Mymensingh and Birisiri were two massive highlights of our trip to Bangladesh.
Mymensingh is a fairly modern, bustling city with a pretty riverfront on the banks of the Brahmaputra river; however it was the intriguing old quarter that really caught our attention.
We arrived in Mymensingh after a fairly long bus ride from Bogra and had a bit of a job finding somewhere decent to stay. All of the budget options in the city were terrible; as a result we ended up at the Amir International.
At 2300 taka a night it was more than we were looking to pay but the rooms were clean, the included breakfast was good and the efficient staff spoke English, which none of the other places could offer! We spent an initial two nights in the city and then a further night after our trip to lush Birisiri.
Mymensingh – Old Quarter
The original part of town, the old quarter, is the most interesting, a real maze of alleyways and market streets in which to get lost. The market stalls sell all manner of goods from fruit and vegetables to household items; it felt very similar to the bustling wet-dry markets of south-east Asia. When darkness falls this area comes alive all the more; lights switch on and the intertwining lanes become even more fun to explore.
On our first evening in the city we sat at one of the many tea stalls, chatting with two friendly local men. Despite the fact that we’d only just met, the men insisted that they pay for our teas; it was one of those moments that showed just how selfless the people of Bangladesh are.
The night-time bazaars are a riot of colour and noise; there are whole streets dedicated to shoes and local food joints that tempt you with fluffy breads being freshly made outside. We fell easily in love with Mymensingh on our first night there.
Mymensingh – Sights to See
The next morning we got an early start and headed out to the riverbank area where a thin stretch of parkland borders the mighty Brahmaputra. It’s a pleasant area in which to wander, watching boats criss-cross the waters and locals going about their morning exercise routine. We found a tea stall beside the river path and stopped for a while to take in the quieter surroundings.
As we meandered our way back into town we came to the Mymensingh Rajbari, a well-kept former mansion that was built between 1905 and 1911. The structure is very much still intact; there’s an ornamental marble fountain just beyond the arched gateway entrance and, behind the main building, the Jal-Tungi, a small two-storey bathhouse once used as the women’s bathing pavilion. The grounds are certainly worth a wander; it’s interesting to see another of the many Raj-era buildings of Bangladesh.
After exploring more of the old quarter, we took a rickshaw to the Botanical Gardens, a couple of kilometres out of town. Although not particularly well-maintained, they remain a peaceful place to spend some time, especially after time spent in the crazy cities of Bangladesh! The gardens back onto the riverfront so we were able to get another glimpse of the Brahmaputra, this time in the late afternoon light.
Our plan the following morning was to get a local bus to Birisiri; the hotel staff told us which bus stand to go to and said the journey should take about three and a half hours. Only when we reached the bus stand we were told by multiple local people that there was no bus to Birisiri and that we should take a CNG.
Nice try, we thought, thinking they were intending to make some money out of us. After an hour in the mid-morning heat trying to figure things out, we eventually succumbed and began to search for others to share a CNG ride to Birisiri.
Apparently, the main route had been destroyed and buses were unable to make the journey north to the Garo village. The manager at the YWCA, where we stayed, later confirmed this and told us that there had been no buses running between Mymensingh and Birisiri for three years! This small idyllic village, very close to the Indian border, has been virtually cut off from the rest of its district for so and yet many people in Mymensingh, including our hotel, seemed to have no idea!
Birisiri is a wonderful getaway from the craziness of urban Bangladesh. A small rural village set in a backdrop of endless green hills and lush rice paddies, Birisiri is the Bangladesh that we had come to love so much. We stayed for two nights at the tranquil YWCA, which was clean and great value for money.
Birisiri is so small that we had to walk to the next village to find dinner; it was a pleasant walk along a dirt road, which offered some quaint rural vistas along the way. Local children played cricket in the surrounding fields whilst the local Garo people got on with their daily lives as they have for generations.
China Clay Hills
The highlight of Birisiri, and the reason we’d come in the first place, was for the chance to make a half day trip to the famed China Clay Hills. We hired a cycle rickshaw and set off through the picturesque countryside, passing through a number of remote villages en route.
We had to load us and the rickshaw onto a small wooden ferry boat in order to continue our journey on the other side of the Someswari River. It was one of those times when the journey itself is as good as the destination.
The China Clay Hills, with their cool turquoise waters, are extremely photogenic and we spent a good while exploring the entirety of the site. There are a number of pools, varying in size and shade of blue; the different coloured clay that can be seen above the waters is also mesmerising.
Our trip to the China Clay Hills was one of our favourite days during our time in Bangladesh; we would encourage any travellers visiting this part of the world not to skip Birisiri and its beautiful surrounding area. For scenery, peace and quiet and the chance to escape urban Bangladesh, Birisiri was just what we needed.
The day we travelled back to Mymensingh it was pouring with rain; the CNG journey was not a fun one and the torrential downpour didn’t stop all day. Still, we didn’t want the weather to stop us from exploring the last place we had yet to see in this part of the country. So, in the early afternoon, Ollie and I made the short journey by local bus to the nearby village of Muktagacha, which is famed across Bangladesh for its traditional sweet.
Walking around the village in ankle deep water was very slow going; we were very quickly soaked through despite having umbrellas. We first visited the 300 year old Rajbari, which is still rather impressive even in its state of disrepair.
Spread over 10 acres, the main structure contains Corinthian columns and high parapets while the grounds encompass several shrines. There is also a treasury, with the last of 50 safes, and the main audience chamber, which has the remnants of a rotating dance floor.
From here we found our way to the Gopal Pali Prosida Monda Sweet Shop where we tried the legendary sweetened yoghurt cake. It was very sweet and grainy and I didn’t much like it but, unsurprisingly, it suited Ollie’s tastes very well!