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The Baishakh road trip

The open road is a term unfamiliar to us, lost as we are in city existence. Recreation for us is usually a trip two or three kilometres away to a restaurant, mall, or in the case of the coming Pahela Baishakh a nearby mela or Dhaka University.

Why not do something different this year? Holidays are meant to refresh the mind and as excellent a celebration Pahela Baishakh is, it may be worthwhile to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are sights to be seen and food to be eaten on the open highways of Bangladesh.

Since Pahela Baishakh this year falls on a Saturday, it gives us the opportunity to make the weekend a double header of day trips. We at Star Lifestyle have picked three destinations where our readers can drive to and enjoy a day out on the highways, with crop fields stretching out on both sides of the road. We hope that it will go some way to easing their nerves frayed by the harsh city.

But first things first, getting out of Dhaka will never be easy, well almost never. The exit points of the city -- Jatrabari in the south, Tongi/Gazipur in the north and Gabtoli in the north-west -- often resemble the gates of hell with the intense traffic, which serves as reason enough to think thrice about venturing into greater Bangladesh.

The solution to this problem is to get up early in the morning and leave the city premises by 7 am. Friday should not be as big a problem as other days traffic-wise but it is still wise to get an early start.

An obvious place to visit for a day trip is Comilla. Once you cross the Kachpur Bridge the drive is a quite pleasant one. Comilla town is around 80 kilometres from the bridge, so it should not take more than an hour, hour and a half to reach.

An essential part of these excursions is to find a nice place to unwind after the journey and eat a meal. In Comilla, in fact you have to overshoot Comilla by about ten kilometres, the best such place is the Highway Inn.

Buses stop at this place regularly during the journey to Chittagong, and it is a very popular establishment that has been serving inter-city commuters for over twenty years. It was once a single-storey restaurant, but since 1995 it has been transformed itself to a three-storey hotel-cum-restaurant.

It has something akin to an oasis-in-the-desert feel, being as it is flanked by an interminable stretch of highway. There is a simplistic charm -- the ground floor is the non-air-conditioned part of the restaurant, and through a staircase which has quaint aquariums installed on its walls you enter the 'high-brow' section. The section is shaded by a generous amount of greenery on the balcony, lending the section a relaxing ambience.

But you haven't come here for the ambience, have you? It's the food that matters, and in this regard Highway Inn scores big. A surprise, for most of us who have experience of eating in highway restaurants, is that the Chinese section of the menu really shines. The Canton Chicken, Beef Chili, Hot Sauce Prawn are just some of the dishes worth mentioning from the Chinese selection. The Thai Soup is also a must-try if you are so inclined.

But most might want to go for the Bengali cuisine. The Special Beef Khichuri has been a favourite for quite some time at the Highway Inn.

Also, their naan and parata with beef or mutton bhuna is a delight. Traditionalists can go for plain white rice with entrees of fried or curried rui and rupchanda.

With brunch done, now would be the time for some sightseeing. Head back towards Comilla town and for some much-needed serenity visit the World War II cemetery. Soldiers of various nations, named and unnamed, friend and foe lie interred in this green, hilly nook of town opposite the Cantonment.

The place is likely to fill you with an appreciation for the history of where you stand and also a deep respect for those who give their lives for a greater cause. Many of those buried hailed from far off lands to fight a war that was bigger than they perhaps could comprehend. If for nothing else but a stroll on a beautifully manicured landscape untouched by city pollution, this is worth the drive.

After taking in the serenity a good thing to do would be to venture further into town and take back something to ahow for your troubles. Ask your way around to Matri Bhandar to buy some of the famous Comilla sweets. Whether it is the chhana murki or the rashmalai, or a combination of both it is a great gift for folks back home.

If it is the drive you want to focus on, thwn a jaunt dowm the Dhaka-Sylhet highway is pehaps the best option. You can exit the city either via Tongi or Jatrabari.

Both have hazards.

Once you cross Tongi there is about a 30 kilometre stretch of narrow road, part f it in a state of near disrepair. Jatrabari has the usual mind-numbing traffic. But whichever route you choose, once you do get on the N2 it is a pleasure to drive. The stretch of road leading to Sylhet is carpeted beautifully and is a welcome change for the city driver.

Just beyond Narsingdi is a long stretch of road flanked by small excavated hills and lots of trees stretching into the distance. It is a good place to just stop the car and stretch the legs. But be careful when crossing the road. As one of the best stretches of highway in Bangladesh, this place often has cars zooming past at over 100 kmph.

Carry on on that road to the Bhairab Bridge, crossing which you will come to a highway restaurant on the left called Ujan Bhati. This has also been one of the better-known highway eateries. It might not have the variety of its Comilla counterpart, but the quality is every bit as good.

There is the same division between the lower and upper floors -- the upper floor being air-conditioned for a more upscale clientele. You cannot go wrong ordering the deshi cuisine here. Special mention must be given to the paratas, which are not too heavy but not so light that you will wonder if you are having chappatis. Beef bhuna with the parata is as good as anything you will have in Dhaka.

If you still haven't gotten enough of the open road, continue northwards towards Brahmanbaria and past. The drive towards Madhabpur is a scenic one with the road shaded by a 'tunnel' of trees, and open fields for miles on end on either side. It is even more pleasant on a moonlit night during the monsoon, when the fields are flooded, and you can fool yourself into thinking that you are driving through an impossible bridge on a river with the moonlight dancing about.

Just a little further past Madhabpur, and you will have entered the tea gardens, which is a sight to behold. Rolling, shaded hills of deep green, beautifully manicured and all characterised by a lovely stillness. Turn off the car engine and just take it in the scenery that you will soon miss when you make your way back to Dhaka.

On the way back, you can stop at Brahmanbaria, because Comilla is not the only place famous for chhana murki. Also, the town has a wealth of old buildings that may interest the historically inclined, as well as a well-known Kaali Mondir.

Finally, the last drive we recommend is the one towards Jamuna bridge in Tangail. The drive is a pleasant enough one, but the destination is what matters here. The 4.8 kilometre-long structure is currently the sixth largest bridge in South Asia, and at the time of its construction in 1998 was the eleventh largest in the world. But mere statistics do not do the bridge justice.

With the mighty Jamuna flowing underneath and stretching to the horizon, and the sun's reflection broken into a thousand glimmering pieces by the ripples on the surface, few sights can match it for simple majesty.

Not to worry, pet puja has not been forgotten. Just after you cross the bridge lies Aristocrat on the left. The name itself ensures a certain quality, and after a long drive there are few things better than sipping a cup of their excellent sweet tea, maybe even dunking some pieces of their light paratas for good measure. But for the gluttons, there is a wonderful surprise in the Gorur Kalo Bhuna, a lip-smacking delicacy that will make you want to keep indulging the gluttony. A word of caution, best keep the designated driver's orders in check; he might not want to drive back in favour of a long afternoon nap.

Also, the gurer pera and gurer shondesh are local Pabna delicacies that can be brought back to Dhaka.

These are just three options to get the mental wheels turning. There is a whole country out there behind the high, grimy walls of Dhaka. Get your thinking caps on and plan a day-trip wherever you want; any place within 150 kilometres of the city is doable.

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed


Mexican Food Festival
Venue: The Westin Dhaka
Date: 27 March 6 April
Time: 6:00 pm till 11:00pm

In November 2010, Mexican cuisine was added by UNESCO to its list of the world's "intangible cultural heritage". There is nothing that can be compared with real Mexican food -- the type of food that comes out of the kitchens of those little West Texas towns about an hour or so North of the Mexican border. The reason why we love Mexican food is because it is the only way to experience an authentic taste of Mexican culture.

Film show: Tower Heist
Venue: Red Shift Coffee Lounge,
Radius Centre, Gulshan
Date: 6 April
Time: 4:00 pm

This movie is termed a “comedy-action”, which is spot on but the greatest fun it offers is the interplay of three of the greatest comedy actors of our time -- Alan Alda, Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller! The story is that of a rich Wall Street type bounder who is found to be not as clean as he looks, provoking others to take revenge. Very entertaining movie, which plays out in an effortless manner.

For details contact: 8833471-3 or 01730054403 (Nitu), radiuscentre-bd.com

The ABC Generation Reloaded
Venue: Engineers' Institute Auditorium, Dhaka
Date: 6 April, 2012
Time: 5 pm
Line-up: Artcell, Black, Crypticfate
Tickets: Tk 799

If you were part of the amazing comeback of THE ABC GENERATION concert in Dhaka on 29 July, 2011, then come back and experience ABC once more. This is a show where amazing things happen, which includes having some of the craziest patrons of rock music coming in to see the best in action. But what is more is that this concert depicts how an entire generation of the same mindset can come together at one place, once a year to hear those sounds that shaped their lives, some way or the other.

This event is the return yet again of 3 great bands; 3 great concerts; 1 single gig; 4 hours of hell breaking music; and so much more happening in between!

By Tanziral Dilshad Ditan


Solving poverty
In this week's “Lunch with the FT”, Esther Duflo, over a lunch of Eggs Benedict discusses why the empowerment of women will not solve poverty in the developing world (Financial Times). Along with giving an interesting biography of the French professor who got tenured at MIT at just 29 years of age, Duflo is not discouraged about the world's economic condition.

Child labour in the tobacco industry
Photo essay “Rolling Tobacco for A Living” documents the thousands of children who work in the tobacco industry in rural India, an industry known for its dangerous conditions (Washington Post). Families are often involved together in the business, bringing in about $150 a month counting and rolling “bidi” tobacco for the thriving sector.

Hunger Games
There has been a lot of buzz in the media about Hunger Games, the movie adaptation of the popular book to be released on 23 March. If you have not already, pick up the book -- written by Suzanne Collins, it is told from the view of 16 year old Katniss who lives in a post-apocalyptic world. The Hunger Games are an annual event where a boy and a girl from each of the 12 districts are chosen by lottery to compete in a battle in where one person can survive. It is a fantasy novel of family survival and desperate search for understanding.

Clooney for a cause
By now you have all heard that the famous George Clooney has found himself arrested outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington DC for protesting. CNN's ongoing report by John P. Avlon discusses what happens to causes when celebrities get involved. And who did Clooney call in jail? Not his model girlfriend but his mother.

It's in the genes
Bloomberg News reports that a protein responsible for men's balding have been found, called prostaglandin D2 or PGD2 (Business Week). The article goes to explain the function of this protein and efforts taking place to find new ways to treat balding, something that many men suffer from worldwide, irrelevant of ageing. So maybe a real cure is on the way?

Kony 2012
How a U.S. based advocacy group's viral video sensation 'Kony 2012' is reaching over 82 million people is discussed in Time magazine's “The Warlord vs. the Hipsters”. Albeit much criticism over its simplicity, the video takes a heartening look at the atrocities caused by Joseph Kony in Uganda, and the article discusses an age of social media and its impact on making a political change. Is it possible? Read on and think about how a YouTube channel can bring justice to thousands of people.


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