CAN pigeons float? The question pops into my mind and lodges there as I board Parabat 2, a passenger ferry bound from Dhaka for the islands and waterways fringing the Bay of Bengal.
In Bangladesh, parabat means pigeon, not the most reassuring name for a dilapidated vessel about to sail through one of world's largest river systems. "Luxury River Travels with a Differents" reads my ticket. Those "differents" being, I hope, that this pigeon won't sink.
My ferry is heading for the bustling delta town of Barisal, a former British colonial outpost and one of the most atmospheric places I have visited in 20 years of exploring Asia. We are due to depart at 8.30pm from Sadarghat boat terminal in Old Dhaka, the insanely crowded heart of an already frenetic city.
Evening is rush hour at Sadarghat. I stand on the top deck of the three-storey Parabat 2 and watch the hypnotising tableau below. A constant stream of humanity flows up gangplanks and on to ferries moored tightly together along rusting pontoons. Ships' bells and claxons, the cries of porters, vendors and beggars, the muezzins announcing evening prayer . . . it is a cauldron of noise.