Follow me.... a VSO volunteer in Dhaka.

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Sunday, 10 June 2012

Land of the Flying Dragon

She's always on holiday, I hear you say. Yes, actually, as my time here whizzes by I'm getting in as much tourism in as possible.

So I just got  back from Bhutan. What a magical place. First off the journey. The landing was spectacular, giving the passengers views from  both sides of the aircraft as it angled its way passed the mountains and into land. Known as one of the most dangerous aircraft landing spots on the world, currently there are only eight pilots licensed to fly the route.

Anything I'm going to say about the holiday will sound like a travel book overdoing the praise. Take it as read that I loved it. They call it the last Shrangri-La. It is. It's heaven.

Maybe it's the mix of a small land of 70% forest lots of it unexplored, the low Himalayas,  people who mainly wear national dress which includes skirts and long socks for the men, the curious religion that is Bhutanese Buddhism, prayer flags everywhere,the shy, friendly people, the red-robed monks, the 32-year-old King and beautiful new Queen, the official National Happiness Index by which the country's success is measured. Whatever it is, it works.

I read an article which said that - in Bhutan the first couple of days are spent 'noticing' and the rest of the time is spent 'becoming aware'. It's true. There's something about it. Whatever I come to Bangladesh to find, I have been too busy to look for. But it came to find me in Bhutan. On the mountain-top sky burial site surrounded by the Himalayas I said goodbye to Donald; in a 1,000 year old temple I found purpose;  in the dense virgin forest walking three hours to find a hidden nunnery where girls as young as nine and women as old as 82 live happy lives, I found clarity and focus. 

So, expect a new me when I get back to the UK in ten days time, and France in three weeks.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

At last, a reason to recommend a visit to the Desh....

.......  I've been struggling to find tourist-friendly things to say about this country. It's too hot, too humid, too poor, too difficult to travel around, too 'basic' in its amenities, food too same-y - all too, too, tooooooo.

But, at last, I can say it. Come to Sylhet and Srimangal in Bangladesh! You'll love it. The land of the tea gardens, pink lotus lakes, pineapple fields and rainforest. Gibbons, langurs, makaks playing in the trees above our heads, butterflies and birds galore. Indigenous communities hidden in the forests. Enormous trees, brilliant flowers and NO TOURISTS. Our guest house was perfect. Our eco-guide was wonderful. The air was fresh, the food was delicious, fresh pineapple juice to die for. Fireflies dancing in the forest opposite the balcony where we had our dinner. 

Just what I needed, to get out of the city and breath some proper green country air. Cox's Bazar didn't do it as it was too hot and humid. But this was a weekend to remember. 

So here are some photos and a few words.
Tea garden
Buy Fair Trade tea. These tea pickers are paid the the measly sum of 48 Thaka (less than 3 pence) per day. At 2 Thaka per kg, and having to pick about 24 kg per day, this is slave labour. Okay, their accommodation is free, but it's basic to say the least and the pathetic daily pay means they have no hope at all of lifting their eyes from the tea bushes to think about what choices, if any, they have.

After our walk to the lotus lake we drank wonderful tea from dirty china cups and bought delicious tea flower honey to take back to Dhaka.


In the rainforest. It rained. The intrepid explorers got soaked. Note the trousers tucked into socks - tres chic - to stop the leeches. Yes, millions.

Whatever it is, it's beautiful. And it smelt delightful.

Rather blurred, but this is a flying flower. Move near it and it leaps out of the way. Bizarre.

In our CNG, I'm about to drive off into the sunset, probably to look for a beer. But that would have been to miss out on the next day - a boat trip in the wetlands.

Our taxi arrives....

Our boat took us through miles of lotus fields. So quiet, so beautiful.

And finally - our room with balcony and night-time show of fireflies. Why did no-one tell me how spectacular they are.