Today we decided to check out Nilkantha Tea Cabin and its famous 5-layered tea (now available in 7 layers!). This is something that was invented right here in Srimangal and is unique to Bangladesh. We were not sure what to expect, but we knew that we were in for a treat.
To get there, we decided to walk instead of hiring a rickshaw or renting a bicycle. We had a rough, hand-drawn map to go by and about a 4 KM walk there.
The walk turned out to be quite nice, and mostly flat. It followed the main road, which cuts through tea plantations of a few estates. We got to see tea pickers trimming the trees for the rest season and men dig trenches. Other women were busying themselves by carrying baskets of dried tea leaves to fertilize the soil around the bushes. Some tea bushes were still lush green, but most were completely bare.
Tea pickers are women. The explanation for this is that they have softer hands, are more precise and have better concentration than men. They work 8-hour days and are required to pick 24 kilos of tea leaves a day – they earn 2 taka per kilo. Each day, they earn 48 taka: that’s just shy of $0.68 CAD. It’s terribly hard work and they get nothing for it. The season is also only 6 months long: they need to find other work for the rest of the year.
Tea estates were not the only places at work: we also saw women sweeping the grounds of rubber tree plantations. These trees also looked to be resting, with hardly any leaves on and the rubber receptacles either completely gone, or just out of position.
Further down the road we saw men carrying heavy, wet sand on their heads while others were busy washing their trucks. People washing in the rivers. Clothing drying in the sun.
We walked past what seemed to be a car manufacturing road / repair road: jeeps and tractors were in different states of work. There were people carving wooden headpieces for beds. There were brick breakers and sign painters. Everyone seemed hard at work but us!
The highlight of our walk was the people we encountered. As always, we got the standard “hello, how are you” everywhere, but at a certain point we started to accumulate a crowd. It really seems that having a camera wrapped around your neck makes people love you. They come out of their houses, follow you around asking to be photographed, wanting nothing in return. They seem to take in so much joy in being photographed. They giggle and shriek in excitement when they see their photos.
At one point we accumulated a very large crowd of kids. It was more like a frenzy; it got crazy and overwhelming. Everyone kept asking to have their photo taken, but no kid would let a person get their portrait taken: they would always pop into the frame. I was surrounded by boys, overwhelmed with excitement, and it was mayhem. They were pushing and shoving, then pulling on my camera to see the results. One kid kept pushing on the camera buttons, and successfully changed all of my settings.
Because this was happening one hour prior to the start of the Cricket World Cup, with Bangladesh facing India as the first match, there was a lot of cricket talk. Kids wore hand-made Bengal flags on their faces, giddy with excitement. This was a big deal, so much so that 2PM marked the start of a recently-declared National Holiday (what is it with Bangladesh and holidays?!?). The government wanted to make sure that everyone could watch the game should they want to.
After shooting all of the boys around I noticed that there were two girls watching what was going on. One of them was ridiculously stunning, but did not want her photo taken. I kept shooting the boys, and eventually the girls let me take their photo. I went up to them to show them the shot, and the older one started talking to me in Bengla. I had no idea what she was saying, and I wasn’t sure if she wanted me to come with her into her house, but I had the feeling that she did.
Some of the kids started pulling on me and my camera, so I turned to look at them. When I turned back to the girls, the oldest one had returned with her blind grandmother. She was beaming with pride, and wanted me to take a picture of her with her grandmother (who had no idea what was going on!). I was happy to take the pictures – more than that, it warmed my heart and made my day to take their picture.
Eventually we managed to rid ourselves of the crowd, even after a few of them following us down the road. We passed another rubber plantation and a man who kept shouting at us and himself, and then we finally arrived at the Tea Cabin.
The place was deserted, probably because it’s far removed from anything and it was 20 minutes to the start of the match. We both ordered snack food and 5-layered tea. Given the look of the place, and the look of the tea when it arrived, I wasn’t expecting much. As advertised the drink had 5 clearly separate layers, but the flavours weren’t so different. It wasn’t very tea-like, but more like a warm cider of sorts. It wasn’t bad at all though, in fact it was quite a lovely drink.
While we were drinking our tea, we could hear a band playing in the distance. It sounded like a pretty good duo of drums and trumpet, and it was weird to be hearing it. Then it started to get louder and louder, until eventually a procession went right by us. It looked as though they were announcing the marriage of a girl, as one of the ladies had a very solemn look stamped on her face. She kept looking at the ground, with ladies holding her hands. One would have thought someone had died, but clearly it wouldn’t have called for such cheerful music. They kept marching on, and we could hear the music in the distance.
Our tea gone, we hopped on a rickshaw to get back to our hotel. There we relaxed on a blanket by the river and watched the sun go down over the lemon grove, the sun a huge red ball into the sky.
PS. You can see some of today’s scene in Travis’ Bangladesh video. Enjoy!