One of the things I was sure of even before setting foot on Bangladeshi soil: I very much wanted to ride the Rocket - a paddle-wheel boat built in the 1920s of which the Bangladesh Inland Waterway Transport Corporation (BIWTC) operates four. The Rocket connects Khulna in the south-east, on the doorstep of the Sundarbans, with Dhaka - traversing part of the enormous river delta of Bangladesh. Despite its seemingly futuristic name, I imagined the Rocket to be an old-fashioned relic of colonial times. Apart from those sentimental reasons, I decided that taking the Rocket would be safer than traveling by bus - even though the boat is by no means as fast as the bus.
Buying a ticket in Dhaka for the Khulna-Dhaka trip proved more complicated than I thought. Before I know it, the manager of the ticket office asks me about my religious ideas, and when he finds out I am single, tries to make me marry his secretary - unfortunately, not one of the most attractive women I saw in the country, before telling me how sick his wife is and how difficult his life. Just when I start considering trying to buy my ticket last-minute in Khulna myself, he suddenly takes out an empty ticket, writes down my name and the correct date, and within minutes, I walk out of the office with the ticket I had wanted so much. A little to my surprise, when I board the Rocket one week later in Khulna, it is accepted without a problem, and I am shown my Cabin Nr. 1 by a friendly old butler who is in charge of first class. He turns out to be a very amiable person, who gladly answers the questions I ask him. Another surprise: the boat leaves exactly on time, in the middle of the night, and the sound of the paddles ploughing their way through the water is the perfect stimulant of sleep.
The next day, I wake up at sunrise, and install myself on the first class deck in front. The sun is just piercing through the clouds in the sky, shedding light on the river and the landscape surrounding us. Throughout the day, we would be passing lots of cargo ships, small fisher boats, shuttle boats ferrying passengers from one side of the river to the other, and larger boats carrying passengers. In the middle of the day, we see another Rocket passing by - on its way to Khulna. After a week of rough traveling, of walking in the relentless heat of the sun, after socializing with what seemed to be half Bangladesh, it is a pleasure to just sit on a chair, and watch river life pass by. How much has changed since the Rockets started their service in the 1920s, I wonder. Women with their colourful dresses, waiting for the boats to dock and be able to sell something, small boys with their baskets of nuts or other small snacks, jumping on board even before it has properly docked, the wooden planks used for embarkation and disembarkation - it is hard to imagine things were much different almost a century ago. Also, during the trip, you once again realize this is the largest river delta system of the world; it only makes sense to use the many waterways for transportation of virtually anything. Yes, the bus is faster, but the Rocket boat ride so much more romantic. Actually, it is the perfect way to wind down after visiting the chaotic and, sometimes, crazy cities of Bangladesh. Riding the Rocket was certainly a highlight of my trip - and exceeded my expectations.
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