The Strange Familiar

Kushtia and Rajshahi


There are times when I travel and I find myself thinking (with no great level of insight of course), “Hmmm, this is different!” Earlier this month was one of those occasions. A week’s travel in Bangladesh was divided in two parts; the first comprising a couple of days in Kushtia and the second some time in Rajshahi.

Both lie in the north west of the country, and my motivation for visiting each was formed from two aspirations. I’ll begin with Kushtia, where each year two festivals take place. The first in March and the second in October, respectfully marking the birth and death of a prominent Bengali figure – Lalon.


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I won’t delve into a deep explanation as to who exactly Lalon was as I certainly cannot claim to possess the necessary knowledge. To summarize, however, he was predominantly known for being a philosopher, a mystic, a songwriter and a free and open thinker who inspired many to follow his teachings and wisdom. As such, each year these followers congregate at his shrine in Cheuriya, Kushtia to pay homage and celebrate his life and mark his death.


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Here is a link for more information and explanation on Lalon’s life and philosophy –

Lalon

These festivals (known as ‘Lalon Smaran Utshab’ – Lalon Memorial Festival) take place over three days and see people come from all over Bangladesh and West Bengal to connect in song, dance and poetry. Devotees and followers visit Lalon’s shrine and many spend their days and nights enjoying the music, meditating, smoking marijuana and sleeping under the stars.

Here is an example of a traditional Lalon song – Shotto Bol Shupothe Chol


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I was lucky enough to attend this year’s festival. It was a fascinating event and one that I certainly won’t forget.  The crowds were dense and disorientating, and the time spent there was a unique sensory experience on so many levels. The sounds, the energy, the aroma of the vast varieties of food, and the hospitality from a wide cross-section of people all contributed to an experience that left me exhausted, yet invigorated.


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Here is a selection of photos from those two days, which hopefully capture some of the essence of the festival. Part of the festival comprises a ‘Mela,’ which basically means fair and therefore you find a vast array of stalls selling food, clothes, wooden carvings, toys, jewellery, etc, etc.


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Rajshahi

The second part of my trip took me just north of Kushtia and to the city of Rajshahi. I had visited previously, but that was back in 2012, so I was eager to return as it’s a beautiful part of the country.

In contrast to the Lalon Festival, the time in Rajshahi was relaxed and a lot calmer! I explored the surrounding countryside and Puthia, a nearby town that is home to some intriguing old temples. Even within the city Rajshahi has a more laid back feel, and the wider roads remove the sometimes claustrophobic nature of Chittagong and Dhaka.

As always, it was full of the joys of tea, peaceful country roads, gorgeous countryside and a life very much in contrast to the frenetic and disorienting nature of the city. I hope you enjoy these images, of which there are many!


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All images © John Stanlake

8 responses

  1. Mum xx

    Beautiful photos John. What more can I say. xx

    March 27, 2018 at 4:40 pm

  2. Awesome John. I love it that you have really embraced Bangladesh and your photos make it accessible to us all. I feel like I want to explore further! The photos themselves are vibrant, gritty and represent just how it is. Have you thought of working for the Tourist Board?! All the best and COYG!

    March 28, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    • Thanks very much Stu. I’m glad my photos show the real positives about Bangladesh, which as you know is a great country for many reasons 🙂

      March 28, 2018 at 6:57 pm

  3. Dad

    Very interesting John and as always your photos are very colourful and interesting. The Lalon festival looks a bit like the Glastonbury festival, which many years ago I had the misfortune to help police. Like Lalon, it was bedlum and full of undesirables smoking drugs !

    March 28, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    • Thanks Dad. However, I wouldn’t describe the Lalon festival-goers as ‘undesirables.’ The people I met there were very friendly and welcoming and I had a great time sitting and chatting with various groups of people. I can’t comment on Glastonbury…

      March 28, 2018 at 5:22 pm

  4. Auntie Julie

    Just read your blog John. Superb photography as always. Fantastic experience to be involved with that cultural festival. Reminded me once again of our years in Hong Kong when we got involved with some of their festivals. Lucky you. Enjoy. Love Auntie Julie xx

    March 29, 2018 at 6:21 pm

  5. Uncle Robbie

    John once again you have captured the experience you encountered in your photo’s. The people and places look fascinating and it has opened my eyes to the way of life of Bangladeshi people. As I have said I learn something every time. I did not know that they had John Lennon look alike’s in Bangladesh (Or had he come from Glastonbury) ! Keep enjoying exploring and sharing the experience with us it is fantastic. Best Wishes

    March 30, 2018 at 4:48 pm

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