Our very own Hannah Methven, Product Manager for Asia, recently visted Bangladesh. Read her personal account of this fascinating country.
'Why?' seemed to be the standard response when I mentioned I would be travelling to Bangladesh this year. It seems that most people only have an image in their minds of massive flooding and extreme poverty. Not surprising really given that this tends to be the only coverage of Bangladesh.
I had heard a different side though as several colleagues had travelled to the country on our Hidden Kingdoms tour in previous years. The response for them was a real sense of excitement, a twinge of jealousy and comments along the lines of 'my favourite place to travel'.
I've travelled a lot in India and as such I thought I knew exactly what to expect from Bangladesh. To an extent I was right; there are the same incredible traffic jams, colourful saris and delicious food. But there are some subtle differences which set Bangladesh apart from its neighbour.
The first thing I noticed was the amount of attention I received. I am very fair skinned and female so this usually happens to some extent in India but tourist numbers are tiny in Bangladesh, particularly outside of Dhaka, so everywhere I went people were interested. Don't be put off by this though as it's a very friendly and welcoming interest.
Often I would stop for tea at a roadside stall and within a minute there would be around 30 people staring at me, silently. To break the ice I would show off my limited Bengali, Assalam Aleikum – Hello, peace be on you followed by Kaemon Achen – how are you? Which had everyone smiling (often laughing at my pronunciation) and the questions would begin. 'What is your country Aunty?', 'How long have you been in Bangladesh?', 'Do you like Bangladesh?' Few people outside of Dhaka speak English so it's worth learning a few phrases so you can start talking to people, there is a genuine interest from the locals on why you are visiting and the highlight of this country is most certainly the people.
Be prepared to have your photo taken. A lot. People really don't see tourists very often and I lost count of the number of times I had to pose each day, often with a small child that had been passed to me by a proud parent. I bumped in to a school trip when I visited Paharpur and the entire group followed me round the site as we chatted about my trip and I learnt about their school life and families. I felt slightly guilty for disturbing the trip, feeling that perhaps they weren't learning much about the Buddhist temple we were visiting but when I looked round I noticed the two teachers accompanying the group were busy taking pictures of me so I didn't feel too bad.
Because of this interest it's the perfect place to travel as part of a group. There are always locals to talk to yet with a group you aren't the sole focus of the attention so it doesn't feel overwhelming. Plus you also have a ready made cricket team if the opportunity arises to join in with one of the matches you are sure to see taking place during your trip.
I was expecting the journeys between towns to be pretty quiet, with flat land and water the main thing I would see. It was the exact opposite with almost every inch of space being used and always something to look at. I saw rice paddies stretching off in to the distance, small fish farms, rice workers spreading out the grains to dry in the sunshine and hundreds of brick factories. Everywhere you look there is some form of industry taking place and at each major junction there is a busy bazaar selling the local produce. It makes the journeys fly by as there are plenty of opportunities to stop and meet people and enjoy a cup of very sweet Bangladeshi tea.
If you've ever considered travelling to Bangladesh then book it now, you really wont be disappointed. I met one other traveller whilst I was there, his plan had been to spend 2 weeks in Bangladesh and then cross overland in to India where he would spend 6 weeks. He was on his 7th week of travel in Bangladesh.
Experience your own adventure with our Hidden Kingdoms tour - an adventure Tour of India, Bhutan and Bangladesh. The tour will take you from the vast Ganges Delta of Bangladesh, through the tea plantations of Darjeeling and into the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan. Along the way we explore relics of the Raj, ruined monasteries and ancient temples. These awe-inspiring religious sites are set against the dramatic backdrop of the Himalayan Mountains.
By Hannah Methven