The Crowards family eyed the grey, drizzly sky through the chinks in the bedroom curtains weighing the options for the day. There was a definite pull to stay nestled in bed but the tug of excitement to make our first confluence expedition was even greater. So, after loading up the car with snacks, water, boots, maps and gadgets (some for the confluencing... most to keep the family busy en route!) we were on our way.
At 8:30 in the morning, the traffic in Dhaka was already thick and aggressive but we fought our way through. The smattering of rain stayed with us all the way out of the city as we covered the 100+ km northeast towards Brahmanbaria. There were few cars but the manic buses and their drivers with psychotic gleams in their eyes kept us alert to the road. There are very few English road signs, few people who speak English and even fewer who can read a map, so we were on our own.
The otherwise excellent 1:50,000 detailed map was about 20 years out of date so we relied heavily on the GPS and compass. As we left the main Dhaka-Brahmanbaria at Ashuganj and drove underneath the railway the GPS pointed us directly towards a sprawling, heavily fortified enclosure with ominous looking towers spewing out smoke. Unable to blag our way past the guards, we ended up parking our car outside of the Zia Fertilizer Factory and walking around the razor wire-topped wall. Luckily (?), in our ignorance, we were still far from the confluence point and did not have to come up with a plan to tunnel our way in.
We followed the directions on the GPS and were followed by dozens (no exaggeration) of village children. We had to cross a 40 metre stretch of hyacinth-choked water on the local nokar (small wooden ferry boat). It cost our family 100 taka (one and half US dollars), which we later discovered was enough to pay for 25 trips for 4 locals!. The local madman appointed himself our bodyguard, keeping the children at bay with a stick and terrifying verbal grunts. By this time, the rain had given way to clear skies and humidity, not unlike a Finnish sauna. We traipsed through villages, balanced between rice paddies and passed an ancient (?Hindu?) ruin, walking in a series of smaller concentric circles in order to find ways across the inevitable series of waterways. We eventually found the confluence point in the middle of a plot of derosh (okra, ladies’ finger, gumbo...). Surprisingly for Bangladesh, NOT in a rice paddy!
By this time we had accumulated a crowd of at least 50 curious onlookers. Snapping photos without dozens of curious faces gawking at the lens was a real challenge.
Unlike on the way out trying to explain in pigeon-Bangla that we were looking for an unseeable confluence point of imaginary lines, it was easy to point out the imposing fertilizer factory and the crowd was eager to show us the quickest way back.