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Himalaya

Day 117: Near Sylhet, Bangladesh

Michael Palin - HimalayaNear Sylhet, the stone industry is replaced by undulating tea gardens, and we spend the night at a plantation home turned into a guesthouse called The White House and run by a slow-moving, chain-smoking, very bright, very laid-back man called Kais Chowdhury.

This was his family house. It was burnt down in the vicious war of 1971, when this country was called East Pakistan and the Pakistan army came in very hard to quash any hopes of secession. They lost and, helped by the Indian army, Bangladesh came into being at the end of that year. But it left behind scars and a lot of people who claim to have been 'freedom fighters' at that time. This substantial, spacious and attractive house, with its deep verandahs, is, sadly, in slow decline. Water squeezes arthritically from the taps and disappears even more slowly down the plugholes; the wiring is eccentric and some switches require considerable effort just to find them. The White House has some grace and charm but it also has a fatal inertia, as if it's being slowly strangled by the rich profusion of tropical flowers and shrubs that spill over onto it, mounting the walls and climbing over the balustrades.

All evening and long into the night, trucks from the stoneworks thunder along the road close by. Kais says that the opposition party has called a hartal, a protest strike against the government, for tomorrow, and the truck-drivers are hurrying to get their work done before the morning.

It's apparently the second hartal this week. After the steely discipline of Bhutan, my first day in Bangladesh has been, well, different.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 117: Near Sylhet, Bangladesh
  • Country/sea: Bangladesh
  • Place: Sylhet
  • Book page no: 265

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