Wari-Bateshwar – finding traces of a 2500 year old civilisation

Waking up at the last day of the Bengali New Year was a tedious task, but  thank lord it’s Friday. The curse of an off-day persists as well, as boredom caught on to me pretty fast. After freshening up, an old letter hiding away in front of my computer caught my attention. After picking it up and checking out the content of the letter, I found some beautiful pictures of Wari-Bateshwar. I collected these pictures a few years back, and forgot about them. I made my mind up to visit the place as I shuffled through the pictures. And so, I readied up and left for Narshingdi.

Blessings of Friday also meant wide-open roads free of traffic. I climbed onto a bus going from Mohammadpur to Abdullahpur to reach Bisshoroad, and as soon as I reached the place I got on a BRTC bus going towards Bhulta, Naranganj. After a brief wait, the bus went through 300 Feet and Kanchan bridge and reached Bhulta bus stand within an hour and half. From here, I hopped onto a local bus going towards Pachdona bus stand, which took another hour to reach. And finally, I hitched another bus towards Marjal which reached the Marjal Bazaar in 40 minutes.

From there, I got onto a “Easy Bike” (a battery operated vehicle) and told it to go to Wari. On asphalt surrounded by nature, the Easy Bike soared through the lazy noon as my eyes feasted on the beauty of nature. The driver of the Easy Bike provided quite some historical information behind the history and heritage of Wari-Bateshwar village and gave me some ideas about Sir Habibullah Pathan.

Having quite little time on my hand, I decided to finish my exploration by daylight; so I decided to visit the Wari-Bateshwar Open Museum. This is the first open museum in Bangladesh, and here lies evidences of 2,500 year old civilization based near the old Brahmaputra river. The excavation of this place started around 2000, and around 50 archaeological sites have been uncovered til now. From these sites, printed silver coins, glass and terracotta pottery, metallic objects, and several Buddhist temples have been uncovered.

I took some time and explored this museum built on a massive land. A lot of pictures from the excavation can be found here. I must say, the museum being based under the open sky is quite educational. In this museum one can find a 2500 year old dummy of the map, banners describing various facts. A documentary based on Wari-Bateshwar is also available in here.

After exploring the museum, I started for the residence of Habibullah Pathan. His house holds some of the archaeological vestiges from the sites. It takes around 10 minutes to travel to the residence from the museum. I met with Sir Pathan as soon as I reached the place, as cupboards held various historically significant artifacts excavated from the sites.

This man is the reason why the Wari-Bateshwar region is quite known as an archaeological site. Back in 1933, local school teacher Hanif Pathan wrote to the Weekly Mohammadi newspaper on this forgotten region, and his son, Sir Habibullah Pathan decided to write on this place understanding it’s importance. Hearing his calls, on 1989, Dilip Kumar Chakrabarti from the Cambridge University’s Archaeology department arrived to Wari-Bateshwar and predicted it’s 2,500 year old history. I had quite a nice conversation with Mr. Pathan, and brought a book on the history of Wari-Bateshwar along with me.

As I was returning home, some rural festivals celebrating Chaitra Shangkranti caught my attention. I got into one of them and checked out the offerings from the stalls which are mostly related to the last day of Bengali year. Rural sweets and mouth-watering food was also being served.

The sun was nodding to the west, and daylight slowly started fading away. Sitting in a nearby paddy field, I enjoyed the the last sunset of the Bengali year. With hopes of seeing a brand new sun rise in the next year, I headed home.

Getaway of the week #6: Munshiganj

Munshiganj, also known as Bikrampur is located about 33 kms away from Dhaka city. An ideal location for a day’s visit, Munshiganj is a little bit underrated as a travel destination and the lack of selfie savvy tourists is perhaps on of the best things about travelling to Munshiganj.

To get to Munshiganj, get on a bus from Gulistan. There’s a BRTC run bus and a few private run buses that’ll take you to Munshiganj in 1.5 to 2 hours. The tickets cost around 60-70 taka. Try to leave very early in the morning and get down at Sreenagar. Take an autorickshaw to Gadhighat to visit Arial Beel and hire a boat for an hour or two. The boats should cost no more than 500/600 taka.

The Arial Beel is a massive waterbody between the Ganges and Plain. This depression remains submerged in water during the wet seasons, thanks to accumulated rain water and green farmland reveals itself in winter when the water dries up. During the rainy seasons, the Arial Beel offers a beautiful view of endless watery horizon along with a garden of pink water lilies grown in the water. Life is simple and peaceful there. Watch the local villagers catch fish and harvest water lilies. Spend your time in silence and bliss.

Check out Shyamshiddhi Math on your way back. The massive tower was constructed by a rich merchant of Bikrampur in 1836 AD, over the pyre of his father. The tower stands tall as the highest in the sub-continent, taller than Delhi’s Kutub Minar. The tower has compartments on it’s sides where birds have made their nests. It’s a site worth checking out. Ask your boatman for directions.

Head over to Munshiganj sadar, the central district and take a rickshaw to Idrakpur kella or Idrakpur fort. Idrakpur fort is a Mughal era fort built in 1660 AD by Mir Jumla II and is one of the most historically important constructions ever constructed by the Mughals. The fort acted as one of the three triangular naval defence points protecting the capital of Dhaka from Portugese and Mogh Pirates. Admission to the fort is free.

For the last destination of the day, take an autorickshaw and visit Panditer Bhita, the birthplace of the famous Buddhist scholar, Atish Dipankar. This is where Atish Dipankar was born and grew up. This is also where he first started is learning on Buddhist teachings.

If you have time, you can also visit the Padma resort and Mawa ghat. However, if you do not have time, you’re not missing out on anything. And of course, you can always come back. Get a rickshaw and go to Munshiganj Sadar again to get on a bus to Dhaka.

Munshiganj is a beautiful destination carved by nature and adorned by history. If not anything, the random walks down the streets of Bikrampur and the taste of daal in that local eatery will be a break from your daily life. As Anthony Bourdain used to say “If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”

Traveller’s notebook: in the Land of the Blue Dragon, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam is not the first destination that comes to an average Bangladeshi traveller’s mind when thinking of getting out on exploring a new place. But it’s a country boasting a proud South East Asian culture that has a rich colonial history and filled with warm, welcoming people, mouth-watering local delicacies and a crazy coffee culture. Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon is also the key city that played a pivotal role in the US led Vietnam war during the 70s. But the best part? Ho Chi Minh city is crazy cheap. With a budget of BDT 5000 to BDT 6000, you can fully experience everything Saigon has to offer you in just 2/3 days. And that includes the cost of your accommodation, food and travel (Unless you plan to stay in 5-star hotels). The airplane fare is the hefty part since Bangladesh doesn’t have a connecting flight to Vietnam. The cheapest one would be Scoot air that’ll cost around BDT25,000 if you can book early, with one stop in Kuala Lumpur. Nonetheless, you can travel an entirely new country and experience a beautiful new culture within just BDT 30,000 and that’s something.

Getting to Vietnam

As mentioned already, the airplane fare is a bit tough on the wallet and the journey could take roughly 6/7 hours with stopovers. But Bangladeshis don’t need a prior visa to visit Vietnam, so just book your ticket, pack your belongings and you’re good to go. After you get down in Tan Son Nhat International Airport, get your on-arrival visa and complete immigration. Keep a few passports sized official pictures with you in case required for the visa. After you’re done with immigration, head over to the exit and you’ll find stalls selling traveller sim cards. Get one for yourself and activate a data plan. You’ll need to use the internet a lot. It’ll cost around 100,000 to 250,000 VND. It’s best to mention here that in Vietnam, everyone is a millionaire and handling your massive piles of cash can be quite a task for first timers. But you’ll get used to it. And in Vietnam, you definitely need to be cash-savvy.

After you get your sim and activate your data plan, head over to the bus stop located right outside the exit gate. Bus 109, the yellow colour marked bus will take you right to District 1, the most happening area of the city and also where you will find plenty of cheap to mid-range hotels. The bus will cost you around 20,000 VND.

Staying in Ho Chi Minh City

District 1 is filled with hotels and hostels of all sorts. It is also known the as the Backpacker street as the area is popular with backpacker tourists, tightly packed with hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs. Although one can easily get a room in any of the hotels, all of them equally decent, it is best if you pre-book it before your journey to get the best deals. You can get bunk beds in the hostels if you’re looking for the cheapest stay just to sleep for the night, or you can head over to the countless mid-range hotels just a minute of walk away from one another. Bich Duyen Hotel is recommended for a comfortable stay at an affordable price. The rooms are small but cosy with amenities one can only dream of in a mid-tier hotel somewhere else. The front desk receptionist is a lovely guy who’ll fire up a conversation with a smile. He’ll even make you a nice breakfast at the small kitchen at the back, if you ask for it. Free of charge for one meal.

Getting around

Ho Chi Minh isn’t that big of a city and it is best to walk around to really absorb the culture. However, it is a packed city with hundreds and thousands of people commuting by motorbikes on the roads. Fitting for its title of Motorbike Capital of the World. You think Dhaka has the worst jaywalking scenario? Think again. Crossing the road here can be an art. You can find bikes for hire almost at every corner of the city. They’ll keep calling you. But it’s best to use a ride sharing app to save the hassle of bargaining. Download Grab on your phone and use Grab MOTO to commute around points of interest. You can also rent a bike yourself and ride it around if you have a valid license. Watch out for the rental sign boards. You can use the bus 52, the green colour marked bus to commute inside the city. But beware of the tight traffic. Vietnam has Right Hand Traffic. Don’t get confused.

Ho Chi Minh has its own version of the Rickshaw. It looks more like a cradle than a rickshaw, but they are a dying form of transport in the city and will ask a lot for a ride, if you find one. Nonetheless, they can be a nice experience if you’re willing to pay for it.

Places to see, things to do

The streets of Saigon are a bold mixture of the old and the new. One cannot but notice the stark contrast between the small street vendors selling local authenticity in the old ways and the burgeoning Saigon skyline just on the other side housing malls, 5-star hotels and corporate offices. Saigon has a lot to offer. From to narrow alleys of the local neighborhood to wide and polished avenues with lush green gardens and colonial structures between them.

Saigon is the French Riviera of Southeast Asia. Old colonial structures pop up everywhere in this cacophonous city. The city hall built in 1902 is a remarkable structure, a reminder of the French Colonial history of this region. Although it isn’t open to the public, the structure has been preserved and is one of the most well-known tourist attractions in Saigon.

There is of course the Notre Dame Basilica. Built in 1863, the Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most sophisticated French structures in Saigon. One of the many fine architectures built by the French in Vietnam, the Notre Dame is a worthy counterpart of its namesake in Paris in terms of Grandeur.

Right beside this, is the Saigon Central Post Office. This magnificent building has yet again a French architecture and is always buzzing with post office employees and tourists alike.

There is the historic Ben Thanh market which is basically the New Market of Vietnam. Visit Ben Thanh for a shopping spree of the traditional Vietnamese goods. Haggling here is an art form, but visiting from Bangladesh, you shouldn’t be a stranger to it.

Saigon has countless old pagodas. Visit one to experience a unique South East Asian Buddhist culture. The pristine environment will certainly take your breath away and is surely a spiritual experience for some.

Take a walk along the Dong Khoi street to experience what life was like in the old war era Vietnam or head over to the Thu Thiem Bridge during dusk to see the magnificent Saigon Skyline in sunset.

Visit the war remnants museum and see the exhibitions solely dedicated to the infamous Vietnam war. The atrocities caused by the US Army, the horrors of chemical warfare and how the Vietnamese people fought back under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh.

At night, the area where you’d most likely be staying comes out alive. Just around the corner of District one is the famous Bui Vien Walking street. Just as the clock strikes midnight, the cafes, bars and clubs of this street spring open and you will see both locals and tourists sit on the side of the road on small plastic tools, enjoying music, mingling and having local beers. The entire street remains open the entire night and keeps buzzing with loud music and people everywhere. Take a walk down this street to experience a nightlife like nowhere else in the world.

If you have time, head outside the city to explore the Vietnamese countryside away from the bustling city. The Vietnamese countryside is adorned with lush green rice fields and rivers and small hills in between them. Head over to the Mekong delta to see what it is like to live in a Vietnamese village. See the Cia Rang floating market, and entire market place in boats on the river Saigon. Visit Chu Chi Tunnels, a massive network of underground tunnels used by the Vietnamese guerillas during the time of war. The tunnels are extremely narrow so be advised if you have claustrophobia.

Most important of all, take random aimless walks down the streets of Saigon, visit local shops, local eateries, talk to local people and absorb the culture. That is the best part of exploring Saigon. People in Saigon are very friendly and often curious. You will often find random locals asking you where you’re from, engage with you in a friendly chat and invite you over to Saigon again in the future.

The weather in Saigon is extremely humid. Wear light clothes and always keep a bottle of water with you.

Bon Appetit!

Saigon is an eater’s heaven. Mouth watering local delicacies are found in countless street stalls on almost every street corner. Try Banh Mi, the Vietnamese style ham sandwich or a bowl of delicious and warm Pho noodles on any of the local street stalls. Street food vendors are here like vampires. They come out at night. You will find so many individual and groups of stalls scattered around the city. Locals love sitting on the sidewalks and enjoying a hot bowl of Pho or a dish of rice after a day’s hard work. Check out Co Bac and Co Giang, two of the most famous street food alleyways. Most of the dishes here will cost you around a 15,000 to 20,000 VND.

Vietnamese are crazy about their coffee. It makes sense since Vietnam is the second largest coffee exporter in the world. You’ll find Ca Phe Sua Da, the Vietnamese cold coffee almost on every street. The Highlands Coffee, the Vietnamese version of Starbucks is everywhere and they sell the special French pressed Vietnamese coffee. Almost all the variations of coffee can be found in Vietnam, starting from Coconut coffee to cheese coffee and everything in between. They even have coffee flavoured Coca-Cola.

Of course, there are international food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King as well, along with numerous mid to high end cafes and restaurant selling local delicacies in traditional environments. Eat to your heart’s content and don’t forget to leave a tip.

Goodbye Saigon

To get back to the airport you can either get a grab or take the bus. But taking a grab is recommended because you’re more likely to get a cheaper rate thanks to Promo codes and you really get to see most of Saigon on your way back to the airport travelling on the back of a scooter. Leave well ahead of time, keeping in mind the traffic.

Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon is a city that can be explored in just two days. But the same cannot be said for Vietnam as a country. There are hundreds of places and experiences waiting for you. From Hanoi to Ha Long Bay and more. Saigon will surely leave you hungry for more of Vietnam and its never too late to start planning another trip to the land of the blue dragon.

Moving out of your parents’ house in Dhaka – worth the challenge?

Cover illustration: Fahim Anzoom Rumman (botagainsthumanity)

The culture and societal structure of a south east Asian country is vastly different from almost anywhere else in the world. Bangladesh’s society, as much as it has been westernized in the past few decades, still wants to control its children up until the ripe old age of thirty or so. This creates a kind of dissonance with people who, like me, have primarily consumed Western pop-culture and have a sense of individualism not comparable to older generations.

I like to pride myself as one of the more self-dependent guys around. By 2016, I had gotten tired of being under the thumb of my parents and my older brother, who at this point was the primary economic force of the family. By this point I was also suffering from a bout of depression, and one of the reasons for it was I didn’t really share a familial bond with my family any more. I would frequently find myself locked in the tiny hole in the wall that was supposed to be my room, and not talking to anyone in the family.

This would take a toll on my mental health as 2016 is the year I still think of as the worst of my life. By the end of the year, I was fed up with the lack of freedom I had. I’m not badmouthing my family because I know they did what they thought was right and did nothing worse than your average Bangladeshi parent. With that being said, however, I realized that I needed a similar level of independence that American or Canadian children enjoy after they turn 18. This is why, at the age of 24 in 2017, I decided to move out. I wanted a life of my own, one where I might have to work like a Russian serf during the reign of Ivan the terrible, but at least I’d be free.

And boy was moving out hard. I moved out with no more than one luggage and my PC, and I was still exhausted. The most difficult parts were making sure none of the luggage goes missing. However, that was only day one of the rest of my life. Many hardships would follow. Below I will be listing them in a fashion that makes it easy for the average reader to skim through.

  • The toughest thing about living on your own is cleaning. Unless you’re really into cleaning stuff, it will be the biggest pain in your new life. After all, I’d wager not many like to come back home, after a whole day of toiling at the university and the office, to get to fixing up the house. It certainly was the case for me, as my friends started to call my sweet pad a junkyard. Admittedly, it had more junk than most garbage trucks.
  • Another massive issue you’ll face after moving out is chores like cooking or laundry. At the end of the day, if you’re a Bangladeshi kid of twenty something years that comes from a relatively well-off family, you will probably know nothing about doing chores. However, if you move out of your parents’ home, you will need to learn these life skills as quickly as possible. The bills can also stack up so you have to be careful to not overspend- or else you may not have a roof to sleep under the following month.
  • There is also a bit of a societal problem. Neighbors will gossip about you, the caretaker of the building you live in will spread rumors and many may give you a cold stare. This is usually because these people didn’t get to do what you did when they were your age. Not to mention that many people simply have nothing else to do. Not many in this country can accept the fact that being independent enough to move out is a good thing and not a reason to be suspicious. Best way to deal with this is to ignore it altogether.

  • The most obvious challenges are the bills that you will have to pay at the end of each month. If you’re thinking about moving out because you’ve been inspired by my article, then bless you for letting me influence your decisions. However, it will take a surprising amount of money to make it on your own. You’ll be looking to take an apartment in places where rent is cheap. My first apartment was in Rayerbazar, and it cost 8500 TK to live there, bills not included. If you’re anything like me, the electric bills will consist of a PC, a fridge and a couple of fans and lights, which brings the electric bills to around 500 TK only. A good broadband connection might set you back and depending on the area of Dhaka you have chosen, internet bills may reach up to a cool couple of grand. Along with food and other miscellaneous costs, you’ll roughly need a monthly income of at least 20,000 to be able to live fairly comfortably. If you can’t be bothered to do your own chores, then that minimum goes up by a couple of grand. An overall monthly wage above 25,000 TK will let you live quite comfortably.
  • Don’t fret if you don’t have that kind of money. There is always the option of sharing an apartment with your buddies. This brings down your costs severely. Personally, it is not for me. As I’ve already stated before, I’m quite independent minded and I would like to retain the privacy I have.

Although there are many challenges to moving out, the feeling of freedom that you have once you do it makes everything worth it. Well, it does for me at least. You may prefer a more comfortable life and being able to order maids around, but that’s not the life for me. I’ve always been an odd one out, and I have rarely seen anyone who has my kind of sense of individualism, but if you happen to like being free regardless of how much hard work you have to put in, moving out and getting your own apartment might be the thing for you.

Getaway of the week #3 – Cumilla

Cumilla is a famous and historical town with a bagful of surprises. With a rich history spanning from ancient Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms to the British Era, World War 2 and home to the famous Rosh-malai, Cumilla is one of the most underrated tourist destinations in Bangladesh.

Located 100 km away from Dhaka, you can get to Cumilla in about 3 hours by bus. Comfortable AC buses operated by BRTC leave from Kamalapur from 7AM onward. The ticket costs TK 150. The cost is cheaper if you choose non-AC buses.

After getting off the bus, have breakfast in any of the local restaurants. There are a lot of local and highway restaurants around the bus drop off point.

From there you can take a rickshaw to the War Cemetery. Costs TK 30. The War Cemetery is a peaceful place that houses the deceased allied and a few axis Japanese soldiers who died during World War 2. The cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth Society and is a calm and quiet place to spend some time and contemplate the fate of the fallen soldiers.

You can take an auto rickshaw to the ruins of the palace of Queen Maynamati, and explore the rich history once this region held. You can walk around and discover hidden paths that goes up the hill and leads to a temple, or another path that leads into a jungle. There’s all kinds of hidden gems to discover there.

From there, you can take a CNG to the Shalban Vihara, the ruins of an ancient Buddhist Monastery. There’s a new massive Buddhist temple there as well, built quite recently. Pay a visit there to experience a different culture. Explore the deep Shalban forest. Visit the Maynamati museum to learn about Cumilla’s history.

Visit the Jagannath Temple by an auto rickshaw. The Jagannath Temple is also called the seventeen jewel temple from the seventeen jewels it once crowned, but are currently damaged.

Besides the magnificent histories of ancient kings and Buddhist monasteries, Cumilla is also steeped in colonial history. Cumilla Victoria Government College in the city was named in memory of Queen Victoria. On the darker side of colonial history, communal tension spread over Cumilla when a Muslim was shot in the town during the partition of Bengal in 1905. In 1931, approximately 4000 peasants in Mohini village revolted against a land revenue tax. The British Gurkha soldiers fired indiscriminately on the crowd, killing four people. In a major peasant gathering, the police fired at Hasnabad of Laksam in 1932. Two people were killed and many were wounded.

You’ll find bits and pieces of the colonial era lying almost everywhere in Cumilla. After you’re done with all of that, visit Monohorpur to taste the Rosh Malai from the famous Matribhandar. Take a rickshaw and visit Rani Kuthir and Dharmasagar Lake.

It’ll almost be evening by the time you’re done exploring Cumilla. Go to the bus stop and catch a bus to Dhaka to get back in the city by 9.

Day tour from Dhaka: Chandpur

It feels nice to get away from the city once in a while. It feels nice to go somewhere, away from all the hustle, dust, crowd and everything else. What we lack is not the enthusiasm or the drive to travel, but time and money. And places near Dhaka which can be covered in a day are a blessing when it comes to getting away for a short time with a limited budget. Here’s the getaway of the week: Chandpur. The place you never knew you wanted to visit.

About a hundred kilometers away from Dhaka, Chandpur is a quiet and calm city situated on the banks of Padma and Meghna. Interestingly, Chandpur is the point where the rivers Padma and Meghna meet and the spectacular view of the two rivers makes Chandpur a coveted yet somewhat undiscovered tourist destination.

Getting to Chandpur

Chandpur is the only district in Bangladesh that is accessible by three transportation modes – bus, ferry and train. The best way to reach Chandpur is by ferry. The journey takes around three and a half hours and the view from the river is stunning. It’s better to start very early in the morning from Sadarghat ferry terminal. The first ferry leaves at 6.30 in the morning and there’s a boat every half an hour after that. You get to see the Dhaka morning on the river Buriganga as a bonus. Ferries usually cost a 100 taka for deck and 250 Taka for seats. If you want to have the full experience, go for the deck since you get a spot at the roof of the launch. The wind and the open view makes up for the lack of cushioned seats. And yes, it’s perfectly safe. The launch journey is one of the best parts of the entire Chandpur trip.

Things to do

After reaching Chandpur, you can have lunch at any local restaurant. Do try Hilsa – Chandpur is famous for the abundance of our national fish. Try the famous sweet shop “One Minute” in the Kalimandir area.  Roam around the city if you want. Every place has something new to see, something different. Here’s a secret – take a rickshaw to the city stadium and keep walking to its left. You’ll come upon a railway track. Follow the railway track to the left and keep walking. It’ll lead to an unexpected pristine getaway within the somewhat dull city. Tall green trees and village houses, the rail track crossing through this tiny forestry. There’s a small pond there by the houses. If you’ve always wanted to visit the famous rail tracks in Lawachara (Sreemangal) but never really got the time, this one is a nice little substitute.

Boro Station Mohona, Chandpur

Take an auto rickshaw to Matlab. The journey takes about 30 minutes and auto rickshaws cost 50 Taka per person. The road to Matlab is a beautiful one. Canals and green paddy fields on both sides, tall trees bending over to the road, small village bazaars and a unique technique of fishing in these canals will leave you awestruck. Matlab has a marketplace where you’ll find a famous “kheer”. Don’t leave Matlab without trying it.

Getting back

Get back to the Chandpur city before sunset and take a rickshaw to Boro Station Mohona. This is the point where Meghna and Padma meets. You can find boats there that’ll take you for a ride on the river for an hour or two for 200 Taka or so and let you enjoy the sunset in peace, floating on the waters of Padma. The time spent there are times to be remembered.  The boats can drop you off at the launch terminal and from there catch a ride to Dhaka to get back before 9PM.  Let the cold breeze and a sky full of stars accompany you on your journey on the dark waters and keep Chandpur your to-go destination for a short getaway.

Traveller’s notebook: Kuala Lumpur

Have you ever had the urge to wake up in the morning and discover yourself in a different bed, in a different room, in another city? To go up to the window, look down at a busy street bustling with all kinds of people who speak different languages, in a country that’s not yours? A day that’s not your routine, an urge to explore this difference? That’s wanderlust.

We’re a generation of wanderers and we have long been a species of wanderers. What ties us to our 9-5 routine is not natural. We want to explore, even if we don’t realise it, each one of us, to our very core, are explorers.

And if you want to fire up your drive for exploration and your hunger to experience diversity, there is no better place to start your journey other than a short trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Prologue

Malaysia, being one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Asia, sees a massive number of tourists every year. This mixture of tourists from different parts of the world only adds to the cultural diversity of Malaysia and is itself a bonus point for the tourists in this tropical island of Malay.

Getting a Malaysian visa is easy. Apply through an agency or go for the e-Visa. You’ll get your visa within seven days. A number of flights operate daily from Dhaka to Kuala Lumpur, the cheapest being Malindo. Malindo is recommended if you’re either travelling on a budget or if you’re reluctant to spend a fortune on a flight that lasts a mere 4 hours . The in-flight entertainment and the meal makes up for the small leg room.

Welcome to Kuala Lumpur

Upon arrival, make sure you get yourself a sim card and enable internet services. Sim card booths will be right outside the arrival lounge with big banners and are hard to miss. Complete immigration, collect your luggage and head to the exit. It’s best to get a Grab, Southeast Asia’s equivalent (superior, perhaps) to Uber, with your newly activated sim card. Grabs usually take about 60-70 RM depending on where you’ll be staying in the city. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the city from the airport so grab some snacks from Starbucks or a 7/11 if you’re hungry.

Staying in Kuala Lumpur

It’s best to book a hotel according to your preferences beforehand. If you’re planning to experience the night and be in the centre of all the buzz of Kuala Lumpur, get a hotel in Bukit Bintang. The Goldmark hotel is a nice stay if you’re travelling on a budget. A bit hard to spot, this hotel is not so much from the outside but it offers a good service at a cheaper rate and you cannot complain about the amenities. The plus side is that The Goldmark is right in the centre of Bukit Bintang and Bukit Bintang is alive the entire night.

However, if you prefer quieter nights and a surprise in the daytime, you’re in for a treat at Hotel Chinatown Inn. Hotel Chinatown Inn has a nice ambiance, cheaper than others and the front desk staff are really friendly. Also, they have books for you to read in the lounge, left by the guests. Located inside Chinatown Square, or Jalan Petaling, if you arrive at night, you’ll enter the hotel crossing a rather empty looking street. But when you get out in the morning, you’ll discover yourself in a street that you can’t recognise, buzzing with street shops and people of different ethnicity, loud noises and smell of Chinese street food. That’s the specialty of Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur. It has two different experiences on two different times of the day. So, recommended hotels, The Goldmark or Chinatown Inn. Take your pick.

Getting around

Getting around in Kuala Lumpur is perhaps the easiest of all the other megacities in Asia, thanks to the free bus service GOKL. Download a GOKL map for free on your phone and hop on the free bus service and it’ll take you wherever you want to go within the city limits. Also, there are the MRTs and Grabs. Uber is available as well. Best not to take a taxi for getting around within the city limits as they tend to be rather expensive. Walk through short distances, it’ll help you absorb more of the city and you get to discover new things. You’ll be surprised to find roadside bands singing “O Bondhu Lal Golapi” with people dancing around while you cross a busy street (this actually happened). Walking is the best way to explore a new city to be honest.

Eating in the city

Kuala Lumpur is a food haven. You’ll find pop up food stalls selling sausage rolls or other local delicacies almost on every other street corners. They have a dedicated food street in Bukit Bintang area, Jalan Alor. The food stalls are lined after one another serving all sorts of dishes, from meat to seafood and all other sorts in between. The foods here are cheap and mouthful and the local delicacies are a treat to the tongue. You haven’t tasted the true essence of Malaysia if you haven’t eaten in Jalan Alor.

There is a very interesting small colonial style café near the Goldmark Hotel in Bukit Bintang. Visit them for a quiet affordable breakfast in the morning.

Besides that, there are plenty of local and international food chains in different places in the city. One particular recommendation is Damascus Inn on Arab Street and their chicken shawarma. Probably the best in the world. Recommendations among the local delicacies are Nasi Lemak and Nasi Goreng. Also, if you’re into it, try the BBQ squid from the street stalls in Jalan Alor.

The specialty pulled tea of Malaysia, named Teh Tarik, is a must have. Available in all of the local food shops, a cup of Teh Tarik costs around 5/6RM and if you have gone to Malaysia and have not had Teh Tarik, you really have not tasted Malaysia. Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim majority country so you don’t have to worry about halal food. Most restaurants are halal.

Landmarks to visit

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first, do visit the majestic Petronas Twin Towers at Kula Lumpur city centre. This famous landmark is easily accessible both by MRT and GOKL free bus. Roam around and explore the happenings at the city centre. Explore the nightlife at Bukit Bintang. Experience the diversity of colours and smells of spices in Little India. Lose yourself in the crowd of Chinatown and eat to your hearts content in the local street food stalls. Kuala Lumpur boasts a proud mixture of different cultures and races and make sure you taste a bit of each as you live out the time of your life on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Make a short trip to Putrajaya or Cyberjaya if you can. Putrajaya is where all the major government offices and ministries are located and is the home to the famous Masjid Putra and Cyberjaya is the Silicon Valley of Malaysia. Both Putrajaya and Cyberjaya are much more organised than Kuala Lumpur but they lack the liveliness and diversity of Kuala Lumpur. Visit Batu Caves, if you have time to spare. A 300-foot-high limestone cave which is home to the famous Hindu Temple. Climb about 300 steps of stairs if you dare and you are in for a sight and experience of a lifetime.

Shopping

You won’t leave a foreign land without some souvenirs, would you? Kuala Lumpur is a shopping heaven. You’ll find malls housing brands like Gucci and Luis Vuiton to small crammed shops in Chinatown that’ll take a test of your bargaining skills. Go to Berjaya Times Square if you want good stuff for a cheaper rate. Go to Chinatown for cheap souvenirs and accessories. Visit Suria KLCC if you’re in the mood for an expensive shopping spree from famous Brands.

Get ready to be back

It’s almost the time to get back home, nomad. Like before, get a Grab or an Uber and specify your terminal. Remember, Kuala Lumpur has two airports side by side – KLIA1 and KLIA2. Make sure you specifically instruct your driver of the location and set out with spare time in hand as you may face heavy traffic.

Kuala Lumpur is a welcoming city, a city filled with people of diverse culture and vibrant street art that will absorb you if you are willing to experience every bit of it. Respect their culture, be modest when visiting masjids or temples, take permissions for photographs where its forbidden and live your fullest. Until next time.

A foray into the mysterious hills of Bandarban

It was a summer evening when some of my friends and I met near the bus counter with a plan for a weekend escape. The destination is one of the most known districts of Bangladesh, Bandarban. We were visiting in summer despite me preferring Bandarban in the monsoon because mountain rain enhances the beauty of the hills. The bus arrived an hour early to the bus stand, which was great for us as the heat was getting unbearable. Without further adeu, we got on the bus.

The bus left right after we got comfortable in our seats. I had office beforehand, so I was pretty tired. As a result, I dozed off into sleep, missing the satisfying view of leaving Dhaka for a vacation. When I woke up, the bus stopped by a restaurant near Comilla’s Dhaka-Chittagong highway. I got off the bus, freshened up and finished my dinner, all done in perfect timing; The bus started within a minute or two after I was done. The Dhaka-Chittagong highway is almost like a NASCAR track. All of the buses run quite fast in a straight line, and nobody was willing to let anyone get past them. Eventually I got bored and closed my eyes for catching another nap.

By dawn, I woke up and realized that the bus was quite close to Bandarban. I was close, but I was unaware of the terrible traffic jam. it took the bus two more hours to get to Bandarban city. After reaching Bandarban,  I got off the bus immediately, freshened up, finished breakfast, and fixed on a jeep for going to Thanchi Bazaar as we had no time to spare thanks to traffic jam.

Passing through the zigzag, uneven roads of the hills, our jeep was on it’s way to Thanchi. After almost four hours, we reached Thanchi Bazaar. We finished lunch from here and went to secure permission from the police and BGB for getting on a boat by Shangu to Romacri Bazaar. And thus started the journey through the mesmerizing Shangu.

Shangu is a mountain river in the eastern hilly regions of Bangladesh. It is one of the rivers that originate within Bangladesh. Shangu is known for it’s natural beauty as the poison of urbanization still hadn’t reached the river. While on my way, loads of tiny hilly villages and the rural lifestyle based on the bank of the river caught my eyes. The river provides a brief glimpse of the lifestyle by a mountain river, as some travel the river on boats made out of bamboo, some are busy fishing with small nets and in some places while kids play with each other on the river. Clouds playing hide and seek with the mountains by the river was quite a sight indeed.

We had to reach Romacri on a boat through Shangu. The path from Romacri to Thanchi gradually elevates, which is how Shangu has strong currents. The river descends from a feet or two to upto four feet at places. The mountains on sides of the river are wrapped in in a pretty shade of green.

The sun sets quite quickly in hilly areas. Add winter on top of that and you get very little time to enjoy this beautiful sight. It was already dusk by the time we reached Romacri. The entire place is doused in pitch-black darkness. At the moment, our journey had to be halted, so we decided to spend the night in a house in Romacri Bazaar. After finishing dinner, we spent some exploring the Bazaar and went to sleep, since we had a long journey ahead of us from the next morning.

As soon as the light of dawn tore through the darkness,we started walking through the zigzag hilly path by the Remacri lake. Because of the fog, our visibility was quite reduced. We encountered massive boulders, uneven roads and even had to cross the lake a few times because the path ahead of us was blocked. On one side, we had the lake and on the other side we saw massive mountains wrapped in dense fog.

The atmosphere was shrouded with pindrop silence. Only sound following us was the sound of the river flowing and our own footsteps. At times, natives came as signs of life as some were fishing, some hunting, some silently walked past with basket full of equipments.

We finally reached Nafakhum Waterfall, dubbed as the Niagra of Bangla, after two and a half hour of walking. One of the known waterfalls of Bangladesh, this stands as one of the greatest attractions of Bandarban. All the efforts of walking to Nafakhum seemed worth it as soon as we reached here. The unprecedented sight of this waterfall and the beauty of the hilly ways is bound to impress anyone.

After half an hour of watching the beauty of the waterfall, we started for Jinnapara on foot. We paced forward enjoying the hidden beauty of Bandarban. Sometimes we walked on stony walkways, sometimes on sandy terrains, and behind us followed the sound of birds singing in merry tunes. Almost as if we were walking through paths of heaven. The beauty seen in one’s eyes can never be described in words, to be entirely honest.

After three and a half hour of walking, we reached Jinnapara, located deep inside Bandarban. We were tired and didn’t get breakfast yet. Some dry food and some water from the river was our main source of energy till now. We asked the housekeeper of the house we took tenure in for setting up lunch for us. After setting up inside the house, we set out for the water flowing under the residence for a bath.

Getting on the clear waters in winter refreshed us. Even after an hour or two of taking a bath, we didn’t feel like getting out of the water. Hunter eventually caught up to us and we got out of the water and changed, getting ready for lunch. We finished our lunch with Joom rice, small chillis mixed with mashed potatoes and eggs. We then got off to see Jinnapara and Thuisapara.

After exploring Jinnapara, we decided to go to Thuisapara. We walked to Thuisapara. Spending some time there, we decided to head back to Jinnapara after dusk. The darkness of the night wasn’t really a problem thanks to the full moon shining on us. When we reached our destination, we discovered that we had a dinner consisting of Hill cock, mashed potatoes, daal and more Joom rice waiting for us, thanks to our landlord. “Dada, get yourselves freshened up, the food might get cold.”

We figured he wanted to go to sleep early, as people in these areas go to sleep around 8 or 9 PM and wake up early in the morning. We freshened up and finished dinner, then we sat on the couches outside the house, watching the full moon. After an hour or two, we went to sleep.

We woke up just before the sun started rising. After freshening up, we packed our bags and got on our way to Bandarban through Romacri. Witnessing the beauty again, we reached Nafakhum and stayed for two hours. Then, after arriving to Romacri, we got on a boat. We planned to reach Bandarban right before dusk, so we didn’t have a lot of time on our hands. After reaching Thanchi, we finished our lunch and got on a jeep. We reached Bandarban right after dusk started settling in. After exploring for an hour or two, we started for Dhaka.

But our hearts remained in the dangerously beautiful hills of Bandarban. My heart kept asking one question time and time, when can I return to these enigmatic hills again?

In the shadow of the Royal Bengal – the Sundarbans

Despite it being a weekend, Dhaka was jam packed as ever while I was on my way to the Sayedabaad Bus Terminal. Fortunately, I set out with some time in hand. Somewhere around 8 PM, the bus arrived. Destination? The biggest mangrove forest by the ocean, Sundarbans. At 8:30PM, my bus from Sundarban Paribahan started for the second biggest sea port in Bangladesh, Mongla. The distance from Dhaka to Mongla is about 320 kilometres, but in order to get past the waves of Padma, one has to wait for a transport at the Feri Ghaat for hours. The buses aren’t world class, or even in the upper percentile of Bangladeshi transport in terms of quality, but they get the job done.

The bus stopped at the Mawa Feri Ghaat around 15 minutes to 11PM. Mawa Feri Ghaat is popular for its food, thanks to its proximity to the river and the access to the freshest fish. A lot of people show up from Dhaka to experience a diverse catalog of fish best enjoyed with rice. One of the most popular items here are the fried Hilsha, made from fish taken straight from the ocean. I got off the bus and entered a restaurant. With two pieces of hilsha fry and a piece of medium sized shrimp, I finished my dinner. With a platter of rice, fish, daal and vegetables, my bill was around 260 taka.

After dinner, I got into the Feri Ghaat and sat there to watch the waves of Padma playfully rise and break under the mesmerizing full moon. Some time around 3 AM at night my bus got on the ferry, and soon enough we were on our way. Watching the Padma play with the silver moonlight in the ferry as it raged ahead on the mighty river, I eventually reached Kathalbaari Ghaat. The bus quickly got off and got on it’s way.

The bus reached the Mongla Bus Terminal around 6:30 AM. I got off and got aboard the engine-powered troller boat. It was already ready to help me reach the launch boat. Before starting for Sundarbans, I managed to chat up with a few of the fellow tourists over some tea. From Friday morning to Sunday noon, I’ll be with some friends of mine. The whole experience would cost me around BDT 7500.

As soon as I got on the launch, a staff boy showed me my room. It was a neat and tidy bunk bed with accommodation for four people inside the room.. I put my bag in the room, freshened up and went to the roof of the launch. The roof has a dining space with seating arrangements. The launch can hold upto 45 people at once. As soon as the passengers got in, the launch started.

The breakfast was served around 8:00AM in the morning, the menu consisting of hotchpotch, roasted eggplants, poached eggs and pickles. As soon as I was done with the breakfast, I started with Labonnyomoy Ladakh – Part 1, written by the eccentric Bivas Das. Books and nature are my  only two companions for the next two days. One of the best things about a trip in Sunderbans is the unavailable mobile network. Some locations within the vicinity provide a little network, but one can only enjoy some conversations with it, no hopes of internet.

The boat raged on with the waves of the river. It was sunny, but the cool breeze of the river took away the heat. A few fishing boats caught the eye sometimes. And other times, the launch slowly huddled past massive ships, and small cottages made of palm leaves look tiny from so far away.

Going up in front of the launch, the deep green of the forest catches one’s eye; this is where the Sundarban start. Although the river was quite wide a few years ago, it has narrowed down in recent years. Massive freight ships enter through this river. The ships carrying consumer products to India enter through this route.

After a few moments, our launch crossed the tourist center of the East Forest division. The Launch Master revealed that the launch will get off at Harbaria at first. As the launch tore through the river, I enjoyed the beautiful forest growing beside the water.

Around 1:00 PM, the launch reached Harbaria. Tolaharbaria, an eco-tourism center, which was built by the forest department of Chaadpai Range of the Sundarban. Our launch set its anchors right in the middle of a massive lake. We disembarked as soon as it reached land, we got off and started walking in a row. We were protected by a gunman up front and one in the back. I sparked up a conversation with the gunman in the back and kept walking.

We kept walking through the forest in quite a massive bridge made out of wood. There’s a feeling of foreboding walking through the desolate forest, a feeling of something eyeing you through the trees. You could see monkeys, occasionally swinging and playing on the branches, sometimes you’d hear birds. Under my feet the tide followed us slowly. On salty waters, in soft soil stood many respirators of mangrove trees ready to sprout soon. The trail ends after around 20 minutes. A massive pond appears after a few minutes, filled with lotuses. A round cottage made of wood stands in the middle, serving the purpose of relaxation for the tourists. There are some places for the tourists to sit here, as well. The Royal Bengal Tiger occasionally comes to visit at times as well, to drink the water from the pond.

After around 40 minutes in this place, we boarded the launch. The launch got in it’s way, with the destination now being Dubla’r Char in the Bay of Bengal. The sun slowly nodded to the west as the launch nudged with it too. Slowly, day rolled into dusk and we finally reached Dubla’r chor.

Tunes of unknown songs, drum rolls, fireworks or echoes of fishermen slowly came pouring in as we got closer. Hundreds of boats float in the Char, as we slowly kept moving. The crowd is because of it being a religious site for Hindu believers.

All of us got onto the launch-boat and got off to see the festive mood of Dubla’r Char. Fighting with the wind and the tide of the ocean, we reached the festival. We also got lost within the millions of people in the festival. We wandered around and discovered a different culture in here. Hundreds of stalls filled up with things of different needs, some buying these according to their needs and tastes. For the festival, thousands of people gathered at the temple. We got to see Ghazi Kalu, Bon Bibi and Radha Krishna’s sculptures within the temple, with everyone frantically praying. we explored the vicinity for almost two hours and got on our way to the launch; finishing our dinner with a plan to wake up at dawn.

Around 4 o’ clock in the dawn, we got on our way to watch the holy bath in the Dubla’r Char. As soon as we got to the Char, we saw thousands of people sitting near the ocean, all finishing their Puja and getting into the ocean. These people came climbing on hundreds of trawlers. The place was filled with national and international tourists at the moment, some taking pictures or some getting into the ocean themselves.

Sometimes one notices some kind of religious songs in groups, singing and dancing together while some other comes up to the sun and warms their body up. Enjoying quite the festive mood, we got on our way to the Katka beach side aboard our launch. After finishing breakfast, we got on our way to enjoy the Sundarbans. The morning slowly turned into noon and we got to the Katka beach side. With the forest in one side and infinite waves on the other, this beach-side looks beautiful. This beach being by the side of the Sundarbans, one could easily see the damage of the forest done by tsunamis and tornadoes. After wandering around for a few hours, we got to our launch to finish our lunch as afternoon crept in. We finished our lunch and got on the trawler to watch the sunset in the ocean.

Sunsets by the ocean are an indescribable experience. Afterwards he were on our way to Mongla, with a big fat moon sitting on top of the sky. It was a full moon too. Laying on the roof of the launch, we watched the moonlight playing with the waves of the river. We went to sleep around 11 PM in the night.

We woke up at dawn, discovering that we were at Karamjal. On the trawler, we got to the Karamjal Forest Range, which is a crocodile and deer reproduction facility too. A lot of deer, crocodiles and monkeys live in this place. It also has a massive map of Sundarbans, the skeleton of a tiger and an illustrative guide to the  “swatch of no ground “. After exploring Karamjal, we got to our launch in our trolley and the launch brought us to Mongla for breakfast. From there, the friendly staff escorted us to the Mongla bus stop, from where we got on our way to Dhaka.