The morning after our awesome Sunderbans trip, I caught this bus from Khulna to Bagerhat.
As you can see, she's actually in pretty good nick! Far better than the bus next to her.
The bus was pretty empty, so I threw my bags aboard and made my way to the shop on the other side of the car park for snacks and mum.
In the two minutes that I was standing there considering what to buy, the bus had filled up with people and luggage, and started driving out of the terminal. Luckily I turned around in time, ran for it, and managed to swing aboard with far more panache than is to be expected from a man of my size and coordination. Bangladeshi buses wait for no man, even if you have your mum with you.
Bagerhat is a UNESCO protected world heritage sight, and was built in the 15th century by Khan Jahan Ali, who was a Sufi (mystic) originally from Turkey. I'm sure he didn't actually build it himself, but he gets to take credit for all the hours of backbreaking labour that his servants and slaves put into building it. That's generally how history works.
There were heaps of Bangladeshi tourists looking at the ruins and the mosques, but I didn't see any other foreigners. Bangladeshis love having their photos taken with foreigners, and I think most of them were more interested in me than the various sights.
The Shait Gumbad Mosque
The most notable of the buildings in Bagerhat is the Shait Gumbad mosque. Shait Gumbad means 'temple with 60 domes', even though it actually has 77. 17 extra domes or not, it is pretty cool.
At Shait Gumbad, I ran into Thufill (a Bangladeshi kid from the Sunderbans trip), his father Metoo, and their family. Unfortunately, I've forgotten the names of his mother and sister. I found it really difficult to remember Bangladeshi names, probably because most of them aren't commonly found in English, e.g Arifur, Mani, Faisal, Mahamut etc. This led to a bit of confusion. I thought that when Metoo said 'metoo', he was explaining that his name was Thufill as well. 'My name is Thufill'. 'Me too'.
Metoo and his lovely family adopted me for the day. We went to see the excavations of Khan Jahan Ali's house, which are situated right in the middle of a field where local Bangladeshi farmers live.
The local farmers collect sap from these trees. You can drink it straight out of the tree and it's delicious.
These villagers were a little bit surprised to see a foreigner. They invited me for lunch, but unfortunately I was in a bit of a hurry and trying to avoid catching a bus at night. I still kind of regret not accepting actually.
We then went to see the Tomb of Khan Jahan Ali.
The tomb of Khan Jahan Ali also boasts a rather unusual tourist attraction. Two 'tame' crocodiles.
In Bagerhat tame means well fed. They throw them heaps of mutton, with the idea being that they will be too full to bother eating anybody. Makes sense I guess. You can walk right up to them and touch them too. When in Bangladesh…
Luckily, Bangladeshi crocs aren't used to foreigners, so they're not aware that we're delicious.
The Khulna to Barisal bus.
By the time I got on the bus back to Barisal, it was way later than I had planned. Bus travel in Bangladesh (like most developing countries) is not that safe at night, as headlights are optional and there are occasional incidents of armed robbery. They're not that safe in the day either, but it's best not to tempt fate!
Metoo had told the guy at the bus terminal in no uncertain terms that there would be trouble if anything happened to me on the way back, which had the opposite effect than he intended. I would have been fine on my own, but I didn't want to cause offence. Generally if a grown man needs a minder for something as simple as catching the bus, he's an easy target. When Metoo left, and I got on the bus, the ticket guy told me I had to buy another seat for my bag. This is pretty common in Bangladesh, but it felt like a scam, so I asked for a extra ticket before i paid again. He unhappily wrote something to the effect of 'valid for two seats' on my first ticket, and thinking I'd won I left it at that. About thirty minutes into our bus ride, another guy, the ticket wallah, asked me about my bag, so I showed him the note on my ticket. This wasn't good enough, and I think he wanted me to remove my bag or pay again, but all the other passengers had witnessed me paying, so I knew they'd probably stick up for me. I just pointed to the driver, who was involved in the original negotiation, as if to say 'it's his problem' and ignored the ticket wallah.
When we arrived at the vehicle ferry, there was a pretty big queue, and it was getting dark. Heaps of the passengers got off, and walked up the line. I think they going to jump on the bus at the front of the queue and pay again. I didn't want to ask the driver what was happening, as I was pretty sure that he was pissed off about me beating the ticket scam. I figured that if I switched buses, I might have to stand the whole way and pay for two more tickets, and that if I got off my current one they might not let me get back on, so I stayed put. At this point it was getting dark, and our bus looked like this.
I.e empty. By the time we boarded the ferry it was dark. The remaining passengers, most if whom were women, were looking really worried, and some of them were calling home. After the journey from Barisal to Khulna, I'd promised myself that if I caught a bus that went on a vehicle ferry again, I'd get off for the crossing. But at this point there were so few passengers on board that in the case of an emergency, getting to the door wouldn't be a problem. I figured it was better to stay on board and avoid drawing attention to myself, so I just put my hood up and tried to look inconspicuous…
Three hours later, we made it to Barisal. I survived!
A note on logistics and some info.
- Buses to Bagerhat leave frequently from Khulna. You can do it as a day trip or on the way to or from Barisal like I did.
- When you arrive in Bagerhat you can catch a rickshaw to the ruins. Just say 'Shait Gumbad'
- I think you might actually be able to get off the bus at the ruins, before the station, but I'm not sure.
- I left my bag in the ticket office by the 60 domed mosque. I was super polite and smiley which probably helped.
- I went on Sunday, and the mosque was open, despite what the lonely planet says. The museum was closed tho.
- There was a really annoying tout at the tomb, who followed me around for ages as a 'guide', tried to convince me to drink water from the lake, interrupted me whenever I tried to take photos or talk to anyone, and then followed me into the toilet and asked for Baksheesh (a tip or bribe). If you see him, just tell him nicely to piss off right from the start.