“You know the Uddin Hills in Shahporan Uposhohor? You know...near the Khadimnagar National Park! Come on...to the East of Sylhet! Yes, of course, of course it’s in Bangladesh.”
Now Sylhet may have sprung into the minds of a few cricket fans in the last few weeks, as it is home to several matches in the World T20 Cricket Tournament; if you can bring yourself to call T20 cricket, that is! However to the uninitiated it is likely you’ll have never heard of either Sylhet the district or Sylhet the city. Lying in the North-eastern corner of the country, the city marks the edge of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta and the start of the hilly tracts, which extend up to the border with India.
For Andrea and me it was our first trip outside Dhaka and what an enormous relief that was! It’s been a bit like being stuck in London; you know there must be a real world outside, but you’re not really sure how tangible it is! As we only had a four day weekend we flew, rather than take the train; the flight only takes about 50 minutes compared to several hours by rail. Dhaka’s domestic terminal wins hands down over the international one and Sylhet Airport, although small, was first class. We flew on different carriers, United Airways (not United Airlines!) on the way up and Novoair on the way back; they were similarly priced but Novoair were clearly the better airline. Unfortunately the views en route were poor; a murky haze covered most of the country.
We stayed at the Shuktara Nature Retreat, of which more later, that edged onto the large area devoted to tea plantations and from which we walked for our first full day, eventually resulting in us covering 10-12km. From the resort the path led us down the hillside and through a sprawling village before we entered the plantations proper.
The villagers were obviously surprised to see us and we could feel their stares on our backs all of the time. They were welcoming however, not in the come in for a cup of tea way, but in returned smiles and attempts at conversation, as long as this was initiated by us.
It appeared that most of the adults and girls were working, albeit light work, whereas the vast majority of boys everywhere were playing cricket.
It has to be said that the wickets (for the non-cricketer that’s the strip in the middle between the stumps) were variable, from poor to downright terrible. The equipment again varied, although quite a few had full size bats and stumps, most had cut down or homemade versions, whilst the balls ranged from tennis to something approximating a cricket ball (much small and harder than a baseball). The quality of batting was quite exemplary, in a T20 sort of way, and the kids carried it off with some style, but the same could not be said of the bowling.
Quite clearly these lads have watched cricket on TV and perhaps it is the camera angle that has confused them as regards bowling, or maybe they’ve got to a see a lot of “chuckers” getting away with it but, almost to a boy, they throw rather than bowl the ball. I will confess it’s a little disconcerting when you first face one of these guys; the ball being released from half the normal distance and half the normal height, in a baseball-like “pitch”, on a much flatter trajectory, with little chance of it bouncing true or bouncing at all, and the bat you’re holding is half the normal length. This goes a long way to explaining why when executing a perfect sweep shot (see photo) the ball declined to cooperate and can be seen passing my body on the way to the wicket. Andrea pointed out to anyone who was within hearing that “he isn’t very good anyway”, which I found faintly insulting but is probably true. (Take a gander at the beautifully muscled calf though!)
But back to the plantations, for the above shot loses our chronology by at least 24 hours! Andrea snapped this photo of three lads having a thoroughly engaging time with an old bike tyre, which really does go to show that children should be deprived of all modern technology until they are at least twenty-one or of working age, whichever is the later!
The villages were generally very clean and tidy, which contrasted with the towns, that were litter ridden and clearly without adequate disposal systems. I touched on this in my last blog (BBB 3) and the problem is obviously extensive. In recent research for school I found out there were 2,300 registered NGOs operating in Bangladesh; perhaps it’s about time one of them focussed on the recycling of waste.