After much delay, finally I got around posting my experience in Bangladesh. This was my fourth international site visit and was once again a lovely experience, but I must say a very different experience from the other countries I have posted about. Despite having promised this blog more than 3 weeks ago, the reason I delayed this was that, as always, unexpectedly I got another opportunity to go back to the country and felt that maybe I should write only after this last visit was over. Just on a side note, I am writing this from the beautiful city of Lucknow, which will be one of my next posts.
But coming back to Bangladesh, I think the five things that define this country today are the rivers and wetlands, their cuisine, the hand-loom sector and brick kilns. Before I went to this country, one way people described this country was that Bangladesh was basically India from the 1990’s. While I agree to this sentiment in terms of the level of development, I really think a comparison with India is being highly unfair to this country, who is only 40 years old.
Being a coastal country this country is truly a land of rivers and wetlands, with a large number of rivers from India and China draining into the Bay of Bengal through Bangladesh. The visual of all these water bodies is a sight to behold in the monsoon months, where villages on villages get submerged on an annual basis.
The local population also being used to this phenomenon, is pretty used to moving to a different location every year and returning post monsoons to reap the benefits of a super fertile land. One of the biggest rivers in the country is what in India is known as the Brahmaputra and in Bangladesh is the Jamuna. I had the pleasure to take a boat ride in the river with a few fishermen, which definitely made it to the top of my favourite moments on the trip. There is something truly humbling of sitting in a wooden boat, few inches above the waters of one of the deepest, widest rivers in the world.
The presence of these numerous water bodies also results in the country’s cuisine being consisted mostly of fish. Now I am a non-vegetarian and love fish every now and then, but dear lord, fish in all three meals became a little too much for me. But I must say, very good fish, especially the Hilsa.
Apart from water, the other two most noticeable things about Bangladesh are its hand-loom industry and brick kilns. The rural areas in the country are known for their hand-loom industry, with practically every household being involved in the production of textiles in one form or another. While those who have a little capital, go in for electric machines, there are still a number of households who make hand-made sarees and dhotis. Next to agriculture, Hand loom is one of the most important source of income for the local community, and I must say that some of the sarees I saw being made were very pretty.
Another important source of income is the brick-kiln industry, with villages having as many as 20 brick kilns each. I was informed that one of the reasons for the popularity of setting up brick kilns is the continuous demand for the product, readily available raw materials in the country, low start-up capital requirement and most importantly lax environmental regulations, which allow this highly polluting industry to be set up by just about anyone.
What was most noticeable for me about this country was the greenery, the tall; fruit laden trees and tall soft grass, almost made me forget where I was. I must admit, initially when I saw the countryside, my first thoughts were cool, this is truly a beautiful place to live in. Alas, what I forgot was that appearances can be deceptive. Beneath the greenery and the supposed prosperity lie polluted rivers; with a rapidly declining fish population, households barely managing to make ends meet, malnourished children, poor sanitation and drainage facilities and subsequent health problems. So yes, in many ways Bangladesh is India from a few decades ago, and I just hope that they get their act together so that the coming generations of this beautiful country can truly enjoy the nature’s bounty given to them.