About five hours away from Dhaka we went early Friday morning to Srimongol, a small city in Sylhet, famous for their lush tea gardens, rainforest, tribal communities and in my opinion, a very unique dialect that I can’t seem to comprehend. More importantly, it was a chance to get out of the chaos that is Dhaka to a place far and wide, literally. We arrived in the afternoon after a slight detour and next thing I know I am inside a cute little cottage up a small hill, simply furnished with a netted patio that I loved the most but stayed away from because of mosquitoes. Similar cottages sprung up all over the small hills, part of the Bangladesh Tea Resort which also included a tea museum.
On our first day, we visited a tribal village where I got to experience a Bangladeshi tribe for the first time. The village was set upon another hilly area, within a forest where you saw the typical man made homes, goats, and “village people” with their children and equipment. There were also signs of BRAC, and various British NGOs and their banners hanging about various projects. It almost felt like a planned village where they were used to foreigners coming and looking around and making their observations. So then, is this really a representation of a true village? Are the handlooms and nicely placed huts all a show for what tourists want to see rather than how they live? Maybe these are unfair assumptions but I just felt as though I was in an environment that was not true to itself.
That night, we also randomly stopped at a Kali (or Shema) puja celebration on the main road. Upon a well lit venue sat musicians playing and children singing beside the Kali puja statues, as others passed by to pray upon it. When we stood at the entrance to watch, half the eyes in the crowd turned to us rather than the stage, as I guess we do kind of make a scene with our very foreign attitudes and looks. The music was lovely, especially how the very young children at past ten at night were singing well rehearsed pieces, all decked out in their child makeup and sparkly clothing. I enjoyed it a lot even though we were only there for a bit, because we stumbled upon an aspect of the city rather than having a planned visit.
Hiking in the Rainforest…Never doing it again.
So the one thing that I feared in the entire trip was leechis or Jog as they are called in Bangla. It was the one reason why I did not want to go hiking at 6 am at the Lalwarcha Rainforest. But of course I get tempted to go because I have this thing about not having regrets and trying everything even if only once. And I was urged to go sd the weather was more dry these days. So I went, waking up at 6 am and driving 15 minutes away to the rainforest where we were guided on a one hour trail.
The entire hike was not exactly enjoyable for me because I worried about leechis the entire time. Also, it was definitely not dry- I suppose I should have recalled my years of learning geography. After all, it is called a RAIN forest. It was wet, and narrow, and spider webs sprung their beautiful webs everywhere, though the spiders themselves were not that pretty. We were ducking and twisting to avoid the sudden webs and throne-filled tree branches, fallen trunks of trees, and wide, wet leaves. We went up and down and across steams in broken wooden bridges. I wish I had more courage to look around me and enjoy the scene but my fear prevented that. I made the person following me to see if anything got stuck on my body and luckily Matt who was in front of me had great reactions to spider webs (with his over six feet frame) so I selfishly used that to avoid them myself.
At the end of the trail I was congratulated as I made the most fuss about Jogs. And just when I wanted to celebrate I look down and there it is, on my right ankle something unfamiliar. I did not even look at it closely and just started screaming as Matt came closer to have a look and Laule’a reached and pulled the tiny Jog off my ankle. Even as I write this I can feel my body shivering because the fright of the Jog was too much. My screams turned into tears and there I am crying as my ankle is treated with savlon and band aids. Matt later told me that a truck full of laborers stopped on the road to watch me because I made such a fuss. Our guide, a tribal woman could not understand why I was reacting so violently. I could not believe that the one thing I wanted to avoid this entire weekend happened to me.
Thus I have concluded that I am not going to be hiking in a rainforest ever again. I love nature, and having grown up in Arizona, by no means am I a completely urban being. But that hour or two, I would have preferred to be in smog filled Dhaka traffic.
The Famous 7 Layer Tea
We stopped at the famous Nilakhando Cha Cabin to try the seven layer tea. It was a pretty site, though the taste is questionable. It was good, but not one I would want to drink obsessively, like for breakfast everyday. I think I enjoyed the site more than the taste. It was a lot like Thai Iced tea (which I do love and would have at any point), but the layers were distinct from one another so it was an experience of several moments combined. You have the layer that tastes like diluted tea, the layer that is strong, another that tastes like lime and then finally the honey and sugar. It takes some time to make and costs eighty taka which is pretty expensive for Bangladesh. I in fact liked the special cha better, with its milk and tea brewed together and topped with cinnamon.
We did go back to this place the next day, on our way back to Dhaka to have the tea one more time. I think something like this would be very popular abroad (Starbucks?) but I like that it can only be found here, and the recipe has never been given away. Makes the whole experience a bit more authentic…