The day started at 7:15 AM. I never heard my alarm, which was set for 7 AM, but somehow we managed to get up and be ready on time. At 7:45 AM we were getting on a local bus with Taposh, heading to the Eco Lodge, our new home for our stay in Srimangal. On our way there, we passed tea estates and pineapple farms before arriving at our hotel. With 4 rooms only and set amongst a lemon orchard – it was perfect!
We ate a basic breakfast of curried vegetables, herb omelet and chapatis. After putting our bags in our room, we were back on the road again, this time heading towards the Lowacherra National Park for some hiking.
The park entrance was well marked, unlike what our guidebook had said, but seemed very dated. After entering the park, we passed crumbling structures and everything looked as though it never sees any tourists. Perhaps we had entered through a less commonly used entrance?
Our hike lasted about 2 hours long, and was not at all difficult. The trail was mostly flat, but at times hard to follow. We had made a good decision in hiring a guide! During our entire hike we crossed path with only one other tourist, who didn’t luck out in his outing: he did not see any monkeys. With that said, it’s no surprise that our hike was quiet and peaceful, with only birds, monkeys, barking deers, black squirrels and woodpeckers to disturb the peace.
Unlike the other tourist, we were lucky and encountered the three different kinds of monkeys one can see in the national park.
The first monkey encounter was with capped langurs. We found them swinging in the trees, across the canopy. There was a mom with a baby in the group of perhaps 8 monkeys. There was a lot of jumping going on!
The second monkey encounter was the luckiest one: the endangered hoolock gibbons. We spotted two males, black with massive white eyebrows. Mom, pale brown, was with a baby. They were slowly moving around using their long limbs, but never jumping. Apparently gibbons never leave the safety of the tree tops, and so will only ever be see in tress. Because my camera shutter is so loud, the gibbons looked right at me a few times. It was pretty cool! It was really great to get to see them, and we got to spend quite a lot of time with them too.
Our final monkey encounter occurred while trying to spot a barking deer. Pig-tailed macaques were in the trees and on the ground, with babies running around. A male macaque made it to the ground, but he was so large and heavy that he broke branches coming down. Our guide explained these monkeys can be aggressive, so we kept our distance. There are so many of them, a dozen at least!
What surprised me about our hike was that we hardly saw any birds. We saw a bird with a red belly and another with a yellow body and a black crested head, but that was it. There were many butterflies though. With at least 10 different kinds spotted, they made up for the birds.
Our hike terminated at the other park entrance, and this one was night and day to the entrance we had used. There were buses everywhere. It was a massive traffic jam, with motorcycles, cars, baby taxis not moving out of the way for buses. Hundreds of locals wanted to check out the park, and the trail there was packed. Bangladeshi apparently don’t like to walk, so the path they were on was short, flat and paved in bricks. Everyone there was wearing their finest. It was Friday after all, everyone’s day off, and the place was packed. Had we showed up here from the start, there’s no way we would have wanted to be here. It was madness! There even were beggars on the trail.
We passed train tracks and headed towards a Khashia tribal village. These villagers specialize in betel growing, something we’ve encountered quite a lot across Asia but never knew much about.
We learned that the betel nut and the betel leaves are actually two different plants: what a surprise! The leaves come from a vine, with they grow twisted around trees. The nut grows on a tree that looks like a date tree. We also learned that here the harvest and growth is all done by men, while the sorting of leaf and the selling of the final produce is done by the women. Betel harvest is almost a year-round activity. They earn 160 taka per bunch (of an unknown weight to us) – that’s a lot of money compared to tea-pickers!
The village had a mix of wooden houses, concrete houses and mud houses. It’s well swept, clean, tended to. It was by far the prettiest ethnic village we’ve been to – clearly they have money here! Some interesting facts about the village:
– The people from this village were originally Hindus from India, but they are now Presbyterian! A Presbyterian priest comes once a month to give a sermon.
– There is not electricity in the village, but solar power is used.
– Unlike all other “tribal” villages I’ve been to, here there is no selling of any kind. I think it’s wonderful that they are not relying on tourists for their income!
After the village we walked back to the main road, and our time in the national park was over. By this point we had been walking for 4h, a perfect amount of time really, but we were ready to get back to our bungalow and relax.
We got onto the public bus, but traffic was epic and no one wanted to make concessions. The traffic made no sense, and nothing was moving. It was a parking lot. So, we decided to get out of the bus and walk a little, see if things would improve.
We ended up getting into a jumbo (a pickup jeep) for our way back. A minute into the drive, the guy sitting beside the driver decided that he wanted to drive the car. He scooted over to get closer to the driver, placed his hands on the wheel and started to drive the car – with the driver still sitting behind the wheel. It was madness, sheer stupidity. The guy appeared to have no idea what he was doing, and it was terrible driving. Travis and I both feared horrible accidents, and couldn’t wait for the ride to be over.
We said goodbye to our guide over lunch. It was great luck that he found us the previous day in town, and I’m glad that we used his services. Would recommend him to anyone! Now, if only we hadn’t lost his contact info… Sorry Taposh!