Bangladesh isn't a tourist destination. Most people associate the country with poverty, overcrowding and natural calamities. Even the guidebook admits that "it is hardly surprising that Bangladesh doesn't rate high on travellers' itineraries."
Of the many travellers backpacking around India in search of a unique experience few make it across the border to Bangladesh. But ever since hooking up with old classmates of Evelyn's at her high school reunion a little over a year ago, we'd been considering a visit to Bangladesh. Our trip was in the planning stages then and we knew for sure we'd be in India. Joe—who graduated with Evelyn from the Taipei American School—was gearing up at that time to move to Dhaka—the capital of Bangladesh. When he heard we'd be in India he extended an invitation for us to come visit. He was being sent there by his employer—an American company developing a private port. His fiance Tara, was joining him after their wedding in July.
Arriving in Calcutta just after New Year's we readied ourselves for the trip to Bangladesh. We mapped out what we thought would be aninteresting route. We'd go by train from Calcutta to the border and then on to Dhaka by bus and ferry. After our stay in Dhaka, we'd continue north-east to a remote border crossing and re-enter India in Meghalaya—one of India's Northeastern frontier states. From there we'd work our way up and around the northern border of Bangladesh returning to Calcutta a month later.
Ramadan—or "Ramzan" in India—fell in December/January this year. This is the Muslims' holiest month. Throughout the month food and even water is only taken during non-daylight hours. For foreign visitors this can be rather inconvenient and most travellers avoid being in Muslim countries during this time.
Although Calcutta has a significant Muslim population, Islam doesn't predominate. Ramadan was a non-issue for us there and elsewhere in India. Bangladesh would be another story. Coincidentally, we'd picked January 8 to cross into Bangladesh—the last day of Ramadan. That morning, in Calcutta, the streets filled with Muslim men and boys dressed in their best bright white kurtas and skull caps. An excited buzz filled the air as they streamed towards the mosques. The next three days would mark Eid—the biggest holiday of the year and the end of the month-long fast.
Despite the holday, the border was open when we reached it by early-afternoon. By this time it was clear we wouldn't make it all the way to Dhaka that night. We'd spend the night instead in the town of Jessore.