It's a tale of personal predicament. Along with 12 other friends, I got trapped in Sunamganj's Tahirpur upazila.
And what an experience it was. The raw emotions are impossible to recreate in words – from going to the bazaar wearing a life jacket, and harvesting rainwater for cooking to being trapped in a place without electricity for four days.
We even saw a dead body being swept away by the current; a graveyard totally submerged but one deceased yet to be buried.
Staying on one side, we could not see the other side of the haor. As far as the eye could see, there was just water; it made us feel as though we were on a sea beach.
The people there have never seen anything like this and nor did we. What began as merely a tour became an adventure - an adventure of survival. We had no idea what awaited us. That's why it was so unique.
And now, looking back, we all can agree, unanimously, on one point: we have been supremely fortunate. We know our situation could have been much worse if we had not managed a safe roof over our head, which is also high enough from the flood water. Who knows what could have happened to us if we had not found refuge on that fateful afternoon!
Suspense in an enraged haor
On Thursday noon, 16 June, we were on our way back from Tekerghat where we spent the previous night in our reserved boat. We had already visited all of our intended spots.
From Tekerghat our first stoppage was Tahirpur, a place to switch our transportation: from a boat to trawler. It was a four hour journey. Shortly after boarding the boat, a thunderstorm started to brew. And with the passage of every few minutes, the rumbling of thunder, the intensity of rain and wind violently increased.
The haor was getting enraged.
Within approximately an hour, the situation worsened. The weather was getting out of control even for the skilful boatmen. The two boatmen were struggling to steer in the right direction and toiling to get the water out of the hull.
What I guess was the midpoint of haor, we panicked for the first time. Halfway through Tekerghat to Tahirpur, the weather got so inclement that the boatmen had to anchor in a "chor" with a few houses. The boat was wavering and we were told that until the weather stabilises, we cannot sail again.
We feared being stuck on that little chor, which had fewer inhabitants than our 13-member tourist team. Around half an hour later, when the situation became a little favourable again – despite the pouring rain – the boatmen quickly set sail for Tahirpur.
Reaching Tahirpur in the afternoon, we got some time to eat lunch. We waited for the rain and lightning to subside. Our next stoppage was Bishamborpur. We were to hire a trawler to go there.
As we were waiting, darkness crept fast with no sign of the rain stopping. In the midst of uncertainty and tension, we first thought of spending the night on the boat in Tahirpur to start the journey anew the following morning.
However, even that course of action became too risky. Four of us, including me and the boatman, got out of the boat and went to the local bazaar there to find a hotel to spend the night.
In the cloudy country sky, the evening was as dark as a night in the city.
We could find only one decent hotel there. But alas! All the rooms were taken. One of my friends went to search further for other living arrangements for the night with one of our boatmen.
Two of us stayed back in the bazaar and others on the boat. We waited, anxiously.
In the bazaar, there was no electricity. Only a few shops were open with generator power supply. More than an hour later, the friend came back with good news. He managed to find a place to stay for the night at an NGO named CNRS (Centre for Natural Resources Studies).
By then, it was around 8 pm. The bazaar started to become submerged. There was already knee-high water in the bazaar.
In the pitch dark with even more intense rain, all of us breathed a sigh of relief and strode our way to the CNRS refuge.
An official of the NGO provided us with some rice and pulses so that we could make "khichuri" for ourselves. That night we went to sleep thinking of going back the first thing in the morning.
But this was just the first night.
Water water everywhere not a drop to drink
The next day, with every passing hour it became clearer that until the weather calms down, we cannot get out of here. At one point we decided to go to the local bazaar to buy some food ingredients for lunch, dinner that day and breakfast the next morning.
That day we had no idea that we were, in fact, in a flood hotspot. We could see the mountains of Meghalaya from the rooftop of CNRS' four-storied building. On the front side of the building, there was a road which was about to go underwater.
As our phones' batteries were about to run out of juice, we called home to inform our loved ones that we would get disconnected soon unless electricity was restored. Again, we had little to no idea that this flood had become a national crisis. At that point, we merely thought that only in this area the water level has risen so high due to heavy rain.
We cooked food, played cards and chatted away the time. We did not have access to the internet, let alone know what was happening outside our little world.
The next morning, however, we started to get a reality check, a glimpse of it anyway. Most of the area, as we could see, was underwater. We were informed by the NGO officials and local people that the Tahirpur area was water-logged on all sides.
There was no way in or out, they said.
That day we turned into a full-on survival mode. We went to the local bazaar by dinghy. We had to walk in waist-high water in some places. We bought candles, and biscuits along with rice, eggs and pulses.
Two days later, we started to run out of cash. It was increasingly difficult to cash out in bKash even though we had enough money. There was only one ATM booth in the area but that was unusable at that moment.
There was no electricity for the whole duration of our stay. We depended entirely on candles after dusk. While there was water everywhere, none was safe for drinking. We bought water bottles but we had to harvest rainwater in buckets for cooking, washing, etc. We even brought in flood water for flushing the toilets.
We were extremely fearful of skin diseases and diarrhoea. It was an impossibility to cleanse properly after being half-drowned in flood water every time we had to go out. Some of us seemed panicked from the very beginning. Their incessant pleas to return as soon as possible angered most. However, the majority was in favour of taking no risks in the seemingly endless haor.
The horrors of the flood
During our stay, two scenes left deep impacts on my mind: the bazaar and the makeshift shelter for the flood-affected people. The former one was a chaotic place. People were frantically buying dry food. We saw most of them returning from there with muri (puffed rice) and biscuits.
We also found a particularly interesting electrical shop a day later. Here hundreds of villagers used to flock to charge their mobile phones. Using generators, they charged each phone for Tk20. This shop seemed by far the most coveted thing to the villagers as well as to us.
However, anyone could go crazy if they stayed in this shop for too much time. The shop, though small, had a mess of hundreds of wires and corresponding phones.
Just beside the CNRS building, there was a two-storied girls' school that was used as a makeshift shelter. Hundreds of cattle were housed on the first floor and the people who were hit hardest by the flood were on the second floor. The shelter was horrendously congested. In a dirty, muddy, "cow-dungy" place, both species coexisted.
We saw people's suffering in the extremes, many dilapidated buildings were almost totally underwater.
Coping inside a bubble
We had, in fact, little time to think about others rather we just badly wanted to get out of this place. Over the course of our four-day stay as a stranded group of tourists in flooded Sunamganj, we found our own ways to keep our spirits afloat.
We settled down after two days. We started to enjoy the lack of electricity. Nobody had much of a chance to use Facebook or other social media. We enjoyed candlelight dinners at night. Evening till midnight, we chatted away the hours flocked inside one room.
On the third day, the situation started to turn for the better. The water level started to drop as the thunderstorm waned. We decided to stay one more night and then attempt to flee.
At half-past nine on Monday morning, we began our return journey. It went more or less according to plan. We used a trawler, a pickup van and a bus in that respective order. We reached Dhaka, safe and sound, on Tuesday at 6 am.
But from the moment we reached home, we started to ruminate on our memories every second. This is when I started to recall the local people's suffering and death; and the moments of grave danger, panic and uncertainty we experienced.
But now what we know, after all of it is over, is that this Sunamganj adventure is undoubtedly a life-changing experience, for better or for worse. Not just for me, but for almost everyone. We created a messenger group named "Sunamgonj Survivors." We text, call and share photos.
We had to cooperate with each other to endure the most difficult moments. It took our friendship to new heights. A few of the members of our team were acquaintances I had hardly talked to before. But the bond that has come out of this four-day ordeal will forever remain mesmerising to me.