The transit in Dhaka was interesting, to say the least…
Upon landing in Dhaka on Biman Bangladesh Airlines from Bangkok, we were bussed to the terminal where I followed the signs for “visa on arrival”. Sure enough, just inside the passport control area was a special desk. I presented the form I filled out, but probably made one mistake: I ticked off “transit” instead of “tourist”.
Indeed I was just transiting, but the transit visa process is quite different in Bangladesh. Noting I was in transit, I was directed to a transit desk upstairs. I went up and found myself in a large, dingy room with a counter at the far end.
I approached the counter and noted that I was in transit to London. The gentleman (I found all ground staff in Dhaka were men) asked me if I wanted to sleep in the terminal or a hotel. I told him that I would be staying at a hotel.
He handed me a red token for an airport hotel Biman Bangladesh Airlines does business with and told me to sit down and have a seat.
An hour passed. Every 10 minutes or so the man would signal to me to wait. Apparently a transit document was being prepared.
Meanwhile, a friend/client of mine originally from Dhaka had been in touch and arranged for a pick-up for me and dinner with his family. I thought it would be a great opportunity to experience a bit of Bangladeshi culture. I was told to proceed out through immigration and a driver would be waiting for me with a placard bearing my name.
Finally another man collected me. He had a note in Bengali and escorted me back to the visa on arrival office downstairs. Rather than pay the $51 tourist visa fee, I was charged only $21.
Then, in a quintessential display of white privilege (or what would you call it?), I was led to the front of immigration line, bypassing over 100 people. My escort elbowed his way to the front, pushing others away and signaled for me to do the same…
I was stamped into the country.
While everyone else was subjected to customs baggage screenings, I was escorted out, bypassing it. Outside I (tried) to explain to my escort that I would be meeting someone but he did not understand. He led me to a hotel shuttle and instructed me to get in.
When I did not jump in, he was at a loss for words. Thankfully, the driver found me and whisked me off. But the Biman rep chased after us and demanded a business card from the driver. The driver explained that I was having dinner.
We drove off. My goodness is traffic horrible in Dhaka. It took an hour to cover the short distance from the airport into town. We stopped at Gloria Jean’s for some coffee.
All this time the driver’s phone kept ringing. It was Biman. They were confused and stated that I had to remain under “their control” during my transit. My driver let his boss (uncle of my client) deal with it.
I toured Dhaka a bit, visiting the site of the 1952 rebellion against Pakistan over the elimination of Bengali as an official language. The phone continued to ring.
Biman called the police and ratted me out. Now immigration authorities were involved.
My hosts explained that we were just out to dinner and promised to return to me. What a mess!
Throughout dinner the immigration police continued to call. Why wasn’t I back yet?
After dinner I was returned to the transit hotel, a dive hotel near the airport. Immigration authorities were informed and peace again restored. The chase was off.
Note: if you are transiting Dhaka and want freedom, just check off “tourist” instead of “transit”. Amazingly, the resources of the immigration authorities were directed toward me. If you are in transit, you are under the authority and supervision of Biman.