State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


On the Road to Jamalganj

Yesterday was a long and successful day.  To meet the flight and reclaim our lost luggage, I was up before 4 AM and checking out at 4:30.  Our driver was Babu, who I’ve used whenever I can in Bangladesh.  A really good, safe and fast driver who is ready to help with anything needed. We picked up Dhiman, a key member of the project who will be with us the whole time and had a quick drive to the airport.  Only Scott was allowed past security to get to the luggage while we peered through the glass wall trying to watch.  They were all there.  Our small blue truck met us and we all headed back to Dhaka University to load up everything.

Field in Sylhet, Bangladesh

We were on the road before 7 for a drive that took longer than I expected.  By now Dhaka was waking up and getting out of town took a while, but at last we made it out to the countryside.  For the first while the roadside was filled with garment factories and brick factories, but eventually gave way to a beautiful landscape of rice paddies.  We stopped for a long, much needed breakfast at 9.  And then continued on and on and on and on.  We were in Sylhet, the low flood-prone Division in the NE part of Bangladesh. Around noon we left the relatively fast road that passes for a highway to bypass Sylhet city and headed west.  Slower going now, through all the small villages.  Then near Sunomganj, where we were supposed to be staying, we turned left to the road to Jamalganj.  It was longer and worse then I remembered.  Often one lane where passing cars, trucks, put-puts and hand carts was a challenge, parts of the road had fallen into the river and we had to drive on bone-crushing temporary roads.  Inching our way through villages it was a quarter to four by the time we arrived in Jamalganj.  Lunch had been a bag of crackers during the drive.

Two bamboo drill rigs at Jamalganj

Unloading the equipment into the building where we installed a GPS in 2007, we made it to the drilling site at last.  Two bamboo drill rigs reached to the sky.  Drillers turned the drill pipe back and forth by hand while a hand pump in one and a motorized pump in the other kept circulation of the drilling mud going.  The drill bit looks a little like a hollow hand drill bit.  They use chain wrenches to turn the pipe about a rotation in each direction while the drilling mud clears the ground up sediment.  Pipes sticking out of the ground were the 100m and 80m wells were done.  The 60m well was nearly finished.  The 40m and 20m wells would be drilled by the following noon.  The deep 300m well was going very slowly at 700ft (213m).  We may have to cut it short; we can only give them to the end of today.  The hole for the GPS pillar was dug and the rebar frame lay on the ground. We were soon joined by children, giggling as they looked at the pictures of themselves on our camera screens.  Some light fun after the long drive.

After 11 hours of travel, we could not face the prospect of the long arduous drive back to Sunomganj, never mind the prospect of driving it twice a day for the next week or more.  We looked into staying in Jamalganj.  Could we use the rest house where the GPS was?  Dhiman arranged a meeting with the head of the thana, the local district.  We talked and I presented the results of our GPS in Jamalganj and the rest of Bangladesh with Dhiman translating. The local doctor was at the meeting and offered the hospital rest house.  We jumped.  It is basic, but better than facing that road.  The room is plain, with a wooden bed with a thin, lumpy mattress and thick lumpy quilt.  My bathroom is down the hall.  Home.

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