My preferred mode of transport is by train. I flew from Dhaka to Cox’s Bazar in order to save two days getting there, two coach journeys instead of one, and covering the same ground twice. But once I could, I travelled by train. I knew from my research not to expect too much. I made two rail journeys. From Chittagong to Srimangal, and from Srimangal to Dhaka. (Srimangal is about two hours south from Sylhet, which you can see on this map in the north-east.) Here is a rail / road map of Bangladesh:
As explained in the blogs on preparation for the trip there are various train classes. Speaking two words of Bengali I wasn’t going to be too fussy. I just wanted a seat on the train I had decided on.
At the station the ticket window information is all in Bengali, so I chose the shortest “queue” – er scramble of people all pushing in. I more or less took my turn, not pushing in, but not letting anyone push in on me. I had written out the train and date, and handed the paper to the employee. The station employee spoke English and asked if I wanted air-con. Then he told me the fare, I paid, received the ticket and checked it. There is a computer monitor showing what he is doing, but he is quite fast and by the time you are starting to understand the display he has handed you the ticket. In fact, it had only taken five minutes and was easier than I thought. TK524 from Chittagong to Srimangal.
The train station at Chittagong has a tea room on the ground floor, and a restaurant, waiting room and toilet on the first floor.
For the trip bring something to drink and something to eat that doesn’t preferably involve using your hands. My choice would be water and bananas. But only drink any water if you really have to.
Arrive at the station before the scheduled time, but then ask any employee if the train is on time and show your ticket. I was told the train was an hour late, but in fact it was almost two hours. There is no whistle or announcement, so keep on asking (every 15 minutes or so) if the train has arrived yet, and as soon as it has, board. Except for this caveat. For a couple of hours before riding the train restrict liquid intake, and use the toilet at the station immediately before boarding. This is because the toilets on the train are disgusting, and dangerous. Dangerous because the outside door is often open with someone hanging on. If not, you can close it, but if someone is hanging on to the outside rail you have almost nothing to hold onto as you attempt to unlatch the door to the toilet, and if the train happened to jolt at the wrong time you could fall out the open door.
Just show your ticket to any employee and they will show you the correct carriage. The seat allocation is on your ticket and won’t be hard to find.
The seats recline a little, there is adequate leg room, but no seat pockets or rubbish bin. The windows cannot be opened and are dirty. The overhead rack will accommodate quite reasonable size luggage.
And now for anyone interested:
The next carriage was presumably a different class:
There are people walking through the train selling food and drinks – in most cases I would avoid it unless it is wrapped like chocolate. And the water is dusty on the outside so you get dirty hands if you buy it.
You can buy also when the train stops in the station.
If you alight check how long the train will be in the station. It is only single track, so often the train has to wait in the station where there are at least two tracks, for an oncoming train to pass, and this could be 10 – 15 minutes. If the train starts to move you can still leap onboard if you have at least one hand free.
Often it is hard to know where you are, although occasionally you see a station sign in English.
I used Google Maps to check progress.
At last we arrived at Srimangal – not all that later than scheduled.
My second and final train trip was from Srimangal to Dhaka. I am told that as the train originates in Sylhet and not Srimangal there is only a small seat allocation for tickets originating in Srimangal, and no air-con seats were available. Price Tk225. The advantage of non-air-con is that the windows can be open, and thus it is better for photography. However, once the train I was on departed there was only one hour of light left, anyway, and I took few photos.
And the other direction:
In this carriage you can open the windows. So, another caveat. You can buy food through the window from vendors at stations. Ensure you receive the product first before paying, as sometimes they will just run off with your money if you pay first. Also, give them exact money as they may keep your change. Warnings from a local. Best to take your own food, as mentioned before.
My train was about 30 minutes late and every seat was taken. Around 8PM there was an insect plague. Lots of flying insects – not mosquitos – entered the carriage and bothered everyone for at least the next half hour. They didn’t bite, but landed all over you. In theory this wouldn’t really happen in the air-con carriage as the windows are closed.
The train stopped at the airport station on the way to Dhaka. 30 minutes from there to main station, approximately. All signs in Bengali at the main station.
There was traffic chaos outside the station, with rickshaws, CNG’s etc all over the place and trying to get your business. Anyway, you are now in Dhaka.