March 6, 2014

A bus with a view

Karthik Krishnaswamy
Our correspondent makes good use of the many hours he spends sitting in buses stuck in traffic while travelling from Dhaka to Fatullah

A protest by hawkers outside the Dhaka press club Karthik Krishnaswamy / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

A cricket tour is possibly the worst way to see a country. Particularly a cricket tour that packs 11 day-night matches into 12 days. Particularly when the first half of the tournament includes a two-hour bus ride every morning to reach the venue.

'Am I stuck at this signal for ever?' Karthik Krishnaswamy / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

During the Fatullah leg of the Asia Cup, all I saw of Bangladesh was what was visible from the window of the media bus that took us to the stadium. Fortunately the streets of Dhaka were always clogged with traffic, allowing the eye and the camera to linger over the sights.

A full stomach and a clean ear Karthik Krishnaswamy / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Starting its journey from the Shere Bangla National Stadium, the first major landmark the bus went past was the Fire Service and Civil Defence Training Complex in Mirpur. Looking over its walls, it wasn't uncommon to see men and women in orange fire suits and black gumboots playing cricket.

Outside the Bangabandhu National Stadium - busy like everywhere else in Dhaka Karthik Krishnaswamy / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Turning around the No. 10 roundabout, the bus passed rows of furniture shops on Begum Rokeya Avenue before crossing the Tejgaon airport. This was once Dhaka's main airport and is now used by the air force. We then turned into Bijoy Sarani, the site of some of the slowest traffic on our rides. On one occasion, watching a stream of bicycles speed past us in an adjacent lane, one of the Indian journalists wondered aloud if it would take us less time to pedal to Fatullah.

Camouflage and conversation on Bijoy Sarani Karthik Krishnaswamy / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

When that interminable wait ended, the bus, juddering back to life, heaved into Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue, locally known as VIP Road, where most of the local journalists clambered on. We then went past the Pan Pacific Sonargaon, where all the teams stayed during the tournament. All this, needless to say, happened at a crawl.

Grafitti on Nazrul Islam avenue Karthik Krishnaswamy / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

It takes a bit of an oddball to love traffic snarls, and I realised this on the first day, when the bus, having gone past the Baitul Mukarram Masjid, the Bangabandhu National Stadium and the street markets of Gulistan, went up the Mayor Mohammad Hanif flyover, one of the main exits to the industrial south.

A young fan outside the Fatullah stadium Karthik Krishnaswamy / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Since the flyover opened late last year, according to locals, it has eased traffic in the area to such an extent that it now only takes 15 minutes to cross its 11km span. It has had one unforeseen consequence, though. As our bus picked up speed, taking photographs became more or less impossible. I put my camera aside. The occupant of the seat in front of me turned around, smiling. "Finally," he said. "Open road."

Ice-cream pangs Karthik Krishnaswamy / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

I saw only a small slice of what seemed an endlessly interesting city, and my photographs don't scratch the surface of that slice. I'm particularly irked that I didn't manage a single good shot of all the street cricket that I saw. An unfinished section of highway near the Shanir Akhra toll plaza was the site of about seven simultaneous matches each day. Next time I'm here, whenever that is, they will have finished building the highway, and there will be no more cricket.

With inputs from Mohammad Isam