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    Monday, June 23, 2008

    Ishwardi & Kushtia, June 2008

    To the Land of Lalon Shah..........

    20-21 June 2008

    It was a distant planning, but a sudden tour. How do these blend? Well, I always shortlist places that I would like to visit. And more often than not, the tours come very suddenly, after a planning of no more than 1/2 days. This quick planning has made it possible for me at go to places that probably would’ve been impossible under normal planning procedures. Ishwardi is one of the places that I had short listed very recently. I’ve visited many a special landmark in Bangladesh and always wondered about the many places that I've missed. I always loved to go see rivers and bridges. Bangladesh has so many rivers and bridges that its not so easy to cover most of these bridges within a short time span. But I take them as opportunity reaches me.

    The great Hardinge Bridge spanning the mighty Padma (Ganges) had been a blank spot for me all these years. Its position is almost at an unfortunate place that left it out of all of my travel plans so far. I wanted to break this rule for once. This time I made it the centre of my travel plan. Hardinge Bridge is not alone now, it now has a close mate, Lalon Shah Bridge; a road bridge, unlike Hardinge, which is only a rail bridge. So, I hoped to get a great view of two massive structures at the same place at the same time. I had to manage my time properly, which made me look for best utilisation of my time. Kushtia is on the southern bank of the Padma and land of the legendary folk artist and philosopher Lalon Shah, whose name describes the whole place; the road bridge across the Padma is also named after him. A visit to Kushtia came late into my plan. The Mausoleum of Lalon Shah is the most famous landmark of Kuhstia. There’s also the Kuthibari of Rabindranath Tagore at Shilaidah (not too far from Kushtia). I kept that landmark as part of my plan too.

    Chalan Beel.........02
    The endless Chalan Beel wetlands..........

    Green Carpet, Natore..........01
    The green carpet........

    Anyway, enough said about the plan. I started my journey at 9:00AM on Friday (20th June). I knew from the start that the journey usually takes between 4 hours and 4 hours 15 minutes. But from my recent experiences travelling the same direction, I was a little sceptical. My guess was more in the line of four-and-a-half hours. The whole journey timing, however, took a back seat as we ran into a horrible traffic jam near Savar, just outside Dhaka. We lost a full one hour at the jam. Thus I recounted the travel time to something like five-and-a-half hours. The journey was a typical one, except some specific things. Some views beyond the Jamuna Bridge were a bit new to me. I’ve crossed this same road quite a few times before, but always at night. This was actually the first time I’ve crossed this part of the road during the day! The great Chalan Beel wetlands were usually out of my sight during the previous journeys. The road through Chalan Beel is a horrible one. This part of the road is now broken and had been like that for some time now. But the road following this minefield is something to be marvel at. The toll road before the Pabna-Borga intersection is one of the best roads I’ve seen in Bangladesh. This road is not just well made and straight as a ruler, its surroundings are simply superb. Its one of the flattest places I’ve seen in the country. The paddy fields formed a flat carpet almost to prove the ancient theory that the Earth is not round. The rest of the journey was more or less like the typical journeys through Bangladeshi landscape. This is what keeps me going. Some green; some fresh air; some refreshing views.

    I reached Ishwardi by around 2:30PM. My prediction of a five-and-a-half hour journey proved right in the end. I had a pre-set staying place at Ishwardi. A decent one considering that Ishwardi is an Upazilla Town only. I stayed at Uttara Hotel, on Station Road; yea, another Station Road in another town. I believe there’s a station road in every other town in Bangladesh! Anyway, I freshened up and had my lunch quickly. I planned to catch as much shooting time as possible.

    On the way from Ishwardi to Paksey

    Bamboo cover overhead........

    Tunnel under the rail-road........

    Typical local motor transport...........

    Kalai (a kind of pulse) being dried on the road........

    I was thus able to go out by about 3:30PM. I took a rickshaw to Paksey, where the bridges are. There are several ways to go there. Rickshaw would take the longest time. But my aim was not just to go there and shoot. I wanted to have a look around. I wanted to feel the surrounding. I knew it would take more time, but I also knew it would help me to capture more memories. I wasn’t making a mistake. The rickshaw journey from Ishwardi to Paksey took me almost 40 minutes and it was a great journey. The road was narrow; not for usual motor vehicles. A few local-made three-wheelers ply through this road, along with rickshaws and bicycles. Its well paved road, better than many highways actually! And the surroundings surpass many other roads that I’ve seen. There are orchards of all kinds along the road. Mangoes, jackfruits (kanthal), sugarcane, tetul, kalai, lemon, borboti, data, etc. etc. This is almost like a farm road of some sorts. In places bamboo trees leant on the road like a caring mother. Jackfruits were showing their faces almost too frequently. People were drying kalai on the road. One could see lots of lemons near the village houses. The railroads formed the right border for the road. The high railroad sometimes had tunnels beneath them for the roads to cross them. These railroads were probably constructed at the time of construction of the Hardinge Bridge, in 1915.

    Hardinge Bridge........01
    The 1.81km long Hardinge Bridge.........

    Hardinge Bridge........03
    Children with cattle, under Hardinge Bridge..........

    Hardinge Bridge........02
    Hardinge Bridge across the mighty Padma River...........

    Hardinge Bridge........17
    The massive pillars of Hardinge Bridge........

    Hardinge Bridge........22
    A maze of pillars...........

    I reached Hardinge Bridge point by around 4:15PM. The road to Hardinge point goes away to the right, from the main road leading to Lalon Shah Bridge. This is the road that also leads to Ishwardi EPZ. When I reached the bridge base, I realised for the first time what a structure this is! This is an enormous bridge! Its pillars are concrete, but the whole upper structure is metal. This is a two-lane rail bridge. And the rail-roads are broad-gauge. That defines the width of the bridge. Its height is also enormous. And why shouldn’t it be? This is the mighty Padma we are talking about. This river is forceful enough to deserve some respect. The mighty pillars of the Hardinge Bridge are testimony to the force this river generates during the rainy season. And rainy season is already on now, although the impact of that is yet to reach Hardinge. The riverbed was mostly empty. Grasslands covered most of the riverbed. Lalon Shah Bridge wasn’t too far actually. A walk from Lalon Shah to Hardinge would not take five minutes. Couldn’t reach under Lalon Shah Bridge though. A big pool of water covered the base of Lalon Shah. Tall grass didn’t allow too much view of the other end of the river. There were some local people there passing the afternoon at this great landmark. Some were proceeding towards the middle of the dried riverbed, perhaps looking for the farthest distance they could travel. But I decided not to. The clouds hanging over the south bank of the river did look a little scary, considering the fact that I was almost totally under the open sky. I rather decided to have a closer look at the Hardinge Bridge.

    Hardinge Bridge........13
    The picture not to be taken!!....... Hardinge Bridge from the railroad......

    Lalon Shah Bridge........05
    Lalon Shah Bridge across the mighty Padma River, alongside Hardinge Bridge on the right.............

    Lalon Shah Bridge........03
    Lalon Shah Bridge..........

    Lalon Shah Bridge........07
    Fishing at the base of Lalon Shah Bridge.......

    The bridge point notes that one cannot go close to the bridge and one also cannot take a photo of the bridge! Well, that sounded a little crazy to me, as I’ve snapped so many bridges in the country without any restrictions. Once I climbed the high railroad leading into the bridge, I came to realise the issue. A couple of rail policemen stopped me and explained the issue. The forbid me from taking a snap of the bridge under any circumstances! But unknown to them, I’ve taken one single photo of the bridge already. That was to be the only one from the top though. What the rail police told me was that the outlawed terrorist organisation JMB somehow cooked up a threat to this bridge. That made the government take all sorts of precautionary measures to protect the bridge. During the Liberation War, on 11 December 1971, Indian Air Force Su-7 fighters dropped 500kg bombs to destroy one span of the bridge to prevent Pakistani forces from escaping towards Kushtia. Funny thing is, the span still wasn’t fully destroyed, but was enough to prevent anyone from crossing it. Some more unexploded bombs from that mission faced controlled destruction after the war. Now if someone tells me that he wants to blow the bridge, I would challenge him! Please go ahead! You need precision aerial bombardment to destroy this one! Even the Bangladesh Army would have to give their best efforts to damage this one! This is ridiculous! The Bangladesh Government must’ve protected this to face the media. It would take some effort to peel off some paint off this marvel! JMB? Huh!

    Anyway, after this pathetic experience, I decided to give a chance to Lalon Shah Bridge. And I faced a similar patrol there, but this time they were completely unaware of the reason behind this policy. One of them mentioned that probably the restriction is in place because of the increased possibility of accidents in case passers-byes were allowed on the bridge. But this cannot be an argument. I’ve seen so many bridges having separate lanes for passers-byes, now I have to hear that passers-byes are not safe on the bridge? May be length of the bridge has something to do with it. Too long to walk? Well, who decides?

    Ishwardi Rail Junction...........04
    Ishwardi Railway Junction......... seen from the foot over-bridge......

    Ishwardi Rail Junction...........06
    The foot over-bridge........

    Ishwardi Rail Junction...........02
    Together we progress.........

    Ishwardi Rail Junction...........03
    Converging fate.........

    I left the bridges on the same rickshaw by around 5:00PM.. Kept an eye on the rain clouds following me from the south. I was safely back to Ishwardi by around 5:40PM. I still had some time. The rail police mentioned that the JMB threatened not only the Hardinge Bridge, but another foot over-bridge at Ishwardi rail junction too. The railway station was walking distance from my hotel. So, even though it started to drizzle, I decided to have a look around. The foot over-bridge has nothing to be really proud of. But its old and very well built. Other than that, I’ve struggled to find a lot more out of this. Took a few shots of the station and came back. It was light rain, but rain nevertheless and it rained almost continuously throughout the night. I was thus a bit concerned about my plans for the next day.

    Ishwardi to Dashuria.......01
    The picturesque road from Ishwardi to Dashuria........

    The morning also started with rain. Completed my breakfast and left the hotel by around 8:35AM. There were two/three places where I could find a bus for Kushtia. One near the rail crossing was too near, but buses are few and far between. Ruppur was too far. The third one was Dashuria. This was also a far option. But I decided to take the chance. By the way, I had already dropped the plan for Rabindranath Tagore’s Kuthibari. Time wouldn’t allow me. So, for Lalon Shah Mausoleum alone, I might not need a lot of time. If I had some time to spend, I would spend it sightseeing rather than sitting around. The rickshaw journey to Dashuria was for around half and hour. Rain stayed away, but cloud cover was there. Weather was cool, the road was wet and the trees and surroundings were green. It was an excellent ride. My disappointment at the two bridges was reduced somewhat during this pleasant journey.

    Hardinge Bridge........19
    Hardinge Bridge, seen from Lalon Shah Bridge.........

    Hardinge Bridge........21
    The mighty River Padma flows like a narrow channel under Hardinge Bridge......

    Dashuria is something like a road junction outside Ishwardi Town. Inter-city buses coming from Dhaka or Bogra or Rajshahi don’t come inside Ishwardi. They rather use the bypass road that lead straight to Lalon Shah Bridge, bypassing Ishwardi altogether. I confirmed my ticket to Kushtia and boarded a bus by 9:30AM. I was waiting to cross the Lalon Shah Bridge. I missed this view of the Hardinge yesterday. Now I clicked quite a few. I reached Kushtia Central Bus Terminal by around 10:30AM. I soon realised that I should dropped out of the bus at Majampur Rail-crossing. That’s where all the buses to Dhaka can be found and Lalon Shah Mausoleum is also near that place. Lesson learned the hard way; lost almost half an hour in the process. I confirmed my ticket to Dhaka on a 2:30PM bus and proceeded to Lalon Shah Mausoleum; again by rickshaw. The Mausoleum is inside the town. Some busy roads lead to the Mausoleum.

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........22
    Under the main gate of Lalon Shah Mausoleum Complex...........

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........25
    The Mausoleum of Lalon Shah.........

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........30
    The tomb of Lalon Shah.......

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........28
    The tombs of Lalon's followers are beside the mausoleum........

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........03
    Jewellery sellers at Lalon Shah Mausoleum..........

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........02
    And children too........

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........01
    Graffiti at Lalon's Mausoleum...........

    Portrait_Lalon Shah Mausoleum........02
    Been here for eternity........

    I reached Lalon Shah Mausoleum by around 11:20AM. An interesting place to be actually. This is a Mausoleum, with tombs of Lalon Shah and his followers lying there. But here, you’ll find singers practising Lalon Sangeet, a traditional folk song started by Lalon Shah. There were bearded “Sadhu” people sitting here and there. Some were selling jewellery; some were singing; while some were just passing time. A bearded old man introduced himself as Nazrul Islam. He’s the descendant of Lalon’s adopted father, who in fact, became Lalon’s devotee! Mr. Nazrul Islam helped me with the history of the place. Inside the Mausoleum, there are two tombs, one of Lalon and the other, of Lalon’s adopted mother. Outside the Mausoleum are tombs of Lalon’s 13 devotees, including that of his adopted father. Four of the 13 devotees’ tombs were closest to the main Mausoleum of Lalon. They were the closest of the devotees. There are quite a few other tombs behind the Mausoleum. These are of other devotees of Lalon who made their contributions to Lalon culture over the years. There are some scholars lying there who helped Lalon document music and culture, as Lalon was illiterate.

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........34
    Lalon's portrait.........

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........36
    Portraits of Lalon's followers.......

    The complex consists of the Mausoleum, built in the 1970s and refurbished over the years; an auditorium, completed in 2004 and an academic building cum museum. Most people were hanging out on the open ground floor of the auditorium. According to Mr. Nazrul, the auditorium is only used sometimes. The place used to have two stages where music was performed. Now there are buildings are gardens in place. Mr. Nazrul stayed with me while I looked into the museum. He was not that much happy with the activities of Government officials though.

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........38
    Open air folk concert..........

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........04

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........17

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........18

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........19

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........43

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........10

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........20

    Lalon Shah Mausoleum........11

    Anyway, I had time. So, I decided to join the open-air concerts over there. I sat with them and almost got sucked into the music. I took some snaps from the performance, but realised once again that there are some things in life that cannot possibly be captured by a camera. You can see the pictures, but you cannot feel the music, the emotions attached to it. Some visitors from sugar mills of Ishwardi came to join. And one of the visitors even began to perform with them. It really became enjoyable and captivating. Thanks God that I didn’t forget my bus schedule. I simply had to force myself out of the show.

    Portrait_Lalon Shah Mausoleum........06
    He served in the British Army during the Second World War............

    I came out of the Mausoleum by around 1:15PM. On the way out, I met a very old person, who happened to have served in the British Army in Burma during the Second World War. Spent a little time with him. He was constantly complaining about his retirement benefits. Outside the main gate of the Mausoleum, there are some shops selling souvenirs. I collected a traditional instrument too.

    I reached Majampur Rail-crossing by around 1:45PM. Finished my lunch there and boarded the bus. We started eight minutes late though. I just hoped that the way out didn’t get delayed like the way in. It was the same route. Had some more opportunities shooting Hardinge Bridge, the great Chalan Beel and the mighty Jamuna River. Otherwise, it was a journey not too memorable.

    The tour was incomplete. I couldn’t go to Rabindranath Tagore’s Kuthibari and also couldn’t spend enough time at the Lalon Shah Mausoleum. The folk singers at the Mausoleum mostly come after dusk. It’s a treasure that I missed going there during the day. I have to come back here once again. The music didn’t satisfy me; it just increased my hunger for more. But if I was disappointed at Hardinge, it was more than overshadowed by the experiences at Lalon Shah Mausoleum.


    1. Thanks for sharing these all pictures and story. As usual, fantastic. I am new here in Bangladesh, you just introduced me another beauty of this country.

    2. Sharif
      Pleasure to inform you that you visited my Town of dream Paksey.
      I broughtup there from 1972 to 2000. The Padma is insperation of life.
      Thanks for sharing your memory with my memories.
      All the best

    3. Sharif,

      Your eyesight through the camera is so live that make the viewer to feel been with you at that moment of the shoot. Your pictures speak themselves, even don't need any caption, I like the simplicity in your frame.

      Keep the spirit of your such observation!

      Best regards


    4. Stunning photos, Sharif vai!!!

      Thanks for sharing them. You are really making a difference there.

    5. Yes Ahmedbhai, you cannot capture the emotion associated flow of music in a photo.
      But, your narrative here is very captivating.For me, who is on this side of the border, your travel account has great significance.

      Does your travel plan include West Bengal?

      Best wishes.

      Shyamal Da

    6. Thank you all for such great encouragement!!...... Its a story worth sharing if there is endorsement of this sort..... This keeps me going...... Sharif

    7. Your stunning photographs of the land of my forefathers have evoked much reminiscences and nostalgia...some blue bile perhaps?...the stuff of sodades...a longing to go back to the roots.

    8. It will be a great helpful point of Ref for my coming ishwardi trip....

    9. great journey-rizwan shah

    10. Hi,

      I am from Bheramara, just for your information, you don't add our power house station of Bheramara and a famous canal (Source of water for Agriculture work) of Bheramara to jessore.

    11. Great initiative to showcase all the beauty of Bangladesh. We have a lot of places of interest but visitors do not know. We have to let them know.