That is except on Moheshkali Island, a day trip from Cox’s Bazaar. As a tourist day out it promises to be a lot of fun: a speed boat ride across the Bay of Bengal to a remote island with a Buddhist and Hindu temple, all the fresh coconut you could hope to drink and then home in time for sunset back on the beach. We had to pay some extra money for the tour company to arrange it all, but it seemed preferable to the trip to a dry waterfall that they had planned for us.
But the moment we disembarked on the jetty of the island, it was clear that this was not like the mainland. There were so many mullahs disembarking the boats that it we assumed we had inadvertently joined a pilgrimage, and the religious harmony of the island suddenly seemed less certain. And that was followed by an ugly session of haggling with the collected rickshawallahs who proceeded to physically fight each other for our custom. It didn’t help that our guide had never been to the island before, nor actually guided a group of foreign tourists but that is common in Bangladesh so not such an issue.
After seeing the sights, where again the guide tried to convince us that temple we were seeing was Hindu even with a huge Buddha in front of our faces, we decided to tour the main market as had become our family holiday custom, as a means of getting a breather from one another and for my dad to tell another 286 Bangladeshis that they lived in a beautiful country. But this time he didn’t. Relative to the island the market only got more depressing and poorer, with no maintenance and nothing to buy other than elaborately carved dry fish. A separate lesson that I learnt that day was that no matter how elaborately you carve a dry fish, it still stinks like dried fish (i.e. death).
There were no women in the streets, there was no interaction with the locals apart from our original rickshawallahs who protested and followed us around for 30 minutes not content with the 50% tip we had given them. At one point we saw a kid being dragged by his hair in to the middle of the street and beaten with a stick (thus proving his guilt as he could have just run away?). There was still a small crowd around us, expectantly waiting for my dad’s proclamation. But after what we had seen, he wasn’t going to say it.
Whether its very nature as an island causes the poverty to be concentrated, or isolated, or both, I have no idea. But on Moheshkali it was so intense that we ended up naming is Misery Island. It was a good experience, once we managed to fight our way on to a pontoon across a mudflat which fought its way through thirty pontoons on to a speedboat home. But it was intense, and a little miserable and nothing like the rest of what I have seen before or since in Bangladesh.