Bangladesh – Part 9 – Moheshkall Island

Today we learn that the ‘earth can move for you’ even when you’re by yourself! and getting to an island can be a wonderful experience especially with a family of Bangladeshis and our tuktuk driver goes well beyond our expectations.

I’d been up for a short while and had made a coffee. Since I’ve become lactose intolerant I’ve relearned to like it black and normally add a little bit of cold water to enable me to drink it without taking the skin off my mouth. We’d been out the previous night and one of our party had shown us to a hotel that was licensed to sell alcohol so I’m staring into my cup with some enthusiasm. It’s a strange thing that the top of a liquid should wobble… then I realise I feel a bit dizzy, well actually I don’t feel dizzy I just feet that the building is moving and we’re on the seventh floor so that could be an issue; however, I still haven’t taken on board that a building can move. This strange feeling has been going on for ten or more seconds and I’ve decided to get the Pilgrim out of bed as I’m really not happy about the circumstances and starting to feel that it’s time to leave the building. To this end I’m moving quite quickly to the bedroom door – then it stops. There is no dust coming down from the ceiling and no swinging light bulbs or anything else for that matter so I put it down to being a bit slow around the cerebral area due to the unexpected bonanza in alcohol. C wakes up naturally over the next 10 minutes and we’re ready for the fray.

So we’re going to Moheshkall Island, it’s about half an hour north on a good run then a 20-minute exhilarating speedboat ride or a forty-five minute more sedate ride in a large wooden launch.

We’re intent on the speedboat. Our tuktuk driver not only knows where we are going he takes us through the street market crowds along what appears to be a track really only for walkers and when he can’t get any further he helps us out of the tuktuk and walks with us to the jetty where he begins negotiating on our behalf intent, initially, in getting us a whole boat to ourselves. We try a couple of stock phrases i.e. “we want to go with the others” and “everyone together” when the Pilgrim hits the right word that resolves it, “Share, we want to share”.

Penny dropped, he begins negotiating again. We weren’t aware that the cost of the boat is entirely dependent on the number of people in it and how strong the chief negotiator is, in our case it turns out pretty good and the extended family group that we share with are delighted too as it gives them a captive brace of Europeans with whom they can pose for lots of ‘selfies’.

We leave the jetty in the chaos of negotiations where boats are being boarded then vacated as the occupants threaten to abandon until a better deal is struck. The shouting gets louder and louder then there’s a sudden silence as the deal is struck and the vacating passengers all turn around and climb back on again. We could have done with these guys over the last couple of years in Europe.

We’re on our way now. The boat gently picks up speed as the circumstances and other traffic allows our driver to accelerate. We pass all manner of sea vessels some of which have never seen a plimsole line whilst others have seen it but it’s underwater!

There’s the odd boat with a line-fisherman pitting his wits against whatever lies below the gentle waves that are the natural ebb and flow of the current in this bay. There’s also unnatural waves created by the other vessels and these produce the odd uneasy moment as we cut across their crests. We scoot along in parallel to some mangroves that remind me of Florida but there are no ‘gators or crocks here.

After twenty minutes of excitement and a degree of stardom with the selfies, we approach the pier where there are lots of people all willing to ‘help’ us as we disembark. It’s a bit of an ordeal as we pass along the pier, “no thanks’, pester pester, “no thanks we like walking”, baffled, pester pester, “no thanks we really do like walking”. More pester, pester but now he’ll do a better deal and when I don’t want any deal it does go on – a bit like Brexit. They also believe that as Europeans, specifically English, you must be loaded. We eventually shake off all but a young kid on a rickshaw bike and he’s so tenacious as to really piss me off. He stays with us for the best part of half a kilometre then doubles back to the jetty on the off-chance a new boat with a new lot of potential victims might have arrived.

By now we’re at the village which is the first point of contact for new visitors and there’s a small township of traders lining the route to the steps that lead to the temple. The temple steps are quite steep but well worth the effort.

We leave our shoes at the entrance along with many other pilgrims already in the building. There are separate rooms for different deities all with a different expression or hand gesture. In one of them, someone is explaining the meaning of the open hand but I wasn’t close enough to pick up the detail, I do; however, resolve to look it up, it’s fascinating.

It takes a good half an hour to look around the various rooms and it’s a privilege to watch the devotion of the people that believe. ‘Live and let live’ is my mantra and these people seem to be like that so and it releases my inner hippy and we leave strangely relaxed, I’m not a convert but I’m happy for them, it all seems very gentle.

As we reach the entrance/exit we note our trainers have gone, it’s a bit of a shock considering where we are and a disappointment too. Then we’re beckoned by a lady in a sari in the corner. She points to the trainers, she’d spotted them and one or two others that were higher value than normal and moved them into her care. She neither asks for nor looks desperate for money so I don’t feel scammed and I slip her a couple of ringets for her care (a ringet as I write is about 20p). OK, I may be gullible but at least she’d done something for her money and the trainers were never a hostage.

Leaving the temple we’re back down the steps and walking through the tiny village of traders then we fork right and begin a gentle stroll through a traditional village encampment and we’re joined by a young man who tries to engage us with conversation.

“May I talk to you?”, he asks. My natural instinct is to ignore him on the grounds that he’s probably trying to sell us something but there is something more about him so we give a guarded ascent. It turns out he’s an islander and he teaches English. He walks with us for about a kilometre practicing his English on us and learning from the responses. As we approach anything that he thinks will be of interest he gives us advance notice and advices me to get my camera ready. He points out a ‘big tree’ and explains it’s been there for years and was the centre of the village, not now through, the centre is the village pond.

As we round the corner towards the pond we’re exposed to a very traditional scene. There’s a lady who has finished with her washing and now bagging it in one of the sheets that have been part of the washing process; I smile as I think that it’s the same technique that I adopt when I’m stripping the beds to wash the bed linen at home.

There’s a man who’s getting washed by crouching at the side of the pond on the huge root of a tree giving him some shade. He’s cupping his hand and throwing water at his face and upper body then rubbing it off. There’s no sign of soap for this process and that’s probably a good thing in terms of the pond water but not much cop without an agent to act as an emulsifier to mix the body oils and dead skin cells to combine and flush them away with the water. It could be an interesting ambience with a half dozen of these lovely people in a small hut, on the other hand, these guys are probably healthier in terms of germs and natural antibodies than I’ll ever be and I apologise for any unintended slight.

We turn left on what seems quite a main road (well it is for this tiny island), it’s a little more than the width of my outstretched hands and it is tarmac so the walking becomes a little easier; however, we do have to contend with the odd truck and I wonder what the devil they’re doing here.

We pass a carpenter’s workshop with some examples of his work lying outside, I ask if I may take a photograph and receive a smile with the nod. A little further we reach a tidal river with a single track bridge over it with clever little pedestrian ‘safe’ areas about the size of two people and completely superfluous as the driving style and lack of traffic means there are few risks and island life is somewhat more relaxed than I’ve found on the mainland. Even if I chose to walk across the bridge with outstretched arms, all that would happen is that the tiny, intermittent flow of traffic would stop and wait then wave and carry on.

Across the bridge and I’m interested in some photographs of the boats currently lying on their side as victims of the tide but ready to spring into action again as the moon and planets silently and invisibly shift the water back to this tiny river to float them back to freedom and enable a return to fishing or trading. They’re lying on soft, shiny mud that’s as smooth as seal skin and just about the same colour. It’s unblemished save the footprints of the tradesman and the outline of the twists of the rope that will be the anchor when the water returns. The tradesman has found an issue and he’s chiselling off the barnacles to expose the wood and repair it when he sees me watching and taking photos so he poses, leaning on the hull with hammer and a smile, he reminds me of a Russian worker but a sickle would’ve completed the picture.

The road goes off to the right and we turn left towards another temple that is reputed to be worth a visit and we tour its separate gods and their residences then make our way to the little township that has grown around it. There are tiny alleys that we explore and receive smiles as a reward. They haven’t yet cottoned on to the irritating habits of some of the Asian characters on the Canaries who slide out like leaches whenever you touch or look at any of their produce, “I do you good deal sir” and there’s nothing you can say that will release you from their chronic, parasitic, semi-pleading dialogue.

Here’s a scenario from the Canaries last year.

I merely looked at a man-bag.

Canarian parasitic shopkeeper, “It’s bargain – 70 euro
”Me, “No thanks”
This iteration goes on for some time and then…
Him, “12 euro”
Me, “NO”. Becoming irritated and walking away.
Him, “How much”, desperate now.
Me, “5 cents”
Him, “Oh, that is stupid”
Me, “Well you started it…”

I’ve got to admit though, their ability to assess your nationality and deliver the speech in German, Dutch, French, English or nowadays, Russian is astonishing, all credit to that aspect.

Here’s hoping these lovely Bangladeshi people don’t get infected with the above and the pleasure of window shopping coupled with actual shopping in these wonderful alleys and ginnels remains at least for a few more years but the harassment at the jetty doesn’t bode well.

We decide on a tuktuk for the return journey and find he uses the same roads as we walked. Some of the industry has closed down for siesta or the Bangladeshi equivalent and the boat seen earlier has water washing along its lower bow. There’s no sign of the tradesman but his work is obvious, a neat patch and only visible because of the removal of the sea life, it’s a privilege to see all this especially so soon after the death of my father-in-law who was a proud shipwright at Smith’s Dock Middlesbrough and I enjoy a few nostalgic minutes thinking of him, he’d have loved this and probably spent some time with the tradesman talking technique. Maybe it’s an illusion caused by the heat and the vibrations from the tuktuk but there’s something near the boat…and then it’s gone and the boat moves as the returning water gently takes its weight.

We pull up short of the long jetty and it makes me think that the tuktuk drivers may be licensed to utilise the structure as it seems only certain ones ply the trade to and from the boats.

The return journey is a replica of the first but the cost is almost double even after the shouting match that doubles for negotiations; however, the odds this time are stacked against the buyer, we’re here on an island and have to get off whereas, on the mainland, we don’t HAVE to come.

If you’re ever in this neck of the woods, this is a must.

Evening time and we’re out for a meal with Frank discussing the day.

“Do you ever get any earthquakes in Bangladesh, Frank?”, I ask.

“Why, yes”, said he, “We got an email this morning from Central Office, there was one this morning, epicentre towards Chittagong, apparently it was 4.9 on the Richter scale”, short pause then, “Did you feel it?”

“Errr, yes, I felt it…and if it happens again I’ll certainly make a better effort at rousing my companion and utilising the staircase!”…

Enjoy the snaps. Love …G..x

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