The cricket world has an impression of touring Bangladesh that hasn’t changed much since they were awarded test status.
To be fair, much of it is still deserved but, to be fairer still, the country has changed and progressed considerably in the last decade and is working hard to change perceptions.
The city of Khulna will always be a distant third (or even fourth) behind Dhaka and Chittagong but that has far more to do with the two-hour drive from the nearest airport in Jessore than with the excellent cricket facilities and perfectly adequate hotels. It certainly has nothing to do with the support. All five days of the recently concluded test against Zimbabwe attracted crowds in excess of 10 000.
Khulna also provides a gateway to the Sundarbans, a national heritage site and one of the most important sources of tourist income. Literally meaning ‘Beautiful Forest’, the Sundarbans combine to create the largest mangrove forest in the world and provide much-needed shelter for some of the last remaining Bengal tigers in the wild.
Boats, sleeping anything from half a dozen to 50 people, embark on tours for three or four days, feeding their guests a variety of prawns they may never experience anywhere else in the world. Thousands of prawn farms, side by side, cultivate more prawns than any other country on earth, and the local flavours and cooking styles make the experience even more memorable.
Thankfully, there appears to be an accepted view that the larger and more expensive the crustacean, the more chefs can allow their own flavour to speak. Curries are made with shrimp. The ones we had, which were the size of small crayfish, were braaied over an open fire with the merest hint of garlic, turmeric and butter.
The hotel in Khulna (endearingly named the ‘Castle Salaam’) may only have had one lift and one set-breakfast menu, but it had satellite television and the Proteas’ first T20 match was seen by all. The second is on as I write before flying tonight to Cape Town via Dubai. On Sunday I’ll be en route to Perth, via Sydney, for the ODI series.
On many occasions, I have referred to being in a different world. Rarely will it have been truer as it will by next week.
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