The Railwayman's Inn on Station Road
© Andrew Miller|
The Railwayman's Inn on Station Road sounds like a thoroughly conventional boozer. The sort of place with a jukebox and soiled brown carpets, and a dozy clientele of commuters waiting for the 17.32 to Paddington. The Railwayman's Inn on Station Road in Chittagong, on the other hand, is something else entirely.
Mind you, Station Road in Chittagong is a sufficiently different sort of place as it is. It's a long wide boulevard of the distinctly functional variety, with cheap and cheerful hotels lined up along one side, and even cheaper, rather less cheerful stalls and boutiques on the other.
It's grimy and noisy, and tailored towards a transient market, with the average trip across the road bringing to mind that old-school computer game, Frogger. As you dither through the traffic, a constant stream of buses, lorries, carts, rickshaws and auto-rickshaws bear down on you at every speed imaginable, first from one direction, then from another, with only a thin brick kerb in the middle providing any sanctuary.
If you time your run right, you can even tuck into a power-up on the other side, because for some reason there seems to be an intermittent but constant stream of banana-traders marching steadfastly up the hill with their loads strung out in two pans across their shoulders. Ten taka (10p) for a bunch of four, and that's breakfast sorted for another day.
But back to the boozer, because frankly that's the logical place to go back to after a hard day's hacking in the Chittagong press box. It's a five-minute wander from my digs at the Asian SR Hotel, through a fog of exhaust fumes from the endlessly revving engines of Chittagong's Bus Depot (from which you will be whisked on a ten-hour, 20 taka trip back to Dhaka if you drop your guard for so much as a moment), and then round the corner by the partially collapsed building on the left of the road as you approach the roundabout.
If you blink, you miss the turn-off, because immediately you're plunged into darkness for 20 metres, as you totter down a muddy back-alley towards a green staircase behind an iron shutter, where a burly security guard is the only clue as to the riches that lie within. But a smart salute (and occasionally a palmful of baksheesh) earns you the right to ascend to the second floor, where a cavernous and unlit restaurant marks the gold at the end of the rainbow.
It's not a lot to look at, but then Bangladeshi bars don't really go in for frills. Strictly speaking, alcohol is frowned upon in these parts, but frankly, given the run-ins the country has had with religion in the past, no-one actually gives two hoots any more. Certainly not the landlords, when they can rake in 140 Takas (£1.40) for a coke-sized can of "Hunters", whose blue, red and gold emblem looks suspiciously similar to a certain well-known Aussie lager.
It may be a seedy setting, but it's a distinctly up-market clientele (and given that each beer costs more than the country's average daily income, that's not exactly surprising). A large fish tank behind the bar is the only designated source of light, although with satellite TV showing everything from Bollywood to the Premier League, the venue flickers with a cinema-like glow.
Except of course, when one of Chittagong's regular power-cuts kicks in. But as and when that happens, the conversation carries on without so much as a beat being skipped. As if an announcement had gone out that the 17.32 to Paddington has been delayed by approximately 40 minutes. And we apologise for the inconvenience it may cause.
Andrew Miller is the former UK editor of ESPNcricinfo and now editor of The Cricketer magazine