Overland to Bangladesh 1973 – Part 11: Calcutta to Jessore
Calcutta to Jessore
On Monday, I walked to the Bangladesh High Commission and the advice they gave me was to take the trunk with me – which was my original plan. I then changed another £5 of my traveller’s cheques – this later proved to be an ill-judged amount. By 11am, with the usual flurry of porters, taxi drivers and spectators, the trunk and I were settled in a cab and ferried to Sealdah Station, which served destinations north and east – although not Bangladesh, in spite of the fact that the railway lines ran across the border uninterrupted. Since partition, no trains had been allowed to cross over, making a nonsense of the railway network in Bengal, where all lines focussed on Calcutta.
Sealdah was slightly less overwhelming than Howrah, but more shabby in appearance. I bought a ticket for Bongaon, the closest one could get to the Bangladesh border by train, and then sat on the platform with my porter, where I parried the attempts of three shoe-shine boys to polish my plastic sandals. Eventually, for peace of mind’s sake, I let one wax-polish them for 25 paisa.
The train left at 2.20pm and reached Bongaon by 5. By then, I was beginning to realise that I faced a cash problem. I was down to my last 30 rupees and had to transport myself and trunk to the border post, which always involved two porters, and from there to Jessore, as well as paying for my board and lodging.
I took two cycle rickshaws – one for me, the other for the trunk – to the border post and by the time I arrived, it was getting dark. My first impression was that East Bengal was alive with grasshoppers and fireflies. Sitting at the passport officer’s desk, which was outside under a tree, I was bombarded in the light of his hurricane lamp by all manner of hopping and flying insects. The sky was starlit and there were hundreds of flashing lights in the huge trees. It was extraordinarily atmospheric. I could just make out that it was beautiful country – greenery everywhere, palm trees, women and children washing themselves in the full pools.
Customs formalities were minimal because with no electricity it was too dark to check the contents of my trunk effectively by the light of a hurricane lamp.
When I reached the Bangladesh passport officer, I informed him that I had only 10 takas in cash. He was very helpful and procured a scooter taxi, saying that for 25 takas, it would take me to a hotel in Jessore where I could spend the night and pay in the morning. So I set off, sitting beside the driver with my luggage occupying all the back. It was a very uncomfortable and hair-raising journey, made magical by the sight of a huge orange moon rising between the amazing trees which lined the Benapol Road.
The Parveen Hotel, which we reached at quarter to eight, had a double room with an adjoining shower and loo for what I considered the rather exorbitant price of 22 takas. But I was in no position to quibble and I took it. The bed had a mosquito net and the bathroom was crawling with enormous cockroaches.
Bangladesh seemed over-endowed with insect life. I doused myself in Oil of Citronella and swatted mosquitoes trapped inside the net. When I went to the bathroom, I had to stamp to make the cockroaches run for the drain. I crushed one in the door hinge and was horrified to see its carcass being carried away by a veritable army of tiny ants, growing in number by the second. Alarmed at the notion of being taken over by ants, I put an end to the ‘moving’ scene with a few drops of Citronella.