Having visited most of the major sights in Sreemangal on my first full day there, I was left with one more day to explore.
The town itself is quite small and I was a little worried I’d have nothing to do all day. My fears were quickly allayed by my excellent host and local expert Tapas – owner of Green Leaf Guest House and Green Leaf Eco Tourism – who sorted me out with a bicycle for the morning and a couple of places to check out.
Oddly enough (although it makes perfect sense) Tapas had to apply for a permit for me to ride around and venture out into the countryside alone, informing the authorities of where I was planning to visit. Although it sounds a bit Orwellian it was actually for my own safety, as the government have been stricter with tourism since the terrorist attack in a cafe back in 2016 which claimed the lives of 29 people – mostly foreigners.
The first point of interest was Bharaura Lake, which was a short ride away from my accommodation; about two miles or so. A bumpy ride through a small village led me to a peaceful country road lined with tea fields and workers slaving away on either side. I said it before when I was going for the seven-layer tea, but it’s hard to believe such a peaceful place is on the same planet as Dhaka, never mind in the same country!
I was half expecting to just stumble upon the lake on the side of the road, so was quite surprised when I got to another little village with no lake in sight! I was even more shocked to check my Google Maps and see I’d actually cycled close to four miles, two further than I needed to!
I was half expecting sirens and flashing lights as I’d gone further than my permit allowed! Jokes aside, it was good to get the exercise in and I set off back the way I came. Eventually, after riding down a bumpy road and negotiating the grass fields I found myself at the lake. Have you ever tried riding a bike on uncut grass, by the way? I nearly stacked it about ten times!
Thankfully unlike the previous day there was no ridiculously loud speaker pumping out terrible music, so I was actually able to have a few minutes to myself alone with my thoughts. That was until – rather predictably – a group of local teenagers came over to ask me where I was from and take a few selfies. I’ve no idea how celebrities do it, seriously.
With my publicity duties done it was time to saddle up again and head across town to Shib Bari temple.
Again once I’d got out of the town centre (fairly hectic but not even 1% of Dhaka levels!) it was tea-lined roads all the way with a few small villages in the middle. I’ve shown you enough pictures of those, so here’s a bunch of lads who stopped me for a selfie instead.
I always feel a bit odd visiting such religious places where people are actively worshipping, and I’m never sure how appropriate it is to take pictures. I always find a compromise of just picturing the building and try not to get people in the picture. I’m not really sure it’s necessary and nine times out of ten it probably wouldn’t bother people but it makes me feel better anyway!
There were a couple of other buildings in the grounds, but as is often the case it was a quick stop for a few pictures and I was on my way again. To be honest neither sight was mind-blowing (and they weren’t sold as such, to be fair!) but it was brilliant just to get out on a bike and explore for myself – something that was a complete impossibility in Dhaka!
With 15 miles under my belt (according to my Fitbit, anyway!) it was time to hand the bike back and explore by boat instead.
Tapas’ company, Green Leaf Eco Tourism, does exactly what the name suggests: focuses on eco tourism and getting you to see the real side of Bangladesh. Without wishing for this to sound like an advert for the man and his company, visitors to Bangladesh could do a lot worse than to talk to him as he has contacts all over the country!
I was joined by a Swedish lad called Sebastian, who I’d met in Dhaka, for an afternoon at the local wetlands with the local fishermen. It’s this type of authentic experience which made my time in Sreemangal worthwhile; no fancy tour buses, just authenticity.
We arrived in a CNG down a bumpy road and had to walk the final half a kilometre or so due to the relaying of the road, which as far as I could see, involved a load of fellas twatting bricks into rubble before it would be covered with something else. Backbreaking work!
Once we were on the boat, it was a peaceful trip out to a small island where some local fishermen were based. It really was a different world. Again, nothing to blow your socks off in terms of sightseeing, but a real glimpse into the everyday life of Bangladeshi people.
There were tents set up as well as a mini stove, so I assumed some of the men were here for the long haul. I wondered how long one could stay in such a place. Although there were enough fish to feed the 5,000, I think I would’ve gone a little crazy after a day.
It really was the middle of nowhere. The only noise you could hear came from the fishermen and the fish splashing in the water. I feel like a broken record saying it, but it really was a million miles away from the madness of Dhaka. I absolutely loved it.