The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Srimongol: Definitely My Cup of Tea

Over the weekend, a Bangladeshi hotel manager told me that Dhaka is like a child’s chair meant to hold a 100 pound boy. “But if sumo wrestler sits on it,” he said, “the whole thing collapses.”

One thing is clear from this trip: Over the past couple decades, a sumo wrestler has sat on Dhaka.

Dhaka is the fastest growing city in the world with a population that has already more than doubled in 20 years. It takes hours to cross town in the city’s snarling traffic. Electricity comes and goes, and garbage piles up on street corners. Dhaka is an unplanned frenzy of a city.

I have to admit that I enjoy the messy chaos, but still I wanted to get away from it for a few days and really relax. I took a beautiful five-hour train ride through the Bangladeshi countryside to Srimongol, the town at center of Bangladesh’s tea industry. The train chugged over wide muddy rivers and through quilts of rice paddies. Right at the end of the trip, the geography changed; gentle hills and lush forests started to appear.

Srimongol, a small town in Bangladesh’s northeast, is surrounded by rainforests and terraced tea plantations. I rented a heavy, single-speed bike and cycled around area. The smooth paved roads, light traffic and easy terrain made it easy to zip through tea estates and quiet villages—despite a rickety bike.

One of my favorite aspects of Bangladesh is that on almost every block of every village there’s small bamboo shack that serves tea. Usually costing seven cents for a cup, it’s great way to get out from the sun.

The tea houses are also a great place to meet people. The old tourism slogan for Bangladesh was “Visit Bangladesh before tourists come,” and it’s still accurate. With so few foreign tourists, everyone is curious about you.

The Bengali hospitality though can be a bit overwhelming. At this tea shop outside of Srimongol, people took turns sitting next to me.

Even in the rain the hospitality came through. This boy walked me around a tea estate and a nearby lake, though he obstinately refused to smile in photos.

These women came to the lake to wash themselves. My young guide informed me that taking photos from this far was okay, but they wouldn’t want to photograph them any closer.

When it isn’t raining, this is what the area looks like. I hopped off my bike to get a photo of a man working his rice paddies in front of a tea estate. Since Bangladesh is hotter than other tea growing regions, trees are planted amidst the terraces to shade the tea bushes.

These kids—though you can’t tell from their dour faces—were very excited for me to take their photos. As soon as this was shot, they sprinted across the street to look at the back of my camera.

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