Train journey to Srimongol

February 27, 2010

 A much needed trip into the countryside. Rest for ears, lungs and eyes. Left from crowded Kamlapur station at 7am, with lunchbox and toothbrush. Fascinating to watch the landscape change as we left Dakha, gradually leaving behind the railside shanty towns and commuters, until  the mists started to rise above endless green rice fields.

Commuters waiting in misty morning

Walking to work

The railway line was full of life, the whole way out; people sleeping on piles of old sleepers (which stay warm over night), selling their wares up and down the line, using the railway as a road. Amazing how crowded the trains were; people clinging to every available hand hold, inside and out, even sitting on the roof. Extremely thankful that I could afford ‘chair’ class!

Srimongol, our destination, is in Sylet, a hillier region in the north of Bangladesh, known for its tea plantations. It is also the area where many  UK Bengalis come from, so was curious to visit. We did not stay long in the town of Srimongol, aiming to escape crowds as quickly as possible, but took a CNG out to an ‘eco cottage’ about 20mins from the station. I nearly cried when we got there, from relief at being out of the city. Was still feeling  really fluey but just sitting on the little verandah outside our grass hut, listening to the stream below, was good medicine.

Hut amongst banana and lemon trees

Heat not so intense as in Dakha so hired bikes and headed out into afternoon to explore. Bicycles were massive black chinese bikes for men, so took some adjusting to. So many bikes here, but have yet to see a woman riding one; perhaps I now know why! Still; pedalling along small quiet country roads and through villages was such a pleasure.  

Roadside view

Loved the rows and rows of perfectly planted rice; like patchwork pages of writing. Am no expert but the farming here seems little changed from what it would have been centuries ago. Saw men thigh deep in mud, working methodically by hand. Boys pulling massive wooden carts of wood/bamboo. The odd rickshaw or CNG but no cars, tractors etc. No electricty I could see; houses lit at night by small lamps (oil?). So picturesque to wander through villages at night and see people sitting chatting around single light in shop entrances etc; spotlit domestic scenes of simple rural life, almost like a victorian/dickensian bangladesh, if that’s possible. Oh and I saw fireflies flitting though the bamboo groves, and in the morning we heard the calls of the macac monkeys. Cows, goats and chickens wandered freely along the roads; someone must own them, but not sure how tabs are kept.

Roaming cows

The villages we rode through are mostly maintained for the tea plantation workers, so were of a similar style, and all kept clean. They reminded me a lot of African villages, were it not for the women’s sari’s and the rickshaws. Was interested to see lots of examples of house and floor painting. They still cover the cooking area floors with fresh cow dug every morning, and the courtyards are often decorated with simple alpana.

Village house with painted weave walls and thatch

Courtyard

The people were very friendly and curious, which suprised me as they must get a few tourists in this area. I suppose there are still more Bengali tourists than westerners. The children took great delight in calling out after us ‘bye bye bye bye bye bye’. Was fun to see them playing together so contentedly, despite having so little.

Gossip at the well

Playful kids

The tea plantations stretched for miles. Everynow and again we found little huts were you could sit and drink the famous seven layer tea. Have no idea how they keep the layers seperate and no-one would let on but the sickly sweet milk they use meant I just looked. The tea seems to be grown with rubber trees, or some much taller tree; lovely for shade. Will never forget the sight of the tea workers walking home in the evening, the light across the tea bushes and the call to prayer echoing from village to village.

Workers walking home in the evening

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