Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Road to Rajshahi

The 5 hour, 200km trip from Dhaka to the Rajshahi Division is part dream, part nightmare. Once you get a few meters out of Dhaka, Bangladesh turns a luscious green, as is symbolized by the country’s green flag. Unending stretches of farmland make it seem like we’re driving though Nebraska, though, it is rice paddies, not wheat, as far as the eye can see.

But then there are the busses…. Fortunately, my training group avoided having to take a bus by hiring a micro-van instead, but unfortunately it was impossible to avoid having to share the road with those busses.

Generally, when I’m feeling nervous on some mode of transport (e.g. when I’m on an airplane flying through a turbulent area), I reassure myself by thinking that the pilot wants to get through the flight alive as much as I do. However, I can’t honestly say this mentality applies to bus drivers in Bangladesh. I don’t know if they are simply somewhat nihilistic, or if they outright have a death wish, but their driving is reckless, to say the least. The main road is two lanes – one in each direction. There does not seem to be an enforced speed limit, as vehicles simply go as fast as they can, limited only by the other, slower moving vehicles ahead of them on the road. As in the city, a mix of cars, busses, trucks, CNGs, motorcycles, and rickshaws inhabit the road, all traveling at their respective top speeds; and this creates a dangerous game of vehicular leap frog as they all vie to pass each other in the short moments when a lull in oncoming traffic in the other lane provides the space to do so. Though, the space necessary to pass seems to be more of a judgment call here, rather than an absolute. What it comes down to is that you have room to pass, as long as a vehicle of equal or greater size is not immediately ahead of you in the opposite lane. Thus, if YOU are in a bus, and a car, CNG, rickshaw, etc. is in coming towards you in the opposite lane, you still have room to pass, since you can simply force them to the side of the road with your blaring horn and the impeding threat of a fiery death. And if there IS a bus or truck coming towards you in the opposite lane, you may still have room to pass as long as the vehicle in front of you (in your same lane) is smaller, and you can force it to the side of the road as you hastily merge back into the lane - a few meters too early.

Our micro-van fell into a precarious in-between area as to how it was treated in traffic by larger vehicles, since we were small enough to push around, but large enough to cause some damage to them. There was no relaxing on this trip, which made it somewhat challenging to even enjoy the countryside.

Note: When we arrived back in Dhaka, I picked up a newspaper and read about two fatal bus accidents from the previous day. One bus lost control and rolled into a ditch after hitting a tree, and another had a head on collision with a truck while trying to pass:

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