Monthly Archives: April 2014

Bangladeshi food

If I tell you that Indian restaurants in the UK are usually owned by Bangladeshis and hence serve Bengali food then anyone who knows my preference for Indian takeaway at home will immediately know that I really loved the food in Bangladesh! We found the food to be more mellow and with a more rounded flavour than the bright and sharp tastes of the SE Asian countries, and while it can still pack a punch it wasn’t anywhere near as chilli packed as some of the dishes we tried in Thailand.


After travelling through the almost bread-free zone of eastern Asia where if you get bread at all it is sweet and with an almost cakey texture, it was great to find bread on the menu again. In Bangladesh, flatbreads are eaten at all times of the day and are often cooked on the street outside the restaurant.

20140412-194534.jpgThe easiest way to spot a restaurant is to look for the guy at the bread station out front

We came across three main types. Rotis are flatbreads cooked without fat, they’re soft and a nice way to scoop up your curry. Parathas were perhaps the most common, again flatbreads but this time fried on a griddle and sometimes with delicious flaky layers like a good puff pastry. Finally, Andrew’s favourite the naan roti which is cooked stuck onto the inside of a domed oven and puffs up nicely.

20140412-201159.jpgRotis, parathas, and naan roti


Curry type meals in restaurants are generally served with rice unless you specifically ask for bread and a whole plate of plain boiled rice will be placed in front of you with the meat and/or vegetables served in separate small dishes – a difference to the UK where the meat is very much the main part of the meal, here it is just enough to taste, an indication of the expense of meat compared to the amount an average Bangladeshi has to spend on their meal.

20140414-215325.jpgA full plate of rice with a little bit of curry and some vegetables

Biryanis were available all over and were a delicious and filling meal. The rice is fried with a small amount of meat (mutton, chicken or beef) and served with a side of curry sauce.

20140414-214931.jpgBeef biryani with curry sauce and salad


Dal, or curried lentils, became a mainstay for us during the month. Breakfast was usually parathas, dal and mixed vegetables. The lentils used were often chana dal (split chickpeas) but split mung beans were also common. It’s usual to have a side of dal with a more substantial meal too to moisten that mountain of rice.

20140414-214340.jpgBreakfast! (Dal front right)

We saw a bean stew being served up from street stands on a couple of occassions too but otherwise beans didn’t seem to be commonly used.


Surprising to us was the prevalence of cucumbers. Both cucumbers and carrots are commonly sold on the street (peeled and partially split to form fingers) from big trays as a snack, usually with a hefty shake of salty spice. And a plain cucumber salad appears alongside pretty much every lunch or dinner meal for no charge – I definitely found it useful for reducing the burn on more fiery dishes!

20140416-163611.jpgCucumber side salad, just watch out for the raw chillis!

A mixed vegetable curry (shobji) is a common dish served at breakfast time. Aubergines, cauliflowers, spinach and potatoes are commonly used as vegetables as well as a small bitter gourd type vegetable which looks a bit like a wrinkled up cucumber.


On our first day in Dhaka we saw prepared pineapple for sale. Coming from SE Asia where chopped fruit is commonly sold on the street we thought it would be a refreshing snack – we weren’t expecting it be shaken in a mustard dressing before being given to us – it was so potent that I thought it might have left a hole in my tongue! Otherwise fruit was widely available with bananas, oranges, and pomegranates all providing us with much needed vitamins. It’s just a shame that the mangos weren’t in season.

20140415-174157.jpgMustard-spiked pineapple


Meat was either mutton (goat more often than sheep), chicken or occassionally beef. We didn’t seen any pork – it’s forbidden to Muslims. These are served in one of two ways, either with a curried masala sauce (of which there are different varieties but often only one at a time available in a given restaurant) or marinated and grilled as kebabs.

20140416-164441.jpgMeat dishes (clockwise from top left): amazing fried mutton kidney that we had on our first night in Dhaka, chicken masala, mutton kebabs, tandoori chicken leg


Bangladesh sits astride the deltas of several enormous rivers. With that much water in the country it’s hardly surprising that fish is a staple. We saw stalls selling dried fish, but fresh seemed to be most common. It was usually served in a masala sauce but we also had it fried and grilled.

20140415-175411.jpgA proud fishmonger in Srimongol, fried fish as part of a buffet meal, fish curry

Street snacks

There are lots of different kinds of street snacks, usually a parcel wrapped up in dough and deep fried. Samosas and pakoras you might have heard of, but puri (saucer sized rounds with various fillings) and shingra (balls filled with a potato mixture) were new to us. A favourite of ours were mouglai, large sheets of dough wrapped around an often egg based filling to form a kind of flat envelope shape. Freshly cooked with the ubiquitous cucumber side salad they were a fast and filling light meal.

20140416-165617.jpgClockwise from left: Frying up mouglai on a street in Khulna, masala puris with sauce and salad, shingra and samosa, delicious lentil and onion pakoras for an afternoon snack on the Sundarbans cruise


Tea (cha) is the drink of choice in Bangladesh. It’s served in small glasses from street stands everywhere. It comes in two varieties, one with milk (dudh cha) and one without (lal cha, literally red tea), both are very sweet. Milk tea is sometimes made with condensed milk, but is better when made with fresh milk kept at boiling point in a big pan next to the tea kettle. Black/red tea is sometimes pepped up a little with the addition of whole spices, we had at various times, a piece of root ginger, a clove, and a piece of Indian bay leaf. The tea is poured from the kettle over fresh tea leaves in a strainer and into the glass.

20140416-192715.jpgAndrew enjoying a cup of dudh cha, tea stand with a pan of boiling milk and a kettle of tea, black/red tea with added Indian bay leaf

Alcohol is not widely available in Bangladesh as it is illegal for Bangladeshis (or Muslim ones at least) to buy it. Many soft drinks are available in restaurants from the familiar Coke, Sprite and 7Up to less familiar local brands. A more traditional local drink is lassi, made from yoghurt and served in sweet or salty versions. It’s a good way to cool your mouth down if your meal was a bit on the spicy side.

20140416-192721.jpgLassi, Bengali for ‘Coca Cola’, Drinking from a coconut


Bangladeshis definitely have a sweet tooth and traditional sweet shops are common in every town. These sell lots of very sweet small cakes as well as sweetened yoghurt (misti doi) in clay pots – a favourite of ours! We also tried jalebi, deep fried dough swirls soaked in sugar syrup, for the sake of your teeth it’s probably best to only have one, but they’re very good.

20140415-174209.jpgA wide array of sweets in a Dhaka sweetshop

20140415-174215.jpgAll tried in the interests of research – honest! Including jalebi (top left) and misti doi (bottom right)

20140416-164451.jpgNot really a sweet, but the bill often arrived with a plate of fried fennel and/or coriander seeds to aid digestion and freshen the breath

12 month summary

We have now reached the one year anniversary of our two year trip! Here’s our summary of the last three months.

20140404-130450.jpgMeeting elephants in Chiang Mai, pretending to be Buddhas at Sukhothai Historical Park in Thailand, the iconic Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, we commandeered a rickshaw in Birisiri in northern Bangladesh

Countries visited in the last three months (1st January to 31st March)

Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh (total visited to date on this trip = 12)

Have you managed to stay within your budget (£70 per day)? And what has been the expense breakdown?

Easily within budget, our average daily spend over the three months has been £50.59. Our daily spend to date since we left home has been £62.40.

Bangladesh has been an incredibly cheap place to travel with March’s spend bumped up only by flights and our 3 day tour to the Sundarbans. Our record day was just £9.32 including a 3 hour bus journey, an ensuite room, food for the day and a haircut for Andrew!


  • Accommodation is again the biggest expense at 34.0% – half of the quarter was spent in Chiang Mai and the apartment we stayed in was relatively expensive.
  • Guides and tours – 16.9%. We took some expensive tours in Thailand and Bangladesh including spending a day with elephants, taking a Thai cookery class and 3 days in the Sundarbans National Park
  • Food is next highest at 16.4% – just £8.30 per day for both of us. Eating out is tasty and inexpensive in Thailand and Bangladesh, again for much of the time we were living in the apartment in Chiang Mai and cooking for ourselves – also fairly inexpensive.
  • Intercity transportation was 10.0%. Lower than other quarters as we were settled in Chiang Mai for half of the time, over half of the spend in this category is our flights from Kuala Lumpur to Dhaka.
  • Alcohol was 7.3% this quarter. This is wholly accounted for by the first two months as alcohol is extremely restricted in Bangladesh and we only had one small can of beer each during our whole month there!
  • Local transportation was very low at just 2.4%. This includes hiring motorbikes several times in Thailand and many, many very cheap rickshaw rides in Bangladesh.

What has surprised you most in the last three months of travel?

JulieThat we would need to take a break from travelling.  It sounds crazy that anyone would need a holiday from a holiday but by November we were pretty burnt out and exhausted from almost constant sightseeing and movement (albeit at a reasonably relaxed pace) and we were craving a place where we could slow down, unpack and catch up on admin (blogging, photo uploads, Skype with family back home).  I’m pleased to report that after two months of rest we were again raring to go!

AndrewHow much we rely on the internet. For something that’s only been around for about 25 years to have dramatically altered the way we research and plan our travel is astounding to me. Perhaps it’s because we feel more comfortable about a place or a journey if we’ve got an idea of what to expect, but going from the high-speed wifi everywhere connected of Thailand and Malaysia to the no-speed wifi rarely-where of Bangladesh was both frustrating and liberating. I think it’s definitely more of an adventure to say “we’ll get a bus from here to there” and see what happens, than “we’ll get bus XYZ that departs every hour from ABC station, takes 3½ hours and arrives at DEF station, 1km to the west of the centre of town.” The good news is that even with access to the internet we can still choose to be a little more adventurous.

Apart from family and friends, what are you missing most about life in the UK?

Taking tap water for granted. We boiled water in Thailand, we were encouraged to drink water from the cooler in Malaysia, and in Bangladesh – a country that by one estimate we heard ¼ is covered in water – it was hot and we drank a lot of bottled water. There were a few bouts of the Bengali Bowels after we forgot now and then, but most places we stayed included a large bottle of water with the room rate.

What’s the most memorable sight that you’ve seen in the last three months?

JulieThe temples of Puthia in north-western Bangladesh really blew me away with their abundant carvings but the day I really remember is the day that we were elephant owners in Thailand.

AndrewThe flora and fauna of the Sundarbans is a very close second, but for me it’s the modern splendour of the Wat Rong Khun or White Temple in Chiang Rai. It’s a fairytale palace of decadent detail that I hope I’m still alive to see completed in 2070 – I’ll be into my 90s by then!

Tell us a funny story from the last three months of travel.

JulieOn the train ride from Rajshahi to Joypurhat in western Bangladesh our window was missing the bolt that would hold it open. We fashioned a bit of a wedge from some paper which wasn’t ideal but better than nothing. The two Bangladeshi ladies sitting opposite noticed our struggles and (unprompted by us) mentioned the problem to the ticket inspector when he came round. A couple of minutes later, a uniformed porter appeared, grudgingly fiddled with the window for a few seconds before slamming it shut and then unbolted and shut the ladies’ window as well! The older of the ladies remonstrated with him but he grumpily shrugged and walked off. We caught their eye and all of us burst out laughing which broke the ice and we spent the rest of the journey having a very interesting conversation with them (after we’d re-wedged our window open of course!).

AndrewBearing in mind that most English conversations we had in Bangladesh consisted of “What’s your country?”, “How are you?”, with the rare and more advanced venturing a “Where [do you plan to] visit [in] Bangladesh?”, it was in answering this last question that after reeling off a list that didn’t include Cox’s Bazaar (the longest beach in the world, and the proudest place in every Bangladeshi’s heart) that my inquisitor responded in true American sit-com style with a loud “No Cox’s Bazaar? Seriously?!

Who is the person you’ve met that you remember the most from the last three months?

That would be Hasan, an English literature student we met at the Pink Palace on our first day in Bangladesh. As a precursor to the kindness we were to receive across the country, especially from students, Hasan took us on an impromptu tour of the riverside area of Dhaka into places and businesses we wouldn’t have found without his help – a school with amazing old buildings, a sign-painters, a cinema theatre (just to take a quick look – without paying!), and the markets to name a few. We enjoyed his company so we hooked up with him again on our last day in Bangladesh for a day trip to Sonargaon.

Andrew with Hasan at Sonargaon

Andrew with Hasan at Sonargaon on our last day in Bangladesh

Finally, what have you found to be the greatest challenge so far?

Navigating baksheesh in Bangladesh. Baksheesh, for those who don’t know, is kind of like a tip or reward for good service, a higher tip to ensure that repeated service remains good, or a sort of Robin Hood payment that the more well-off are to feel pleased to be given the opportunity to give, and in some cases, an out and out bribe. Once we’d worked out if the situation called for baksheesh, we then hit the minefield of having to work out how much to give. There were a few uneasy experiences but they were very short-lived as we reasoned, being tourists it’s likely we’d been a little overcharged already!

Somapura Mahavihara, Paharpur, Bangladesh

The ruins of the massive Somapura Mahavihara in Paharpur, north-western Bangladesh are one of only 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country – the other two are the mosque city of Bagerhat and the natural beauty of the Sundarbans National Park.

Believed to be part of a network of Tibetan Buddhist teaching monasteries, this is the only one of the 5 great Mahaviharas that now sits outside present day India as the rest are just over the border to the west.

After a short but very hot and busy train journey from Rajshahi, we arrived at the ruins late afternoon to find a few groups of Bangladeshi tourists wandering around..

Central shrine at Somapura Mahavihara, Paharpur, Bangladesh

The breath-taking multi-level central shrine at Somapura Mahavihara, Paharpur, Bangladesh

Last used around the 12th century, the Somapura consisted of 177 monk “cells” that surrounded the central shrine or stupa in an almost perfect square wall with the main entrance facing north. The enclosed grounds have foundations for a number of supporting buildings – such as a kitchen and bathing house – and the latrines were outside the walls to the south.

The monks’ cells were all uniform in size, though if I were a monk studying there I would have wanted one of the corner plots because they have an extra little anteroom as well.

Monk cells

Monk cells – fit for a monk in training

Paharpur collage

Clockwise from top-right: foundations of 4 different shrines inside the grounds; The base of each layer of the central shrine is decorated with terracotta tiles depicting plants and animals; The information board next to the main northern entranceway onto the central shrine

After a good walk around we retired to our room within the monument and museum grounds for dinner and some much needed rest, but not before the museum curator invited me to join him for a conversation about archaeology (thank you, Sir Tony Robinson and Time Team – I knew that Sunday evening TV viewing would come in handy some day!)

Somapura central shrine in the early morning light

Somapura central shrine in the early morning light

The following morning we got up early and had the site to ourselves, save for an early morning jogger and the security guard who probably features in most of our photographs of the central shrine as he did his rounds while trying to keep an eye on us.

We really enjoyed looking around the Somapura Mahavihara. The small on-site museum had some nice statues and terracotta tiles found during the excavations and was just the right size to hold our interest. As explored the ruins, I wondered what it must have been like to study there before it was abandoned.. it must have had quite a feeling of safety and seclusion given the high outer walls that housed the monks’ cells and narrow entranceway.

Rajshahi, Bangladesh

A day after our Sundarbans tour we took the early morning train 300km north-west to Rajshahi. The 7 hour journey was very picturesque passing through lush green countryside and many small towns and villages before crossing the huge Padma River (you might know it by its Indian name, the Ganges) into Rajshahi Division. The windows in Bangladeshi trains open right up so you can lean out and take photos too. Not something that the health and safety people are likely to approve of perhaps, but it added to the fun for us.

20140407-143047.jpgCrossing ‘Harding’s Bridge’ over the Padma River. We were excited to spot signs on the bridge showing that it was built by the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company from Darlington, England!

Puthia & Natore

On our first day we decided to head out to the village of Puthia, a 30 minute bus ride away which the Lonely Planet describes as

…positively bursting at the seams with dilapidated palaces and bewitching temples, and is one of the shining highlights of this part of Bangladesh. If Puthia were in almost any other counry the ruins here would be seething with camera-snapping tourists, but lost as it is in the remote paddy fields of Bangladesh, you’ll have it all to yourself

I was a little skeptical of such a gushing recommendation but it really was absolutely stunning. We were given a tour by the caretaker, Mr Bishwana, and it was just temple after temple, almost all well preserved and beautifully decorated with terracotta tiles.

20140410-171349.jpgThe first temple we visited was the five-spired Shiva Temple (right) which stands beside a pond at the entrance to the village

20140410-202008.jpgShiva Temple (clockwise from top left): Carvings over the doorway, many of the exterior carvings were defaced during the 1971 Liberation War, inside the temple is a huge black Shiva lingam, arches in the gallery around the temple

The other five temples that we visited in Puthia varied massively in size and shape but all had similar decoration, covered from top to bottom with terracotta tiles showing characters and stories from Hindu mythology.

20140410-173710.jpgJulie in front of a diminutive temple, Andrew with the huge Govinda Temple, both of us in front of the squat but wide Anika Temple

20140410-175103.jpgA tiny sample of the terracotta tiles of Puthia’s temples

Having finished our tour of the village’s sights by lunchtime, we decided to move on to Natore, another 30 minute bus ride away where the Lonely Planet assured us that there was a ‘magnificent but dilapidated’ rajbari, basically a decaying Bangladeshi stately home. The buildings of the rajbari are indeed beautiful, unfortunately we hadn’t factored into our planning the fact that it was Friday (aka the weekend) which meant that busloads of schools had descended for picnics, loud music playing, prizegiving and harassment of foreign tourists…

20140410-180632.jpgBoarded up rajbari building – I know it looks like there’s no-one else there but trust me, they were behind us…

20140410-180640.jpgRajbari buildings reflected in a pond, stained glass and a glimpse of the interior through a boarded up door, small Shiva temple in the grounds, Mughal style arch

After about 45 minutes we were so sick of having our photo taken that we just had to leave. The only bright spot was the small boy who befriended us – I’ve never seen anyone look so pleased to receive an orange!

20140410-202016.jpgLots of attention (clockwise from top left): Us swamped by a family wanting a photo, Andrew with the local boy we befriended, this woman grabbed me by the hand and led me across to where her family were sitting to pose with them, a bus group’s encampment complete with bright tent and loudspeakers

Rajshahi City

Rajshahi itself is a university city and as such packed with young, chatty students. We got a tour around the campus of Rajshahi College and its colonial architecture by a student wishing to practice his English, and an offer to be shown around the university campus by an equally keen student which we declined due to its distance from the city centre.

20140410-204424.jpgOne of the colonial buildings which make up Rajshahi College’s campus

Whenever a local spoke to us about the city they almost always mentioned one or both of the following, the Padma River, and mangoes! The city is situated on the banks of the Padma and has an attractive promenade along the riverbank which is lively in the evening. The climate of Rajshahi is perfect for mango trees and we saw orchards in the countryside all around the city. The trees were in flower during our visit and although the fruit doesn’t ripen until June we heard that some can be as big as 2kg!

20140410-204429.jpgSunset over the River Padma

The main sight in the city, other than wandering and looking at the architecture and markets, is the Varendra Research Museum which is managed by the university. It contains an impressive number of artefacts from nearby archeaological sites, in particular some beautiful Hindu carvings. We were again treated to a personalised tour, this time by the museum’s secretary who hovered over us a little bit at first but seemed to relax as the tour went on and told us some stories and history as well as shooing away anyone who started staring at us.

20140410-204436.jpgVarendra Research Museum exterior (no photos allowed inside)

Sona Masjid

The second day trip that we made from Rajshahi was to Sona Masjid, a vast site spanning 32 sq. km across the border between Bangladesh and India (where it’s known as Gaud). It is the remains of a huge city which was the capital of Bengal for many years. On the Bangladeshi side are a number of well preserved mosques, a palace and a mausoleum, some dating from as far back as the 15th century.

According to our guidebook the bus journey was supposed to take 3 hours, but after just 2.25 hours we were ejected at the side of the road beside Chhoto Sona Masjid (Small Golden Mosque). Somewhat shaken by the super fast journey we decided to grab a cup of tea, but at the local tea stand we were soon surrounded by staring men, so we supped up quickly and moved off to the mosque. It’s no longer golden, its name refers to the fact that its domes were once gilded but it is still impressive with stone carvings outside and a cool interior. The mosque’s imam rushed in during our visit, keen to engage us in conversation (and point out the donation box).

Us outside Chhoto Sona Masjid

20140410-212321.jpgChhoto Sona Masjid decoration including an arabic inscription above the main door (top)

From there we moved down the road to the buildings which make up the Tahkhana complex comprising a small palace, a mosque and the mausoleum of Shah Niamatullah. Here we felt a bit persecuted by the over attention, having to fend off a tuk-tuk driver and various guides as well as getting annoyed by a group of lads who followed us around taking pictures on their mobiles. We don’t really mind if people want to take a picture of us or with us but it’s a bit nicer if they say hello and ask if it’s OK or at least just take one and then move on…

20140410-214131.jpgTahkhana complex (clockwise from top left): Shah Niamatullah Mosque, Tahkhana Palace from across the pond, being stared at, Mausoleum of Shah Niamatullah

As we walked down the dusty road to the other two mosques, we were passed by lots of brightly decorated trucks making their way to the official border crossing point. We’ve noticed that all of the trucks in Bangladesh seem to be painted like this, I’m not sure if the colours signify ownership or if there’s some other reason but they’re very cheerful.

20140410-214136.jpgBrightly painted trucks

Thankfully both Darasbari Mosque and Khania Dighi Mosque were much quieter and we managed to have a look around in relative peace. It seems strange that so many elaborate and historic mosques are scattered around this area, tucked away in the farmland and miles away from any major centres of population. It made us think about the upheavals that must have happened over the last few hundred years to cause such shifts of people and marvel that these buildings at least survived relatively intact.

20140410-215158.jpgRuined Darasbari Mosque is set in a peaceful location down a path away from the main road

20140410-215204.jpgBrickwork decoration and arches of Darasbari Mosque

20140410-215210.jpgKhania Dighi Mosque is surrounded by large old mango trees

We caught the last bus of the day back to Rajshahi, tired and dusty, but very glad to have made the trip. The bus was busy but fortunately not quite as crazy as the bus that we took in the morning and much closer to the quoted 3 hour duration.

Boat trip to Sundarbans National Park, Bangladesh

The Sundarbans National Park (pronounced Sh-undarbans) is the largest mangrove forest in the world, and is home to around 400 Royal Bengal tigers, the largest single population of tigers in the world. Approximately 60% of the park’s area lies within Bangladesh’s borders, the rest in India. The best way to see the wildlife and explore the forest is as part of an organised tour although there is very little chance of seeing a tiger and (spoiler alert!) we didn’t.

We joined a group tour of 3 days and 2 nights with agency Guide Tours. Our group size was eight (a nice manageable size) plus two babies (who were very cute but not so good at being quiet…) and, perhaps surprisingly, we were the only real tourists. The two ladies with the babies, Nathalie (mum to Lucas) and Cameron (mum to Tragar), are ex-pats living in Dhaka (their husbands work for the same firm), Ben from London has a Bangladeshi wife and they were in the country visiting family, she was sorting out some business while he did the trip, Kamal was born in Bangladesh but is now living in the US and again the main purpose of his visit was to see family, Hubert is Dutch and makes an annual trip to Bangladesh to review the work of a charitable foundation which he has set up, each of his trips culminates in a tour of the Sundarbans, and his friend Jewel is Bangladeshi, and as well as running a tour company, he manages the foundation day-to-day.

20140324-081753.jpgOur tour boat the MV Chhuti (which translates as Motor Vessel Holiday!)

The first morning was an early start, we met with our guide, Emamul, at Jailkhana Ghat (Jailhouse Pier) in Khulna at 7am to shuttle across to the tour boat and start the long cruise south to our overnight dock near the Bay of Bengal. Most of the morning we were outside the National Park and we had the opportunity to see some of the industry and commercial shipping along the river. Ships full of raw materials such as sand are often unloaded manually by men carrying basket loads on their heads and there are lots of brick factories along the riverside here, as there are all over Bangladesh. I’m sure we must make bricks in the UK as well but I’ve never seen a factory there, whereas here I think we see 3 or 4 per day!

20140324-081829.jpgEarly morning on the River Rupsha at Khulna

20140324-081912.jpgUnloading a ship the hard way, cross-river passenger ferry, riverside brick factory

At about 11am we arrived at the edge of the National Park and collected the two forest rangers who would travel with us for the duration of our stay in the park. They carried antique looking rifles to protect us in the doubly unlikely circumstance that we (a) saw a tiger, and (b) it decided that we looked like lunch…

20140324-082006.jpgPicking up our forest rangers

For the remainder of the day we chilled out on the boat, admiring the lush green of the mangrove trees lining the river banks and keeping an eye out for any wildlife. We missed the huge crocodile that some of the others spotted, but we did see some Rhesus monkeys along the shore as well as brief glimpses of the backs of Ganges River Dolphins, plenty of egrets and Brahminy Kites flying overhead. After a delicious dinner of curried crabs whipped up by the onboard chef we retired to our bunks, excited for the 6am alarm call the next day.

Our first activity on day 2 was an early morning rowboat trip through some narrower river channels. The mist rising from the water was beautiful and it was lovely to float in silence (barring the occasional shout from Lucas or Tragar) between the trees. We didn’t see any animals but there were otter tracks on the muddy banks and plenty of bird life including our first kingfishers of the trip and a bright Scarlet Minivet flying overhead.

20140324-082034.jpgFloating peacefully through the narrow channel

After a leisurely breakfast we got into the small speedboat to be ferried to the starting point for our walk to Kotka Beach. Almost straightaway we saw a wild boar at close quarters. Emamul joked that Bangladeshi wild boars are unafraid of humans as they know that Muslims don’t eat pork! And then Jewel spotted a huge water monitor lizard in the grass, it was about a metre long and watched us for about a minute before it sprinted away.

20140324-082115.jpgWild boar and Water monitor lizard

Kotka beach is full of dead trees killed by Cyclone Sidr in 2007 and was quiet apart from scuttling crabs. The other male guests went off to the far end of the beach for a mud bath and Andrew later wished he’d joined them although I don’t think I would have liked the cold seawater to rinse off with. There didn’t seem to be much wildlife at the beach until a white bellied fish eagle flew over just as we were leaving.

20140324-082209.jpgBay of Bengal lapping Kotka beach, dead trees line the edge of the beach, White-bellied fish eagle, Kamal, Ben, Hubert and Jewel preparing to wash off the mud

The afternoon excursion was a walk through the forest. For us the pace was a bit fast and we would have preferred longer to stand and look for whatever wildlife was there. Still we were chuffed to see a fish owl, a woodpecker and lots of Spotted Deer as well as another wild boar and a tiger’s footprint! The going was quite difficult as the mangrove trees push up lots of little stumpy roots which we kept tripping over. Dinner on the second night was barbecue which we were amused (or should that be alarmed?) to watch being lit on the deck of the boat with a petrol soaked cloth…

20140324-151302.jpgMangrove roots jutting up from the forest floor, Buffy Fish Owl, Julie’s hand next to the tiger print, Spotted Deer in the forest

As soon as we were back on board after the afternoon’s walk, the boat lifted anchor and started motoring north for 4 hours before bedtime. That meant that we would have enough time for an excursion on the third day as well as getting back to Khulna for the evening train to Dhaka which some of the others were booked on. Early in the morning we started moving again and soon moved into a relatively narrow channel where we saw lots of boats collecting palm leaves (which I think are used for roofing), three different kinds of kingfisher and a fleeting glimpse of a crocodile in the water.

20140404-110415.jpgBoat full of cut palm leaves

Stopping just before lunch we set off for another walk through the forest. This one seemed even faster paced than the day before and with ten or so people tramping along a wooden boardwalk it was never very likely that we would see much wildlife.

20140404-110435.jpgTramping along the boardwalk

20140404-111217.jpgWildlife around the pond at the start and end of the walk: large Indian Bullfrog, butterfly taking off, two Shikras (a type of small hawk) having a drink

For the rest of the journey we saw similar sights to the first morning. We arrived back in Khulna feeling privileged to have seen some of the richness of the National Park and fearful that the rapid development of Bangladesh and India might put it at risk – Emamul told us of plans to build a power station on the bay at the southern edge of the park and it’s inconceivable that such a huge project won’t have a massively negative impact on the fragile habitat and biodiversity of the area.