Travelling in Bangladesh: When everything goes wrong

Some days, everything just seems to go wrong.

Some days you get sick. Some days you get lost. And some days your train crashes in the middle of the night in a dangerous border town and you're left to fight for a spot on a bus to drive along the world's scariest road to try to get yourself to the airport to be able to leave the place.

Right now it really is the middle of the night, my train really has crashed in a dangerous border town, and I'm trying to figure out how to get myself on a bus towards Dhaka so I can get to the airport and get out of here.

I could have just taken the bus all the way from Chittagong to the capital, except I'd done that on the journey down and I scared the life out of myself. My friend in the southern city had advised me to sit towards the back of the bus and not look out the window – advice I'd not followed and immediately regretted once I'd realised the bus was going to career down the wrong side of the highway for most of the trip, locked in a constant game of chicken with anything that dared drive on its own side of the road. Unfortunately this comprised mostly of other buses and trucks, rendering the journey a seven-hour descent into nerve-shredding hell. 

So I didn't really want to do that again. Instead, I'd opted to take the night train, a gentle, click-clacking meander through the Bangladeshi countryside, a journey during which I would sleep most of the way and wake up refreshed and ready to fly by the time we pulled up in Dhaka.

At least, that had been the plan. The dream was shattered the moment I stepped onto the train and realised I'd failed to book a sleeper cabin – instead, I'd be spending the night bolt upright on a hard seat. I also realised that the blazing cabin lights weren't going to be extinguished, meaning I'd have to tie a jumper over my face if I hoped to get even the smallest slice of shut-eye.

Three or four hours passed, maybe five. The jumper was fixed firmly over my face. The train was creaking along. 

And then – crash.

A massive jolt. A few cries from the passengers. I peeled the jumper away and was met with pitch darkness, with people milling in the aisles, speaking Bengali, trying to figure out what had happened. 

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Eventually everyone began to file off the train, jumping down onto the tracks. A young Bangladeshi guy must have spotted my confusion. "The train won't go any more," he said. "We have to find a bus."

Some days, everything just seems to go wrong. 

And so here I am somewhere in Bangladesh, backpack on my back, joining a crowd of people walking along the dark railway tracks to the nearest town, hoping for a solution, or a bed. My new friend is walking beside me, not exactly reassuring me.

"This is a bad place," he says, nervously looking around. "It's a border place, lots of smuggling. We should leave here."

Great. I'd love to leave here, but I'm not sure how we're going to make that happen. 

Pretty soon I find out, however, as I follow the crowd into a town, across a few streets and into a dark parking lot, where about 20 buses have been pulled up for the night. Fortunately, it appears the drivers of those buses have pulled up for the night inside, so when the crowd descends upon the vehicles and begins banging on the windows, the doors miraculously open and a wave of people shuffles me inside.

The good news: I'm still on my way to Dhaka. The bad news: I'm back on those roads.

I decide to do my old jumper trick again, trying it around my head, blocking out the world that's rushing by, until eventually the sun comes up and we enter the outskirts of Bangladesh's bustling, dusty capital. I get out at the bus station, grab the nearest rickshaw and tell the driver I need to get to the airport.

He smiles, pulls the rattling three-wheeler onto the road, and we're away. Or at least, we're away for a little while. 

A few blocks up the road the rickshaw begins to rattle a lot more then usual, and then cough a few times, and then conk out completely in the middle of the road, a sad little island of mechanical failure in a sea of honking traffic. The driver just turns to me with an apologetic little shrug. We've broken down.

Some days, everything just seems to go wrong.

Have you ever had a day (or longer) travelling when everything went wrong? Post your comments below.

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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