Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sylhet Tea Weekend

Last week, my good friend called with a proposition... a ladies' weekend to Sylhet, Bangladesh. The idea of a weekend away is always welcomed in my mind, but the reality of leaving the girls was difficult. I discussed it with Chris, who insisted I go and enjoy a few days of a camera in hand with no distractions of children and responsibilities. Love him.

We journeyed by mini-bus from the Canadian High Commission (yes, it was 7 Canadians and moi) to the airport in Dhaka, by turbo prop airplane from Dhaka to Sylhet and by 2 private vans from the Sylhet airport to the Nazimghar Resort. All the while, my ears were tuned to the ladies, but my eyes were enjoying the view.
Upon arrival to the resort, we dropped off our luggage, enjoyed a quick lunch and headed out to the tea plantation and a quick hike. December through March are a quiet time in the tea gardens. Aside from pruning, there isn't a lot happening with the tea other than growing. It's still pretty :)
We hiked into the "rainforest"... guide less. Our drivers pointed us in the direction of a map, while they guarded the vans... in the middle of the jungle. We veered from the path, which wasn't marked too well, but recovered and made our way back. It was dimming as we drove our way out, and though we couldn't take any photos, we got a got glimpse of sunset and the busy village life as workers returned home. We ended the evening with a tasty Indian dinner and a lovely invitation from the resort owner, who was a charming Bangla man raised in Sylhet, but now living a beautiful life between there and Dhaka. He told us stories and history over drinks on his screened veranda. We were wooed and engulfed in conversation.

Day 2 would be the highlight of our visit. Breakfast was followed by a drive to the river, where we boarded the resorts small boat which led us for more than an hour up and down the Sharee River to the border of India. The water was an unbelievable turquoise. Though I'd seen pictures online and in my guidebooks, I wouldn't have believed it existed in Bangladesh, had I not seen it with my own eyes. In several shallow spots, you could see to the bottom.
Life was vibrant along the river, people boating, washing and busying about on their days. Upon asking the night before about tea production, our charming host had arranged an impromptu visit to a stunning estate along the river. There was a small crew processing the previous season's crop, while several people trimmed the fields and a colorful group of ladies transported water to the processing area. We received a brief overview of the process from field to teacup. As we left the estate, the owner's elephant and mahout wished us adieu.
We returned to the river and meandered down to the Lalakhal Resort, another property of the Nazimghar. Lalkhal is at a beautiful spot where the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya, India enter Bangladesh. This is a new establishment, with a restaurant, watersports, a lookout and soon to be tent resort accommodations. Here, we enjoyed a lunch of fish, daal, vegetables, rice and a brief visit from our resort host, who checked in to be sure we were enjoying ourselves. Indeed!

Vans transported us from the Lalakhal Resort to the town of Jaflong, where our destination was the Khasi Punji Village across the river. We walked from the vans atop the hill, down to the waterfront, where we boarded small boats to cross the river. Crowds gathered around us, taking photos and asking us about ourselves. This area doesn't see a lot of foreigners, and our group of Caucasian women was an oddity. As we arrived on the far side of the river, you could see the char (land exposed in the low season along the river) villages, which would be gone once the next monsoons arrived. It's amazing to see how many nomadic people still live in these temporary char villages.
While out and about, the hotel had arranged for masseurs to meet us upon our return for foot/leg messages. As their regular spa employees were gone, they hired ladies from a local villages, bracing us with the fact that they had no idea of the quality of services. Basically, we had a lovely 30 minute foot scrub, as really no massaging went on. And with our lack of Bangla language to discuss this with them, we just nodded and smiled. Chock one up to an experience for conversation. I had brought 2 tubes of henna/mehendi paste, so I asked if anyone could mehendi our arms. So we salvaged our time with the ladies by getting some beautiful artwork done.
Day 3 took us back to Sylhet and a brief shopping visit. Our plane was late, but we still made it home to Dhaka before dinner. At the airport, a baby was crying for minutes. His cries had me missing the girls. As we walked to security checkin, I shooshed and spoke to him, as his father brought him my way. He quieted down, probably wondering what this silly white woman was saying. It was all I could do not to cry my way to checkin, missing our girls. By the end of the day, all of us with young families were missing home.


  1. Your blog is linked in the FS Blog RoundUp.

  2. Beautiful photos! Thank you for sharing!

  3. what an incredible experience. thanks for the photos.

  4. What an incredible trip!!! Thanks for posting the beautiful photos...always love to see what you see through a lens. I'm sure you missed the family but glad you had such a wonderful trip with your friends! xxoo

  5. Denise,
    You have an amazing blog! My wife who is a FSO, asked me to check it out and I love it. Your pictures from Sylhet remind me of my childhood, I grew up literally 15 minutes from Khadimnagar. Thanks for posting them. We haven't been able to come back to Bangladesh yet, but we look forward to it.
    Best Regards!

  6. Beautiful photos!! Glad you had a wonderful weekend away!!

  7. Wow! Great collection. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Great post! Glad to hear you enjoyed the Lalakhal resort, I'm actually the architect...