On the surface it might seem like there isn’t a lot to do in Bangladesh. Don’t be mistaken. Bangladesh is a country teeming with culture and opportunity for new experiences. There is no organised tourism industry for foreigners. You’ll have to get down with the locals and do it like they do. If you’re keen to think outside the box and view your trip to Bangladesh as an adventure I promise you’ll have an eye-opening and fun-filled trip. Here are eight ideas of things to do.
1. Seven Layer Tea
The seven layer tea was invented by Ramesh Ram Gour. The real seven layer tea made by Mr Gour himself can only be found at the Nilkantha Tea Cabin in Srimongal. Though there are imitation teas in the local area none beat the original. Made from black and green teas mixed with various spices this tea is one of a kind. It’s delicious!! At 75 taka this tea is the most expensive in Bangladesh by far. But it’s totally worth it.
2. Meet Mahmud
If you’re going to Bangladesh and haven’t yet come across Mr Mahmud then please let me introduce you! Mahmud is your answer to everything. He is a business man who is passionate about his country. He is especially enthusiastic about assisting those who travel to his home country. He isn’t after your money. He doesn’t charge a fee. He does everything he does out of the goodness of his heart and his passion for Bangladesh. Mahmud can help you organise bus, train or boat tickets (a must in Bangladesh as they are often sold out!). He can give sound advice on your itinerary. He can organise pick ups for you, accommodation and so much more. He is a frequent visitor to the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum (this is where I first met him). I was lucky enough to even stay at his house and go on a four day Sundurban boat cruise with Mahmud, his wife and son AND thirty of his Bangladeshi friends. A trip to Bangladesh is made so much easier with Mahmud. Utilise him! And if possible meet up with whilst you are in Dhaka. It’s a must do! http://www.mahmud.bigbig.com/
Update 2016: I have been advised of Mahmud passing away. This is a great loss to his family, friends and the Bangladesh community as a whole. I feel blessed to have met him.
3. Go cycling in Srimongal
The countryside surrounding Srimongal is some of the most tranquil in Bangladesh. Gone are the swarms of motorbikes, buses, cars, rickshaws that suffocate Dhaka. The roads up here in the north of Bangladesh are quiet with an occasional rickshaw or car passing by. The area is covered in tea plantations and cycling through these is beautiful. Passing through small villages the locals are excited to see you and will most likely invite you in for tea.
4. Have tea with a local
You won’t be able to avoid it. The Bangladeshis will be amazed to see you and inviting you into their house for tea will be the first thing out of their mouth. I encourage you to go for it! You will meet some amazing people. Bangaldesh tea is very sweet so if you don’t have a sweet tooth try and ask for no sugar or milk.
5. Befriend a westerner if you can find one
There isn’t many westerners in Bangladesh. In fact when you see a white person you’ll find your jaw dropping open as much as the locals. It doesn’t take long to get use to only seeing Bangladeshis. You’ll see a handful of foreigners and most likely all of them will be volunteers or expats. But if your lucky you might stumble across an intrepid traveller just like you. I met Mats. That’s him above. He is from Switzerland. We shared a seven layer tea together and the rest was history. We spent the rest of our time travelling with each other. In a country where everything is so foreign having another person to talk things over with is a blessing!
6. Visit the Shrine of Hazrat Shah Jalal (Dargah Gate)
This is a large complex that comprises a mosque and a tomb that is visited by pilgrims from all over the country. If you’re a woman don’t even try to attempt to climb the stairs leading to the mosque or tomb as you’ll be turned away. I know from experience, I hadn’t even gotten my shoes off before I was abruptly told, ‘No!’. There is however a separate prayer room for women. This is part of the parcel of travelling in Bangladesh. It’s a mans world and respecting the rules is strongly advised.
Everyone however can visit the shrines pond and legend tells us that the sacred golden catfish is the former black magician of Govinda of Gaur. The hordes of people that visit wash themselves in the ponds water. Many parts of the body are washed; feet, legs, arms, face including ears, up the nose and inside the mouth. Be aware though that there are many beggars that hang around and when they see you they won’t leave you alone. In fact, if you stand still for just a moment you will end up with a crowd of people around you taking photos of you on their mobile phones. Once again…I’m speaking from experience.
7. Take a rickshaw over Kean Bridge in Sylhet
Rickshaw is the most common way of getting around the city of Sylhet. Taking one over the Kean Bridge is a fantastic experience. The bridge has a steep incline which means that the rickshaw wallahs need some assistance in getting themselves over. Groups of young men stand around to offer their helping hands by pushing the rickshaw up and over the bridge. They get paid a few taka for their efforts. Even just walking over the bridge is worth it. It’s crowded and full of life. Fantastic.
8. Eat cucumber
There isn’t a lot of choice in food when you travel through Bangladesh. One thing you will notice very quickly is lots of men (young and old) walking around with big round bowls of green things for sale. They are cucumbers and are one of the Bangladeshis favourite snack foods. The cucumber comes comes with some salt and pepper as seasoning. Try it.