What a delight it is when a country confounds all expectations and delivers a rich and genuinely satisfying travel experience. After a mildly disappointing week in Laos, which provided plenty of social and physical activity but lacked the cultural and culinary stimuli of its near neighbours, it was left to unheralded Bangladesh to reignite my explorer’s spark. Three days of complete natural solitude in the tea plantations of Sreemangal sandwiched in between two heartwarming and surreal human interactions in the country’s two largest cities made for a beautifully balanced week.

Having enjoyed the trappings of secular Bangladeshi bourgeoisie with Shammy in Dhaka, staying with Mahi and his family in Chattogram gave me a perspective very much from the opposite end of the social spectrum, as a devout muslim family living in the poorer northern hill suburbs of the city. The accommodation may have been more modest, but the hospitality was first class, with Mahi’s mother serving multiple great meals during the course of my two night stay, even as the family fasted due to Ramadan.

Mahi himself, an ambitious and dynamic 20 year old with an incredibly bright future ahead of him, took it upon himself to show me as much of his home region as he possibly could in the short time available. We spent the better part of a day chasing the city’s famed rusting beached ship wrecks at the Chittagong Ship Breaking Yards, a 20km stretch of coastline where retired container vessels and petrol tankers come to die and turn to scrap, employing 200,000 local inhabitants in the process. Whilst the steel is scrapped, all the remaining contents are distributed and sold in hundreds of roadside junk retail outlets: sets of golf clubs, old rotary telephones from the 1970s, safety equipment and crew board games can all be found and purchased for a song.

It is during our later hike in the riverbed canyon of a local national park that Mahi gets the phone call, from another local Couchsurfer, inviting us to share iftar, breaking the day’s fast, with him on his boat. A manic sunset motorbike ride across the city takes us to the city harbour, where a dinghy is waiting to take us to the F.V. QN-1, which we board in the dark like pirates on a raid. Our host Sharif is the General Manager of a fishing company that runs two deep water commercial trawlers, and it is on deck of one of his boats that he has invited us to feast. After a sumptuous meal of seafood and fish caught by the very vessel that is accommodating us, Sharif pronounces me honorary captain for the evening and gives us a full tour of the boat.

If the boardroom beers with the local salsa dance instructors made for a surreal enough first night in Bangladesh, then standing at the wheel of a fishing trawler moored in Chattogram harbour can be the only fitting way of closing out what has been a thrilling week filled with fun and adventure. The warmth of the Bangladeshi people, beauty of the tea plantation hills and my natural tendency to find myself in the most bizarre of situations have combined magically to turn Bangladesh from a relatively unknown destination into a country that has supplied the fondest of memories.

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  1. Good to get your blogs Jean-Marc. I have heard other good reports about the friendliness of Bangladesh. Sorry you didn’t find it so good in Laos, it’s one of my favourite countries.

    1. Ah Ian, always a pleasure to hear from you! It wasn’t so much that I didn’t enjoy it – my best friend came over for a week from the Uk, so we had a great time. But the air, and therefore visibility, was terrible because the farmers were burning their crops, and we were a little templed out after Thailand. Fully enjoyed it, but maybe I expected too much. In contrast to Bangladesh, where I expected little and got a sprinkle of the old CS magic!

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