(No spiders were injured during the writing of this blog.)
Our guide, Shekar, took us along various paths throughout the forest and we saw rhesus monkeys, more macaques, a variety of plant species, butterflies and birds. There wasn't the excitement that we experienced when we first arrived but it was picturesque and great to get away from the hassle and noise of the town.
Now for a few bits and pieces that we have gleaned so far and relevant to Sylhet, the region that we are currently in.
The population of Bangladesh is 90% Muslim, so the country has a proper day off on a Friday, (equivalent to our Sunday). A few shops are open and the roads are much quieter.
The rest of the population is made up of other religions including Christian and Hindu.
Bangladesh used to be a part of India - Bengal and is surrounded on all sides by India apart from a narrow strip in the south east which borders Myanmar (Burma).
At the close of World War Two part of the North of India was used to create East and West Pakistan, both Muslim countries, whereas India remained predominantly Hindu. Terrible bloodshed occurred in 1971 when the Bangla people rose up against Pakistan, they wanted their own country. Bangladesh was finally born.
When the British ruled India they established the tea plantations in Sylhet and workers from the tea growing regions of India were brought in for their expertise. They were Hindus and this is why, in this part of the world the percentage of Hindus is approximately 60%.
There are tribal communities that remain in some nooks and crannies of the country and Sylhet, where we are at the moment is one of them. They had their own religious beliefs until missionaries converted them to Christianity.
Now you've got the background I can carry on with our walk in the rain forest. We were taken to a tribal village within the confines of the National Park. There were 23 families in total and their society has the women in charge. (Wise choice.) They make all the decisions for the running of the community and the family name runs through the female side. They're Christians for the reasons I explained above. There was no electricity but each house had a solar panel on the roof. Their income is provided by selling Betel nut leaves which they harvest from the surrounding forest. One woman asked through our guide if we were Protestant Christian. (There's a few Catholics in Srimongal.)
After lunch we clambered up a steep sided hill to see a pineapple 'garden.' The pineapples were much smaller than the ones we see in our supermarkets and grew close to the ground. There was a small shed next to the main growing hill and I commented on the size of the pile of pineapples. Shekar pulled a Swiss army knife out from his pocket, removed the skin and left the spiky leaves at the top for me to use as a handle to munch the freshly peeled fruit. It was much sweeter and juicier than the ones we're used to and didn't have that woody core.
After the pineapple stop we got back in the CNG and headed for the lake. This was along a well worn red brick road through the tea plantation.
Bangladesh is the tenth largest producer of tea in the world and the plantations are at the lowest height above sea level of all the tea growing areas. Most of the tea estates were originally British owned and managed but this is no longer the case.
Although it's the end of the season there were still women picking the leaves. Only the tender young leaves at the top of the plant are used. The women have to pick a minimum of 20kg a day, for which they're paid 72 Taka (about 70p). The family is also provided with somewhere to live, maybe some land and food vouchers. Shocking isn't it? I don't know how much tea is produced from that 20kg daily quota.
After approximately 15 minutes we arrived at a small lake. The shore was lined with lotus plants, the flowers a gorgeous purple. Afer a short walk around the lake it was time to head back to town. We bounced and rattled along when suddenly 'BANG'. The noise sounded like exploding glass. The driver switched off the engine, said sorry, and we all got out. The guide also apologised, it was hardly anyone's fault, we had a completely flat tyre. The driver retrieved another wheel from a little storage area under his seat. Mike got stuck in along with the guide and two boys that were walking past to tip the CNG on to one side so the driver could change the tyres over.
You may be wondering what I did to help? I took photos. Typical tourist!
The wheel change only took five minutes and we were soon back on the road to Srimangal. We stopped at a tea stand by the side of the road, where 'seven layer tea' was invented. Of course I had to try it and there were indeed, seven distinct layers, each one a different flavour. The layers don't mix because the liquids have varying viscosity. After this I had a glass of ginger tea. Made with fresh ginger it was quite delicious and very different to a ginger tea from a bag.
When got up to pay the bill Shekar spied the inventor of the top secret recipe so we asked him to pose for a photograph. I guess we turned the tables on the locals - we're asked to pose at least 20 times a day.
Finally, we headed back to the hotel, where we were offered a trip to the local bazaar but we were ready to get our tick infested clothes off and have a hot shower. We had arranged to meet another traveller, who we had met at breakfast, at the local curry house for a meal. He was travelling on his own, a Bangladeshi from a Sydney suburb.
We arrived at the restaurant, he was waiting and he'd been bitten by a monkey - an inhabitant at a small zoo, close to the forest and one of the few places we hadn't visited that day. The owner had reassured him at the time that all the animals had been vaccinated against rabies but none of us felt this information could be relied upon. He'd been to the hospital, the wound on the palm of his hand, had been thoroughly washed and covered in iodine solution. The victim had been advised what to do by the doctor at the hospital and he showed me the handwritten advice he'd been given. Doctors the world over are the same and although written in English it was impossible to decipher his handwriting. I researched rabies prevention and I decided it was time to blow the nursing cobwebs out of my mind and do the first injection that he needed. It would have been morally and ethically wrong to walk away and not help. We visited the local pharmacy and purchased, over the counter, the rabies vaccination and a tetanus booster as well. We were shown a small room at the end of the pharmacy which had a couch and desk in it. A number of onlookers crowded round the door and as our new friend would need to have two more injections before his return to Australia I talked him through how to prepare the injection which unfortunately wasn't pre-mixed like we have in the UK. I carefully checked all the seals were intact and the expiration dates were good. I also advised him to ring his family doctor the following morning in case he felt he ought to have a different type of therapy. When I spoke with him this morning his GP had told him we'd all done the right thing. Just out of interest the cost of the vaccine was £4.70, compared to £97.50 from the travel clinic at home but still completely unaffordable if you earn 70p a day.
Today has been spent getting organised for our departure tomorrow. We're off to the Chittagong, which is further south and borders Myanmar (Burma).
Apparently Chittagong city is more polluted than Dhaka, seems unfeasible that anywhere could be more polluted than Dhaka and so, if I don't choke on the fumes our onward adventures will be documented here tomorrow. Bye for now, Ali and Mike.