New Friends Along the River
On the 13th morning after winding up the camp we went back to Kachari Ghat in Dhubri. It was here that JaJa, Misha and Romcha, the female contingent of our crew in India was to depart from the team and head for their holiday in Darjiling & Goa. After an elaborate parting hugs and kisses, they took their cab for Siliguri, and we the remaining seven members, now an all male crew again, headed to tackle our formalities to leave India for Bangladesh.
For expeditions with their unconventional modes of transport, strange cargo and multi-nationality composition of team members, it is never an easy task to cross international borders. So, for us, when it turned out to be a unique experience spread over two days, we were finally more amused than annoyed.
To start with, the visa permission on passports of five Indians mentioned the mode of transport as road/air and on the German and Swiss passports nothing was mentioned. The authorities at the offices of BSF and other assorted agencies on the Indian side, after a day long deliberations, signaled late in the evening that we could proceed to Bangladesh in our boats. Happily we rushed down the river and were promptly signaled by the Bangladesh Rifles observation post to halt with threat to blow us up if we did not comply!
We moored our boats at the base of small hillock where Bangladesh observation post was situated and were escorted to the commander, who with his long kurta worn over a lungi and flowing beard looked more like a maulvi than a soldier. He was furious at first at our audacity of trying to cross over into Bangladesh by the river route as there is no legal provision to do so and he was there to see to it that smuggler or un authorized person does that. It took a lot of explaining and a number of phone calls to convince him that we were a river expedition team and had to travel by boat. They soon cooled down and offered us tea but the dilemma continued because we had neither made an official exit from India nor could make a legal entry into Bangladesh.
Soon our Bangladesh coordinator Mr. Hasan arrived and finally it was decided that they will give us a guide and escort us to a BDR post inside Bangladesh to spend the night by the river side and in the morning we will leave our boats behind and travel back to India by road; officially exit with our passports stamped and enter Bangladesh at the officially designated place. The kind BDR soldiers not only made all these concessions for us but also gave us dinner before seeing us off.
The night journey into Bangladesh through the river on a moonless night proved to be quite an adventure as the guide groped in the dark to find navigable channels with enough water. Time and again we had to get into water to push our boats over the sand banks and considering that for illumination we were equipped only with our headlights that don’t throw light beyond 10-12 feet, it was uncertainty personified for a bunch of adventurers trying to find place to land to camp and that too with a status that was as yet technically illegal.
Finally trees and islands started appearing and disappearing as ghosts on the side of water channels and flash lights started flashing at us from nowhere. Later we discovered that it was fishermen working at night warning us to keep off their nets. At our pre arranged destination we landed on a muddy bank and hauled up just our mosquito net domes and few other necessary things to spend the night with no idea of where we were.