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Hostile Environments, Part #10: Bangladesh



You're going to regret going to Bangladesh. It is another country which is not particularly dangerous (yet nor is it particularly safe); but Dhaka, it's monstrous capital city of in excess of 22 million people, must have one or the worst qualities of living in the world.


The first problem that will strike you upon arrival at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport is the sheer quantity and density of people absolutely everywhere. Although there is nothing wrong with the airport building per se, it is jammed with people and an enormous number of flights going to and coming from places you have never heard of. You will soon become enveloped in a tide of people, potentially spending hours to pass formalities such as customs and immigration that are very bureaucratic.



And then you will emerge into a sea of traffic, which permeates across the city in every direction; and it can take you literally several hours to get to your hotel or destination in stinking hot and humid conditions. By the time you have spent a few hours in honking noisy blaring stop-go traffic you will be exhausted, covered in dirt from head to foot, having breathed poisonous smog from ropey vehicles' exhaust pipes for several hours, and you will never want to go outside again. And you've only just got there.


Any city of 22 million people has a series of five-star hotels. If ever there was a time when it is worth paying the extra for a five-star hotel, it is Dhaka. The reason is that the only way to cope with visiting Dhaka is never to leave your hotel, because it is so hot, damp, filthy, congested, cramped, noisy, impossible to travel around and downright obnoxious. The roads, cramped and collapsed buildings, seas of unsafe and unroadworthy vehicles stretch on virtually endlessly in every direction. After a while - and not a long while - you will go mad, because no human can endure these insane tortures. Just getting to the shop at the street corner can be a Herculean challenge. It is so big and its roads such a convoluted twisting mass of broken concrete and gravel, packed bumper to bumper with traffic at all times of the day and night, that you will inevitably get lost. And then, because it is hot, humid, noisy, alien and fiendishly noisy, you will start to panic. You will have an anxiety attack and the city will start to break you.


One consequence of the city being unrelentingly filthy is that all your clothes will be permanently filthy within five minutes of stepping out from your five-star hotel; and all your food and water will be filthy too, leading to various types of dysentry, worms, malaria and other unpleasantnesses. Of course there are good hospitals in so gigantic a city. They will be several hours away in the bumper-to-bumper traffic.



Dhaka suburban railway system: highly contra-indicated.


Also beware of endless rip-offs and thefts of your belongings anywhere outside a five-star hotel. You will be approached by dozens of such people. They do not tend to be violent; they tend to wear you down by shouting and talking at you endlessly with lies about directions, dangerous parts of the city (not actually dangerous), lurid sexual remarks about any female company, the best shop their brother owns, and so on and so forth, that very soon you will be inclined towards extreme violence no matter how calm a person you normally are. The best philosophy is to carry a large wooden stick so that when you snap (and you will), you can just beat them with that. It won't much help; more will be back.


Bangladeshis are actually quite a nice people, notwithstanding this Dantean image of Dhaka. But meet them in your five star hotel and nowhere else, irrespective of the political seniority and wealth of your interlocutors. Just say no. Do not get tempted to visit their offices in another close part of town; four hours later in a dilapidated taxi it will all end up the same way.


Do not leave Dhaka, because it's all just as bad. Indeed it can be worse, because there may be no five star hotels (good luck getting any sleep in Bangladesh without air conditioning; the crawling insects may get you before the pulverising heat and humidity does) and everything is very wet. We mean seriously wet. Much of the country appears flooded on a semi-permanent basis, with all the possibilities for water-born infection (including typhoid, cholera and dysentry, which together will get you if you are not promptly treated) and there are yet more masses of people.


Obviously go nowhere near the border with Myanmar. It is very bad there; there are ongoing military operations across a border it is hard to establish the precise demarcation of, with colourable allegations of genocide in respect of the Rohingya People. You can easily die there, not from a bullet but from disease and malnutrition. It is one of the most inhospitable places in the world.


Finally, you may want to leave six to eight hours for the drive to the airport once you decide to leave. Missing your flight would be highly contra-indicated, and might lead to suicidal despair!