Our route took us close to the border with the Indian state of Meghalaya. The people here are from the Garo tribal group. They are Tibetan looking and are matriarchal, believing that women created the world. The Garo are also known for brewing rice beer and wine. This is all quite a contrast to the rest of Bangaldesh. As we explore Garo villages, traveling by long boat for some of the way on shallow rivers that need careful navigation, we see the hills of Maghalaya in the distance. Women are head of the households and we visit the village of Bijoypur which was home of Rashmoni, famed as one of the earliest female martyrs against the British.
As we move away from the Garo region the faces change back to more Bengali looking. We continue on our route between paddy fields and wheat fields, a rural vista that is becoming so familiar to us. Pairs of oxen ploughing, brightly dressed people bent over tending to their crops. Its Christmas eve, 80km today, alot on mud and brick tracks. Staying at a gleaming, though rather cold hotel in Sherpur. Will Father Christmas find us here.
Well its Christmas morning and yes Father Christmas did find Becky and Katy. They woke to find stockings made from old biscuit wrappers and filled with sweets, soft drink, and crisps(hot and spicy flavour), which looked like they were sourced from the local market. Before we set off on what was to be an epic of a days bike ride we shared the piece of Christmas cake we had brought from England.
Still an early start today, despite being Christmas day, heading on unmarked sand tracks towards the mighty Brahmaputra river and the Chars, which are shifting islands that last for just a few years between monsoon floods. The Chars are home to 3.5 million of Bangladesh’s very poorest. The villages are less grand here and the land is sandy.
The sun is now out and its getting really hot as we work our way towards the river where we hope we can find a boat to take us across the 10 km wide stretch of water. The track is often deep sand and we have to push our bikes. Small rivers between Char islands have to be crossed, sometimes by wading other times by small boat. The water is refreshingly cool in the heat. We rely on people in villages pointing us in the right direction and are escorted some of the way by a group of horse and carts.
Eventually after more than 5 hours we reached the river and we could see several boats moored. This site was quite a relief. We had wondered whether we might have to spend the night out on the Chars. We knew some kind people would help us, but it was not ideal.
After some hard bargaining a deal is done to charter a boat and we were soon on our way. The 50 minute journey passed several Char islands, rising only a few feet above the water. We thought about the people that live on these fragile islands and how awful it must be when the river floods. Only the truly desperate would try and live here.
We docked at Sariakandi and climbed up the sandy river bank to the small town. We wanted to get to Bogra where there was a posh hotel. It was 25km of tarmac road and we only had an hour and half of daylight. It was a fast and furious bike ride. We had traffic to contend with. The nearer we got to the city we had to share the road with the chaos of lorries, trucks, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, and carts. We had become used to the relaxed pace of the country side.
Now we we were in the thick of a mad world of crazy racing vehicles all jostling for space on the overcrowded broken road. To make things worse it was now getting dark and we still had some way to go. Unfortunately we had to forego the posh hotel and just stop at the first place we could find. It was another one of those days where food had been hard to find and we fell on our supper that night, demolishing it as soon as it was put on the table. 75 km and a what a memorable Christmas day