Posts Tagged ‘Kolkata’

23-Apr-2013 Summary of Bangla-Dash

Tuesday 23 April 2013 Leave a comment

I emailed the following summary to all the people that donated money to my Bangla-Dash adventure.

It was funny as I am still getting emails from the Smart Traveller website about the situation in Bangladesh, and this arrived just as I was sending the email:

Current Advice Level: “High degree of caution”
Change Summary:
It has new information under Summary, Safety and security: Civil unrest/political tension and Local travel (hartals/general strikes can involve the shutdown of all activity; violence surrounding hartals may target public transport and private vehicles).

Anyway, the summary is :

This email is to all the people who donated money to my recent Bangla-Dash adventure – many thanks for your kind & generous support. I met the people that will receive your money, and can report that it is being wisely spent and will make a small difference to the world, but a big difference in a small village near Sonargoan just outside of Dhaka.

Short version:

I went to India to run 290km from Kolkata India to Dhaka Bangladesh to raise funds to complete building a school just outside Dhaka. I carried $5000 cash which I was very relieved to safely handover! I completed 40% of the run (115km) through the Kolkata metropolis and rural West Bengal villages as I was stopped in Bangladesh due to an unprecedented general strike over 4 days that prevented any traffic movement between towns, stopped ferries etc. However when the strike was lifted for just one day we were able to grasp the opportunity to run to the town where the school is being built and I was able to meet the builder, architect and project manager. Whilst disappointed that I was unable to finish the run due to political issues, I know I would have been able to physically finish and ultimately a life lesson is that sometimes things are outside of your control and you just need to just let nature take it’s course. I specifically chose this project because it would be difficult and there was a chance it might not go according to plan, but I had a great adventure doing it and met some great people and saw some great sights. I enjoyed meeting many people in India and Bangladesh and never once felt threatened or unsafe, in fact I clearly saw that people everywhere are just people trying to make the best of their lives and for their families, it was a real refresher on how similar we all are, as people of this world. I am impressed by my friends Marc and Chris’ desire to continue with a difficult project in a difficult country and the three of us are still continuing to seek donations to fund a second school.

Long Version:

Sometimes you just have to go with your heart.

Last year I read about 2 teachers, an Australian and an American who had been working in Bangladesh and had this idea to do a sponsored run from Kolkata India to Dhaka Bangladesh, a total of 290km in about 4 days. I was mightily impressed by this – I have been a runner for many years and was keen to attempt some kind of “journey run” for a charity and was half looking for inspirational ideas. I am very interested in India and even went to India for 6 weeks in 2012. The timing of their run wasn’t good for me, but I followed them up afterwards and found they had raised more than $20,000. They donated half to a school that was being built and which opened in January 2013 and they lined up an architect to design a school that they would fund and build to replace an existing shed that was being used as a school by a disadvantaged community.

I contacted them to see if they were planning on doing the run again, they weren’t, but they said if I was keen to run myself then they would help with the logistics in Bangladesh. They seemed like genuine friendly blokes doing something very worthwhile but the idea was pretty scary. I decided to commit to doing the run anyway and try to raise some money myself and trust that it would turn out ok. Sometimes you just have to go with your heart.

Timing was difficult, it was February and Chris was the only one still in Bangladesh, but was leaving in June. The weather would be best in March or April, but I couldn’t go in March (too hot and/or too wet afterwards). As he is a teacher and we would borrow the school’s minibus, I would be limited to the school holidays in April, although he was going away overseas for much of the holidays with his family, so we locked in the only week that we had to do the run.

Luckily I had been training hard over the summer and I just had to sort out my flights and logistics for the 82km that is on India side of the border. All my injections from my India trip in 2012 were still current. I emailed my friends, family and work colleagues to see if anyone would donate to the cause and to date have received over $4500 from about 80 different people. Chris in Bangladesh was very impressed as this was pretty much just the right amount remaining to complete the school building – the funds will be used for the solar-powered lights, shelving and furniture and some teacher-training.

I left Australia on 26th March with $5000 in a large pile of crisp $50 notes from Westpac Bank safely in my backpack. I had a few days sightseeing in Mumbai and then a few days in Kolkata where I planned the start of the run, the route and surveyed the first section. I visitied Gandhi’s house/musuem and also Mother Teresa’s which I enjoyed greatly as well as having soem great indian food. I would leave as early as possible on Weds 3rd April, starting from Howrah station and running across the Howrah bridge then find my way out through the suburbs and head for the Bangladesh border. I purposefully brought as little as possible, just to fill a very small backpack – later weighed by the side of the road at 9.2kg – however try carrying it on your back and it still feels heavy!

I started running at 5am totally scared out of my wits – would I find the way ? Would I be safe by myself ? Would I get squashed by the crazy traffic ? Would the Police just decide I wouldn’t be allowed to do this ? Luckily I found my way out of the city ok, and as it got daylight and I got further out the conditions improved. But boy was it hot ! Luckily there were lots of places to get water, cold drinks and the ever-present sweet indian chai. Most people saw me as like an alien that had dropped from the sky, in disbelief. Who are you ? where are you going ? where have you come from ? why are you running ? As it was hard work running, often all I could manage was a wave and a smile!

I had allowed myself 2 days to make the 82km to the border with Bangladesh and my appointment with my support crew. Doing it in one day would be tough and there were a thousand things that could delay me, so I went on the side of caution and planned for two days. I figured 47km on day one would leave an easier 35km for day two. I reached the town of Habra, 47km into the run at 3pm on day one and was shattered, with badly blistered feet and literally almost ready to pass out. If truth be told, the previous few hours had been hard. The road was narrow and I was close to a lot of traffic and my rest breaks were becoming more frequent.I stopped and sat and drank anything I could lay my hands on but there was no hotel so I took a rickshaw to the next village to stay the night. They’d never had a foreigner stay there before and I slept beside the mosque.

On day two I took a rickshaw back to Habra and continued my run, gently, as my feet were still sore. I ensured I took time to rest properly and tried to eat some food but I just didn’t fancy anything. It was just as hot today, approx 40C. I made it to the border at Benapole at just gone lunchtime. I received a txt message to say that my crew would meet me at a hotel in the town of Jessore and I should catch the bus there. I made the border formalities still in my running kit and dripping with sweat, so everyone waved me through as I probably looked too poor & deranged to worry about. I got changed, and caught a bus to Jessore, ate and slept. In the morning I met my crew who said that for the first time ever there was a general strike over the weekend (starts Thursday night in Muslim countries) and that we would have to drive back to Dhaka as the only alternative would be to stay in Jessore for 4 days as its too dangerous to travel between towns during a Hartal. Even then, we saw some demonstrations and found some ferries were already stopped leading to traffic jams several miles long already.

The run was pretty much over as we would lose all our available days to the Hartal. The newspapers had lots of stories of demonstrations, torchings and people being killed, so it was not idle threats. Luckily however on Sunday night we heard that the Hartal planned for Monday would not be happening so we rapidly made a plan to run the 35km from Dhaka to Sonargoan to visit the current school and building site. It was great running without my pack and running with Chris who had put in so much planning for the Bangladesh side of the trip. It was truly the highlight of my trip to make it to the village where the school is in the process of being built (completion approx June). I took some photos and its pretty clear that this is a very poor village indeed and the people can do with as much help as possible.

I stayed on in Dhaka for a few extra days but all the other trips we had planned were cancelled as there were more Hartals called and made planning anything very difficult.I decided to catch the bus back to India and made my way home eventually.

Please email this onto any of your friends or family who may also wish to donate as we are still trying to raise more money. Any help will be gratefully received!


 -My website & blog diary :

-My photos from the trip :

-Chris’ photos of the run to Sonargoan village

-You can make a donation at

30-Mar-2013 Flight to Kolkata

Saturday 30 March 2013 Leave a comment

As mentioned before, the only reason for flying Mumbai-Kolkata is because I need to be there over the weekend and there were no trains available. I like the pace of trains and want to see more of the countryside. Still, them’s the breaks.

I figured I would leave approx 8am to get to the airport before 9.30am for my 1130am flight. That is heaps of time even allowing for anything to go wrong. I was up at 7am and soon packed. It was easy to tet s cab ($6). Checked in and bought a roll for breakfast with a chai and read a free newspaper. Not much world news ! The flight was fine, it was quite empty so had loads of room. Just read my Indian Outlook magazine on how Samsung will eat Apple.

At Kolkata I pre-paid for a taxi and caught that to Sudder Street. I was very keen to look at the route to/from the airport as that is on my running route. A total obstacle course and I am wondering what I have let myself in for – roadworks,  holes, pavements, fences, traffic all over. Hot, dusty & exposed. Kolkata is not really even like much of Mumbai – it has a general sense of decay & grime. Quite depressing.

As I hadn’t even picked out a hotel I looked like freshmeat to all the varioys touts -hotels, taxi, change money,  hasish – everything. I got a room in a small guest house.  It’ll do for now – a bit grimey, no air con, dodgy lock on door. I went out for a walk without my pack & got a chai. tried the phone and found vodaphone kolkata is different than mumbai so am technically roaming but barely any price difference.  We’ll see. I went back to my room for a rest, sort my bag out and drop off some laundry. After a while I went out to survey the scene. Lots of people. I came here with dawn for a few days in 1989 en route to Darjeeling but can’t remember much if anything of our time, other than thinking it was decaying and grimy even back then.

I spent an hour walking but it felt like forever. I just got hot & tired. I found a spanish cafe down a side courtyard and got some pasta/tomato with honey lemon ginger.  I didn’t fancy eating indian for once even though there were a couple of decent looking places. I didn’t fancy something on the main drag and liked the idea of something off to the side where I could out with a few drinks (non-alcoholic of course) without being rushed or hassled. I don’t seem to have seen many places like that this year. There seemed to be a big group of Spanish people coming in – you don’t see many travelling around much.

After a few honey lemon gingers I went straight back to the hotel and was in bed asleep by 10pm as it had been a long day.

7-Mar-2013 The big difference between ‘memorable’ and ‘fun’

Thursday 7 March 2013 Leave a comment

  There was an interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald the other week about tourism in Bangladesh. Not many people travel there so it’s quite rare to see articles about it. It was well worth reading.

 “One short week: a thousand stories, a million experiences. Definitely worth $145 for a visa” (It’s actually AU$150).

That article aside there are quite a few civil disturbances in Bangladesh at the moment, this article one of them from the Australian newspaper:

Schools and businesses were shut yesterday across Bangladesh on the second day of a general strike as huge numbers of police were deployed to stop the deadliest bout of violence since independence.At least 61 people have died in clashes since last Thursday when Islamists erupted in outrage at the sentencing to death of one of their leaders who was convicted of war crimes dating back to the 1971 liberation conflict.

More at The Australian newspaper.

There are some really “good” photos at the Washington Post also.

My friends in Bangladesh say that it is localised and not too much of a problem although the Australian Government is taking no chances and has updated the safety section of the SmartTraveller website.

In more peaceful news, I saw these photos of Indian trains, which I have travelled on before with success & enjoyment. I will also be on a train for 30hrs+ from Mumbai to Kolkata.

One of my friends said that the Bangla-Dash would be an EPIC adventure. Yes I think it will be !