Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sylhet, Eid-alAdha and the contraband alcohol - Part 1

Where do I even begin? There is so much to tell that I will break this post into parts and you will be forced to come back to read if you want to know how the Diplomat and I went to the tea gardens of Sylhet, drank obscene quantities of dreadfully strong local tea, obtained what appeared to be contraband alcohol, stepped into India for a few minutes, and never got a single food order right. So, I begin.

My Inlaws have been visiting us for the past 2 weeks and so we decided to go on a short family vacation to the beautiful Nazimgarh Resort, located in the midst of tea garden country surrounding Sylhet, the third largest Bangladeshi town. We were joined by our good friend Mr. Hawaiian and his two kids (Mrs. Hawaiian, for those who remember, is currently in the U.S. since she just had another baby—Congratulations!). The idea was to leave town before the onset of Eid-Al-Adha. Not for the faint of heart, the second Eid festival celebrated by the Muslim population of the world involves ritual sacrifice of domestic animals (qurbani) and commands sharing of the meat, among many other things. The reason we had decided to leave was that in Dhaka, the slaughtering tend to occur right in the streets, including in the diplomatic enclaves where a lot of wealthy Bangladeshi citizens happily live. We were told that as a result, the morning of Eid we will be woken up by the plaintive screech of dying animals and for 2 days blood will flow freely in all directions. Slightly unnerved at the thought, we decided to spend Eid elsewhere.
We started rather auspiciously. Our flight was almost not delayed (what’s 20 minutes between friends??) and then after we walked on the tarmac to climb into the toy propeller airplane operated by Regent Air, the pilot excitedly welcomed us onboard and immediately launched into a brief but poignant prayer extolling Allah several times. Given the size and the look of the airplane, I thought praying was indeed prudent. 45 minutes later, we landed safely if somewhat jumpily in Sylhet. We collected the luggage and went outside where a driver welcomed us to a miniscule looking SUV.  A sort of a circus scene ensued: All of us five adults and three children kept running around the car, several small suitcases in tow, trying to figure out how to cram ourselves inside. The serene unperturbed driver, who never uttered a word, was hastily trying to jam all suitcases in the non-existent luggage space of the SUV (the bulk taken up by a massive propane gas tank).
Naturally, soon a small crowd of delighted local loiterers who were simply hanging out at the tiny airport with nothing better to do for the day, kept closing in on us literally breathing down our necks. To enhance the effect of the mayhem, two tenacious beggars (an impossibly skinny woman with a billowing saree and an old man with a giant beard) somehow managed to penetrate the circle of loitering onlookers, and to my utter shock practically climbed into the car and began asking for alms. Not a second late, a police-looking man started yelling at them from the top of his lungs, possibly trying to scare them away and frightening me to no end in the process. Having reached the end of my patience and sweating profusely in the gentle November sun, I took matters in my own hands, stuffed my languid family into the van and yelled to the driver to go.

We drove past several lively animal markets selling livestock destined to perish the following day--the cows and goats definitely looked unimpressed. I was. The experience has left me with the longing to acquire a small goat. What could be better than coming home from a long day of work and be greeted by a friendly bleeting, followed by a set of small hooves lovingly placed on my chest. I suspect, however, that Fat Cat would not be amused. There goes that dream. 20 mins later we arrived in the serenity of Nazimgarh Resrots where we were met with a round of complimentary impossibly sweet orange-colored liquid by some of the most polite people in this world.
The resort is quite beautiful and the rooms are very well appointed. The surrounding nature is gorgeous and since we are now in November, the weather has become wonderfully balmy—lower 80s during the day and high 60s in the evening. We wisely chose to get “luxury” rooms (meaning, those with terraces) and I highly recommend to everyone going there to do the same. There is something magical about waking up in the morning and sitting on the terrace, overlooking a vast green space, listening to the birds, inhaling the pleasant non-humid, non-hot air and drinking strong tea (or whatever else strikes your fancy at that time of the day).
At which point Son would appear on the terrace as well, having taken off his nightly diaper and pajamas and thus stark naked, and would stand proudly there welcoming the morning in its (and his own) glory. He would not get dressed for all the candy in the world. Good times.
The restaurant offers a good variety of continental as well as Asian food, all very well prepared. The problem was the service. All waiters spoke some English or made it look like they did, which was unfortunate because we kept ordering in English (or in the case of the Diplomat, in confusing Bangla). Let’s just say that a lot was lost in translation. The most common confusion involved us wondering aloud what food to order (and making the mistake to ask the waiters for advice) while they frantically wrote everything down and as a result would habitually come back with way more food than we intended to order. The children refused to eat much else beyond pizza and spaghetti and meatballs (God bless the Italians) and so the percentage of those two dishes consumed annually in Sylhet proper just went up by 500%.

The resort also boasts a really nice swimming pool. Ok, not swimming, just pool. Surrounded by lush greenery, it was the appointed place to hang out in the afternoon for all of us, and while the kids kept soaking in the rather cold water, we would consume even more tea and read our books and rest our weary diplomatic bones.

The one thing that the resort does NOT boast is alcohol. Which was a pity. I did have a nagging suspicion that would be the case, so I meticulously prepared 2 bottles of wine and some stronger beverages to come with us from Dhaka. Naturally, we promptly forgot them. So, on the first evening of our stay at Nazimgarh, as we lamented how nice it would have been to have a sip of this and that while chatting the night away and swatting at the swarming resilient mosquitoes, we decided to ask whether there is any hidden stash of any fermented liquid in the resort. We were told a polite no, BUT if we wanted to, the staff would be happy to tell us where we could get some wine and beer in Sylhet city. Rather intrigued, we declared out interest and decided to rent a car the following afternoon and go procure. And procure we did—what I now strongly suspect is contraband wine and scotch. But for more on that—tune in this weekend!


  1. i was eyeing to go to the same resort last eid but ended up somewhere else. Now i'm thinking if i saw you guys around the river going to jaflong...