Outside Sharjah International Airport to begin the weekend trip to Bangladesh.
And about to check in for the Air Arabia 3am flight to Chittagong. An Emirati low cost carrier based in Sharjah, it was my first time flying the airline.
The 3,700 kilometer flight to Chittagong's Shah Amanat International Airport was scheduled to take 4.5 hours.
I had visited Bangladesh for four days a few years ago but only to Dhaka and inland to Khulna.
When I spotted a weekend trip to Chittagong on a Meetup group I quickly decided it was a good opportunity to head back.
Airside with my boarding pass for aisle seat 3C.
Walking across the tarmac to board the Air Arabia A320.
And a quick selfie before departure. Despite being a LCC the seat pitch was relatively comfortable and the seats actully reclined unlike other LCC's I had been on.
After take-off I put on my eyeshades and put in some earplugs to catch a few hours sleep.
Coffee, muffin and a Snickers at dawn somewhere other eastern India.
Starting our descent to Chittagong.
And my freshly stamped Bangladeshi visa for $51. There were four others on the weekend trip and we quickly recognized each other being the only people queueing up for the visa on arrival.
Just outside where I met up with Didar, our guide for today in Chittagong.
A couple of the guys had forgotten to bring a paper copy of the hotel reservation so were a little late after trying to figure out how to send it to a Bangladeshi immigration Gmail account to print out.
Didar then took us to an awaiting minivan for the ~30 minute drive into the city.
In the lobby of the Well Park Residence Hotel.
Welcome glass of mango juice.
And our room for the one night stay.
The view from the balcony. My roomate was Maher, an internal bank auditor from the UK working in Abu Dhabi but living in Dubai.
Rickshaws out on the street. I wasn't too tired or jetlagged so decided to go for a stroll.
Oranges and banana's for sale.
A Bangladeshi girl chatting on her phone.
Ladies chatting on the street.
A rickshaw driver pausing briefly for a quick portrait.
More banana's for sale.
A driver inside the bars surrounding his auto-rickshaw.
Waiting for the next customer.
A spiderweb of cables above O.R. Nizam Road.
Mother and daughter crossing the road.
Back at the hotel restaurant with some chicken soup and spring rolls for lunch.
And some tasty fried rice and spicy curry.
At 1:30pm we met up with Didar again and headed out in the minivan for a drive through the busy streets.
A short while late we arrived at Karnaphuli Mariners Park.
Chittagong is one of the main fishing hubs of Bangladesh due to its proximity to the Bay of Bengal.
A fisherman repairing a gillnet.
A lady walking in front of the anchored fishing boats.
Looking west with more gillnets stretched out for repair.
A row of the wooden fishing boats at low tide.
A fishing boat under construction.
Each boat costs approximately ~6 million taka ($70,000) to build including engine and nets.
Wood for the boats is sourced from neighbouring Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia as well as locally.
A boat builder pausing for a photo.
Another worker with a length of caulking cotton.
The caulking cotton is hammered in between the wooden planks to help waterproof the hull.
When the boat is out to sea one crew member has the sole job of cotton caulking to ensure the hull remains watertight.
A carpenter shaving down pieces of wood to make wooden pegs for the boat construction.
We then drove a few kilometres in the minivan again to our next stop.
Roadside snack stall.
Making our way down an alley towards the Karnaphuli River.
And boarded a waiting riverboat.
Fishing trawlers moored in the middle of the river as we head upstream.
Passing under the Shah Amanat Bridge. The Chinese-built bridge opened in 2010.
A riverboat along side a bulk carrier ship.
After cruising down the river for ~5 kilometers we disembarked on the southern bank of the Karnaphuli River at Shikalbaha.
In Shikalbaha we visited another boatyard.
Black tar painted on the wooden hull for waterproofing.
While the Karnaphuli boatyard we had just visited was for the construction of new boats, the Shikalbaha boatyard was for repair of existing boats.
The boatyard foreman.
It was a contrast comparing the boats after they had spent many years working versus the new boats under consruction earlier in the day.
A gentleman in his tar-splattered shirt.
A drum of tar being carried to the boatyard.
We then boarded the boat for the journey back.
A fishing trawler cruising down the river. Chattogram is the official name of the city.
Towing a rowboat which was struggling with the incoming tide.
Back on the northern bank of the river.
And the sun beginning to set to the west.
Peanuts for sale.
Three wheeled transport.
We then drove into the city to the Old Railway Station.
Chittagong has two main railway stations. A busy, modern railway station and the Old Railway Station which was built by the British during the Colonial period.
The station dates from the late 19th century when a railway line was built between Chittagong and the city of Comilla.
Passengers about to depart.
Waiting for the next train.
Three men in thobes.
A game of cricket underway as we continue our walk into the city.
Busy Station Road.
In the minivan again behind all the tuk-tuks.
And back at the Well Park Hotel after dusk.
Some Mum brand bottled water at the hotel restaurant for dinner.
Grilled chicken and vegetables for the main.
And some sweet rice pudding for dessert at the end of day 1.
Dawn in the city on the morning of day 2.
In the hotel restaurant before 7am for breakfast.
At 7:30am we met up with our guide for today, Mustafa, and drove down to the Karnaphuli River. Fishing boats in the early morning fog.
We then went for a walk through the Chittagong fish market.
Filleting a fish.
Crates of fish fresh from the Bay of Bengal.
The market is the city's main wholesale fish market.
Each morning hundreds of tons of fish are sold in the market.
Boys selling ice.
Fish is the main source of protein in Bengali cuisine.
A man holding up an Asian sea bass while another shows off a Catfish behind him.
A truckload of fish about to leave the market.
We then made a short drive west down Strand road to the salt processing area of the city. Two businessmen with small piles of salt on the desk.
Salt being unloaded from a boat in the Karnaphuli River.
The salt being washed to further purity it.
Bangladesh produces ~1.6 million tons of salt annually.
The cleaned salt being milled.
And the final product piled high in a warehouse.
Being packed into large 50kg sacks.
And into smaller packages for retail sale.
We then headed in the minivan again for a 40 minute ride north to the infamous Chittagong Ship Breaking Yards.
Although the shipbreaking yards used to be a tourist attraction, due to their poor safety record outsiders are no longer welcome with guards were posted and multiple signs warning against photography.
They couldn't block access to the sea however and it was possible to get a glimpse of the shipbreaking via a ride in a boat along the coast.
The recently beached Nigerian flagged oil tanker, Diddi, ready for scrapping as we headed out in the wooden boat. It was quite surreal to see such a large ship completely out of the water, simply sitting stranded on the beach.
Our guide explained how the ships are first cut into larger chunks and then attached to steel cables and winched ashore to be cut up further to be easily digested as scrap.
A AHTS vessel in the process of being broken up.
The exposed internals of a ship's stern after it has been cut open.
The remains of a ferry that used to sail between the cities of Shidao in China and Gunsan in South Korea.
The shipbreaking yard is the world's largest, handling a fifth of the world's total and accounts for around a half of all steel in Bangladesh.
The Panamanian registered Uni Lucky, built in 1990 as a wood chips carrier.
The stern of the 20 year old container ship Spirit of Manila.
Workers out on deck.
The shipbreaking and associated industry in Chittagong employ over 25,000 people.
There are eighty active shipbreaking yards along the 14 kilometer stretch of coast.
A towering ship superstructure, still with it's original lifeboat. When each ship is scrapped all the machinery and fittings are stripped and sold to salvage dealers — from enormous engines, batteries, generators, and miles of copper wiring to the crew bunks, portholes, lifeboats, and electronic dials on the bridge.
The slightly apocalyptic and ominous atmosphere of the Chittagong Ship Breaking Yards also helped it serve as a very cinematic shooting location for the superhero movie Avengers: Age of Ultron. A still from the movie is shown below:
A cluster of ships waiting to be cut and sliced apart at the end of their working lives.
Looking up at the green hull of a container ship formerly owned by the Taiwanese shipping company Evergreen Marine.
The name of the ship now partially covered over with sheets of steel.
A worker looking out from a lower deck from a ship with a now open and exposed stern.
The recently arrived cargo ship Georgia K which had been beached a week prior.
The stern of a ship with cut off chunks laying down beside.
And the bent propellor, possibly when it was driven at full speed up onto the beach.
Nick then pulled out his red Mavic Air from his bag. I had decided not to bring my drone on the trip so was very jealous!
Looking down on our boat making its way through the dirty oily water. Luckily Nick kindly shared the video from his drone and I was able to grab a few stills from the footage.
The broken hulls of numerous beached ships stretching out along the coast and dwarfing our little wooden boat centre-bottom.
Looking down on the hulking remains of a trio of ships.
And a large hawk getting curious with Nick's drone.
The red hull of a ferry formerly belonging to the Chilean operator Navimag.
A long streak of black oil in the heavily polluted waters below.
Nick's drone coming in for landing.
Nick piloting the drone in while I get ready to grab it. With it's obstacle avoiding sensors it didn't want to land and when the battery got critically low it automatically tried to fly itself back to the lanuching point, which was a kilometer back over the water! Luckily Nick was able to quickly cancel it and I then snatched it from the air as it hovered over the boat.
The bright yellow hull of a small Chinese container ship.
The last remaining chunk of a once mighty vessel.
The Ostrov Beringa, originally built in 1986 as the Banyon Maru in Shimonoseki, Japan.
Another skeletal remains of a ship half-way through scrapping.
Workers shovelling foam insulation into the sea.
Making our way back along the coast.
The pier for the ferry to Sandwip Island.
A man harvesting with the breached oil tanker Diddi in the background.
And making our way back onshore after the very interesting excursion.
A quick cup of tea at a café in the town of Kumira.
And some lunch on the go in the van as we headed to our next stop.
On our way back to the city we stopped at some marine salvage shops.
Several ship speed control dials available for purchase. Unfortunately a little too big for my carry-on backpack!
Binoculars and lanterns.
And a flag of the UAE I managed to find in a dusty backroom.
Back in the city we went for a visit to a local clothing factory.
We were each given a fire action plan in case of evacuation. The Bangladesh garment industry has suffered numerous tragedies including fires and building collapses and it was good seeing some effort to mitigate and prevent them.
Rolls of fabric ready to be cut.
It was my first time visiting a garment factory and it was surprisingly interesting seeing all the different stages of manufacture.
The different sizes of garment sketched out on a paper template.
The textile industry is Bangladesh's largest manufacturing sector and its size is second to only China.
Clothing labels with the different sizes of garments for the companies Chaps, Macy's and H&M.
On the main sewing floor with was filled wth the buzz from countless sewing machines in seemingly perpetual motion. Each row of machines was separated into a designated team, with a set of performance charts of garments made, rate of rejects etc.
And the finishing floor where the shirts were sorted, ironed and packed.
Back in the city centre we visited a Aarong department store, a non-profit that employs thousands of rural artisans across Bangladesh.
Although they didn't have any fridge magnets I couldn't resist buying a traditional Bangladeshi outfit for my daughter Hannelie to take home.
It was almost time to start heading to the airport for our flight home so we had one last stop at the railway tracks.
A man walking along the tracks, carrying multiple sacks perched on top of his head.
And a lady more sensibly walking between the tracks. Just to the right was a slum with people living on the small strip of railway-owned land beside the tracks.
A lady feeding her 18-month old daughter in the slums.
Hitching a ride on a passing train.
After the brief stop at the railway tracks we headed south to the Chittagong Boat Club, situated next to Shah Amanat International Airport, for some dinner.
A plaque on the wall showing a list of club life members with number one being Sheikh Hasina, the current and longest serving Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
A small container ship heading down the Karnaphuli River in the background as a middle-class Bangladeshi sits down for dinner.
Sharing some naan, chicken and fried rice with Maher for a last tasty meal in Chittagong.
And a scoop of Mövenpick ice cream for dessert for a pricey 500 taka ($6).
Saying farewell at the airport and thanking our guide Mustafa and driver Mohamed after a very interesting and enjoyable two days.
Looking up at the colourful mural as we queued up to check-in for our Air Arabia back to Sharjah.
Airside with my Air Arabia boarding pass.
And about to board the A320 for the flight back home after an amazing and very photogenic weekend in Chittagong!