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         Volume 10 |Issue 02 | January 14, 2011 |


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Seasoned Travellers

The travel lore of two self-declared adventurers, who, defeating all odds, try to reach the Kalenga forest beat at the Habiganj range

Tamanna Khan

Photo: Rumana Khan

As winter began to make its way through the congested structures of the metropolis, the ghost of Marco Polo probably came along, lurking around our house, whispering notes of adventure into my younger sister's mind. Inevitably, she woke up one morning determined to visit the jungles of Kalenga in the Hobiganj range, irrespective of whether she got a travel companion or not. Though she did not have a devoted younger brother like Lakhsman (a character from the epic Ramayana) to accompany her for a day-long bonobash, she had me, a responsible (to which my sister would definitely raise her eyebrows) elder sister, who could never let her run away into the wilderness alone. The truth is, I equally needed to take a break from work and Dhaka's traffic jam.

My sister did all the travel planning – itinerary, hotel booking, ticket booking and rest of the hassle. I just ensured that my travel bag, which was almost the size of a baby elephant, got stuffed with all sorts of necessary items (mostly unnecessary as per my sister's opinion) like food, clothing, medicine and equipment. In my defence, you can be stranded in the middle of nowhere and you never know what might come in handy.

So one morning, my sister informed me that we would be catching our bus at 3:30 pm from Syedabad and we should be ready to set-off by 12:00 pm from Dhanmondi. Somehow I missed the word Syedabad and my mind tricked me into believing that the place was Kalabagan. As a result, I was not done with stuffing my bag even by 2:30 pm. My furious sister had no alternative but to get on the first CNG that we got for Taka 400 to take us to Syedabad within an hour. The CNG driver in an attempt to take the shortest of the short-cuts, got us stuck in narrow alleys of unknown neighbourhoods, sandwiched the vehicle in hair-thin gaps between buses, jumped on top of broken footpaths and what not. By the time we reached Syedabad, my sister's temper barometer had gone down, perhaps because she was just happy that we were still alive.

The wobbly wooden bridge could have given away anytime beneath our weight. Photo: Rumana Khan

Nevertheless, the CNG driver's risky efforts could not save us from missing our scheduled bus. Fortunately, the salesperson at the counter took pity on us, we being members of the vulnerable gender who are prone to getting late. He told us to board the next bus to Shayestaganj– our destination. At other times, I would have declined such insulting advantage bestowed upon us, but I was too afraid of my sister to even utter a meek apology for getting her late.

The so-called next bus did not fall in the luxurious genre, and we got seats at the very end. Soon we discovered that many of the seats were sold to more than one passenger and that event created a commotion in the bus. Since we did not have the tickets of that particular bus, both of us kept our fingers crossed and hoped that we would not be thrown out. I guess being females came to our advantage one more time.

Once everything was settled, we thought we had had enough bad luck for the day but fate had more tricks stored in for us. As the bus sped past the green fields, factory chimneys, brick kilns near Narshingdi, a short 'bang' startled the passengers at the back and we all found a perfectly round hole on one of the glass windows of the bus. The passengers began shouting and the driver had to stop the bus for investigation.

Although no one got hurt, people started anticipating all sorts of possibilities that could have led to the incident. Some said it was a brick thrown at the bus while most argued that such a round hole could only be made by a bullet. Such assumptions gave rise to more conspiracy theories and all of a sudden every passenger had to relate his or her own personal horrific bus journey experience. After everyone had their say, and ended up bashing the conductor of the bus for negligence, the journey resumed.

We reached Shayestaganj at 7:30 pm and called the CNG driver who was supposed to take us to a privately run eco-cottage near the Kalenga forest beat. The CNGs at Shayestaganj unlike the Dhaka ones, had curtains on both sides of the back seat instead of the usual grilled-doors. Noticing the difference, both of us jumped into the conclusion that the reason behind the curtains may be the conservative and religious nature of people of that area. And were we wrong! As the CNG shot through the fields leaving the Chunarughat Bazar behind, we felt like the vehicle had delved into a chilling black hole. We, the less religious, liberal Dhakaites had no choice but to pull down the curtains holding it tightly in place to save us from the sharp bites of the cold wind. All I could see on both sides of the mud road was total darkness, not even a flickering yellow light showed any sign of human existence.

The journey had almost started to appear endless, when suddenly our CNG driver in his Sylheti dialect told us to get down. Peeping from behind the curtain we saw that we were in the middle of nowhere. Deciphering his Sylheti dialect, we understood that with the two of us on board, and our obese luggage in the CNG, he could not possibly cross the wobbly wooden bridge crisscrossed with disintegrating bamboo poles. With one hand my sister grabbed me and on the other she held up the torch (that I was clever enough to bring along) and like actors in an Indiana Jones movie, we stepped onto the shaky structure of the suspension bride. The poles creaked beneath our feet and dark grey waves made themselves visible through the gaps and holes in the bridge. Once back inside the safety of the CNG, I tried to forget what might have happened had I stepped onto a broken plank.

After almost an hour's journey, we reached the eco-cottage at the Rema-Kalenga Wildlife-Sanctuary, built as an initiative of Nishorgo's Integrated Protected Area Co-management (IPAC) project. Thanks to Nishorgo's vision and efforts by Abdur Rahman Lashu, the owner and caretaker of the cottage, the place proved to be a cosy and secured respite after a long, adventurous and uncertain chilly journey. Listening to the uncanny noises from the forest nearby and the taps of mist on the tin roof, the two deshi travellers – my sister and I, fell off to sleep, charging ourselves for the journey into the forest itself, which we planned to take the following morning.




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