Posts from the ‘The ‘Desh’ Category

There’s Nowt Wrong With The ‘Gong…

Part of the countdown to time away is the email from the third party booking company reminding you of your latest adventure. Usually it’s full of stuff to do, the rainy day high brow stuff, the cool cat stuff, the restaurants you can’t afford stuff as well as the nuts and bolts of your itinerary. The Chittagong email came through five days before I set off. Ominously, although the ever present itinerary was faithfully there, the correspondence contained no travel guide, just a generic picture of a bicycle that they’d clearly run out of space for as part of their guide to Indian destinations.Checking in at the hotel, I was informed, on asking for a map of the city that, sorry sir, such a thing didn’t exist. Welcome to Chittagong, probably best you make it up as you go along! Having persuaded the elder statesman on the hotel reception desk to give us at least the nucleus of an itinerary we jumped in the nearest tuk-tuk and headed into the heat and haze of Bangladesh’s third most populated city. 
Magnificently ramshackle, Chittagong is a treasure trove of consumer durables, scrap iron and miscellaneous ol’ toot. Areas of the town are marked out by the stuff they peddle there, with areas for ceramics, wrought iron pipes, hoses and plastic toy three wheeler tricycles all possibly delineated on the map that doesn’t exist. Steptoe and Son and, indeed, Del-Boy would doubtless love it here, so too the two old coves from the greatest Two Ronnies sketch. I’m sure somewhere within this port city there is an area where purveyors of handles for forks vie for punters. As our tuk-tuk driver pluckily battled his way amongst the hierarchy of Bangladesh road users (pedestrians are the plankton, lorries the killer whales, the rest sit somewhere between the two) we drank it all in (noxious exhaust fumes and all). 
Bangladesh is one of the world’s most populous nations and seemingly much of life is spent from getting from A to B at all hours of the day. For people watching, this is absolutely wonderful. Old fellows push wagons laden with fresh spices along the side of the road, they are overtaken by even older fellows who slowly pant and painfully pedal their wrecked bicycle rickshaws past. In an isolated nod to the Health and Safety culture that bestrides our culture, the tuk-tuks here have cages welded on for passenger safety and comfort, which is different from the ones I’ve previously experienced in India and Sri Lanka. The cars carry scrapes and bumps as well as crash bars, Hi-Aces of all vintages take their place in the road race too. People cram on and cling to tops of buses, while lorries, as they do back in Blighty, mess it all up for everyone else.

 

And it’s not what they drive around here, but how they drive that makes for such compelling viewing. Roundabouts are guidelines, one way streets are a challenge and he who dares- and it’s almost always ‘he’ behind the wheel- definitely wins. The curiosity gets the better of me, and during a particularly overcrowded late morning spell around the Jubilee Road at the heart of the city, I go to find the one of the local policeman to get an insight into the world of the Chittaging traffic cop. As with many of his colleagues, the constable is helpfulness personified and shakes my hand and poses for a photo. He then hands me the microphone into which he’d been barking out orders. If the traffic were paying scant attention to him, there’s little chance they’ll listen to me. Undaunted, I bid the city’s drivers a hearty good morning before heading off into the crowds.
Away from the traffic, the richness of the architecture- or lack of it- is also something to behold. Having got lost in the myriad of atmospheric, haphazardly constructed in tunnels and avenues among Chittagong’s backstreets,  we visit the city’s ancient court building, an enchanting, imposing looking building painted vivid pink. Whether it was this hue when it was built by the British- or, more than likely, built by the horse-whipped locals as the British looked on- is debatable. This city has colour of all shades which cheerfully mark out all manner of dwellings and landmarks from Chittagong’s many and varied mosques to its multi-faceted markets. Plus there’s trees, lots of lovely trees. Statues of the famous Bengal tiger crop up around and about, and although there is plenty of lush jungle-like vegetation, the big cats are, sadly, nowhere to be seen.
Chittagong, like life, is what you make of it. My nine days in Bangladesh have been enlightening, and for all kinds of reasons. The locals have been friendly and welcoming. Cricket brought me to see this great city, and, alas it’s unlikely, unless England rework their Test Match schedule in the near future, that I’ll return here soon. If I do come back, I’ll not need a map to help me out. All things considered, there’s nothing much to do in Chittagong, but plenty.

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“There’s a club if you’d like to go….”

I’d known the existence of the place prior to booking my digs for the trip. The Chittagong Club. An approving nod to another time, and another world. 

This gentleman’s club is still going strong today with the great and the good from the port city and the locale vying for membership. An oasis of calm over-looking the craziness and intensity of Chittagong, with my love of imperial history I’d have been happy visiting just the once, however, happily this exclusive club has become our chosen venue for post match curry and beers at the close of play. It pays to know the right people around here, you know. Not that I do necessarily know the right people, but, a good chum of mine who arrived here a day or so before me gave me the all-important brief.
“Collared shirt, long trousers and shoes… Tell ’em you’re a guest of Mr Rubel. Pass it on!’ Now throughout my time in this charming city I’ve shaken hands, high-fived and have had selfies with seemingly most of the folk that live here. Mr Rubel, alas, has remained elusive. Which is a shame, as I’d like to shake him warmly by the hand and thank him for his magnanimity. A brief check of the register of the names who’ve passed through these doors recently, match officials, press men, snappers and the like suggests Mr Rubel is extremely popular, which is why, presumably, with all these esteemed people in front of me, I’ve not had chance to have an audience with the great man himself.

Signing in is something of a ceremonious procedure. The clerks on the door inspect your get-up before you pass through and into the lobby. A stately marble staircase dominates and pictures of committee members past stare down on you almost like a final security check. I must confess, I’ve winged it with my posh espadrilles this last week or so, because, rather sadly, in this part of the world some things are overlooked based on who you are.

The club was originally built by a local tea magnate in 1878, it was refurbished in 2012 and builders are still busy at work working on the next extension as the plans for the club and the neighbouring sports complex begin to take shape. Downstairs, there are ballrooms, committee rooms, dining rooms, and, naturally, as befitting gentleman’s clubs, a billiards room. There’s also, La Salle De Roses, which suggests that the Chittagong club are doing their bit for equality here. There is a very long way to go, however.

Upstairs, on the verandah, under the supervision of the brilliant waiting staff, staring across the lawns and the palm trees I’m transported back to that other time, that other world. The Chittagong Club has been one of the tour’s highlights. Here’s to you, Mr Rubel.