“Even innocence has caught the midnight train” – Bon Jovi
This was a sad moment. A night train that was supposed to take 6-7 hours ended up taking 16 hours, and the horror was clear to see. Backpacking ain’t for the faint hearted, but neither is life eh? A fast and furious week in “The desh” came and went in the blink of an eye, sweeping with it thousands of memories, hundreds of selfies with locals and dozens of tuk tuk rides (or CSGs). Bangladesh is high on emotion, intensity, anger, frustration, comedy, tragedy and wisdom. It’s a monsoon and a fire all in one. After backpacking through the sights of Dhaka (including a sewing machine shop), I headed on a night train to Bangladesh’s second biggest city – Chittagong. Fairly straight forward one would think. Buy a ticket and off you go.
Sometimes in travel you assume everything will just run smooth and be routine. But the reality is, it’s never quite like that. Travel is spontaneous, things change every second and you sometimes don’t know what’s ahead. In a crazy adrenalin rush, you just have to trust that everything will be ay oh kay. Sesame Street style and we’re waiting for big bird to pop by and Oscar to raise his furry bake out of the garbage tins.
My plan in Bangladesh was quite simple – I was flying into Dhaka so I would spend a hat-trick of days there and then hop on a night train south to Chittagong, where I would also do a day trip to the famous Cox’s Bazaar (the longest beach in the world). I didn’t have time for Kulna and in the rainy season, no permits for the mountain hikes, but I was all sorted for the other cities.
Buying a night train ticket in Dhaka, Bangladesh
I bought my night train ticket the day before my trip. I got a tuk tuk (CSG/baby taxi) to Kamalapur train station in Dhaka. You just roll up to the counter and buy your ticket. Pay in cash and specify the date, time and class. I was given a choice of three classes:
Third Class – 300 Taka (cheap, but basic and probably a tad dingy)
Second Class – 610 Taka (mid range, cosy recliner seat, air conditioning)
First Class – 1,100 Taka (you get a bed – well beyond my budget though)
So I got my ticket booked on the 23.30 pm night train from Dhaka to Chittagong. The good news is that Dhaka has a few train stations, and the night train stops at all of them before making the trip south to Chittagong so I didn’t have to go back to Kamlapur Station to get the train itself. I’d be heading from Dhaka Biman Bandar.
Arrival at Dhaka Biman Bandar Train Station
I was staying at the Nagar Valley Hotel in Uttara, not actually in Dhaka so I was told by the staff that the Dhaka Biman Bandar Station was the closest one and they dropped me off there, with about 30 minutes to spare before my train.
Dhaka Biman Bandar Station
The madness began. Within one minute of arriving at Biman Bandar Station, I had 50 plus Bangladeshi guys crowded round me. It was crazy. None of them had ever seen a white person before. They just stood round me in a circle and stared. I started to speak to them, and they just stared. No smiles, just stares. It was ridiculously crazy. I can’t comprehend it. It’s just one of those moments.
After a few minutes, it was obvious that 3 of the guys in this massive group could speak some English and we talked about where I was from, where I was going, how Iliked Bangladesh and where I was heading next. The whole event was crazy. By me walking into that station, I had an audience of 5o plus people around me. So will any white person that does the same thing. It’s insane and the only advice I can give you is to go to Bangladesh and try it – it is insane!
Bangladeshis are emotional people and they really are happy to see you here but they don’t know what to do, what to say. Is it really a foreigner here in this remote village? The entire time I spent in Bangladesh I didn’t see or meet another foreigner apart from one guy, from Pakistan (who came over to me by chance in central Dhaka) – it’s one of the least touristic places I’ve ever been (up there with Podjistan, Austenasia and Frestonia for lack of tourists!). Out of this crowd of 50, I realised the whole place was crazy. Dhaka houses 13 million people, perhaps I’d be the only backpacker getting this night train, and yes I was. But it was now almost midnight, the crowd had dispersed slightly and one of the guys, Masoud introduced himself and we went to sit in the waiting room. He told me trains are often late and just to wait.
By 1 a.m. the train was finally here at Dhaka Biman Bandar station and the crowds following me had dispersed into the night, some of them taking photos of me as proof they really saw a foreigner. I’m in Seat 50 in the second class and it’s a recliner seat in a big carriage with air conditioning. I relax and breathe a sigh of relief when I sit down as it was hot and overwhelming for the previous hour and a half being surrounded by Bangladeshis. My new friend, Masoud was supposed to be in third class, but we asked the train conductor in control of my carriage if he could join me. He was such a great guy, I wanted to chat to him and hear his story.
Masoud was allowed into my carriage but there were no empty seats so he decided to stand for a few hours, then return to his third class seat. At 1.30 a.m. I bought him a coffee which was 20 Taka, about 17 pence, ridiculously cheap, as Bangladesh is for most foreigners. Masoud was heading to Chittagong for a job interview and we shared a chat and each other’s stories.
At 1.50 a.m. we had our first stop, lights were still on and nobody in my carriage was really sleeping. Lots of locals would come past to get selfies with me at any given chance. Masoud told me that none of them had seen a foreigner before and some were emotional, others felt it was a gift from the Gods. Me, I was just a backpacking Northern Irish guy!
Around 2 a.m. Masoud decided to retire to his other carriage and seat and I would try and get some sleep for a few hours. The train was due into Chittagong around 7 a.m. and nobody seemed to expect anything different.
5 a.m. Dawn breaks and I enjoy the fields of rural Bangladesh creeping over the morning sun. Workers are in rice fields working too hard. I know now I am only two hours from Chittagong, well that’s what I thought.
6.30 a.m. It becomes obvious we are not really close to Chittagong. We have stopped at a train station for quite some time and Masoud alerts me that something is wrong. We are delayed. We wait at this station for an hour. I am reading, drinking water and an energy drink, eating my biscuits and crisps and relaxing.
7.28 a.m. Masoud alerts me of a four hour delay, meaning we now won’t get into Chittagong until 11.28 a.m. He says there has been some kind of accident but nobody is sure of what. At this point, I decide that on this day I will tour the sights of Chittagong only now, as I have lost some sightseeing time. I originally was going to dump my bags off at the hotel and head to Cox’s Bazaar for the day (if early enough).
7.34 a.m. Just after Masoud tells me this, we start moving, so we are now more hopeful that it won’t be four hours of a delay.
9.24 a.m. We thought too soon. We are now at a station called Chinki Astana. We will be here for a while so a few of us get off to have a look around.
I speak to Mahmood beside me and he decides to get off here and go get a bus to see his family. I get off to have a look at Chinki Astana. It’s a remote village and apart from a few rice fields, shops and Mosques, it’s safer for me to get back on the train, in case it moves in a hurry.
12.01 p.m. After about 3 hours here, we finally leave Chinki Astana. It’s now at least a five hour delay and we have no idea what is happening. Masoud tells me that we are 70 kilometres north of Chittagon. More people get off the train and leave. We have now heard about a de-railing incident and it seems serious.
12.30 p.m. We stop now for a while in a village called Baro Takia. A 6 hour train ride has now become at least a 12 hour train ride. Right now, we have no idea when the train will arrive. Masoud considers leaving at one point to get the bus, but urges me to stay on as it will be hard for me to travel alone in these parts with the buses. And besides, I have a seat here and I’ve paid for a ticket all the way to Chittagong. I just wanted to stay on, wait as long as it took and finally get there.
2 p.m. By this stage, 4 trains have now gone the other way, whizzing past us and we have hardly moved! I left the hotel at 11 p.m. last night so it’s now 15 hours on the move (nothing unusual for me, but the delay is certainly un expected and frustrating for us all).
2.01 p.m. Finally we leave Baro Takia and we are all happy, surely now it’s a direct route straight to Chittagong?
2.20 p.m. We pass a mountain top and it’s a bit of sightseeing. We can see the top of the Hindu Temple of Sitakund. I’m not really in the mood for sightseeing though.
2.25 p.m. We arrive at Sitakund station and stop here.
2.30 p.m. Ridiculously after 5 minutes at Sitakund, we now backtrack and head the other way. We are heading back towards Dhaka. Nobody knows what is happening!
2.41 p.m. We turn the other way again and are now heading back towards Chittagong, but we stop again at Sitakund. The whole thing seems disorganised. Would it not have made sense to stop at Sitakund just once, not twice? Nobody even gets on second time.
2.44 p.m. This is the sad, sad moment. We are on the right hand train track and as we pass the left hand train track, we see the sheer horror of it all. Myself and Masoud see it first hand. Last night’s train from Chittagong to Dhaka (i.e. the train going the other way) has derailed and crashed, leaving one person dead and many more injured.
It’s really sad and shocking to see the train all smashed up on its side with medical and emergency crew there. It could have been my train.
The delay doesn’t matter now, we are safe and I’ll just be happy to get to Chittagong in one piece and get checked into my hotel. I have flashbacks to the crazy bus rides in Ethiopia and Nagorno Karabakh where I thought I would die. It seemed we have all escaped an accident here. We are lucky but our thoughts go out to those on the train that crashed.
2.46 p.m. – We stop at Barakabund station.
3.10 p.m. – We are now on the approach to Chittagong and the crazy train journey could be over. The village suburbs are leafy and the baking sun offers no respite.
3.29 p.m. – 16 hours after leaving my hotel in Dhaka, I finally arrive in Chittagong. I say my goodbyes at the train station in Chittagong to Masoud.
3. 41 p.m. – I arrive at the Golden Inn Chittagong and I check in for two nights, relieved to have ended this crazy and long journey. The Hotel has WiFi and I use it to tell my parents and Panny that I am OK but that there was a horrific train accident on the track. I turn on the TV and the train crash is on the news. I go out for a while, then I’m back at the hotel for sunset, resting my head, working on my travel articles and I take an early night.
7 a.m next day. – I am up early and the Hotel has put a newspaper through underneath my door. It’s another shock. The train crash has made the front page. I breathe a sigh of relief, I head for an excellent breakfast before heading out to explore Chittagong.
Here are my videos of my night train from Dhaka to Chittagong in Bangladesh: