It was time to go all out Rural! No cars, no traffic, no smoke or smog, no laptops and no phones. That was the plan for Birishiri, a small town located in the Northern region of “Netrokona” in Bangladesh. The buzz and attraction about this place is mainly because of the crystal blue water in one of the lakes there, which is caused by erosion of the ceramic hills surrounding the lake.
Our trip to Birishiri was exactly as all trips should be – impromptu and planned within a day. With the decision taken on Wednesday, we started out for Birishiri on a Thursday at 7.00 p.m. from Dhaka. After the initial traffic around the “Tongi” area, we were lucky to get to a free highway road (with a few stops for tea and samosas) and with Google Maps and plenty of stops for directions along the way, we reached Birishiri around 11 pm at night. If you ever want to visit Birishiri in Bangladesh, do NOT venture there without a car. If you don’t have a car, go with a friend who has one or else rent a car (with a driver). Honestly, regardless of whether you are Bangladeshi or not, do this for your own safety and comfort. The last thing you need is being lost 200 kilometres away from Dhaka, trying to find your way back.
There are two good guest houses at Birishiri, run by missionary organizations: YMCA (Young Mens’ Christian Association) and YWCA (Young Womens’ Christian Association) hostels. A room with two bed costs 200tk-400tk. There is also an 8 bed hostel room in the YWCA establishment and it costs 150tk for each bed. Since we had no idea about how to get in touch with either of these places, we opted for asking the locals who then guided us to a newly opened rest-house (apologies but I forgot to note down the name!). Our rooms here cost 1000 Taka for a twin room with ensuite bathroom and a private balcony and included breakfast as well.
Our rooms were basic, with twin beds and an attached bathroom. We were surprised when the rest-house owner came up with blankets (it was the middle of summer), but he assured us that we would need it – he was right! Remember – this is a rural experience, so be prepared for having no electricity during the right. The next morning, after breakfast, we set off at around 10 a.m. on our hired transport for the day: since there were three of us, we decided to hire two rickshaws (1000 Taka each, for the entire day), arranged with the help of our rest-house owner since we informed him the night before.
Our rickshaw drivers were suitably chatty and also doubled as our guides. First stop was the bank of the river, a fun spot to snap pictures, whilst you wait for the “ferry” to return from the other side of the river. I say “ferry”, because it is a rudimentarily created floating bamboo raft, but that is part of the charm in itself.
Once the ferry crossing was done, for the next two hours our rickshaw drivers took us through gorgeous narrow rural roads. Lush green rice fields dominated on either side, and trees curved over the road, creating the illusion of a green tunnel. Soon afterwards, we came to another water crossing which we crossed again on one of the floating water rafts.
It took us two hours to reach the ceramic hills. Halfway there, we were feeling a little peckish and decided to sample the local village tea (made with fresh cow’s milk) in a small shack in the middle of nowhere.
Once we made it to the ceramic hills, I was a little disappointed. It has rained the right before, which meant that the rain had dragged in sand and mud from the surroundings. Therefore the water was a far cry from the brilliant turquoise blue that we were expecting, and we were left with the view of somewhat greenish muddy waters.
I met three cute local kids ( Morjina, Shohidul and Abu) during our trek up to the top of the first hill, and they decided to become our “bahini” (battalion) of guides. Although our rickshaw drivers were doing a pretty decent job of guiding us, the kids provided a completely different perspective altogether. They used this place as their play-zone, which also meant that they were well aware of all the nooks and crannies and easiest paths upwards.
Morjina decided to surprise me with two gifts whilst she guided me up the hill – a bouquet of wildflowers which she picked along the trek and a small ceramic rock as a memento. The sweetest thing was her constant reassurance that it was safe and that I was not going to fall, whilst showing me hidden footholds and handholds that I would have never found myself! Once at the top, we had a bird’s eye view of the land around us. The kids showed us the hills nearby and advised us ones were safe to climb and which ones were eroding away. They led us over more hilly plains till we got to our second “pink ceramic” hill.
Although the rock colors were interesting at the pink ceramic hill, we were once again disappointed with the water color. The kids sensed our disappointment and glanced at each other. After a bit of huddling between themselves, Morjina came up to us and asked us whether we would like to visit their home. We demurred at first, not wanting to intrude but the kids were insistent. Once we finally agreed, they excitedly started guiding us to their house.
This was, quite possibly, the very first time that I had ventured into an authentic village home. Other village homes I visited were usually part of a ‘tour’ or perhaps owned by a family member or friends and those places always had a modernized feel to them. But this … this was completely different.
It was a small block of three houses surrounding a tiny clearing. Adults say outside, working on different tasks: a woman and two men were busy mending a horse-cart, another woman was working on the “tube-well” pipeline for water, whilst another man was hanging out freshly washed clothes on the strung clothesline. There were a few other kids there too and they watched us with interest. Morjina’s father welcomed us in, made us sit down and offered us lunch. Since we did not want to intrude, we demurred and asked for some water as the trekking had made us quite thirsty. He immediately arranged for fresh coconuts to be cut down from the trees for us!
We sat and discussed many aspects of the village life, whilst feasting on the fresh coconuts. Morjina’s parents had a lot of curious questions about Dhaka life, which we were happy to answer.
After roughly an hour of conversation, we bid them adieu and decided to start off again. Upon querying, Morjina’s father advised us to go and visit a Christian Mission which was around an hour away, close to the Bangladesh-India border. The kids ran with us to see us off and we started merrily on our way.