twelve month’s time? Enjoy!
Comment by Martina
Martina 5 April 2019 at 3:20 pm
Hopefully we will be in NZ this time next year Tom…fingers crossed!
Comment by Caroline
Caroline 3 April 2019 at 8:02 am
Fantastic reading…12 months in! Well done folks. Totes amaze! Good luck with next chapter.
Comment by Martina
Martina 5 April 2019 at 3:20 pm