Travel: Off the Beaten Path


Travel Author Peter Moore discovers that sometimes it's ok to accept the kindness of strangers


I'd come to Chittagong in southern Bangladesh to see shipbreaking yards on the beaches on the outskirts of town. Here cargo ships at the end of their days are deliberately run aground and an army of locals, dressed in little more than rags, swarm all over them, breaking them up for parts and scrap. I knew it was time to get off the bus when I saw the skeletal remains of an old oil tanker towering over a line of palm trees and the shops lining the road doing a brisk trade in second-hand seafaring toilets.


Later, in the hall of the main railway in Chittagong, I was swarmed by locals myself. I was catching the train to Sylhet, and after purchasing my ticket, sat on a bench to wait for my train north to arrive. Foreigners are rare in this part of Bangladesh and soon a crowd gathered. When I pulled out my notebook and started writing, the crowd swelled to football match proportions. A little boy plonked himself beside me and started relaying to the crowd that yes, I was writing. And yes, it was in English. It's the most interest I've had in my writing ever.


Soon the crowd started jostling and pressing in. Just as I began to fear for my safety, the crowd parted and a portly man wearing a suit and a handle bar moustache stood before me.


'My name is Justice Shah Abu Nayeem Mominur Rahman,' he said.' But you may call me Justice Rahman. I am a judge in the appellate division of Supreme Court of Bangladesh. Welcome to my country.'


He asked me where I was going and I answered 'Sylhet'.


'Then you must join me in the First Class lounge,' he said. I told him that I only had a second-class ticket and he said it didn't matter. I was with him. And no-one would challenge my right to be there. I grabbed my backpack and the crowd parted silently again to let us pass.


Justice Rahman was returning to his home in Sylhet after presiding over a case in Chittagong and when the train arrived, insisted I sit with him in 1st Class. As we rattled through the flooded lowlands I enjoyed a delicious curry served to me on proper plates and with proper cutlery.


Soon the train began its ascent up florescent green hills, braided with tea bushes and Justice Rahman began arranging an itinerary for my stay in Sylhet.


'My driver will pick you up at your hotel at 9am sharp tomorrow morning he said. 'I will instruct him to take you to the Sri Mangal, Tea Gardens, the Lawacherra Rain Forest, the Shrine of Hazrat Shah Jalal Yamani and the Sylhet Polytechnic Institute. You may spend as much time as you like at each.'


While the Sylhet Polytechnic wasn't exactly high on my sightseeing list, having a driver to ferry me around one of Bangladesh's biggest cities was a bonus. I asked Justice Rahman if there was anyway I could repay his generosity.


'Tell the world about Bangladesh.'


World. Consider yourself told.


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