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Chandpur, The Home of Ilish

Brother! There is a scene you know, in the movie ‘Swapnajaal’ where the song ‘Emon kore bolchi’ was shot – hearing those words from Yaseen, I searched the song on YouTube. Yaseen jumped off the sofa and showed me – “Right there. That is the place. Take a screenshot of it and give it to me.” I had already seen the movie. However, I noticed the scene again. It was stunning. Meanwhile, Abir was repeatedly asking me if we could go anywhere on a day trip. And after a while, he spoke of Chandpur. “Let’s go to Chandpur. We will get on a launch at night, then we will visit different places in Chandpur, and we will be back in Dhaka if we get on a launch in the evening from there.” – He said. Not long ago, we had come back from visiting Rangamati. And since almost all of us were jobholders, taking leave was a problem. Besides, Yaseen had to take classes on Fridays, and Abir and I had to attend courses of our master’s degree. So managing time out of everything seemed a bit of a problem. But Yaseen quickly solved the problem. There was a holiday on the occasion of Bangabandhu’s 100th birth anniversary on March 17. As time was available, the issue had seemed to be solved for the time being.

But let me be brief here – there is no end to the hassle related to our tours over the last two years. We must face a problem anyhow. If you read the articles about my other trips, you will know. So I don’t want to prolong the item by mentioning everything here. This time the problem was – the pandemic. Yes, I am talking about the Corona Virus. Maybe, our country had not started worrying about it yet. But the TV channels were always giving us updates. Just before the day, we had planned to leave, I saw in the news that the highest number of people kept in isolation was in Chandpur.

Meanwhile, Yaseen had chest pain and nosebleeds. So he decided not to go. But since none of us had any problem, we didn’t postpone the tour and decided to go. We don’t get many people to join in those day trips often. That time the number decreased to 5 people: Shovi, Abir, Shishir, Shoumik, and I.

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I was a little excited as it was the first launch journey of my life. Shovi came to my house on time. It was almost 7 p.m. I hurried out, and when I got home finished teaching, it was nearly 9 o’clock. Then we ate quickly and left home after saying our prayers. I bought a hand-wash and a mask just before getting on a bus to Gulistan. I bought those because of the Corona. By that time, Shishir-Shoumik had already departed from Banasree. After getting on the bus, not only we sat in the last row, but also a middle-aged man started gossiping with me. So I didn’t even notice when the bus got on the Hanif Flyover. By the time I realized, it was too late. We reached Jatrabari in 5 minutes. It was past ten at night. There were polices and check posts everywhere because of the ceremony the next day. And on top of that, people had gone home as soon as they got to leave. Thus the road was vacant, but there was a traffic jam on the highway due to trucks. As I had never traveled on a launch before, I had no idea what to do and how to do it. In the meantime, Shishir was calling me repeatedly. They had already arrived at the Sadarghat. We crossed the highway and took a CNG. We had got on the bus instead of Uber to save money, and now we had to pay more than that. What else to do, for us it was like we had to arrive on time by any means.

I asked the CNG driver to drive faster. He said with reassurance – “Don’t worry. We will be there in 5 minutes. But where are you going?” “We are going to Chandpur,” – I replied. Then he said – “Well then, let’s go this way. I will drop you off directly at the dock from where the launches depart for Chandpur.” Even then, my restlessness did not subside. Meanwhile, all of a sudden, a policeman stopped the CNG and asked us to get down. After quickly answering his questions, we got on the CNG again. After that, we didn’t face any trouble.

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Sunset at Meghna River

It was already past 11 o’clock when we met Shoumik and Shishir. But Abir had not arrived yet. He would come alone from Malibagh. It was thirty minutes past eleven when we had bought the tickets to enter the dock and stood in front of the launches. I called Abir standing in front of M.V. Rof Rof.

  • “Where are you?”
  • “Just left home. It won’t take long. 15 minutes top. I have taken an Uber.”
  • “So should we get on the launch that departs at 12 a.m. or 12:30? After that, there isn’t any more launch. The condition of the launch at midnight is better than the launch at 12:30.”
  • “Get the tickets for the launch at midnight. I will be there on time.”

We got on the launch M.V. Rof Rof and managed to get a single cabin. It was the cabin of the launch master. We had to pay extra for it. We were 5 in number, so we rented a single cabin for two of us and bought deck tickets for the other three. We were glad to think that we got the cabin on the riverside and was exactly adjacent to where the launch was operated. It was almost midnight. Then I saw Abir and Yaseen entering the dock from above. Yaseen’s arrival at the last minute has now become a regular thing. The same thing happened when we went to Arial Beel. After a while, someone came and gave us five tickets even though there were six of us then. But by then, we knew that we were charged extra for the rent of the cabin. So we decided not to give any more money.

Shortly after the launch left the dock, we got busy gossiping. For three people among us, it was a first-time launch trip. Among the other three, although one regularly travels by launch, the rest two couldn’t even remember the last launch trip they had. The launch was going through the dark river. For a while, we could see the lights of the big factories on the shore. After that it was dark. Complete darkness. Being on the side of the river, we could feel the wind. We were so busy gossiping that we forgot our surroundings. When the master came to us and complained that the launch operator could not sleep because of us, the volume of our voice decreased, but the curiosity increased – who was running the launch! Let me tell you, the one I have been calling ‘the master’ until now was the one who was running the launch all night – dressed in Panjabi and mouthful of Jorda and Betel leaf. And the one who was dressed as the master, it was he who could not sleep because of us. Can you imagine!

At the launch, we ate biscuits and drank tea only. I also saw other kinds of stuff to eat, but the price was high comparatively. And considering the distance of the path, tea-biscuits were enough. We arrived a little ahead of the scheduled time. It was still dark then. The fact of ‘saying our prayers’ was in my mind at that time. Every time we go on a tour, not saying our prayer rightly could be seen. This time I made sure that this did not happen. We stayed in the empty launch for about an hour after it had docked. Then getting down to the dock, we entered a hotel and had a small breakfast: tea, paratha, mix vegetable, and dal. One paratha for 10 takas, tea also. Abir thought that like Dhaka University, paratha and tea would be cheap. That means we could get both in 10 takas. Proving his idea wrong, the hotel boy came to us and said that we had to pay 10 takas for each one of them.

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A Poetic View

After praying, we first went to Raktadhara. Most people know it as Trimohona. It took about ten minutes to get there from ‘launch ghat’ by auto. The place did not look gorgeous in various blogs and vlogs. However, in the morning, the noise-free place took away our minds. Padma, Meghna, and Dakatia – these three rivers have merged there. I showed the screenshot I took earlier to a few locals and asked – “can you tell me where the place is?” As we didn’t know the name of the area, no one could tell precisely where the site was. An elderly uncle guessed and said – “it could be on the other side of the river, on the deeper part from the shore.”

The Dakatia River also flows there. There were rows of boats tied up where we were standing. All of them were engine driven. The Dakatia River has gone through that side of the estuary. Just on the other side of the river, on an island type place, markets could be seen. I realized that the warehouses I had seen in the movie were then in front of my eyes. Maybe the desired location would be somewhere in the deeper part of the place. However, we did not have the money to ride a boat aimlessly. Meanwhile, a boatman had been bothering us for a while, asking if we wanted to visit the ‘Mini Cox’s Bazar’ of Chandpur. We bargained a little for the boat fare and then went to see the mini Cox’s Bazar on his boat, though we did not rent the whole boat. Like us, there was another group who came to visit Chandpur.

The waves are more prominent at the confluence of the river Padma and Meghna. Through those waves, we were moving forward. It was fifteen to twenty minutes of distance. Some anchored cargo ships in the distance could be seen. The place is alluvial land – rivers all around it. The shore of one side has become like a sea beach. The boat dropped us right on that ship. Looking at the watch, it seemed that we had the whole day up ahead. It was barely morning. It looked like we were watching the sunrise standing on a beach. We took some pictures around the boat for a while. The waves on the shore were constantly crashing on our feet. It was as if the golden color of the sun had been dancing in those waves for eternity. The stars of the night had been playing endlessly in the water of this river in the morning. On that vast land, we could see some cottages in the distance. After a while, we started roaming around as we pleased. The other group that came with us began to bathe in the river since the boat had dropped us.

We moved to another end. There, it was mud all around. As we were going close to the river, our feet started sinking in the mud more and more. In one such knee-deep water, some fishermen had started fishing by throwing fishing nets. A little further ahead, we saw a new paddy field. It seemed to be recently sown. It was green, dark green, and looked crafty. We could feel the sun’s heat a little by little, but it was windy there, so it didn’t seem unbearable. Finally, we got back on the boat. When we returned to the dock, it was probably about 10 o’clock.

By then, we couldn’t even feel the small breakfast we had earlier. Not only the hunger was bothering us, but also we needed to freshen up. There was a restaurant just opposite side of the gate of Raktadhara. ‘They are here only to taste the Ilish’ – to those restaurant owners, tourists mean only this to them.

So most of them do their marketing and advertisement of their restaurant with Ilish. So a tug of war type situation remains there all the time between the owners to get the customers. After freshening up, everyone ate the stomach full. By then, Shoumik and I went looking for a toilet on the side of the warehouses, and eventually, we got one. As we were looking for the bathroom, the adjacent train station caught my eyes. I told others to come there over the phone. After taking some pictures there, we took the road to Chandpur bus stand to go to our next destination. And on the way, I saw the city as far as I could. Autos are now the primary mode of transportation in such country towns. Before, there was nothing but rickshaws and Nosimon Korimon. If you are not familiar with Nosimon Korimon, I will introduce it to you in another article. For now, let me talk about the city.

The day besides being a holiday, it was still early in the morning. So the image of a neat city appeared in front of my eyes. The number of ponds on the side of the road was noticeable. Few of them were lined up, keeping a short distance between them. It seemed, if Chandpur were named the city of ponds, alongside the city of Ilish would have been fitting too. The place having this large number of ponds may have happened because rivers surround the town. People here may not think anything but fish.

It took a long time to reach the bus stand, but not more than thirty minutes. The sun had reached its peak at that time. And on top of that, the number of markets and vehicles was high in that part of the town. Noise pollution and dust had increased the intensity of the heat several times. Meanwhile, Abir was reading a post on TOB (Travelers of Bangladesh) about where to go next. He told us that there were Awal’s sweet, one-minute ice-cream and a Jamidar bari but quite far from where we were. I thought it would be a waste of time to go such long distances just to taste sweets. And the picture of Jamidar bari seemed not that interesting to me. We just wanted to spend some time surrounded by nature. We wanted to get busy gossiping while sitting in the shade of a tree by a noise-free, desolate river. Or …or? I meant to say a perfect rural environment. Just close your eyes and dive into your imagination. You are sitting on the bank of a tranquil river in the shade of a banyan tree. There is a small cottage behind you, and the greenish-blue and muddy waters of the river have surrounded you from all sides. If you can imagine this, then I think understanding the state of our mind will no longer be a problem for you.

For now, let’s get back to the bus stand. Yaseen rushed and made a mistake, as he had decided to come with us at the last minute. Mistakenly he had brought a house cleaning cloth instead of his t-shirt in his bag. So seeing a clothing store in the nearby shopping mall, we all went inside. Their collection was neither too bad nor very fascinating. We came out of the mall and started thinking about where to go next after Shovi and Yaseen each had bought a t-shirt. Abir said that there was another place mentioned in the post. ‘Which place?’ – In response to our inquiring eyes, he said that there was a dam built on the banks of the Meghna. There were also villages nearby. Without thinking much, we tried to get an auto to go there. Before that, I asked some people around a few questions. Like “What is the way to get to the dam in Matlab from there? What will be the rent of the vehicle? How long does it take to go there?”

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Judging from all the answers we got, we took an auto. Our destination was the dam in Matlab. There were two ways to go. Either the auto would drop us off at the dock, and then we would cross the river, or the auto would drop us off directly at the bridge. The bridge had been built recently. That was the dam. 

I was skeptical about whether we would get any boats at the dock. Because since the bridge was built, very few used the boat service. Nonetheless, we told the auto driver to go to the dock when we heard about the river. Our auto was running along the Chandpur-Cumilla highway. After a long sleepless night on the launch, some of us were very tired and were having a nap sitting in the back. I was looking at the villages and the vast fields on both sides of the road. What a simple life to have. What is missing in those cities full of high-rise buildings can be found here. They live in direct touch with nature. Can a village be this beautiful? Sometimes, few structures from the old and historical period could be seen here and there. They seemed to have added a different type of beauty. One thing I noticed – each village has its unique patterns: their homes, paths, and even farms. Villages in one area don’t have much in common with villages in another area. Who knows whether this individuality is intentional or natural! Seeing those villages in Chandpur reminded me of the novel ‘Hajar Bosor Dhore.’ That ‘Porir Dighi’ and the story of the simple people of the village. As if I could see everything in front of my eyes.

The place where the auto finally dropped us off was like a market by the river. It was a narrow and crowded area – shops on both sides. Everything from cooking spices to furniture making wood was available there. The strong smell of fish was bothering us. The road was narrow, and a freight tractor type vehicle had entered the way and blocked it. In the meanwhile, after asking people around when I reached the dock, I felt disappointed. There was no current on this side of the river as it was completely covered with water hyacinth and aquatic plants. People were crossing the river by dinghy boat through them. It did not take more than five minutes to reach the other side. We all got on a dinghy like everyone else.

After reaching the other side, we stood in a shady place. It was high noon. We felt like burning in the sun. Abir and I went ahead to find out if the site was tourist-friendly. I meant to say if it was secure or not. Because, as we were coming to this place, the auto diver told us that not all people had good intentions there. Tourists had often fallen victim to snatching. When we came across two boys from the neighborhood, I asked – “Where can I find such a place with rivers, fields, trees, and tong (roadside small tea stall) shops?” I couldn’t understand if they were trying to remember whether such a place exists or tried to understand our feelings by looking at each other. Then they said with uncertainty that there was a beautiful village up ahead that we could visit. But a little far away from there. They also told us with the reassurance that any kind of accident was not likely to happen.

I hadn’t gone far with my friends then. We sat down in a shop to have some snacks. Because it was noon, the sun was just above our head, and so we thought that it wouldn’t be very pleasing to walk on the road under that scorching heat. The shop could neither be called a roadside tea stall nor a proper grocery shop. It was a mix of both I thought but the right place for chitchat. There was a seating arrangement under the shade. We had both tea and soft drinks with some other small stuff like chips, biscuits, etc. But Shoumik’s condition was pretty bad then. Excessive heat made his head spin with nausea. Asking him to take a little rest, we got busy with our chitchat again. He was listening to us and adding some words from the side every once in a while.

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We didn’t see any restaurant to have our lunch there. The shopkeeper told us that there were some beautiful houses up ahead that we could visit. They were all along the road. There was a park too, recently built. He heard that there were lions and tigers in the park. We were curious when we heard about lions and tigers. So we said our prayers and got on a leguna. The shopkeeper told the leguna driver to take us to the right place. The shopkeeper was the first sincere person we had met on that trip to Chandpur.

After five to seven minutes, the driver dropped us off. The place looked like somewhere in the middle of a desert because of the heat. There was almost a dead river on one side and a vast paddy field on the other side. However, some portions of the paddy field were not visible due to some houses. We understood that no one usually lived in those houses. All the owners were probably residents of posh areas of the big cities. They had built beautiful buildings there to meet their fancy needs. We saw the gate of the park on the opposite side. It was so massive in size that it had small lions as its design on it. We looked at each other and figured out – those were the lions. We couldn’t go inside as the gate was locked.

Moreover, there wasn’t anybody around. At such a time, like driving a toy car, a teenager with an auto came in front of us. He asked us whether we wanted to go somewhere. We learned from him that if we went a little further ahead, we would have found a beautiful place called Bokultola. But this time I didn’t make a mistake. I sent three of us with the boy to check the site he had mentioned. If it were good, he would drop them off and then come back to take the rest of us there. We didn’t have to wait long. The boy came back with his empty auto. The place was not that bad, so it seemed.

That was our last destination in Chandpur. We did not go further after that. We heard that the road had gone straight to Daudkandi. It was a brand new road, not a single scratch anywhere. Just along the way, I saw a Spanish Cherry tree. Our auto had stopped in front of the tree. Right next to it, there was the half tong – half grocery shop again. The place was near an almost dead river. We sat down in the shop and ate banana, bread and drank tea. Then we spent some time sitting in the shade of the tree. If you have seen us there, it would seem that those young guys had never been able to find the meaning of life in your eyes. 

They have no destination or goal like that beautiful road. Maybe they have found all the happiness of life under that tree. There is nothing else in their life, like a story or a poem. That’s exactly how we were sitting there, as the life of a vagabond. But you can’t run away from life. We have to come back again and again as the roots of life keep pulling us.

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For your convenience, here I am trying to give you a summary of how to go there and how much it will cost you. Since there were six of us, I will provide you with the details accordingly. 

Obsolete Path:

On the way to Matlab, I saw a bus service from Matlab to Gulistan. And I found out by asking the auto driver that it was a direct bus service. So if you want, you can come to Chandpur direct from Gulistan of Dhaka. Besides this, he also spoke of another way. But you have to change your ride several times, and as we were not interested enough to ask him about the details, I can’t give you the details too.

Conventional Path:

Directly from Sadarghat to Chandpur. In that case, I am trying to give you brief information regarding the cost.

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*) On the way to Chandpur, we took a single cabin on the bus and bought deck tickets for the rest. We did the same while returning. Usually, the deck tickets cost 100 takas, and a single cabin starts from 500 takas. Prices may vary depending on the launch and facilities provided with the cabin.

*) Please bargain a little before you rent your boat in case of going to the mini Cox’s Bazar.

*) I didn’t mention the food cost as it varies from person to person. The cost will depend on you.

The appropriate time to travel –

In my opinion, Chandpur is a place to visit at any time of the year. There is nothing to mention separately. However, it is better to avoid summer when traveling by river.

Helping guide –

There is no such contact number to give, which can help you. Unlike the launch service of Barisal, there isn’t any way to book your tickets in advance on this occasion. You will see several launches for Chandpur from the Lalkuthi ghat of Sadarghat. You can choose anyone from them, get on the launch and buy the tickets. M.V. Rof Rof is in a lot better condition than the other launches, and it still looks new – it feels good.

Date of travel – March 18, 2020

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