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Himalaya

Day 121: Dhaka

Dhaka, Bangladesh 
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A very few of the estimated 700,000 bicycle rickshaws in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital. Individually decorated in bright, bold patterns, they can often move faster than the city's grid-locked motor traffic.
Michael Palin - HimalayaI walk down to the shore below the bridge. A line of men, teeth clenched and bow-legged with the weight, scuttle up the riverbank with blocks of ice on their heads. Others emerge, like a line of ants, from within the dark hold of a barge, balancing wide baskets full of sand ballast as they negotiate a wobbling gangplank. A pye dog, all sores and clouded eyes, collapses in the shade of a van. When I get out my notebook, a curious crowd presses against me. The Lonely Planet Guide devotes a whole column to 'Staring': 'The Western concept of privacy is not a part of the culture in Bangladesh,' it warns, and I can see what they mean. I find it as much comical as threatening, as 20 or more people all peer over my shoulder to try and see what I'm writing in a very small book. When I stop writing, all eyes turn to my face, watching expectantly. When I resume, they go back to the book, following every line and curve with the utmost concentration.

Just when I think they may be with me till the end of the series, they're distracted by shouts of indignation from the film crew, who, it appears, have been peed on from the bridge above. Whether intentionally or not, no-one seems to know. I try to console Nigel by telling him there's a first time for everything, but he's not in a humorous mood.

Despite the oil, the grime, the smell and the procession of unspeakable things flowing along it, the River Buriganga is lined with impromptu laundries. The crew of a timber barge wash their clothes by treading them inside old oil drums, before taking them out and beating them hard on wooden planks and tossing them onto a pile, from which they're picked up and laid out to dry on the sand. The odd thing is that they do look sparkling clean.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 121: Dhaka
  • Country/sea: Bangladesh
  • Place: Dhaka
  • Book page no: 273

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