192-PART GUIDE TO THE WORLD PART 14: BANGLADESH

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The Independent Travel
OFFICIAL NAME

People's Republic of Bangladesh.

POPULATION

120 million, which makes it three times more densely populated than India and (apart from small islands and city states) the most crowded country on earth.

SIZE

About 55,000 square miles, or five times bigger than Belgium (but smaller than the United Kingdom).

BEST MONUMENT

The Ahsan Manzil, popularly known as the Pink Palace, was built in 1872 by the fabulously wealthy Nawab Abdul Ghani. The viceroy of British India, Lord Curzon, used to stay here whenever he was in town. It is one of several rajbaris (palaces) in the country - but also one of the very few that isn't now falling down.

MOST FAMOUS CITIZEN

The Nobel prize winning poet and classic writer Rabindranath Tagore is almost universally revered in Bangladesh, despite having been brought up as a Hindu. His poetry celebrates the life of ordinary people and bits of it have been incorporated into the national anthem.

NATIONAL DISH

On this side of the Indian subcontinent fish and rice is what everyone eats, rather than (for example) meat and wheat, as preferred in distant Pakistan. Smoked hilsa or bekti are among the best and most expensive kinds of fish you'll be able to find.

BEST MOMENT IN HISTORY

As a province of the Mughal empire at the beginning of the 17th century, the area saw intellectual and cultural life flourish, with urbanisation, art and literature cultivated from above. Islam at this time was more influenced by Persian sufis and mystics than by purists or ascetics.

WORST MOMENT IN HISTORY

From 1947 to 1971 Bangladesh became East Pakistan and was relegated to the status of a distant province - controlled by the more populous and wealthy West Pakistan. If the political situation wasn't humiliating enough, the cyclone of 1970 was one of the greatest natural disasters of the 20th century, killing up to 500,000 people.

ESSENTIAL ACCESSORIES

In the monsoon season, mosquito repellent and possibly a boat.

HOW NOT TO BEHAVE

Do not linger in low-lying coastal areas when the cyclone warning is in force.

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