The firm I work for has business interests in Africa, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. As a result of this, we often have people traveling to countries in these regions for sales and pre-sales pitches, implementations etc. Thanks to my work, I got an opportunity to travel to – wait for it – Dhaka, the capital of our “beloved” little neighbor, Bangladesh.
The trip was for a Product demo to the senior managers of a prominent bank there. The weeks leading up to the trip were spent in getting the product demo ready for the trip. I was so engrossed with the lead up to the trip, that it didn’t feel like I’d be going on a short trip across the border. Eventually D-Day arrived and I caught an early morning flight to Dhaka via Delhi. Thanks to the wonderfully close Bengaluru International Airport, it meant catching a cab at the surreal witching hour of 3:00 AM. (On a side note, why is it an International Airport? Find very few International Direct flights from there anyway…)Landing in Dhaka
The flight was rather uneventful, and we landed at Dhaka more or less on time. Stepping out of the plane was like going back in time. Greeting us on the Tarmac was a fleet of Biman Air planes (Biman Air is the national carrier of Bangladesh). The planes were old McDonnell Douglas DC-10 aircraft, which I believe were last produced some two-three decades ago.

Airplanes at Dhaka Airport

Airplanes at Dhaka Airport

Walking into the airport, I got a very distinct sense of Déjà vu. The airport actually felt like Mumbai airport way back in the 80’s and early 90’s. We cleared immigration, picked up our bags and then exited the airport.
We were waiting for our cab, when I got a chance to take in the surroundings. Like all places in the sub-continent, the airport was terribly crowded. Also, like most places in the sub-continent, the airport was bristling with security. However unlike most places in the sub-continent, the security guys were dressed to kill. The brilliant colors of their camouflage uniforms will forever give me nightmares!!!

Security Guards at the airport

Security Guards at the airport

Next, I saw a wonderful procession of taxis. Most were ancient vehicles that were last fashionable in the late seventies. The paint was peeling off their dent ridden bodies. And get this; almost every taxi was either a Toyota or a Nissan!!!
The Streets of Dhaka

Overhead Wires on Dhaka Streets

Overhead Wires on Dhaka Streets

Our taxi finally arrived and we headed off to the airport. All along the way to the airport, one could see large cut-outs of cricket stars thanks to the world cup. And then I noticed another thing, it was not just the taxis, but almost 1 in 100 vehicles on the roads of Dhaka was NOT a Toyota or a Nissan!! As I was later told, Bangladesh, it seems is a prime market for refurbished Japanese cars. This is a big phenomenon here, something along the likes of Maruti in India, but bigger.
I’ll give an example to illustrate this. I saw a half page advertisement in one of the local papers. It featured a suited Japanese gentleman from Toyota. One would think he was some Japanese minister of commerce on a visit or some VP from Toyota. But no, he was actually a star mechanic from the Toyota workshop in Japan. The ad went on to proclaim that he would be available at a car dealership in downtown Dhaka to conduct inspections on cars, and if you should happen to own a Toyota, then you should drop in to have you car looked over. Yes, it’s THAT BIG a phenomenon, that mechanics get rock star treatment!!!
We checked in to the Hotel and went into our rooms to get some shut-eye. The Hotel was a grand exercise in excessive bling. It was totally decked up with the gaudiest chandeliers you could find. Once again, you felt like you were sitting in a place that was straight out of the excesses of the late 80’s. The wonderfully ancient GE phones in the rooms further helped underscore this feeling.
The next day we went to visit the client office. The Bank’s office was about five minutes away from the hotel. So we decided to walk there. And man was that a terrifying walk!!!
Over the streets hung a cancerous mass of unruly wires, twisting and turning in every direction. I couldn’t help but feel that I’d be electrocuted by one of those wires.
Food and Drink (no sorry, water)

Bottled Water

Bottled Water

Food that we had was strictly OK. No great shakes, but not terribly bad either. I didn’t get a chance to taste the fish, since in most places they served river fish and I for one haven’t been able to come to terms with the texture of river fish meat.
While the hotel did serve alcohol, finding it would be difficult in other places given that the country is predominantly Muslim. So we largely stuck to water, with just one of us trying out the beer. However, even the water had a wondrous story to tell.
While drinking bottled water, we noticed a very interesting thing about the labelling on the bottles. As per the standards in the country, all packaged water bottles contain a label listing the ingredients. These are usually percentages of dissolved minerals in the water. But, they also include such delightful items like Arsenic and Cyanide!!! (Thankfully the quantity was a very bold NIL)
The way back
We soon wrapped our meetings in Dhaka and after a short three day trip; we caught a flight back home. The way back was a bit tedious with horrendous delays in Calcutta, but I eventually made it back to Bangalore in the wee hours of the morning.

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One Comment

  1. sowmya says:

    🙂 Well written.