Imagine a shopkeeper in rural Bangladesh in the coastal regions of Cox’s Bazar, having his morning cha at a stall on a mud brick road overlooking the paddy fields. Now imagine the look on his face, shocked and confused, as he sees a line of 10 brightly painted rickshaws being pulled and pushed by 20 crazy, mostly bideshi, adventurers, from eight different countries, with a mob of school children screaming, shouting and cheering behind them. This was pretty much the scene for 10 days and 400 km from Teknaf to Sundarbans.
This epic journey, the Wild Rickshaw Challenge, was organized by WildTeam, an organization focused on creating a sustainable future for the Royal Bengal Tiger. WildTeam’s primary area of work is in the Bangladesh Sundarbans, which is home to one of the largest populations of tigers on this planet and also an essential stronghold in the face of immense human pressure on the survival of this engendered species – only 3,200 tigers remain in the world today.
My Challenge partners and I began our journey in Teknaf, the southernmost point of Bangladesh and pedaled our rickshaws via Cox’s Bazar, Chakaria, Chittagong, Chadpur, Barisal, Pirojpur, Bagerhat and finally into the Sundarbans. We pedaled through the breathtaking scenery of the beach on one side and the hills on the other side, passing beautiful Gorjon forests, the serene village roads, lush green trees, and the symphony of birds chirping along the way. We experienced the innocence in the villagers who were extremely curious but always smiling and taking photos on their phones, all of which truly made our journey across southern Bangladesh very special. Our expedition also took us on a launch vessel on the mighty Meghna river, the second best way to see Bangladesh – the first being on a rickshaw of course. We also encountered river dolphins swimming alongside the launch amidst the beauty of the waterways.
Although the scenery was soothing, pedaling rickshaws was one of the hardest physical activities many of us have ever had to endure – a true test of our strength and resilience. To put it simply, imagine pedaling an 80 kg rattling piece of metal, with a passenger sitting on it, against the wind, often on crumbling stretches of mud brick roads. Add the frequent bridges over wide and narrow rivers and streams, on which even the slightest of incline felt like climbing an endless rocky mountain.
After a long but worthwhile journey of 10 days, we finally reached the Sundarbans, the biggest mangrove forest in the world and one of the last strongholds of the tigers. We met with members of TigerTeam, the people at the heart of the conservation work and spent the next day on TigerTeam’s boats plying through the winding canals of the forest. We walked along monkey trails within the mangrove forest, while listening for the call of the deer and keeping our eyes peeled for a glimpse of the majestic creature. After a long patient wait, we found perfectly formed footprints on the mud from the rarest, most stunning creatures -the Royal Bengal Tiger. It gave us goose bumps to think that only six hours ago, this creature was in the same location.
Thinking back, the journey wasn’t easy, with everyday being longer, harder and hotter than the previous one and our body’s aches and sores reaching new levels daily, but we all did it and we did it together, in the true spirit of WildTeam’s mission.