It’s very easy to become overwhelmed with life here in the city – it’s noisy, busy, and dirty. Concrete buildings all over the place. Roads, roads, and more roads. Rickshaws everywhere. If we want to get out of the house we tend to go to the club – swimming pool, chat with people, maybe use the gym, have a meal, etc.
It’s very nice, but for a family who’re used to heading down to the park or off to the woods for the afternoon, it’s a bit limiting.
Last Sunday, though, we went out on a boat trip, our first time outside Dhaka since we arrived here. It was magnificent, a wonderful day. There were about 10 adults on the trip along with 5 children, everyone related with the school in one way or another.
We were picked up from the apartment just after 9 am, followed by a drive lasting about 45 minutes or so which took us out of Dhaka and down to the Shitalakshya River. Mad traffic all the way there. As we headed out of the city, the CNGs (motorized rickshaws) changed from being a uniform green colour to a riot of different colours – I guess in the city they don’t tend to decorate them. (One of the funniest things was a ‘how’s my driving?’ sticker on a CNG!) For a while the road ran along a ridge with water on either side – covered with water hyacinth (the leaves are cattle fodder, the roots are dried and used as fuel) with patches of clear water which usually had a few people in them (often kids) bathing and splashing about.
Ok, so we eventually ended up at the boat. Everywhere we stopped throughout the day, the locals stopped whatever they were doing and just stared at us.
It was great, very quiet, just chugging slowly upriver. There were plenty of boats around and about, though apparently it was much quieter than usual due to it being close to Eid. We saw people fishing, boats with sails that looked like patchwork quilts, boats so laden with sand that they were almost sinking, boats laden with bricks that are broken up and used as hardcore for building constructions. Lots of life everywhere.
After about an hour and a half we stopped at an old Hindu palace, dating from the 1880s. Huge great big building, lovely looking, but with an air of decay about it. It was built with two sections, the front half for the menfolk, the rear section for the women, each with their own pool for bathing, washing, etc. It has been used as a school for quite some time now, I think the guide mentioned the 1960s, but only the front part of it. Inside it’s in poor condition in many parts – the classrooms are ok, but there are sections which need some serious repair and if they don’t already have problems with the roof when it rains, they soon will do. Add to that the huge costs involved in maintaining something like that, and you can understand why it is so rundown. The people around that area are obviously extremely poor, as they are everywhere, generally, with other priorities. Sad, but true.
One thing though – everyone here appears to love having their pictures taken, especially the children. They’ll pose for you anytime you like, and love seeing themselves in the cameras afterwards.
After a while we headed back to the boat and continued upriver. It was lovely to be out there on the water, the kids had a great time with friends, running all over the place, scaring their mum and dad half to death with their antics (they’ve GOT to learn to swim, FAST!), and generally enjoying being out of the city.
Then lunchtime – dhal, rice, fish, chicken, fried aubergine, and much much more. We were spoiled rotten, it was great food. Only problem was that it was also filling, so I couldn’t eat anywhere near as much of it as I’d like to have done.
Eventually it was time to turn back. But some of us had decided we’d like to go for a swim in the river, so after a while the boat moored up at some random point, and a few of us spent a delicious half hour or so swimming, jumping and diving in off the boat. It was great, the water was so warm, not even slightly cold, and the current was almost non-existent. We did hope the dolphins might come and join us, but they don’t do that, unfortunately. Yep, we’d seen dolphins, or at least dolphin fins and tails as they disappeared under water again, throughout the day. Didn’t manage to get any pictures though, by the time you realized you’d seen a dolphin it was gone. But I think everyone on the boat saw at least one that day.
Then onto our final stop at a sari weaving village. Noone bought one – they’re v e r y expensive, but we saw the village, the weavers and some of their merchandise. Some of the weavers were only 12 or 13 years old (they didn’t actually know), and were very proud of their jobs and that they had an income. There were about 10 looms packed into a small hut, with two weavers to each loom. Trainees earn 400 taka a week, fully-trained 1000. It takes them about 2 years to learn all the designs required to become a full weaver.
As we left, I asked our guide what that salary is worth. Not much, it’s pretty much a survival wage. Most people will, however, own a little piece of land on which they have a house and can grow a little rice and some veg and maybe keep a couple of animals. But it’s a hard life, and I’m guessing that the ones with the jobs are the luckier ones.
And that about wrapped it up. Back to the boat, back to Dhaka. We didn’t want to get off the boat, it would have been great to spend the night there. Apparently when you head down to the Sundarbans the evenings are lovely, with the generator on the boat switched off and the stars out – sounds idyllic. We originally had thought that a boat trip would be a bit much with the boys, but now we have a feeling it could be done. Make sure we take plenty of things for them to do, and go with at least one other family so there’re other children for them to play with, and we think it would be doable. They both loved being on the boat, seeing dolphins, playing with their friends, swimming in the river, so we know they’d enjoy it again.