I bet you didn’t know that the Lonely Planet travel guide series is owned by the BBC? Yes it is, and the BBC is one of 28 UK companies with dealings in Burma. Gone are the days when progressives the world over would praise the World Service for saving lives. Now the BBC is slave to financial concerns. The call to boycott Lonely Planet comes from the Trade Union Congress, Tourism Concern, New Internationalist and The Burma Campaign UK. They argue, quite rightly, that a travel guide on Burma “helps give legitimacy to the brutal regime, as do the tourists who use it to visit Burma.”
The Burmese seem not be fussed. They are more upset by the sagging breasts of Rambo. Come again, you say? Yes. They have taken offence at Sylvester Stallone’s
man-breasts physique and lunatic demeanour in a film where he kicks Burmese ass. Perhaps they would have been happier if his breasts were firm and his appearance more comely? Here is a still from the film:
If you drive around Dhaka, you will find street urchins and adults approach you with paperback books. Copyright is not a major headache in Bangladesh, and facsimiles of popular books will be on offer - just like the foreign DVD market. Anyway, a couple of years ago I let slip my high moral principles about intellectual property and bought a Lonely Planet Guide for 100 takas. I have lots to say about parts of it…but overall it was not that bad. I say this grudgingly because Lonely Planet guides are notoriously xenophobic in my opinion. Its guides to Ecuador, Peru and Colombia - my honeymoon destinations - were all full of xenophobic bilge. Anyway, I look forward to this new installment on Bangladesh. And just by chance, whilst using the social network browser Flock ( its damn good - try it!) I discovered these photos on Flickr from a recce trip by the Lonely Planet Guide photographer ( presumably). Take a look. Very interesting shots.
From my apartment on the fourth floor of a block on Road No 35 -undoubtedly the most socially and politically interesting road in Gulshan - I can not only see the new 5 star hotel in town but I can hear it too. Yes noise pollution is of no concern for the shiny and glitzy Westin. “Driver Musharraf, Driver Musharaff” followed by a little jingle and on and on it goes throughout the day and evening as each chauffeur is called to the surface from the underground car park.
Still, I decided I should go and patronise the place being as it is less than 2 minutes from my block by foot. You have to do a little mental moral calculation though - the owner Noor Ali is an ex communist party member (no problem in that but read on), and has recently hit the headlines when he accused Hasina of extortion ( no problem in that) and is a businessman who made the bulk of his money through labour recruitment to Saudi ( big fat mother of all problems there). Aren’t commies supposed to be pro-labour? Nevertheless, goaded by stories of how lovely the female staff are, I thought I had better get there pronto.
My friend and I were given a tour of the place by very customer oriented staff. I have stayed at the Sheraton and Sonargaon but neither come close to this. Inspired by Singaporean hotel management, I am pretty sure, even down to the decor I was quite impressed by the place.
The gym and pool are high tech and very pleasant indeed. The membership is a staggering 125,000 taka per year, and yet despite this the majority of the members are not foreigners. You can utilise the facilities on a one-off basis for 25,000. My friend’s World Bank outfit I understand gets a corporate discount.
The rooms are apparently all bigger than the competitor hotels, and get this - this is the only 5 star hotel in the world with all plasma/lcd tvs in all rooms and reception areas.
We ended the evening with a meal in their buffet bar. All of Gulshan’s elite had arrived by the looks of it, including the Foregin Adviser and some well known artistes and constitutional lawyers. Again the South/Far East Asian emphasis was welcome and superbly done. The staff attentiveness was quite something. If you are like me and keep dropping your napkin between your legs and onto the floor and hate bending down to retrieve it - no problem, a waiter will spot it within seconds and bring a fresh one instantly!
Crits? Well there is no greenery outside and the orchids inside are not quite Singaporean standard. And of course there is the noise…why do Starwoods and Westin think they can pollute the environment like this? Cos they are in Dhaka?
“I am the daughter of the father of the nation”….I have every right to create mayhem in Bangladesh and here in Heathrow.
Imagine you are a prime minister one year and the next year you are being kicked out of the country. Bloody traumatic i would say. The hurt, the humiliation, oh the agony of it….yet Khaleda’s uppermost thoughts seem to be on avoiding Bangladesh Biman flights to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?? Yes its true ….read HERE (penultimate sentence). BB has many operational and management woes but surely the national carrier did not need this final insult from the country’s most recent PM?Â I wonder which carrier she will favour. Emirates? Possibly…they have excellent on board cuisine. And an excellent range of wines and spirits to steady the nerves.
The government is playing out the script well. No punishment for the corrupt and violent leaders like Hasina and Khaleda - only cushy exile in Saudi and the USA. Here is the press note concerning Hasina.
I wish the government had the capacity to deal with these people at home. But it isn’t to be it seems. They risk trouble down the line but I guess short term decisions are easier to make if big brother is breathing down your neck. It is as if they are acting out a script given to them to manage the situation. And the script is faulty.
And what of Hasina? Last year she was in her element calling hartal after gherao after hartal. She had no care or concern for the young activists who got killed or maimed or injured. Indeed she made sure her son and heir was there for the provided photo-opps . One day she would receive a Mother Teresa prize, the next day she would be calling for more blood. So is exile in the land of the free to be her fate? Real justice would see her locked up.
Well the big news is that the country is going to expel Khaleda. The main reason is that no one can stand her coiffure anymore, and she is being asked to go to a country where her bouffant will need to be encased in a hijab or some such. She has been hesitating thus far because naturally she is reluctant to hide her incredible head of hair and moreover she fears haircare products may be difficult to come by in the desert state of Saudi Arabia. What broke the camel’s back, in terms of her decision making is not clear. Was it Coco’s brush with the agencies or was it the recent visit of a renowned dandruff expert to Saudi? Who knows…?
I wonder if Khaleda will go and pay her respects to Idi Amin? He died in exile in Saudi. Have any of you seen the recent film about Idi called the Last King of Scotland? It won a few gongs recently.Â Well whatever… lets hope Khaleda is the last queen of Bangladesh.
Here is a picture of her hairstyle at its glorious best a few years ago
The Foreign Office’s latest travel advisory on Bangladesh. “We advise against all but essential travel to Bangladesh. “ Read HERE.
I will be boarding a plane later this week all things being equal.Â I have asked several non-bengali friends if they would like to come and watch the election process from the comfort of my Gulshan flat. Strangely all declined my generous offer. One replied “I don’t have time to bugger about like you, Shafi.” Quite. Its just that IÂ am very interested to hear what non-Bangladeshis make of theÂ events attending this election. Some kind of disinterested description by an outsider would be great because I can’t make head or tails of this.
It was an adventure this morning for sure. My brave taxi driver was scolded mercilessly for breaking the bandh by a bunch of CPM
lumpens comrades. They made me get out of the yellow ambassador taxi, and I then walked most of the way to my destination. It was the best thing that could have happened of course. I have some great shots of Kolkata now. Thanks guys!
The news stations here in Kolkata have been quite critical of the bandh. The level of aggressive questioning in Indian tv is quite something to watch. One could not imagine anything of the sort in Bangladesh. Journos there have a hard time, and the kind of questioning I witnessed today would be like signing your own death warrant.
We wrap up here on the 17th, and leave for Dhaka. From the frying pan into the ….
Struggling Biman has now stopped operating to Tokyo’s Narita. So the list of cancelled destinations is now New York, Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and Mumbai. Still it flies to 20 other foreign destinations in second/third hand aircraft bought in the early 90s.
Interestingly when struggling Shafiq Rehman, the editor of Jai Jai Din, tried to get out of the country the other day with four tickets from different airlines for the same day - none of the tickets were for Biman! Hilarious. They were for Malaysia, Qatar, Singapore and Emirates airlines.
Holy smoke - Bangladesh is set to get its first saint!! Yes folks it another first for bengalis - this time a bengali is entering the pantheon of saints! The process has started for the canonisation of the late Archbishop Theotonius Amal Ganguly. At present he has been declared a “servant of god.” This is the first stage of a three stage process of becoming a saint. Apparently he is the first “servant of God” among Bengalis and of course the first in Bangladesh.
I don’t want to be flippant here but when it comes to matters of religion I can never help myself - so here goes: I think this could have a beneficial impact on tourism. Of course the odd sighting of the Virgin would help, and bleeding stigmata always adds a bit of spice.
I wonder how the Government of Bangladesh and its islamic zealot contingent will react to this news. Christians have faced restriction after restriction -Â everything from bible printing and dissemination, preaching and the formal status of christian organisations.
The Guardian has a travel site called “Been there.” The whole idea of the site is to get the readers’ tips and photos about places they “love, live in or have just visited.” A kind of tourist guide for the readers by the readers.
I have done my bit for Dhaka - I have added 6 out of the 7 tips over a period of 4 months last year. I want to add loads more about other bits of Bangladesh but how come no one else is adding anything? I cannot believe that there is no one else out there who reads the Guardian online and also knows Bangladesh sufficiently well to give a recommendation or two? The site has grown exponentially BUT NOT the section on Bangladesh! I suspect the bangalis residing in the UK are too busy reading rags like Janomot and Notun Din (bangali language newspapers with proficiency in cutting and pasting stories but hopeless in every other respect).
So if you are reading this - please go and register on the site and post a tip. But don’t post a “test tip” like some nutter has done. And please don’t spam the site. The last thing they want is an off-topic post by a certain well meaning group about some online survey….
If the Bangladesh government is still looking for an image consultant, they should hastily get in touch with Isobel Shirlaw of the Daily Telegraph. Just read this article here. In an extremely positive piece packed with lyrical descriptions, she goes as far as to say that “it is difficult to imagine a more diverse and beautiful area of the world to visit..”
She recommends Srimangal and old Dhaka. And that should tell you that she knows what is what. And she even has a picture of a rickshaw babe in the article. How remiss of me - I have completely forgotten to put up babe no2 as I promised earlier.