We haven't heard a dog since we arrived, nothing to note about dogs, (apart from the doleful eyes of that puppy staring up at me the other day) there haven't been many at all, but the first one with a voice barked for what seemed like an eternity in the early hours. We think it may have been in the police compound next door to the hotel, then the Mosque kicked off, and with all this hullabaloo we were awake well before the alarm.
After breakfast we said goodbye to our new friends at the Surma Valley Rest House, Helena arranged a CNG to take us to the railway station and also insisted that one of her staff members, Ali accompany us to the station and stay with us to ensure that we joined the correct train. She also warned us not to accept food or drinks from strangers, as reprobates are reputed to lace their offerings with drugs to make the traveller sleepy and give them the opportunity to make off with their stuff. We reassured her that we wouldn't be accepting any freebies.
There is a bridge, on the way to the railway station, over the Surma river that is quite difficult to cross, for cycle rickshaws, because it is steep. 'Pushers' who are on foot, assist by,(as the name suggests), pushing the rickshaws up the difficult bit. However, as it was early there weren't many people about and we were soon at the station.
The train pulled in and we walked across two sets of tracks to get to the platform. Ali had clearly done this before as he knew exactly where a small boulder was placed to step down from the platform and another on the other side to step up from. He also helped us find the correct carriage and seats. He had been to the station the day before and purchased tickets. Instead of a compartment we were in First Class Chairs. (Shuvon.)
The chairs were airline style, covered in red velvet and pretty comfortable.
Soon after boarding the train a gentleman introduced himself and his family. His name was Joy and he welcomed us to Bangladesh and offered us snacks that his wife had made that morning. Me being me, I couldn't refuse an opportunity to try something new. The first was a kind of sweet, spicy patty, still warm from the oven. The second looked like a mini apple turnover, covered in sugar, but the pastry had been lightly fried and the stuffing was fresh, sweetened coconut. As I happily munched away I remembered Helena's advice about snacks and strangers but decided they didn't look or act like ne'er do wells and if the worst came to the worst Mike had refused to eat anything so he would make sure I wasn't robbed.
As the train sped through the countryside it was non-stop action inside the carriage. A near continual stream of individuals came through, selling something. This included books, crisps, popcorn, tamarind sweets, fruit, cucumbers, water, soft drinks, hot food, bombay mix and tea. The stewards bought the tea, one had a plastic caddy full of hot water and his colleague had a tray stacked high with bone china cups and saucers and a tin of condensed milk. He managed to serve the tea with the tray balanced on his forearm with great skill, I would have spilled it all over the passengers.
A man, blind in one eye, played his violin and sang traditional Bangladeshi music. Joy told us that he would have been completely self taught.
Every now and again a beggar came through and we always gave 10 Taka. The saddest for me was a young boy, who can't have been more than 5 or 6. He lead an elderly blind man by the hand. His face looked so serious as he concentrated on his role and I was instantly struck by how sad this was. In the west we moan about minor events and children squabble over their toys. This poor lad had no choice in his destiny and as he lead the old man he assumed the type of responsibility more suited to a far older person. From nowhere a lump arose in my throat and as the expression on his face fixed into my mind, I had to turn away and look out of the window. This is when it's appropriate to say life is unfair.
While we were on the train, Joy, who was staying at a different hotel to us arranged to give us a lift in the 7 seater that was collecting him. We readily accepted his kind offer.
When we arrived at the hotel it didn't look too great. I think we'd been spoilt by Helena's scrupulously high standards. We had booked for three nights but were told that we would have to change rooms after two. Mike went up to look at the room and agreed to take it. We got ready to go out and while Mike was locking the door I had a quick look inside a couple of the other rooms. They were huge, airy and spacious. Mike wandered in after me, and agreed that they looked nicer than our room. He asked me to double check the rates on the hotel website, and lo and behold, we were paying for a suite, had been given a normal double room, but were being charged the higher rate - what a cheek! Mike went downstairs and did battle with reception. The best English speaker could only manage a few fragmented words and so it was hard going for Mike. Eventually he made himself understood and we moved to the better room. The one that we had paid for in the first place.
At last, we could set off on our walk. After about 800m we came to a sign advertising 'Green Leaf Guest House and Eco Resort'.
It was a lovely place. The rooms were bright and airy, clean, with hot water and priced fairly. They had rooms available and Mike decided to take on our hotel and leave without staying. After all, we'd only arrived a couple of hours previously and hadn't even unpacked - both of us were unhappy that they'd tried to scam us with the room.
Mike went down to reception and they wanted us to pay for a night. It was all getting quite heated, so while they went to find someone who spoke some English Mike came back to our room and asked me to get Helena on the line. It was time to phone a friend. When he went back to reception and they saw him with a telephone their attitude changed straight away. No problem, we were free to go.
So, now we've been out for our evening meal, and on our return the owner had arrived at our new hotel and explained that he could arrange a tour of the area with a local guide and that he would be arriving in a few minutes. Did we want to meet him? We couldn't see any harm in it, and so that's all for now, our story will further unfold in due course. Below is a photo of the violin player. It's a bit blurred, I'm afraid inter-city train lines here aren't as smooth as ours.