After a taking the "freight elevator" up to the third floor of the Welcome Palace Hotel and inspecting the available rooms, I chose the "deluxe" $33 executive suite, far from luxurious, but meeting my minimum standards.
Hello from Agartala,
While in Guwahati I decided to head down into the state of Tripura on the border with Bangladesh. Several people confirmed the country had a consulate in Agartala and that the nearby border made it easy to enter the country.
Leaving the Dynasty Hotel early I grabbed a street cab to the airport and bought a standby ticket on the next flight to Agartala. I rarely miss a flight doing things at the last minute as is my habit. This flight left with me onboard as well. Our plane arrived late afternoon and a fellow passenger recommended the Welcome Palace Hotel as the best in town, the one he always uses and offered me ride into town as well.
Agartala is not very prosperous. Despite this, I discovered a disproportionate number of jewelry stores selling gold trinkets and chains. With average income in the dollar a day range, I'm surprised anyone can afford expensive jewelry. In a discussion with one store owner I learned not all people are poor, "not as rich as most foreigners, but with relatively high incomes. By our standards most foreigners are fabulously wealthy!" he added. Thinking about his comments helped me better understand the constant staring to which I am subjected. I can just imagine some of the incredulous thinking in the minds of those staring: "That guy spends more than a month's pay just for a night's sleep!" No wonder people stare in awe as I amble around town.
Most streets and sidewalks are in poor repair, most not paved. The pace of
life is slower than in other capital cities in the Northwest, but shops
seemed to be doing a brisk business. The center of town surrounds the old
palace complex now a tourist attraction of little appeal. Swarms of mosquitoes
appeared here and there. One little critter bit me the first night in the
hotel despite an electrical mosquito repellant vapor generator commonly used around
here. Street maps for the city seem to be kept as military secrets.
None of the small book stores had them and the official
Government Tourism Office parted with one of theirs only after I pointed
out any tourist would need a map to fully enjoy the city.
Being so close to Muslim Bangladesh I expected to be awakened by the muezzin's calls to prayer early the next morning, but there were none. Limited English garbled my order for room service breakfast resulting in two separate orders of the set two fried eggs, toast and coffee (Nescafe) breakfast. Just as well as that would be the last real food for a couple days.
Walking the town I found the government transport station and learned of a bus to Dhaka three times a week with the next one leaving early the next morning. I also learned the Bangladesh consulate needed applicants to deposit $100 in their Bank of India checking account... easier said than done. The bank, hidden on the second floor of an unmarked building turned out to be chaos personified; mobs of people redefining waiting lines in a dusty, dimly lit interior. Eventually, my crisp new one hundred dollar bill got some special attention and assistance.
By the time I had finished the formalities at the Bangladesh consulate and returned to the bus station all seats had been sold for the following day, Friday as well as for the next run Monday. By now my options appeared bleak.
The second hotel turned out to be exaggerated reputation. Poor maintenance, sanitation and questionable food service were making me feel discouraged in this underdeveloped part of the world. The bathroom here had the shower head between the door and the toilet, meaning evening showers would leave the floor wet until the housekeeping staff got around to cleaning it the next day. In this particular hotel that would not be the problem as a leaking toilet provided another unstoppable source of wetness. Damp toilet tissue and a quick wipe confirmed my fears that the brown stain on the white toilet seat might be a token of the last guest's use. A blanket covering a single bottom sheet told me this hotel would not be my first choice under ordinary circumstances. But, without other choices I made the best of it and demanded and got three sheets for the bed.
Later that afternoon back at the consulate I inquired about air service to the capital and learned my only other option was a twice daily train from a little town inside Bangladesh about eight kilometers beyond the border. I hired a rickshaw to take me down to the border for a quick look at what I could expect the next day. The earliest noon train seemed like my best bet, so after two nights of eggs, candy bars and Cokes I hired an auto-rickshaw to drive me to the border around 07:00 the next morning.
Immigration and Customs formalities were tedious on both sides. Everyone wanted to inspect every page of my passport and to hand-copy most of the information into dog-eared ledgers, for what reasons I can't imagine. The Bangladesh Immigration officer asked if I needed any local currency and obligingly offered me an unfavorable exchange rate 20 percent below the official rate. Grateful for any offer I bought a few dollars worth of taka with some of my left over Rupees and headed out into my new host country.
That's it for this postcard. 'Til next time,