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A huge difference!
Saint Martin (Bangladesh), February 16th 2008

The funny thing about border crossings is that you often enter a complete different world. The differences are sometimes huge, while you would expect that the countries are quite similar. That is also the case with the two neighbouring countries, India and Bangladesh. Till 1947, both countries were part of the same British colony. After the independence in 1947, the two countries followed a different developing path. Initially, Bangladesh was part of Pakistan, but after a bloody independence struggle and with the help of India, Bangladesh gained independence in 1971. The present situation of the two countries is very different. While India is economically booming, becoming one of the major economical giants in the future, Bangladesh is still one of the poorest countries on earth. It had difficulties making the first steps on the developing ladder and to realise sustainable growth. The growth is also often frustrated by the huge natural disasters that often devastate parts of the country, like the cyclone Sidr last year.

If you travel through Bangladesh, the big difference in economical growth between the two countries is not really visible. More strongly, in some areas it seems that Bangladesh is even further than India. This has probably to do with the fact that the economic growth in India reaches only a fraction of the population, which means that the vast majority of the Indians are probably not better off than the Bangladeshi’s. Some things seem to be better arranged in Bangladesh. There is less pollution on the streets (e.g. in Cox’s Bazar, beaches are adopted by companies who take the responsibility of keeping the beaches clean) and during our first ten days in Bangladesh, we saw more garbage cans than during our five month stay in India. You will also see traffic police in the big cities that seem to have the traffic flows pretty good under control. Also the quality of the roads are better than in India and we often saw Bangladeshi road workers using modern equipment while maintaining the roads, in contrast to India that mainly uses manual work. The comfort of travelling through Bangladesh is further increased by the high quality buses that are available for the private bus companies. “Volvo” and “Mercedes” are signs of quality, while India is still travelling in old shambles that are called “Tata’s”. Because of the huge and unreasonable import taxes that are imposed by the Indian government on many quality products from the west, the India people are punished by their government by inferior domestic products.

Bangladeshi people are in general more warmly and better humoured than their neighbours in India. This makes travelling in Bangladesh much more fun. Bangladeshi’s are also better mannered. We were astonished when we saw people queuing up in Dhaka, decently waiting for their turn. This is something that is unthinkable in India. Besides that, the Bangladeshi’s are very correct when they want to be on the picture with you. While an Indian guy will take this opportunity to touch Ivonne or even worse, to put an arm around her (they would never do that with a local woman), the Bangladeshi’s keep a correct distance while keeping their arms on their back. They will also always ask for your approval before they take a picture or start a conversation with you. What is probably most pleasant about travelling in Bangladesh is that the people really see you a wanted guest. They are happy that you decided to visit Bangladesh, and they are even happier when you decide to eat for example in their restaurant. They will do their utmost best to serve you well. Most of the time they go a little bit too far in their service, but that’s part of the charm. Often, the servants will gather around your table interested in a chat, and waiting for the moment that they can refill your plate again or refill the dish in the kitchen. A peaceful dinner with the two of us is impossible in Bangladesh, unless you probably go to an upmarket restaurant.

Finally, the absence of the arrogance in Bangladesh is worth mentioning. In contrast to the middle and upper class Indian people, who have often a huge and wrongfully arrogance, the Bangladeshi’s have a more real image of themselves. During our last week in India, we read an interview with several middle and upper class youngsters about their view on India and the reason why the youngsters do not feel the need anymore to go abroad for their work. We had to chuckle a little bit when some people answered that they prefer to stay in India because of the superior position of women in India! Of course, these answers were given by men only and they probably were not aware of the fact that in some Indian states, up to 15% of all the baby girls are murdered by her parents just because she is a girl and that they government is not able to stop this practice. We also had to laugh when some of the interviewed people mentioned that India is at least equally developed as the western world. These youngsters are probably living in an isolated Bollywood environment and have no clue about the harsh reality on the streets of the big cities and the extreme poverty in the small rural villages. Nevertheless, both India and Bangladesh are great countries to visit. Maybe you should consider combining these two countries when you travel to this part of the world. India for its sights and Bangladesh for its people.

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