Travel Through Bangladesh on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter Forwood

Bangladesh on a Harley (5/1/97 - 27/1/97)
Distance 2140 km (51460 km to 53600 km)

This is part of the second section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Thailand

5/1/97 Arriving at Bangladesh airport at 10.15 pm with no accommodation booked can be daunting. After teaming up with the only other westerners on the flight, we succumbed to a guide who, as expected, made a healthy chunk of our taxi and accommodation costs. It was 1 am before I settled in with sharing a room with a 59 year old Japanese character named Mikio Maejima. He is quite eccentric, enjoying walking across Africa to Mecca in 1984 and this time from Iran to Mecca.

6/1/97 Out to the airport early to collect the motorbike, only to be told that it would be tomorrow before I can start the paperwork. Three other bureaucratic procedures so I can get out of Bangladesh for India when the time comes, but only one successful, 1 out of 4 not good. Dhaka has 300,000 push bike rickshaws for 9 million people so getting around is easy and at 15c Aust per kilometre, also cheap. From Bangkok, you step back 20 years to a non wasteful man powered society.

7/1/97 Back to the airport at 9 am and cleared the paperwork from the cargo section but despite Mr Abdullah Khan's best efforts (Assistant Customs Commissioner) and his treating me like a diplomat and arranging all the paperwork, the motorcycle was not to be released today. I am to phone back at 1 pm tomorrow, two days and counting. An enjoyable afternoon however was spent cruising the Buriganga River. This is the lifeline to Dhaka with over 200 medium sized boats Busy street scene hauling in the city's needs. Passenger ferries and small cross river boats along with riverbank activities all made this a sensory overload.

8/1/97 So far I have been in Bangladesh 3 days and have spent 70% of business hours chasing paperwork, and 90% of energy. Because I arrived by plane and wish to leave by land, a road permit is required. This was applied for on Monday, two hours, to be collected today, another two hours plus time getting to and from in Dhaka traffic. A pleasant trip to the National Museum capped off the morning and at 1 pm and again at 2.30 pm and no. the motorbike is not ready. Come tomorrow at 10 am, it will be ready then. After another trying day and still waiting to get riding, I did the most relaxing thing available (no, no alcohol, Muslim country - no, no sex, married) I had a beard trim. For the amazing price of 60c Aust, beard trim, shave, facial massage, wash and hot towel over about 40 minutes. Very soothing.

9/1/97 You realize the level of technological development here when equating a one minute phone call to Australia represents two day's pay of theThe crated bike arrives with many onlookers average labourer. Finally, all the bureaucratic processes finished and the bike is ready. 100 people try to assist me with uncrating it only making the situation worse as I needed to install the battery and reconnect the fuel lines. Three days and $US 90 in charges and it is not difficult to see why some countries are not progressing. A 20 km ride back to the hotel, great to be on the road again even in the traffic. A few small luxuries make up for the difficult conditions in some countries. I have decided to hang the expense and have my clothes washed instead of doing it myself (as happened on the first trip). At about 50c Aust a day, I will trade the inconvenience of bureaucracy with the convenience of cheap labour.

10/1/97 It appears I have more luggage than carrying capacity and with my wife coming to join me in April, will require more. I discover that anything of any design can be made readily in Bangladesh. Two heavy duty black vinyl bags for the top of each pannier and two bags for between the crash bars custom designed and made for $A 27 total. It took two Japanese man walking around the world workers all day in a small bag shop where bags are usually made as piecework for the western market.

11/1/97 They say no trip to Bangladesh is complete without experiencing a river boat ride on one of the thousands of boats on one of the hundreds of waterways, and while anxious to get riding, it is easier to take a trip now from Dhaka while the motorcycle is safe. So I am now plying the river to Khulna on a turn of the century paddle steamer, first class service and a cabin to myself. This two day, three night trip up and down waterways of the Ganges mouth delta, past hundreds of small villages costs $A60. The constant droning of the engines is relaxing after the horn blowing bustle of Dhaka traffic.

12/1/97 Same as yesterday, observing the river delta this time heading back towards Dhaka. The land here is only just above river height and I can see why so many people die in times of flood or cyclone.

13/1/97 The motorcycle is now covered in a vinyl (similar to that used in sign writing) and it is time to find an artist who can paint a Bengal tiger on the front fairing. A few questions, a rickshaw ride and I have an artist. A trip to the market to select a poster to paint from andLocal artist painting the tiger and cubs six hours later a hand painted Bengal tiger with two cubs lying in the forest. All completed in a day and for $A 18. It will never cease to amaze me how fast things can be achieved in Bangladesh in the private sector and how painfully slow in the public sector of Government. My only complaint at this stage is that everyone calls my bike a Honda and no-one has ever heard of a Harley-Davidson. No-one is perfect.

14/1/97 I found out today that all motorcycles here are called Honda, a generic name like Thermos or Hoover so I am not so insulted (Not that there is anything wrong with Hondas). Had the lid of the top box painted with a river fishing scene and a tour to the tourist sights of Dhaka. There aren't any. I have been here eight days and seen less than 10 westerners. I think you come to Bangladesh to see it now for it's past is gone and the future unsure.

15/1/97 5.30 am departure to Chittagong (248 km) and I still have 20 people to watch the departure. A tank of octane. reportedly 100% at 44c Aust per litre and the motorcycle runs smoothly on it. Within the first 10 km, I am forced off the road into the soft dirt, not by an oncoming vehicle but one going in my direction deciding to overtake while I was right Brick roads in a stoneless country along side him. The trucks have side mirrors but they don't extend beyond the tray so you can only be seen when almost next to the driver. They have no indicators, or none being used, and no brake lights. Everywhere along the road are truck wrecks, either from accidents, of which there seem to be many, or from vehicles needing repairs, which are carried out where the vehicle stops. Anything from a flat tyre to a new engine.

16/1/97 From Chittagong to Cox's Bazaar today (150 km), while the first 60 km in slight drizzle was on good road (chance to try out the new wet weather gear) the rest of the trip was road under construction, 200 metres sealed, 200 metres gravel all the way. There is no easily obtainable gravel in the area so rice fields are dug up and the clay used to make bricks. All along the road are brick making furnaces. The bricks are then smashed by hand into road gravel base, sometimes 3-4 metres deep to avoid flooding in the wet. On top of the road base two or three herringbone layers of full brick are laid and then a veneer of tar is spread after heating it in 44 gallon drums along the roadside. The entire process by hand obviously keeping many people in work.
17/1/97 I am
Boiling asphalt to cover the road getting used to the customs here despite it being Ramadan, the fasting month for Muslims. Nothing, including water is taken by mouth from about 5 am to 5.30 pm. A siren sounds at 3.30 am to wake everyone, last chance to eat and then another siren at 5 am to finish eating and time to pray. It is extremely impolite to eat outside during the day as a non Muslim. However fasting is broken by some discretely and a very few restaurants remain open but with curtains drawn and doors closed. I rode down the reputed longest beach in the world, 100 miles of hard-packed sand. Usually hard-packed, however I managed to bog the Harley twice and dropped it once. The beach extends from Cox's Bazaar to the Burma border. The scenery is magnificent with small fishing villages along the way, boats out to sea and cultivated paddocks.

18/1/97 Attempted to leave Cox's Bazaar early but realized my camera was missing. Some light-fingered work at hand on a tourist. Three hours later and all the formalities of looking and the management questioning staffBogged on the 100 mile beach from Cox's Bazaar to Burma to no avail. Despite the disappointment, the ride back to Chittagong was still pleasant in the cool winter's day. It is extremely difficult for me to find anywhere to go to the toilet. The Bangla simply squat anywhere but they don't have fifty onlookers. I need to hop off the motorcycle quickly, move away so they realize what is happening. Once a crowd has formed it can become very embarrassing for both sides.

19/1/97 A day spent in Chittagong, after meeting some 20 year old locals and playing cards till 1 am, it was a late start. I cannot believe how friendly the people here are. Every day someone will approach me with reasonable English and invite me to their house or to join them in a cup of tea at the local tea house. The group from last night arranged a car and this afternoon took me to the ship graveyard. A mud flat where large old ships from around the world are driven onto the flats at high tide and then broken up for scrap metal. Thousands of workers dismantle the ships at $A1.80 a day wages.

20/1/97 A long day ride of 260 km (long on Bangladesh roads) heading for Dhaka until Camilla and then north on to Srimangal. Once off the main ChittagongFishing boat off Cox Bazar - Dhaka road, there was less traffic but due to the unevenness of the surface my speed dropped to 50-60 km/hr. This is some of the prettiest flat country I have ever seen. Green rice fields interspersed with ploughed fields and the yellow of flowering rape seed (Canola). The usual thousands of workers out tending the fields.

21/1/97 The full realization of the advantage of travelling a foreign country on your own motorcycle is fully explored when leaving Srimangal in the early hours of a winter's morning in the mist and light drizzle to slowly meander through the plantations and forests in the surrounding hills. Bordering the wettest place on earth in India and boasting one of the lowest populations in Bangladesh, it is a great relief from the crowded and dusty lowlands. It is also pleasant to see women again, normally kept under wraps in the more Muslim area, the migrant tea plantation workers from India are quite visible in the fields.

22/1/97 Off early again, this time in thick fog, heading for Sylhet, Jaimtopur, Tamabil at the Indian border. There are rolling blackouts here, where one area will be without power for a couple of hours. That includes petrol pumps, so either keep the tank full or be prepared for a long wait. Octane is not available in this area and I have to use regular petrolHand making bricks for the roads . The bike pings a bit under acceleration but otherwise runs fine. The scenery again is postcard with the last planting of rice in the slowly drying irrigation ditches, being the last water at the end of the winter dry. Back to the city of Sylhet, which is abuzz leading up to the end of the day's fasting, people rushing to position themselves for food as the siren sounds and the city is quiet with everyone eating. Another day of Ramadan fasting passed.

23/1/97 Trying to get to Mymensingh today but have to retrace my steps back towards Dhaka to Brahmanbarier before there is a river crossing. There are very few bridges across major north/south rivers and with the water level so low, no vehicle ferries can operate. This lasts for 3-4 months each year. The day was slowed further by an intermittent electrical problem. The connection between the regulator and the engine block was faulty and required major roadside surgery. Underway again and it was good to see extensive roadside tree plantings. Timber is still used extensively and with land needed for agriculture, the roadsides are the only areas left for planting. In fact, the roadsides are swept for leaves and no trees have dead branches, such is theRiver ferry out of Dhaka need for fuel for cooking.

24/1/97 After having heard the 3 am siren everyday to call all good Muslims to breakfast prior to 5 am prayer and the day's fasting. I decided to join them this morning. I skipped the cold winter's morning wash and went straight to breakfast. They have rice chicken curry, followed by rice milk banana. Curry this early didn't sit well so I just had dessert. This morning program lasts 30 days, but for me one was enough. Quite a dedication to your religion is necessary to complete Ramadan. Headed south from Mymensingh looking for a westward crossing of the great Jamuna River. Despite considering loading the motorcycle onto a small passenger boat, too risky, there was no alternative but to head almost all the way back to Dhaka. Staying the night at Tangoil.

25/1/97 A rest day, minor maintenance, washing, writing and phoning home. It is interesting how the animals here have adapted to city life. While little is thrown away, there seems to be enough for the urban goats roaming from tip to restaurant eating all vegetable matter, escorted by their urban shepherds. A trip to the Atia mosque, featured on the 10 TakaPhoto from a few friendly locals note and the day is complete.

26/1/97 Off to Jessore, the hopping off spot to the Indian border. 300 km taking eight hours including a one hour ferry across Bangladesh's widest river (at 6 km plus) and a one hour wait for the ferry. Bangladesh in summary (being the last full day). Best features, it's people, the friendliest most hospitable and helpful I have ever met. Second best, it's countryside, the sheer magnitude of the flatland farming, all hand tilled and the beauty of the meandering rivers is amazing. The downside, as usual, the corruption particularly in Government and the red tape and paperwork to achieve the simplest of tasks. The roads are adequate with little traffic outside cities and virtually no private vehicles, bicycles, motorcycles or cars. It seems a shame that as a country does become more wealthy, the roads become clogged with private vehicles and the rivers polluted with plastic as seen elsewhere.

27/1/97 Jessore to Benopole at the Indian border only one hour, arriving at 8 am and with Roll Royce treatment, the formalities completed by 9 am and through to India.

Move with me to India


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