Brahmanbaria to India - Bangladesh + India x 2 - CycleBlaze

November 15, 2010

Brahmanbaria to India

quite lane to Agartala

Sleep wan't very forthcoming last night thanks to mosquitoes or whatever taking samples from me. 

By three I'd had enough, so got up and used the Internet for a while and ate an orange before having another go at shut-eye, but in the end had to resort to putting up my tent's mosquito net, which felt a bit like camping indoors. It worked though, and is something I should've done that at the outset. 

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It's now almost ten and the banks will be open - yes, on Sunday here - so I'll pop to one shortly to get some US dollars changed into taka because I'll need it when I return in the not-so-distant future and it'll be one less thing to worry about. 

Although it's doubtful the bank will have rupees, I'll ask anyway as those in Agartala across the line will be closed today and I don't have any Indian currency.

Perhaps this happens to other solo male travellers: the Bangla-speaking cleaner guy who comes in makes some obviously suggestive gestures and I have draw a line under it by shooing him out the room. Maybe it's got to do with wearing Lycra shorts.

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Well, it turns out that the bank business is out of the question due to a national politically motivated strike today. A group of about 20 protesters march past my window and there were rumors going round last night about something like this. The hotel manager confirms it before taking me to a traditional café for the usual breakfast and during our time together it seems that he and his mates want me to go to the nearby police station for help - they say the strikers will attack any foreigner: of course it's absolutely ridiculous and I'm not at all sure the police will give me any and they don't, not that I need it. Some people simply worry too much. 

Anyway, Mr Manager does find me a money changer tucked down an alley where I swap US$100 for a wedge of taka. Still no rupees, but never mind being rupeeless as it's time to hit the road andMr. Manager bids me farewell and I follow his instructions and make my way south back along where the bus transported me yesterday afternoon.

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It's clear to see now why it'd been so painfully bumpy. Serious potholes dot the crumbling tarmac. However, the warmth of the villagers and townsfolk is incredible, even for super-friendly Bangladeshis, and I'm forever returning waves and greetings while pedalling along and whenever I halt to take a snap, a crowd collects around and at one point around 50 are looking at me using the camera, all of them good natured, willing and eager to pose, and probably wanting to find out what this nutcase is up to.

 It's going to take me ages to progress the 25km to India, but who cares.

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After around an hour or so and with something like 10 km on the clock, I get to the turnoff for Akhuara, simply a dinky one-street village, and ride eastwards for India wondering if this could be right. 

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Maybe it has something to do with the strike, but whereas I'd expected a fight with fast traffic on a hectic, cross-border highway, the country lane is even more tranquil, with very few automobiles and no trucks - just me and the occasional rickshaw and green CNG three-wheeler trundling along. And cattle. Loads of cattle.

The Muslim festival of Eid is on Wednesday and the road-side bazaars I've passed recently are no doubt connected, as it's traditional at this time to slaughter an animal and distribute the meat to the poor. 

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As I make my way along this tree-shaded backroad, about every 50 metres there's a man leading a cow (many wearing decorations), so someone's in for a heck of lot of beef.

Eventually I come across the livestock market in a school playing field, attended by around 1,000 people, with the cattle tethered in rows to bamboo poles, seemingly according to their size, etc. The whole place is heaving - no women, though - and there are obviously many more folks and cows on their way.

Once my bike is lent against the perimeter wall, it doesn't take long for me to become the centre of attention with a flock of followers and while walking around, various men encourage me to take a shot of their pride and joy - before it gets the chop.

Now almost 3:00, I've just covered about 20 km - ultra-slow progress - but a splendid way to spend a day.

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A few long bridges span calm rivers that resemble huge lakes, even now in winter out of monsoon season, with fields of rice stretching between, looking particularly green, as if it's been over-Photoshopped. Wet areas are full of the purple flowing crop that I believe is used as cattle fodder. Individual homes are spaced across this land and running parallel to the road are rail lines, where young boys and their fathers lead cows, no doubt walking to the big bazaar. In the far distance are hazy cumulus clouds .

Cycling along, two guys on a Honda motorcycle pull up and ask for a photo, standing with each of them in turn, then soon after another bike stops and - much to my amusement - the pair of young dudes on it politely ask for my autograph. You couldn't make this stuff up.

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It's not far to the border now and trucks loaded up to the top with aggregate or bricks are waiting in a queue that stretches for over a kilometer before the customs post. This is where they all are. They're all static, engines turned off: Who knows how long they've been here? (probably overnight)

I cruise beside them and pay the 300 taka departure tax and get the customs formalities soon over with; immigration likewise. 

I'm now in India!

It seems only minutes before reaching Agartala and after riding across a couple of small intersections manned by a white-uniformed traffic cops controlling the minimal flow of traffic, I keep cycling straight and feel pleased to spot the Starlight Hotel which looks pretty nice. 

A single with AC is 600 rupees (about 15 US dollars) and even though I've zero the manager accepts I'll cough up in the morning once either the adjacent bank, money changer or emptied-out ATM opens for business.

A delicious vegetable curry comes with a heaping of long grain boiled rice and a warm nan direct from the oven, all put on my hotel's tab. Indian food - I love it.

Today's ride: 28 km (17 miles)
Total: 503 km (312 miles)

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