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Himalaya

Day 117: Near Sylhet, Bangladesh

Michael Palin - HimalayaAt their closest point Bhutan and Bangladesh are some 25 miles (40 km) apart, yet they could scarcely be more different. One is entirely composed of mountains, the other flat as a pancake. One is among the least crowded countries in the world, the other the most densely packed. One is an absolute monarchy with a stable government, the other a people's republic that has just topped the list of the world's most corrupt countries. But there is something that unites them: the Himalaya.

Bhutan's seclusion and stability is due largely to the physical inaccessibility of the Himalayan mountains. Bangladesh's survival is due to the water that pours off them.

Bangladesh, three times as big as Bhutan, with 75 times the number of people, has a population of around 135 million, and the only reason it can support so many is because two of the greatest mountain rivers, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, funnel down through the country on their way to the sea, depositing billions of tonnes of rich, recycled Himalaya.

Combined with the heavy monsoons that are the blessing and the bane of Bangladesh, this gives the country some of the most productive land in Asia. The price they pay is frequent and frighteningly destructive. The most recent serious flood, in 1998, inundated two-thirds of the country and left 22 million people homeless.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 117: Near Sylhet, Bangladesh
  • Country/sea: Bangladesh
  • Place: Sylhet
  • Book page no: 263

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