So I asked everybody that I needed to ask to make sure that it was okay for me to tag along on the trip, and they all said yes. I was good to go! Dinajpur here I come!
Getting My Visa On Arrival
Now let’s back it up a little ways. When I first arrived in Dhaka, the customs agent asked me how long I planned on staying in Bangladesh. I was under the impression that there was only 1 type of visa available to travelers who had no official business in Bangladesh: the 30-day tourist visa. So when he asked me how long I was going to stay, I told him that it would probably be about 2 weeks. I had thought about the possibility of staying longer, but what did it matter anyway? I was going to get a 30-day visa issued to me no matter what, right? (Sigh) When the guard gave me my passport stamp, it specifically said 15 days. Oops.
Once I actually arrived at JAAGO, I decided that I definitely wanted to stay another couple of weeks. It was a really cool environment and I felt that I should do my best to stay in Bangladesh as long as possible. Furthermore, the Muslim holiday Eid-al-Adha was going to be at the end of the month, and it was going to be insane. The tradition of this holiday was to slaughter cows. Dhaka is one of the most densely populated, least regulated, and most Islamic cities in the world, so it was supposed to be a blood bath. As I was told tales of rivers of blood running through the streets, I thought to myself “yeah, I pretty much have to stick around for that”. Those would have been some ridiculous pictures.
So I asked my point person in JAAGO about extending my time and they said it was totally fine. Then I told them that I would need to extend my visa, but not to worry because they “knew a guy.” They said it was going to be cheap, if not free, and, above all, easy.
Getting My Train Ticket To India
My visa extension on the backburner, and the Muslim holiday Eid just around the corner, I needed to get my train ticket into India as soon as possible. It’s always tough to travel during a holiday. It's even tougher when the train station has neither a working online option, or a even a phone number. So one of my new Bangladeshi friends took me to the train station to buy a ticket. Unfortunately, once we got there we came to find that there were pretty much no tickets available, not just for the date that I wanted to go, but for 2 weeks on either side of that date. There was actually a whole week in there where the train was just not running. Sooooo... looks like I’ll be flying instead.
So I went home, and looked up ticket prices. I found a ticket to Kolkata from Dhaka for 89 USD on Biman Bangladesh Airways. But just then there was a surprise birthday party in the office and I got distracted.
When I got back to my search a couple hours later, that flight was sold out. I booked a flight with Air India as quickly as I could, before that one sold out as well. I was all set to leave at the end of the month… or so I thought.
“We Have A Guy…”
That’s what they told me when I asked about extending my visa. I tried to follow up on it, but I kept getting poo-pooed and told not to worry. Until one day, it turned out that their "guy" was in the hospital. Now people were a bit worried. They did their best to get in touch with "the guy," and apparently, from his hospital bed, the guy had arranged for us to meet with a different guy in the government office. Great.
We were running low on time now, so the next day I was taken to the visa office to extend my visa. Fighting our way through the crowds outside the government buildings, we eventually made our way past the armed guards and into the building. When we got to the office, we found the guy's guy. He was a short, fat and clean-shaven. When we walked through he door, he got up, told us that he had to go to a meeting, and scuttled off. He'd be back in an hour.
So we waited.
And then, somebody came in and shooed us out the door, speaking irritated Bangla. The translation came that this guy's meeting would not take 1 hour, it would take 4 hours.
4 hours was too long. We went to leave, but as we were leaving, we spotted the guy's guy walking back towards his office. He was actually a bit early. We ran back to the office and he sat down to look at our paper work. He told us that we needed to have...
- 1 scan of everything in my passport
- 1 copy of my ticket out
- 1 small picture of myself to attach to the form
Great. Luckily, I just so happened to have #3 in my pocket that day. We went back down to the squalor of the streets below. It was hot and disgusting down there. Men lined up for miles to use xerox machines that were sitting on piles of garbage. We got in that line, and scanned my passport. But we still needed to find a place with wifi to print off my plane ticket. Eventually, under a tin roof in a little shack, we found a guy with wifi and a printer. We convinced him to let us use his wifi and painstakingly got my ticket printed off.
We went back upstairs, found the guy's guy, who then directed us to another floor of the building. We filled out an extensive series of forms, stapled them together so they looked nice, and then found ourselves sitting in front of a fat woman, who looked over our paper work. She was very nice, and directed us to the counter to pay the fee. We had been in that stupid office building for 5 hours at this point, and I was at the end of my rope, but I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
We fought our way to the barred windows, and I pushed my paperwork through. They looked it over, and approvingly gave me the bill for my transaction.
WTF! It was almost 200 USD! For a 15 day extension? Just, no.
That was far too expensive. Keep in mind that I was also paying rent to JAAGO for where I was staying. That would have been the most expensive 15 days of my life. It was one of those split second decisions that I never second guessed. I was NOT paying this fee. I was going to have to leave early. How early though? This I was less certain about.
My visa expired in 2 days, and I was supposed to leave for Dinajpur that night. I went home and looked at some ticket prices out of Bangladesh. I still really wanted to go to Dinajpur, but if I did, I wouldn't get back to Dhaka until after my visa had already expired. I asked about the fines for over-staying a visa at the office, and they said I would be fined by the day, but I was quoted a couple different daily prices. I decided that I could deal with overstaying my visa by 1 or 2 days. That was a cost that I could eat. But anything more than that I was not comfortable with. So I could have potentially gone to Dinajpur and then left the next day, but the problem remained that there were no cheap flights available after a certain point. This was really just not working out for me.
Sometimes you've got to know when to quit. My time in Bangladesh had run out. Air India charged me 25 USD to bump my ticket up. I told the guys in the office that I wouldn't be able to go on the trip to Dinajpur after all, but reimbursed them the 1,000 BDT (12.85 USD) for my bus ticket. I had less than 48 hours left in Bangladesh. I settled my bill with JAAGO, finished up as much of my work as I could, said my goodbyes, and eventually, headed to the airport.