Mominul Islam wears many hats. Besides taking IPDC, the leading financial institution of the country to a remarkable height and establishing it as a stellar brand among its contemporaries, he has been attending numerous events a month, be it for knowledge sharing or award ceremonies sponsored by IPDC.
Touted as one of the most dynamic CEOs of the country, last year he was awarded the “Outstanding CEO” award in Muscat, Oman by ADFIAP, the Association Development Financing Institution in Asia and the Pacific. A techie by nature, this social maverick is also an avid reader and traveller. Running a financial company is no cakewalk, and for a corporate icon like Mominul, schedules are super packed. It was Saturday when we got to sit in his well-decorated office at Gulshan Avenue to know more about his recent trip to Egypt. The fantastic photos he posted on social media of the trip intrigued me to interview him. He agreed instantly to the interview but finally could manage time almost after a month. It was a chilly day as the first cold wave of the season had just hit the capital, shrouding the Dhaka skyline in thick fog. Mominul’s warm office room was the perfect counterpart to the bracing chill outside. The man was wearing a yellow check blazer, sipping steaming coffee from the IPDC branded mug. We have met before for business interviews or on social occasions, but this tête-à-tête certainly seemed to be different. Thanks to Mominul’s candour and praise-worthy memory, the details enraptured me from the beginning. Mominul kept me hooked with the fascinating account of everything he enjoyed during his recent official trip to Egypt, followed by his soul-searching vacation to Mongolia and finally of watching the ethereal Swiss Alps.
In October last year, Mominul, along with twelve other senior colleagues from IPDC made an unforgettable tour in Egypt. It was a retreat from the office, and everyone made their best of the opportunity. Like all other official retreats, this one too was packed with lots of activities and sightseeing. Since this was the maiden trip for all the team members, their eyes rest but little in the land of pharaohs. Starting from the majestic temples to the breathtaking pyramids of Ghiza and the buzzing night markets, the entourage ran from one destination to another and amassed as many sweet memories as possible in a span of six days. The team visited three destinations in Egypt: Alexandria, Luxor, and Cairo. For Mominul, the night train to Luxor was an exciting journey. As soon as they reached the station, they were escorted to see the Temple of Karnak, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The massive walls, sculptures, and inscriptions on the walls, everything echoed of the bygone era. “Walking around the temple complex, it felt like as if we did a time travel to the past,” he reminisces. Museums have always instilled in him a sense of humbleness. “It shows how small we are in contrast to the enormous characters of history. The 4000 years old mummies or paintings have always made me nostalgic and give me goosebumps,” he states. When asked about recalling one of the best moments in Egypt, he talks about the breathtaking hot balloon journey in Luxor. Like many tourists, Mominul felt the joy of making an expedition amidst the clouds a la Phileas Fogg, the protagonist of Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. Among other keepsakes, their journey to the Alexandria Library was worth each spent second. “This time, we had a short visit. If I ever come back, I would like to spend at least two days sitting inside the libraries,” he chuckled while speaking of their stay in the port city of Egypt. The pleasant breeze from The Mediterranean Sea made the city heavenly. “We all instantly become a fan of the nightlife of the place. What everyone loved was roaming around the coffee shops and restaurants at the wee hours of the night.”
As a whole, Mominul found the people of Egypt very hospitable. Besides checking out the spice markets and random streets, he and his gang enjoyed the fantastic performance of traditional belly dancers during their Nile cruise. Even though the team had little time to spare for themselves, the awe-inspiring cities of Egypt have surely left a permanent imprint in their memories, which they will remember whenever they come across historical artefacts or sites in any part of the world.
Mominul visited Mongolia for the first time back in 2013 for a conference. He couldn’t explore the country during that time; that’s why he went for a second trip, a solo one, last year. A tour he dubbed to be a soul searching one. A country almost ten times the size of Bangladesh and having only 3.076 million people, vast empty terrains is something one will find in abundance, and that’s precisely why he picked it, to be closer to nature like never before. His trip started from Ulan Bator, the capital. The destination was Lake Khovsgol, resting at the foot of Mountain Sayan in the northern region. Being an explorer, instead of picking the more accessible routes, he went off the beaten track. “The journey was fascinating. Sometimes you just see trails; very identical in their patterns. Sometimes it’s all about valleys. Many of the places don’t have mobile networks. Unless you have a Google map, you will be lost in the middle of nowhere. For them also, these are maze-like. Sometimes you have to try out your luck, avail one of those tracks and if that doesn’t work out, come back and look for a better track,” he exclaims. When it comes to picking destinations, Mominul has a versatile taste. While some of his travels were totally for relaxation and sightseeing; this one in Mongolia was more about a journey into one’s self. It offered him experiences that were alien to him earlier. “Spending nights inside a tent which doesn’t have an attached bath, for which you will have to walk around 500 meters was something new. We stayed by a glacier. The water was hot. They channel it through a pipe, and it was mixed with mineral; almost like a natural jacuzzi. After bathing, one must feel much rejuvenated,” he states.
After traversing 1300 kilometres in 4 days, they reached Lake Khovsgol. The journey was worth cherishing. The crystal clear water of the lake will enable one to see the planktons or rocky beds even at a depth of 20 feet. During the day time, he roamed around the lake and visited a lake island. The day he arrived was sunny though the weather became gloomy and cold during the next day. The nights were exciting and something unimaginable for anyone living in this part of the world: without any mobile, TV or any sort of technology.
“In the evening, you have nothing to do. After finishing an early dinner, you have to spend time with books and yourself. The silence may feel deafening but trust me, for a busy corporate-like me living in a city which is known for its nauseating honking, that was a moment of self-discovery.”
During his trip, Mominul, a locavore, tried various types of meats that they had to offer. In the last leg of his journey, he wanted to relax in a resort that had all sorts of amenities of modern life. “After spending days in the midst of unfettered nature as a nomad, this was relaxing and was good enough to get back my cosmopolitan mojo,” he explained.
Destination Swiss Alps
It was February of 2017. After finishing a meeting at Cologne, Mominul decided to take a short vacation and ended up in Zurich. He was supposed to meet a Bangladeshi colleague based in Switzerland. They both decided to pay a visit to the Swiss Alps.
From Frankfurt, he went to Zurich by train. There is a small mountainside stopover place at the border of Zurich from where one can see the entire city in the evening time, a guide informed him. Following his advice when Mominul reached, the bird’s eye view of the global centre for banking and finance looked like a city built of beautiful legos.
“It’s an amazing feeling. The howling of the chilly wind in the evening brushed past me as if I was transported to a land of dreams,” he beams with nostalgic joy. The lucky chap had no idea about what was coming his way; sweeter and fonder memories of course as he headed to Zermatt, the charming village situated at the base of Switzerland’s iconic highest pointed peak called Matterhorn. “I retook the train,” he continued to detail, “It was February, and as expected there was lots of snowfall. Due to the heavy snowfall, which took place the week before, the rail lines were snapped. However, during my visit, it was all sunny, and the people at the station said, you have been the harbinger of good luck!”
This was his first trip inside a mountain train; snaking through the snowy terrains and green pastures of the Alpine region. “From there you will see hundreds of tiny dots which are the skiers. Inside the train, 70% of travellers were skiers all decked with necessary attires and gears to ski through the powder perfect snowy valleys.” At the end of the journey, he reached Gornergrat, the mountain rack railway that connects Zermatt and the peak of Gornergrat.
“I have seen sunsets in many parts of the world. But that one experience at Gornergrat would remain unbeatable. Ignoring the sign to walk carefully, I was rushing from one spot to another to capture the parting sun with my mobile phone. The sheer golden plate at the backdrop of a sea of white looked unearthly. Inevitably, I slipped but was saved by my layers of winter wears. Thanks to almighty, it didn’t hurt much. Two days you don’t have anything to do but to see the snowfall. In the night, it was a full moon. I was reading a book and forgot to put on the humidifier and started feeling exhausted due to a room heater. Suddenly I opened the window for some fresh air and met the full moon with a foggy backdrop of Matterhorn. It was ghostly beauty outside. I came downstairs and went outside to light up a fag and to take some more pictures. As soon as I took off the gloves to take a picture, my fingers almost froze,” Mominul elaborated without a single pause. On his way back, Mominul was surprised with the punctuality of the trains which allowed him to arrive at the airport right on time. Thus Mominul’s journey to the land of fairy tales and chocolates came to a happy end. The passionate traveller has a lengthy bucket list of destinations, comprising of such locations and activities as the solo trip to Uzbekistan, Armenia, the Eastern and Central Europe (Siberia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia). South America (Peru and few other places), Scandinavian Countries and South Europe (Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal); Transiberian Experience (Beijing to Siberia).
We can only hope to catch up with the dynamic personality once again so that he may regale us with his fascinating travel stories and allow us to share the pleasure vicariously.