These days, when the electricity goes down I’ve taken to fleeing the flat. With our ceiling fans out of action temperatures soar, often above 36 degrees. The heat and humidity become unbearable, boredom sets in and bad tempers are never far behind. It’s often cooler outside where you can catch the occasional breeze, so, within reason (women aren’t advised to wander alone at night) and depending on company I’ve tramped the streets for miles, but my friend Bishwajit has just changed all that by taking me to sit next to Dhanmondi Lake.
I knew there was a lake, I’ve been over its bridge on a rickshaw traveling to New Market a couple of times, but I didn’t realise it was as close, and I didn’t know how to get to there. It’s so well hidden behind buildings I couldn’t believe my eyes. I followed Bishwajit across the busy road minutes away from my flat, turned down a dusty little pathway…and there it was.
The surrounding trees absorbed most of the noise of the incessant horns coming from the nearby road, a direct consequence of having such heavy traffic and no highway code. There were only a few people around and those that were strolled, not bustling as they do on the packed Dhaka pavements and topping it off the walkway was in really good condition, unlike the mess of rubble and potholes along the side of every other Dhaka street. The trees offered shade from the sun, still strong at five thirty, their leaves accentuating any slight breeze, giving the illusion it was cooler than it actually was. Heaven, and so accessible!
The lake itself is a fair size and as we walked it opened up further, reaching around a corner and out of sight up ahead. The opposite bank was a fair distance away, where I could see more people enjoying the environment. Young couples clearly came here to meet and sit side by side on the bank. With an eighty percent Muslim population Bangladeshi courting couples do have restrictions but it’s fairly common to see young people walking together or sharing a rickshaw.
The water was clear and still and I became aware of a beautiful smell wafting around, reminding me of Jasmin. Bishwajit pointed out the water lilly. Only growing around the edges at first, it had, within a short distance completely covered the surface of the lake. Not yet fully in flower it promises a glorious sight when the hundreds of heads open up and the scent should then be much more powerful.
Further along we came across a peanut seller. A fairly common sight, they carry shallow disc like wicker baskets which hang around the neck holding neatly piled peanuts and a red looking salt, along with tiny metal hand scales and small paper cones. At ten taka for a fair sized serving they make a tasty and cost effective snack which I had no intention of resisting.
Walking on we looked for a suitable spot to sit and shell the nuts, and settled for a small wall on the bank overlooking two fishermen and a sleepy dog, their old Honda motorbike parked nearby. We watched as they fished, using a rod and line they sat patiently, the dog snoozing in the grass. Their skill was evident as they had already caught a fairly large fish which they kept inside a small cage positioned just below the surface of the water. From time to time he splashed about in his confinement.
We shared the peanuts, Bishwajit rolling them in the red salt, a mixture of sea salt, papaya and chilli, but I ate mine without, finding the taste too strong. Darkness falls suddenly in Bangladesh and within minutes daytime had given way to evening and the stars came out. We walked back the way we had come, simply because it was quieter and sat again for a little while underneath a mango tree where the breeze was glorious. Nobody is in a hurry to rush back to a hot dark flat.
While the tree bore fruit mango aren’t currently in season and it will be a further month before the local produce is for sale. Imported Indian mango is available but everyone here believes that too many chemicals are used and they avoid buying them. Bishwajit also holds the view that the local mango are far superior, both in size and taste, so I’m keen to try them.
On the way home we stopped off to do a little shopping in Nandons supermarket. Spotting mango in the fruit and vegetable section I persuaded him to teach me how to select the best ones. As he doesn’t rate either imported fruit or eating out of season his advice was to wait, but I won the argument and so he helped me select four. Bishwajut used smell, colour and feel to dig out the tastiest, and we ate two each on arriving back at the flat. They were absolutely gorgeous, so if the local mango taste better than these I can harldy wait!
Bishwajit shelling peanuts by Dahnmondi Lake