05 June 2008

Week 39: Ben arrives and we explore the historical sites of Paharpur and Mahasthangarh

39th-1st in Dhaka 5/28

This morning I called my sister Sandee to wish her a happy birthday! She was very happy to receive the call, even though it was short. She also still had one hour to go until her birthday even started, but I told her it’d already been her birthday here for nine hours!

An article on me and my blog was posted in this month’s NC State engineering e-newsletter. I’ve posted the link on the sidebar as well.

Spent the day at home mostly processing data. Went out to get some errands done, including faxing our Rangamati permission stuff again to the Deputy Collector. No one said this would be easy.

In the evening I headed over to Baridhara. Tonight is the July 4 party, even though it’s May 28, at the US embassy. I was debating whether or not to go, and I decided that, since I was invited for being a Fulbright, I have a responsibility to go. I am an ambassador for my program, and not going would not be living up to the few expectations the Fulbright program has for us. The hassle of dressing up nice in the heat is minor compared to the impact I can make on a few important people tonight by spreading the good news of the Fulbright program. So that motivated me to go, and I was prepared to be a good Fulbright ambassador.
I met up with Erin and Karen at Erin’s place to clean up from the sweaty bus ride, and put on my tie. We then headed by rickshaw, in the rain which had started around dusk, down the road to the embassy. Had to go through three checkpoints, each time having to show our invitation, just to reach the embassy’s gates. (pics: the US Embassy decorated in July 4 colors for the party...unintentionally blurry but I'm sure they prefer that for security reasons, Karen/myself/Erin dressed up for the US Embassy's July 4th party)

There was lots of snack food, and a lot of it representing 4th of July fare. I was extremely happy to see hot dogs, full sized, just cut up into sections. I at least ate one full one across the evening. Mini-jumbo pretzels, mini fried chicken, skewers of summer fruit, and brownies topped off the summer feast!
The US ambassador, new to the country in the last two months, gave the first address. I only met him for a handshake at the door, but got to meet many other ambassadors throughout the evening. I was first introduced by my friend Leigh to several Arab ambassadors including the one from Egypt, Kuwait, Emirates, Palestine, and Libya. They were talking together when we walked up. Only the Egyptian ambassador stayed past the pleasantries, and we talked long about traffic (of course) and other topics for about fifteen minutes.

39th-2nd in Dhaka 5/29

Today I saw that Google Maps was updated for Bangladesh! Was so excited had to bump it into the blog a week earlier. But it is really exciting. You can see the roads, schools, hospitals, parks, everything! Nice to know all the places I located by satellite on my map on the sidebar were correct! I no longer feel like I’m living in a barren wasteland (as I would have to think by looking at a map before.)

Called the Deputy Collector of Rangamati again, hoping they got my fax or courier service package. Well they didn’t, but they said they would, and the guy on the phone made it seem like we don’t even need permission. We’ll see.

This morning I found out a bit more about Moweena: she has two children and they still live in her village with her father. She also has a granddaughter from her son. She lives in Dhaka with her sister, and they both do domestic work.

I headed out the buses with the hopes of getting four done. Well combining a #12 bus which cut its route short, another #12 bus which I had to get off early, a #13 bus which wasn’t doing its full route, and a #13 bus which took two hours, I only got two full buses done. Local buses are much harder to research than ticket buses.

39th-3rd in Dhaka 5/30

Today Ben arrived at 7:30, my friend from North Carolina State University. They wouldn’t let me in the fenced in area where Ben would walk out of. So I had to wait outside the gates and watch for him. Finally he came out, and I looked for an army officer to ask if I can enter, but all were occupied. So I insteade I walked right through the gate, yelled “BEN!” twice, and he heard me, turned, and we gave each other a big hug.

Took a CNG back home, talked for a bit. He told me that my photo from the Aktel ad is now in the airport in the baggage claim area. I had no idea, and have no clue how long it’s been up. He thought I knew and that’s why he didn’t take a picture.

Although it was hot, we decided to go for a walk, and went around part of Dhanmondi Lake, catching up and sweating in the heat. Walked down Sat Masjid Road for a bit, got some mango juice, and later met up with Diya, and we got some cold soda and went to Anam Rangs Plaza to enjoy the air conditioning.

Coming home we both passed out. I napped for about three hours, Ben about five.

We went by New Market in the evening. Headed to my tailor to see about buying this shirt I wanted to get and thought Ben would like too. But they were out of the material. We also looked into buying some suits. Ben bought his first lungi, as well as some sandals to wear when it rains. It poured as we came back by rickshaw. More than I’ve seen here. We got pretty soaked, even though we got on the rickshaw just in time.

We started watching a movie at home, Good Luck Chuck and the power went out twice. So at one point we just went to get dinner at my favorite hotel. Although it wasn’t very late, the place was more empty than usual. Ben got to eat his first real filling of rice.

39th-4th in Dhaka 5/31

Both of us felt a little bit sick this morning when we woke up. Ben felt sick because of a headache, myself because of typical stomach problems. After these had passed and we’d had a big breakfast of rice and dal, we headed out to see some sights.

First was BUET, and I took him around the standard tour of the campus, seeing all the sights. He specifically enjoyed the views from the top of the Civil Building, comparing them to the views from Cox and Dabney at State.

We then walked over to Shahid Minar, Was surprised we weren’t surrounded by beggars, and the place was quieter than usual on a normal day. We sat around for awhile as we were getting quite hot and tired and there was some shade to be found. (pic: Ben in front of Shahid Minar)

Then we walked over to Dhakeshwari Temple. It is my third time there, but in a long time. The temple was quieter than the other two times. The only action was a bride who was walked up to the shrine and was crying, supported by two family members. (pic: lunch time at Dhakeshwari Temple)

From there we took a bus to Baridhara where we were meeting up for flag football at the American School. It was organized by Leigh, and we got invited by Aaron. A lot of people showed up, and we ended up having four teams of eight. With that many people we didn't have enough flag football flags, so we played two-hand touch. We played two games, with the winners of each squaring off and the losers squaring off after. That meant that for the final game, because both our teams won, my team got to face Ben and Aaron’s team, who beat us easily. I got to catch a winning touchdown in the first game though. It was fun to run around and be sweaty for awhile. The American School’s field is very nice, nicer than anything NC State had. (pics: two-hand touch football on the fields of the American International School, resting after football in the gymnasium part of the school)

39th-5th in Dhaka 6/1

We went to the tailor in the morning. We had spent the morning researching about fabrics and styles to learn more about what we wanted to buy. We looked at my suits and shirts I’ve already gotten tailored, and checked out their measurements. At the tailor we spent a lot of time choosing our fabrics, ultimately buying four shirts each and material for a suit. We then went upstairs and got measured. We’re excited to see our stuff come out in a week and a half weeks. (pics: Ben choosing his fabric for shirts, Ben getting measured for his suit)

We had lunch at Ayon’s, and after lunch, his mother invited us over again for a lunch on Wednesday. Before and after we sat and talked with Ayon, and at one point Ayon showed us pictures from his family albums.

From there Ben and I headed to Nazira Bazar to buy some rickshaw art. We each bought some pieces after checking out a few stores. The most humorous one we saw was where the artist painted a city scene where a train had collided with a truck on the train tracks and driver was lying through the truck window bleeding…who paints that?!? (pics: one of the old buildings in Nazira Bazar of Old Dhaka, rickshaw art for sale in Nazira Bazar)

Then headed around town trying to buy a bus ticket. This proved to be more difficult as I thought, but I guess I’m used to that. We passed by Baitul Mukarram and I showed it to Ben as we passed. It is interesting going around with Ben here as he tells me a lot about the differences between here and Egypt, where he spent a lot of time. Also, because he is very proficient in Arabic, he keeps pointing out to me the signs in which things are spelled wrong or written incorrectly.

39th-6th in Bogra 6/2

We headed out to Bogra today. The bus was a smooth ride, but hit some major showers halfway through, making us have to close the bus windows. It was a magnificent storm, flooding the roads we drove on and reducing our bus to a crawl as the visibility went to zero. But by the time we arrived in Bogra, the rain had ended.

In Bogra we took a rickshaw to a hotel we wanted to stay at the main bus terminal called the Safeway Motel. The place was nice and looked deserted, but low and behold, they were booked up for the night! Wondering what to do, the hotel owner eased our concerns and stared calling every hotel in the area on his own accord. Finally he found us a hotel after about 10 minutes, just down the road. I wasn’t quite sure where it was, but he said no worries, and told his private car to take us there. Such service without even asking!
Our hotel was really nice, called the Bogra Resort. It was on top of a few shops doing car repair. We got some lunch after checking in at a street side restaurant. It didn’t have running water and we didn’t dare drink the water they gave us. The food was ridiculously spicy, and both of us had runny noses while we ate and were left gasping for breath.

After, we got on a local bus to take us to Mahasthan. This village is the site one of the oldest known settlements in Bangladesh, dating back to the 3rd century BC, called Mahasthangarh. From where we got off the bus a rickshaw took us to the museum. The ride there took us by the Citadel, the main structure of the area and about one mile long! The museum was at the other end, and after paying the high fare of Tk100 to enter the museum, we took a look inside. Typical Bangladeshi museum, had some neat artifacts, a lot dating back to 2300 years ago. There was a decent map of the area and it showed all the structures in about 100 sq km. There are Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim sites ranging from different time periods, but most of the remaining structures are from a 8th to 11th century Buddhist period. We took our time looking around a temple across the street from the museum, a Hindu structure from the 6th century called Govinda Bhita. (pics: two boys standing on the remains of Govinda Bhita in Mahasthangarh, Ben walking along the remains of a wall of Govinda Bhita)

From there we walked to the Citadel, the one that is almost a mile long. We walked along its outer wall for its full length, encountering several people on the way inquiring about our nationality. The Citadel was empty of anything historical on the inside except for a few mounds with a bit of brick work spotted here and there. Instead, the entire interior was being farmed and people were going about their daily work on this ancient site. (pics: Ben at the entrance to the Citadel, myself with the interior of the Citadel being farmed behind me, Ben standing along the outer wall of the Citadel, unrestored portion of the wall)

We bought some mangoes and took a bus back to Bogra, spending a little bit of time walking around the city’s center main market. Got scared at one point that I’d been robbed as I got surrounded by some guys and then later I noticed my backpack was open. Got scared, nothing happened, I likely left the pocket open.
Went back to the hotel and had dinner. Had to wait an hour and a half while they made it. They gave us a table in the corner of large dining room, we were the only ones in the hotel eating there. One guy serving us. Good meal though, they cut the mangoes we bought for us. Enjoyed watching the cable TV in our room while we waited for dinner.

39th-7th in Paharpur 6/3

Grabbed a bus and headed to Paharpur. This was a good distance away. First leg was to take a local bus to Jaipurhat, and from there, another local bus to Paharpur village. Finally from Paharpur village, the historical sights there are a rickshaw ride away down a bumpy road. It was not easy to reach Bangladesh’s most impressive historical site. (pic: view of the road to Somapura Mahavira from Paharpur's bus stand)

We arrived to the Somapura Mahavira site in Parharpur and got surrounded by tourist shop owners! I’ve never seen anything like this in Bangladesh. They stopped our rickshaw from moving and were yelling for us to visit their stores and buy food. They had gifts, that I’d never seen before in Bangladesh. Maybe just three or four shops total. Is this a preview of what Bangladesh will turn into if it becomes a tourist country? It was quite impressive. They stopped our rickshaw a second time once we told it to go again, and continued to hold onto it and pointing and waving for us to buy things. Finally we broke free and made it to the gate. (pic: first tourist trap I've seen in Bangladesh)

We bought our tickets still with the tourist hawkers following us. The museum inside was lacking a map of the site, which really would have helped in comprehension. But a large brass image of the Buddha uncovered at the site was featured at its center, and that was a neat highlight.

Somapura Mahavihara, the monastery located at Paharpur, was at one point the largest monastery south of the Himalayas, and according to a sign at the site, still is. It is one of three World Heritage Sites in Bangladesh, the others being the Shait Gumbad Mosque in Bagherhat and the Sundarbans. It was built during the 6th century during the Pala Dynasty. The center stupa is 72 feet tall with three tiers for circumambulation. Lining these are clay tiles carved with the images of animals and images of the Buddha. Five main images of the Buddha existed here, one buried under the stupa, and four more located on each side of the center spire. The center stupa is surrounded by a square of residential cells for the monks, 177 in total, covering a total area of 21 acres. Besides the central stupa, the site includes remnants of the washing area, the main gate, and a miniature model of the monastery.

Ben and Somapura Mahavira behind him as seen from the museum, We walked the site taking photos, and at one point got accompanied by a Department of Archaeology tour guide who followed us the entire time giving facts about the site. The place was pretty empty. We asked about that, and he said that the site is more visited during the winter, with about 1000 visitors a month during the winter, and only about 500 a month during the summer. Foreigners show up he said, about 30 a month during the winter, and only two to five a month during the summer. So we could’ve been the only foreigners to show up all month! At one point one of the sellers popped out of nowhere trying to sell us Cokes. I had to strongly insist we didn’t want any before he’d leave. He must’ve walked ½ a mile to try to sell those to us. (pics:Somapura Mahavira's central stupa, myself/Ben in front Somapura Mahavira's central stupa as seen from the wall of the monastery, the wall of the monastery with the residential cells for the monks)

We saved the central stupa for after we’d walked the entire monastery’s outer wall. We circumambulated the stupa on all three levels, looking at all the carvings and noticing the different views. On the top level, where the Buddha images would have been, there were stairs up to where there was an opening in the brick work. We were told to walk up and look in, and after climbing up there, I did get a bit nervous standing on the very thin ledge. (pics: myself sitting on the steps of Somapura Mahavira, Ben looking up at the top (and at a goat) from the bottommost level, Ben on the ledge looking into the opening which would've been above an image of Buddha, looking down on the thin ledge and Ben below)

Our tempo back to Jaipurhat was leaking fumes really bad, and I had to cover my nose with my shirt as a filter, it was real bad. In Jaipurhat the only buses still to leave for the day going back to Dhaka were night buses, and we really didn’t want to get into Dhaka at two or three in the morning. So we took a local bus back to Bogra, hoping we could catch a bus there, and cut some time off the bus back to Dhaka.

In Bogra we asked around and found a counter selling tickets to Dhaka. We bought one, even though the price seemed high. They gave us specific seats on the bus, and we waited for this bus which they said was coming from Naogaon and would arrive at 8:30. Well the bus which they said was coming never seemed to come. I never saw a bus of that name. Instead we watched as they yelled to every bus that passed asking if there were two seats on the bus. It seemed like we had just outsourced hitchhiking! I asked them if they were just trying to get us a seat on any bus, and they denied it vehemently. Finally a bus came they wanted us to get on, and we stepped into it and the conductor asked where we were going. We said Dhaka, and he said they weren’t going there. So it became pretty clear our ticket was just a worthless piece of paper we paid for to allow them to hail a bus for us. I asked again, and again they denied it. I started getting annoyed as we were now waiting 40 minutes, instead of the promised ten. I could’ve used that time to find a real bus, not a hitchhiking pass.

So it came to be that I had my first fight in Bengali tonight. After it became apparent that it was pretty much an outsourced hitchhiking, I got mad. I felt they lied to me saying I had specific seats on a specific bus, yet it was just an overpriced ticket for them to yell at each bus that passed. I would not have minded that, or been angry, if they’d just told me from the start that this is what they were doing. But they kept denying even when I called them out on it. I ended up fighting with one of the guys, and going on a long tirade about how we’d now be stuck arriving in Dhaka at 2 or 3 AM. How there is nothing we could do in Dhaka at that time, how would we get home, etc. I think I held up my end of my first fight in Bengali pretty well.

As fate would have it, just as the partner of the guy I was yelling at was about to give our money back, a bus came by that they flagged down which had space for Ben and I. So Ben and I got to go on with our outsourced hitchhiking ticket. They had plenty of seats. And no one ever came to us saying we were in their seats. The bus was off to Dhaka and we’d be arriving around 2 AM. Although technically I should be writing this in next week’s post, we did arrive safely the next day at 2:30 AM and got a CNG to take us back to my flat.


Kristina G. said...

wow... i cant believe you got in a fight... i think ben left that out of his blog posts. and, i love reading both of your accounts of the same events.

it must also be great for him to be traveling with you... how far would he be able to get with only english?

Kerstin said...

I agree with Kristina! WOW! I love all the pictures.