Sunday, March 27, 2011

South Asia Diaries - Rongpur

The flight from Kolkata, India to Dhaka, Bangladesh took approximately forty five minutes. We had returned to Kolkata from Jaipur, attended a wedding for some days, and then it was time to say goodbye to India.

As we descended the steps from the small plane, and entered the airport, the differences between Kolkata airport and Dhaka airport (now inexplicably called Hazrat Shah Jalal International Airport), were stark.

Dhaka was clean.

Yes, surprisingly, it was very clean. Even the city, as we drove through it to my uncles' place, was surprisingly neat and tidy. Maybe it was just the comparison with Kolkata, but more on Dhaka later. This post is about Rongpur.

Rongpur is my ancestral city, that I last visited over three years ago (day 1 and day 2). This time, after a day of resting in Dhaka, we (us, my cousins and my uncles) headed for Rongpur.

A boat on the rivers of Bangladesh.
Picture taken by my cousin Asrar Chowdhury.
©Asrar Chowdhury, 2011.

The next morning, I woke up bright and early to explore Rongpur. It was cold - 8 degrees C! And villagers live here without central heating or hot water.

A fog descends on Rongpur. These villagers are taking their produce to the weekly market. It is now bitterly cold, even to this Canadian.

Returning home to eat some bhapa pitha, with gur inside.

Later on, it was time to see the fishermen of the village do what one called "exercise for the fishes". They take this huge net and surround the pond with it. For my wife and I, this was something we haven't seen before. This "exercise" is to help the fish grow bigger, so as to fetch a good price when sold, and to help cull the diseased and smaller fishes.

The net is drawn closer and closer around the pond until the fishermen close in. Fishes jump about and jump out of the net into the pond (and thus are forced to become active even if they were lazy (hence the "exercise") and it also helps identify the ill fish).

The remaining fish that lie on the net are checked for illness or size. Culling of fish with undesirable characteristics (such as size, weight) is carried out.

The fish that did not make the cut. These fresh fish will be taken to the market and sold, while the rest are returned to the pond. You can see these are fresh Tilapia, sold in Canada for $2.99 - 4.99 per lb!

We bought this long fish, called "shoal" in Bengali, as well as some Tilapia.

After this 'show', it was time to start touring the village. Many of my relatives still lived here, so we had a long list of houses to visit.

A couple of cows are kept warm with their "sweaters" (which are really rice sacks redesigned to fit over their humps).

I also learned something interesting about the way the villagers prepare rice. Do you see these grains are that are spread on to the road? These are rice grains. I found that there are two steps to separate the rice grains.

Step 1 involves placing the rice grains on the road (seriously), and being separated when people (and goats, cows, chicken, etc.) trample on them (yes, that's what you eat). So here's some grains absorbing sunlight and ready to be trampled.

The separated rice grains are now swept up and collected.

Using these tools, stage 2 (finer separation) is now done. And I hope - cleaning.

Rice, ready to be stored in sacks and taken to the market.

So there was I, roaming around the village, photographing stuff, when suddenly some kids shouted, "Snake"!

Can you spot the snake in this picture? I intentionally kept the size larger so readers can have a shot at it.

Brave kids who offered to hunt and kill the snake for me. I politely declined.

These "sticks" are dried cowdung that are used as fuel in ovens to cook food. Yes, they are environment friendly, you control the heat by controlling the amount of dung, and since they are dried solid, there's no 'yuck' factor or smell. And yes, the food we ate was cooked in such oven.

FOOD! The best part of any visit to Bangladesh. If you visit a Bangladeshi household, you will see there HAS to be several items on the table. On this day, can you spot FIVE (yes, FIVE) different species of fish alone?

Rongpur was beautiful. It was clean, the air was crisp and unpolluted, the night skies amazingly clear and the stars visible, and the fresh food (fresh fish, freshly laid eggs, and had we wanted, freshly slaughtered cows!) were amazingly delicious. It was a great departure from the busy cities we were visiting, and a nice break. After a couple of days, we were ready to go back to Dhaka.


Adventurous Ammena said...

so you guys like your fish eh ;) thanks for posting this.. enjoying reading about your experiences

Safiyyah said...

Lovely pictures Mezba. I really felt like I was right there.

nadia said...

And besides the gorgeous, lush landscape, organic food, environment-friendly ways of cooking, loving people, you got internet connection. I can live there :)

'liya said...

I spot the snake!

I love your cousin's pic it looks so peaceful :)

Musa said...

Nice pics, what were the 5 fish types?
Were you there in January?

If so, how cold was it? Rangpur and the far north gets very cold in winter. And 12C up there often feels like 2C due to the open area, humidity and housing structures

Anonymous said...

I spotted the snake!!!

Lat said...

Oh Mezba! Such great pics of Rongur! I've never heard of it before and thank you for sharing this!

I have that pot the pic showing of the lady cooking bhapa pita :)
I absolutely love all the pics of countryside and the fish farming.So fish is their fav/main diet? And yes I spotted the snake and we do not eat Bangladesh rice...I think :) How creative!

luckyfatima said...

Yes, what were the five fish?

Such a beautiful place, great pics again. I love the cows wearing sweaters.

Misha said...

I spotted the snake as well! Liked the cow 'sweaters' as well.

And yes, what were the 5 diff fish types? I can't imagine having 5 diff types of fishes in one meal.. doesn't the taste all blend together in the end, and you can't tell them apart?

Sunehra said...

This really made me miss Bangladesh!

Mystic said...

loved your travel diary Man!

Anonymous said...

First time leaving comment.
What a beautiful thing you have shared. Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

oh my I like the pictures!!!

mezba said...

Sorry for the delay in returning your comments.

@Adv. Ammena, yep, we do love our fish. There's even a government building in Dhaka called Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute Centre!

@Safiyya, thanks! I really enjoyed our time in Rongpur, bar the cold. It was like 'roughing it' with all the home comforts :-)

@Nadia, hehe. I found internet connection quite good around Bangladesh, especially with wireless roaming and tethering. May not always be super fast, but good enough.

@Liya, it is indeed a pretty picture.

@Musa, now I forget but if I remember right, kachki, showl, tilapia, choto mach and aar maach.

I was there in January, and it became insanely cold at night.

@Geeki, hiss! :-)

@Lat, fish is quite popular as there's lots of rivers and ponds in Bangladesh. And it's cheap too. But there's growing concern of pollution and mercury build up in Asia as a whole. And now you have radiactivity from Japan.

@Luckyfatima, if I remember right, kachki, showl, tilapia, choto mach and aar maach.

It was the first time I saw cows wearing that type of protection against the cold. People told me it never got this cold before that they could remember.

@Misha, I just had showl much, chingri and choto mach. Aar mach was for my wife who's not too much of a fish person, and some of the kids.

@Sunehra, and your pohela boisakh post was just too good.

@Mystic, thanks!

@Anon, Welcome to my blog.

@Khanumsays, thank you!