at the end of april i was lucky enough to make it khagrachari just before the closure of our medical programs in the area. this is the first of a couple of entries about that trip.
khagrachari is located in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, which is the only non-flat part of the country really, and it is so much different from the rest of bangladesh. i had been to teknaf just the week before, and in both trips i flew to the city of Chittagong and then drove to the program site. to get to teknaf (where tal camp is) i drove south, while to get to khagrachari i drove north.
at first both journeys seemed quite similar [the mad dash to the airport, the delayed flight, the bumpy airplane ride complete with betel sweets and the one hour drive through gridlocked traffic in chittagong city to get to the highway]. and even the first hour on the highway was similar. i found myself becoming convinced that bangladesh was in fact one large city with varying degrees of population density. every time i thought we were about to hit an empty stretch between towns, the spaces between houses were shorten, and the number of rickshaws would increase and suddenly there were shops and bus stops surrounding us. nearly the entire highway route to teknaf (5 hours drive) is bordered by shops and houses and livestock and rickshaws.
(And I can't forget to mention the huge buses who feel that they should not pull over when the stop for passengers, but in fact just stop on the narrow road causing other large vehicles to swerve to the other side of the road to pass them, regardless of the presence of oncoming traffic).
on the trip to teknaf, it was only the last hour or so of the drive when there started to appear rice fields and larger plots of land with less than 90 people in site at all times. (perhaps this was due to the fact that we were no longer on the main highway that goes to cox anymore, instead on the highway to teknaf.)
but on the drive to khagrachari, there was a point less than halfway there, where not only did the shops thin and i could see signs of the rural communities i'd heard to be quite a large portion of the population - but there also appeared to be land that was not inhabited at a density rate that dwarfed the west end. suddenly hills rose up, and you could look at trees! people could be seen walking along the road, on their way home from work, but it was not as claustaphobic suddenly. suddenly, we were in the chittagong hills, where things are very different.
[and on a total side note, i love journeys where the landscape changes dramatically depending on the direction of travel. going into the hills looked so different than coming out of them out that i feel like i had two different journeys. see below for a picture of the trip out – this shot was taken just after we'd come out of the hills. you can see a rickshaw ahead and a truck full of goods (and people) coming towards... notice how it's nearly in the middle of the road]