By Aniqa Moinuddin
It's funny that although people start getting ready a long time before they actually set off for somewhere, they always find something to do just at the eleventh hour. As usual, this also happened while I was going to Uzirpur Tipra Para, Comilla with the Young Explorers' Society (YES).
Being a member of YES, I had gone to such trips before, but this was quite different because this time my mother was also accompanying (probably she didn't feel very safe letting me go alone). However, I also didn't feel safe taking her, because I knew we'd have to walk a lot.
going through all the hustle and bustle of taking this and that, we finally headed for Saydabad Bus Station, where we were all supposed to meet for the trip. After Limana, Shoshi, Sazif, Joy, Sarah, Nile, Ika, Mithu Bhai, Ishtiaque, Nazmul Bhai, Achol, I and my mother all managed to find one another; we went to a nearby restaurant and had a brief breakfast.
The group was quite a peculiar one, consisting of working-people and students, those who were experienced and also those who hadn't set foot outside Dhaka before. Still, everyone blended surprisingly well together, sharing each other's interests and experiences. Our president, Khuki apu (who couldn't go due to a last moment emergency) was there to see us off. She accompanied us to the bus and waved us good-bye when at last our bus set off for Comilla half an hour late (according to our schedule).
The bus journey was pretty refreshing. The scenery outside and the company inside made the two-two and a half hour journey seem like a very short one indeed. In spite of the delay, we reached half an hour early. We walked around a kilo to the Maynamati War Cemetery.
The British soldiers who died in the World War I were buried there, to be more specific, 737 of them. The place was extremely well planned and maintained with different kinds of flowering plants and shady trees everywhere. We wandered around the place in amazement, as if feeling the history within ourselves.
Time was short, so we set off towards BARD (Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development) in a maxi-like vehicle, all 13 of us stuffed inside it. We were supposed to have lunch there, but since the canteen was only open in the period 1:00 to 2:30pm, we decided to go visit the Shalban Bihar, which was an array of ancient Buddhist monasteries excavated by archaeologists.
The sun was starting to show its fury now, but we enjoyed the place all the same. We came back to BARD in time to have our lunch. We had to spend some time confirming the permission to get in that we had acquired from Dhaka. But it was dealt with and at last we got the chance to wash our hands and face and fill up the vacuum in our stomach. A little rest was required for minimum digestion, so we spent that time exploring BARD.
After everybody was ready, we started for the real mission of our trip: climbing the hilly areas towards Tiprapara (as it was called by the local people). We planned on walking as much of the way as possible, considering that there was limited time. At first we took a scooter or what some people call a baby taxi (yes, the ones now banned in Dhaka), and went up to a place from where we were bound to walk.
We didn't complain, and started covering the rough tracks with more enthusiasm than difficulty. At some places the trails were dusty, grassy and somewhere muddy. At some places we had to climb around two-storey high cliffs that were pretty slippery. There was a definite danger of slipping, but fortunately nothing happened. It was pretty challenging for some people, but those who were starting to question, "Is it worth?" suddenly found the answer as soon as we reached the top.
The scenery took away all the air that was left in my lungs after the exertion. The only word that managed to escape my throat was "WOW". The green valleys and terrains made us feel like we had gone back to the past when nature was in its purest form. Just a small two-minute break there left us as good as new. We headed towards our destination on foot again and reached one of the families living there pretty soon. They accepted us with great hospitality and provided us with the answers to our questions about their religion, culture, earnings and their everyday problems.
A 92 year old lady (looked anything in the range of 80-95 years old) told us that very few of the "Tipra" and "Pal" families were left there. Most of the others had migrated to other places. She told us that they were Hindus and showed us the room for their daily Puja (they performed it three times day, morning, afternoon and evening).
They also had monthly religious festivals on any day the "Gurudev" decided. He was said to be the oldest and most experienced of the family. He certainly looked no less than a hundred.
We learned from them that their earning source was farming.
They were mainly having problems because there was no electricity and bringing water from downhill was pretty hazardous. We had decided earlier that we'd give the local people a small donation that we collected through our personal contacts. The plan now came to use and we headed off downhill again after handing them some money and clothes.
However, we were stopped by the 92 year old woman who told us that she was going to show us a "shortcut" (this was the term she used). We didn't know whether to laugh or cry. A "dadi" would go with us! Can she keep up with us? But believe me when I say that she lead the way. Some of us even had problems to keep up with her! Even more surprisingly, she took us through a very treacherous road where the mud was waiting to engulf the soles of our shoes, making them slippery and tougher to walk with. However, she crossed all these with amazing agility and a kind of nonchalance, as if she was just leading a training session for the "trekkers" as we call ourselves.
But we had to thank her when the trails lead us into a walk through the beautiful "kash-ful" surrounding us from all sides. Even better, we reached a clearing, which was a shooting practice spot before. The place was so amazing! Although I couldn't quite get the concept of how the whole thing worked but the beauty of it was more than enough for me.
Dadi (by then we all called her this) left us about a kilometer away from the highway. I felt very sad parting with her. She taught me a valuable lesson. It's all about the mental strength and willpower. If you just have these two things, you can overcome anything. She told us to come and visit her again if we could, and that she was going to go to Dhaka to visit us if possible.
The rest of the story is pretty short. We came back to BARD, had our evening snack; we had Comilla's famous "Roshomalai" from a local food store. The female members of the group went to check out another specialty of Comilla: the "Khadi". There was a shop where all the saris, salwars and even the handkerchiefs were made of Khadi. Convincing them to come out of that shop was probably the most challenging task we had faced in the trip.
Somehow, we managed to overcome the challenge and head towards the bus station. On the way back, I asked my mother if she had any tronuble keeping up. She replied with a smile, "It's all about having a positive attitude. Nothing else matters".