If you fly into Bangladesh, you will be struck by the flatness of the land and the multitude of rivers flowing across the plains. On the ground it is even more startling. Most of Bangladesh is a huge alluvial plain never more than 10m above sea level. The great Himalayan Rivers, the Ganges, and Brahmaputra split into many channels as they cross Bangladesh and flow to the Bay of Bengal.
Until recently, ferry river crossings were a prominent feature of any land travel around Bangladesh. In the last 10 years, however, a succession of large bridges have been built using foreign-aid funds, and these have strikingly reduced the need to use ferries to cross the rivers.
This is a great improvement because the ferry crossings are guaranteed to raise your frustration level by several notches, as they are an incredibly disorganized operation.
We reached the Padma River crossing late one afternoon after a long drive on a hot day. Dhaka was a tantalizing 45 minutes from the other side of the river, and I was keen to reach it as quickly as possible. My spirits soared as we approached the ferry crossing. Good luck saw a ferry sitting on our side of the river waiting for vehicles. We were ushered into a line and the driver stopped the engine. I asked what was happening. We have to wait for two busses to be loaded first, I was told. The problem was they were not here yet.
One hour later and we were still waiting in line. It was getting dark and I was getting frustrated. It was another 30 minutes before the first bus arrived. The second followed about 15 minutes later. After a further delay, the two buses boarded. Five large trucks followed. The ferry was a side loading affair, and after much maneuvering, the crew decided that they couldn’t fit the last truck into the designated space and it had to be unloaded. What followed was a 10-minute saga fit for a Keystone Cops movie. Finally, after 2 hours of waiting, we were ready to board. We were about the sixth vehicle in line, but the position of the buses and trucks made boarding quite a challenge. After much misdirection and arm waving, we finally made it into a space that was so tight, we couldn’t open any doors to get out.
For the next hour and a quarter we could only imagine what was happening. Eventually, the ferry started to move and the oppressive heat was replaced with the gentlest of breezes. The river from the bank had looked to be about 3km wide, but the crossing took close to an hour. It was now completely dark and we were stuck in the car, so it was impossible to tell where we went. We eventually reached the other side and another madhouse ensured. It was everyone for themselves as cars, buses, and trucks all tried to get off at the same time. One car ended up with a long scrap down one side, but no one seemed to care. All the staff wanted was tips because of the wonderful job they had done!
They must have been kidding. Three and a half hours and we were finally across. There will be no more Bangladeshi ferries for me.