Henry Ford mass produced cars so the common folk could be liberated from the shackles of daily life. But times have moved on and we are back to the shackles of daily life stuck in cars in gridlocked city traffic.
Because of that, cars are useless in the cities. You really don't go anywhere. You sit in traffic burning all the fuel and then sit in line waiting to refuel. By the time you can actually move, everything has closed and it's time to go home. The car then sits in the garage while you sit inside wondering what that was all about.
But cars have one great redeeming feature. They make for great road trips that boats, trains and planes cannot provide.
Bangladesh is a beautiful place to see despite its minute size. Most places you want to go will be connected by roads. Most watery gaps are now bridged with, um, bridges. Some of these bridges often serve as tourist spots complete with places to eat, photograph and litter.
Some roads are to die for because of the scenic beauty. But we suggest you appreciate the beauty skipping the part about death. The road from Chittagong to Cox's Bazaar as well as the hilly portions of Rangamati offer breathtaking panoramas. For those who like to drive, the Bishwa Road offers long, wide stretches of open highway to speed along. If you like a bit of a challenge, portions of the roads leading to Sylhet go through winding, hilly terrain bordered by tea plantations.
Watch out for stray goats. They can take out a headlight and half the bumper at 80kmph. But goats are usually more sensible than the people walking alongside.
The more people involved in a trip, the longer the preparation times to get everyone out the door. Someone will always need to take a last minute toilet visit. Sometimes, you might even leave someone behind. And sometimes you may do it intentionally.
The need to set out as early as possible is mainly for safety reasons. Use as much daylight as possible. After dark, the roads become mysteries where previously mentioned goats can appear out of nowhere.
On the road you will encounter anything from a lone hawker carrying a basket of fish, a cute lost puppy or even a market full of metal junk that takes on ridiculous value in your life. That's how we ended up loading the car with one big fish, uselessly cool electric tools and one cute puppy on the last trip. Factor in some time for these interruptions.
Food items can be had at ridiculously low prices in some areas. Up north, you will find markets selling pottery and handicrafts at a fraction of the city price. Just before entering Chittagong there is a huge market selling scrap matter from dead ships. Life jackets, electric tools, the steering wheel of a ship (at a whopping 45000 taka), lamps, bathtubs, lifeboats, diving helmets, hazard signs, industrial strength cleaners and whatnot are available for your fancy. You would want to buy things that you never knew you needed.
Comilla has sweets, Rajshahi has fruits, Khulna has archeological sites and Nawabganj has dust.
Stock up on water
Sooner or later someone will be thirsty. Stick to juices and water. Sodas only make you feel bloated, especially during summer. Fill up plastic bottles with water the night before and let them freeze. Put them in the back of the car and you will have cool water all day long.
And then someone will say they need to go to the toilet. Large restaurants and inns have good facilities. In case of emergencies, most fuel pumps have special toilets locked up so the uncouth of the society cannot spoil it. Ladies are always provided the privilege to use them but don't hold your breath on these being any cleaner. On second thought, you better hold your breath.
Having gas is generally frowned upon but it's essential on a long trip when your chariot of choice runs on CNG. Most major highways have plenty of CNG stations but some areas are still lacking. If pumps are situated far in between, turn off the AC to save fuel.
Some of the places like the hundred-plus kilometres from Chittagong to the sea beach are yet to see gas lines. You need to rely on good old-fashioned expensive petrol. Make sure your gas-powered car can run on petrol.
Tie up the kids
If you have kids, especially very young ones, make sure you (if driving) will never feel drowsy. And that's a good thing. A road trip can take as much as 1 to 3 hours longer when travelling with children because of the frequent stops to change diapers and remove chewing gum they stick to your hair.
A long road trip made with people you care about can provide quality time and a cool adventure. But more importantly, it can prove whether you really care about them so much or just want to ditch them by the side of the road.
Road trip checklist
Food for the occasional munchies, preferably dry because it will all land on the seats, floor and clothes.
Bottled water for drinking, washing and shooing stray dogs that turn up during a roadside lunch. Avoid fizzy drinks.
Camera. Check before leaving that it can take more than 5 pictures before the batteries die. Pack rechargeable batteries and chargers.
Spare tyre. Carry two if possible. Take along a spare car as well.
Allergy medicines and indigestion pills. You will eat something that will cause discomfort in which case also carry air freshener.
Sunscreen to protect against the sun and sunglasses to generally look cool Torch
By Ehsanur Raza Ronny and Sadia Islam
Photo: Sayed Zakir Hossain and Durdana Ghias