In search of my roots, we reached Bangladesh and thus discovered the Venice of East. Barisal was our destination and to reach our ancestral village called Gava, was our goal. Apart from this, tourism was our second purpose in this nation. I felt a strange affinity towards this place. It was once the same nation now separated by barbed wires. We share the same language and culture. It is the place where my ancestors thrived. My mind loitered around finding the reason.
We were in Barisal district which is also famed as the Venice of the East. Dhaka is the centre of connectivity to all districts in Bangladesh. We had to make our choice of transport within the options of the road, ferry and flight. We decided to go by road and return by ferry. In this way, we could possibly see both the ways. We were advised to go on the multistoried steamer which provides luxury AC cabins. These steamers only sail during the night time and thus there was no opportunity to see the surrounding.
As decided we booked the ticket for the Barisal bus from Sakura travels. Sakura travels is a well-known bus operator which operates buses to many places including Barisal. The daytime bus would take 8 to 10 hours to reach Barisal. Travel time varies depending on the time it takes to cross the Paturia ferry over the river Buriganga. This is the place where the vehicles are loaded on the vessels to reach Goalanda on the other side of the river. Then through Faridpur, Madaripur it finally reaches Barisal.
For a long time, the bus struggled through the busy roads of Dhaka to reach the Paturia Ghat Ferry station and entered the never-ending long queue. Our driver and his helper had a proper strategy. They tactfully broke the line to overtake a few vehicles and enter into some careless empty spot ahead of some vehicles. In this way, it went past about a hundred vehicles to save us 2 and a half hour of journey time. We remained seated on the bus and finally, the bus boarded the vessel. The river was so broad that the other bank was not seen.
It was a journey of 30 minutes through the river. The vessel was large enough to carry ten bus or heavy vehicles. All sorts of vendors were seen doing a brisk business. They did not have the privilege to enter the AC bus. But some of the regular vendors had some commission based business with our bus driver and the helper and thus were allowed into the bus. Jhalmuri, cut fruits, peanuts, other snacking items and even Hilsa fishes were among the items sold. The ferry ride also offered the view of the river life and the interconnected river system.
After deboarding the vessel the journey became extremely pleasant. The road ran through the cover of the tall green trees. Such a vast area under the forest cover. In between, it went through small villages. But there was hardly any change in the landscape. Only a few people waiting by the bus stand signified the presence of a village. Even after we wanted to reach our destination soon the road through the beautiful forested area made our extra long journey bearable and enjoyable.
The Barisal city being headquarters of the district houses the major administrative offices. The municipality, court, river port, major education institutions like the medical college and university all are within the city limits. Even being a major city in Bangladesh, the cityscape and the pace of life here is similar to that of a laid-back small town. The clean, not so broad roads with buildings on either side frequented by trees. Moving through the quaint surrounding of a small town setup I had a feeling of ease.
Barisal is not on the tourist map of Bangladesh so this beautiful place is not developed in terms of tourism aspect. There are a few standard hotels in which only Hotel Grand Park offers the facility of online booking. People mostly visit here for a business purpose or for personal reasons. ‘Rent a car’ service offers vehicles for hire. The renting pattern is based on a particular breakup plan. A certain amount of the rent for the car body and the rest for the fuel needed for the travel. Fuel comes in the form of petrol or octane in Barisal while the gas option is available in Dhaka.
We stayed in Hotel Arena within the city. The nine-floor building offers standard rooms with all basic amenities. They have their own rooftop restaurant named ‘Handi Kadai’ which is quite a hub for the locals in the evening. It has a separate play section for the children and thus a complete family restaurant. The location at such height tends a cool breeze blowing across the face and a commanding view of the surrounding.
Opposite to the hotel, there is a church and its adjoining cemetery. The church is again situated within the garden and the tree cover. The most admirable part in Barisal is where ever you look for there are ample of trees and a green surrounding. Apart from various other things I truly loved this part of Barisal. Just to explore the city by foot we entered the church premises when the security said that non-Christians are not allowed here. This is when someone asked our nationality and talked to themselves that they are the “Mehmaan” (guest) of our nation so why not allow them. Thus we got entry to this beautiful church.
After purchasing some famed bakery items, we entered a nearby sweet shop to taste the local sweets. We were talking among ourselves, the keen and aged shopkeeper identified us to be Indians from Kolkata. He spoke to us and enquired about our intention to be in Barisal as many of the Bengalis from West Bengal come here in search of their roots or to meet their family and relatives. After knowing our story he was eager to help us find our destination. Read my story in search of my roots.
We spoke on various issues like the social and economic condition of Barisal and Bangladesh, people and their lifestyle and finally the relation between the citizens of India and Bangladesh. Side by side we finished off a few yummy sweets on our plate. As we asked for the bill this gentleman said: “no, we cannot take money from our mehmaan”. Even after a lot of coercion, he did not take the money for the sweets. Finally, we left the shop with a strange feeling of warmth and hospitality in this foreign land. What else we could do other than inviting him to our home in India.
We were highly elated by the warmth of the people around. Whoever we met treated us as their guest and guests as God. The same was for the staffs of our hotel. When we asked for a car that we wanted to rent for the day, they took initiative to find the best car with a good driver and in reasonable rate. They also had special instruction to the driver to take great care of us. Thus we got this young man named Mehdi Hassan Munna as our driver. He liked to be called Munna. This good-natured chap accompanied us for the rest of the trip in Barisal.
Crossing the city limits we went through the road under thick green cover intercepted by interconnected canals to search my roots. Read my story in search of my roots. After achieving a milestone of my life by discovering the Gava village, we left for the Baitul Aman Jame Masjid. Which is locally known as Guthia Masjid. This is grand structure spread across the sprawling compound with manicured lawns beautiful garden and calm pond. The happy butterflies were fluttering around the tiny flowers all around.
The Durga Sagar Dighi nearby is a picnic destination for the locals. The big serene lake was excavated by Rani Durgabati in the year 1780. This lake is located within a huge compound surrounded by trees. It also has a forested island in between. Bengal Tiger and deer can be seen. Though not the real ones but a couple of statues, which can confuse you at the first glance. Boating facilities are available within the lake for recreation as well as to reach the island.
I was much interested to see the famous Pyara Bazaar (Guava market). It is a floating guava market at Bhimruli over the Kirtipasha canal. Guava orchards occupy vast areas in Jhalakathi, Banaripara and Swarupkathi in Barisal. The farm produce is carried through the adjacent canals on country boats to the wholesale floating market. I have seen the guava orchard on my ancestral land. It was not the fruiting season so I could not see the fruits in the orchard neither could see the market. I came across this beautiful video on youtube and would love to share this. Check the video to see the floating market.
It was the time to return back to Dhaka. This time we booked our tickets from Greenline Paribahan. The Greenline Paribahan is a Transport company that has multiple bus and ferry services all across Bangladesh. I shall cover the details of their bus service in my next post. Here I would rather talk about the ferry service operated by Greenline Paribahan. Greenline services operate catamaran boats from Dhaka to Barisal and back. This huge catamaran boat takes approximately 6 hours to reach Dhaka.
The best part was this boat or this launch travels in the daytime and there will be ample opportunity to see the waterways and the life near the banks. The fully air-conditioned double storied boat has the capacity of carrying of around a thousand pax. The lower storey has more seats arranged close to each other. While the upper storey has lesser seats which are spaced out and are priced higher. Every passenger is given complimentary snacks and water. There is an adjoining smaller deck on the upper floor. The top floor is the open deck area.
The boat drifted away from the shore. It moved through the broad river named Kirtonkhola. Our boat was joined by some country boatman who was venturing for the evening fishing activity somewhere far from here. The banks at the distance had villages and cultivated lands. There were green paddy fields on the rich alluvial soil. There were other crops too on the rich fertile soil. Gradually the sun was going down. The sky changed its colour from blue to red. The dusk was approaching and there was an announcement for the evening Namaz. All gathered on the upper deck to perform their religious rites. I took the double opportunity to capture the sunset as well as the people in their namaz.
After the sun went down I too descended from the upper deck to my seat. Then I could see the big golden moon from the window. At once I grabbed my camera and was back to the upper deck. It was the time for the moon rise and the full moon was mild and golden and big spreading its aura all around. Gradually it had its golden reflection on the dark waters of the river. Like molten gold poured on the river surface. It was an amazing sight to behold. An amazing experience to share and an everlasting memory to preserve. Thus sailing in the gentle light which turned golden to silvery we reached Dhaka.