We stepped out of the airport, into the foggy Dhaka evening, but this was no ordinary fog, it smelt strange, very strange indeed. A chemical smell, like an oil refinery, mixed with the sort of smells you get if you throw something you shouldn't onto an open fire. This was further enhanced by exhaust fumes to create a choking, airless atmosphere. Touts approached offering to drive us to a hotel but we pushed forward, beyond the taxis to the motorised rickshaws a few metres further.
In some parts of the world one of these three wheeled passenger vehicles is called a Tuk-tuk but here, in Bangladesh it's a CNG, which stands for compressed natural gas, the fuel they run on. Mike negotiated a price with our driver while I looked at the CNG. It was painted with green gloss paint, similar in colour and consistency to the paint of an old fashioned institution wall.
A tuk-tuk is usually open at the sides, for the driver and passengers to get in and out, but this one had metal cage doors fitted to the sides.
Finally, a price was agreed and we climbed aboard. The driver closed and drew the bolts shut on the cage doors and we set off. I stared at the bolts and the cage, uncertain if we were locked in to prevent us from running away, or if it was to stop anyone getting in.
The wait to leave and join the main road seemed endless. Cars, SUVs, taxis and CNGs slowly edged forwards in a column that funnelled towards the junction. Horns peeped and popped constantly, engines revved as if we were at a starting line, we still edged forwards even though there was only inches to spare between each vehicle, we became more sandwiched and squashed, then, suddenly, we were off! The race had begun, and the mass of vehicles was released onto a dual carriageway to join Dhaka's mayhem. I wanted to feel exhilarated by this nerve racking journey, our CNG raced, the driver heading into any space on the road, except there wasn't necessarily what we would call a space. Passenger buses, roared alongside with their horns blaring, they were unnervingly close to our CNG. I realised the addition of a cage must be a safety feature, protection should we roll over.
It was hot, and I needed some oxygen, every breath was poisoned with exhaust fumes and those other strange smells. I wasn't wearing a watch and after what must have been about forty minutes, I'd had enough. We'd been travelling for 29 hours since leaving the Travelodge in Norwich and I hadn't really slept, I was tired.
We finally arrived at our hotel, the lobby smelt of diesel, which I assumed was their generator and Mike filled out the paperwork, collected the key and we asked a lobby boy where our room was. He insisted on taking us there and called the lift. This was no ordinary lift, it was as wide as Mike, with mirrored sides and ceiling. Mike entered first, but couldn't turn around as it was too narrow and he had his backpack on. I walked in after him, with no idea how much space was left behind me. The boy from the lobby squashed in behind me.
I don't suffer from claustrophobia but this was too much.
"I don't like this Mike" I complained, pointlessly.
The lift doors closed and we must have been too heavy, but the lift seemed to heave itself up under the strain and we climbed for a few seconds, the doors opened at another level, I felt relief as we reversed out into the hallway.
However, we were on the fourth floor and our room was on the eleventh. The boy pointed at the mirrored coffin. Finding my voice, I refused to go back in and we waited for the proper sized conventional lift to arrive.
We were shown to our room and asked if we liked it.
You may recall from a previous post that we had used the Lonely Planet Guide to choose this hotel. It was described as 'the closest thing to a backpackers haven in Bangladesh.' This didn't look like a backpackers haven to us, but we've had misunderstandings regarding Lonely Planet descriptions in the past. The hotel website had sold it to us as a luxury non A/C room.
"It's nothing like the pictures.' This was from Mike as his eyes took in the dreary confines; the narrow double box bed wedged into a space beneath the window; the tall metal cupboard to one side of the room; the ceiling fan spinning overhead.
We said goodbye to our young guide and I went to have a look at the en suite bathroom. There was a pink plastic bath, and western style toilet. Mike asked me if I was happy with the room. I didn't care, I was that tired I could have slept anywhere.
Mike returned to reception and asked to see another room, leaving me sitting on the bed, surrounded by our luggage. He returned a few minutes later having seen the room next door. This had the same drabness to it but did look better, well, sort of. As I said I was that tired I could have slept anywhere.
Not bothered about eating, we showered and Mike burrowed into his backpack for his sleep sheet. Great idea! I'd forgotten we had those and felt a lot better, knowing that this was completely clean and 'westernised'. I also retrieved my pillow case from my bag. I'm sure the bedlinen was clean, but then again I wasn't so sure, their version of white didn't look Persil white.
Soon I was sound asleep, and just before I dropped off I knew that I would be feeling a lot more comfortable and acclimatised in the morning.