The old city of Jahangir Nagar the erstwhile capital of the Mughal Bengal has now transformed to the bustling and flourishing capital city of Bangladesh, called Dhaka. The highly populous city is the centre of business, economy, education, transportation and is the seat of the central governance. The city is known for its rickshaws, waterways and its notorious traffic congestion. Let me take you through the crowded roads of Dhaka to discover the essence of the ever growing city.
Through my previous posts, my readers are well aware of my purpose of visit to Bangladesh. (Read my previous post on Barisal.) Dhaka is the centre of all so we arrived in Dhaka. The skyline marked by cluttered, medium to tall buildings, the streets busy with thousands of vehicles, in between them runs the innumerable manual rickshaws, the waterways too busy with ferries ranging from the country boat, steamer, ship, catamaran and a hundred other variety. In a word, Dhaka is the hub of all activity in Bangladesh.
An overly crowded city with multiple water bodies was the view from the air. We got the first taste of the infamous traffic jam on our way to the hotel from the airport. In course of our stay, we gradually got used to this menace.
Within the disarranged part there are some visually demarcated opulent areas within the city. These areas cater to the residential and the commercial need of the wealthy and upper-class people. Universities, parliament, court, parks and lakes with its greenery give a break from the concrete and the traffic haywire.
We enjoyed our peaceful stay in Hotel Amazon Lily with the view of the Banani lake in the backyard. We were pleased by the warmth and the hospitality of the people in every part of Bangladesh including Dhaka and also in Amazon Lily Hotel. The staff members were ever ready to help and serve you with a smile. They served delicious food and took care of every need of their guests. They even guided us to plan our trip to avoid as much traffic as possible. Friday and Saturday being the weekly holidays are expected to be less chaotic.
The very first day we ventured through the streets of Dhaka we got stranded in the traffic. Initially, with a lot of interest, we kept watching the people on the streets, the vehicles and various other aspects of the streets and thus kept ourselves entertained. There were vendors selling various food items to help the stranded and also grab the opportunity of the brisk business.
As the waiting time increased we lost our interest in the surrounding things that kept us entertained. We became impatient to reach our destination. But there was no possible way out from this situation. With passing days and more exposure to Dhaka roads, we got used to it. Then onwards we added some extra hours for the travel and packed some food and water and thought of innovative ways to pass the time whenever we ventured into the Dhaka streets.
I wonder if this is the reason of the booming industry of cycle rickshaws here. People might probably want to travel in the open air than to remain locked within the claustrophobic crowded public vehicles. Whatever be the reason cycle rickshaw seemed to be a favourite mode of transport for short distances.
I felt bad for the residents of the city. We as a tourist can afford to bear with this for a few days of our visit but the residents do have a tough time every day to travel to their destination for work, study or any other purpose. I was also concerned for the people in medical emergency stranded on the roads. The ray of hope is in the fact that there are multiple constructions of new roads and multi-tiered flyovers in process and plans for metro rail.
Along with the growing population in the city, there has been more of residential and commercial buildings and more of vehicles and thus more of employment and probably more sustainability. And in a good or a bad way this has become the charm of this developing city.
Braving this severe traffic situation we did manage to visit a few attraction within the Dhaka city. Among all the places I found the most happening and interesting place was the Sadarghat Ferry Terminal. Probably this was the busiest of all the places.
There was wholesale cloth market around. Fruit stalls lined up the entrance of the terminals. A large number of people were seen moving in and out. Most of them seemed to be passengers of the ferry. Dhaka boasts on its amazing network of the ferry. It has a huge fleet of ferries catering to various category of people with their respective needs.
There are various terminals across the long jetty by the Buriganga river. A huge range of ferries was also seen anchored by the jetty. Some were carrying cargo while others carrying passengers. Some small boats were also seen sailing around with visitors interested to enjoy the waterways but do not have much time and thus, boating.
The nearby Ahsan Manzil was closed for the day. There was a board on the closed gate saying that the monument remains closed every Wednesday. This beautiful palace was constructed by the French traders. Much later the then zamindar of Dhaka, Khwaja Alimullah took over the property. It was renamed by his son Khwaja Abdul Gani as Ahsan Manzil after the name of his son Ahsan Ullah.
Another historical monument, the Lalbagh Fort is an incomplete Mughal structure. The construction of this monument was started by Subahdar Muhammad Azam Shah, son of emperor Aurangzeb. The Mughal governor from Bengal, Shaista Khan took over the construction work but later deserted it. His daughter Dukht Pari Bibi died here and he considered the palace to be unlucky.
The sprawling yard of Dhaka University, the Supreme Court, the Assembly, Ramna Park and many other parks with their adjoining green surrounding is a good place to sit back and relax. Although we did not enter any of them as we thought of saving our time that was wasted in travel.
Bangladesh is well known for its leather and garments industry. Dhaka being the capital city is the best place to find the speciality from all its districts in one place. The New Market is the place where you can shop to your soul’s content. Here you find everything from shoes to dresses, bags to accessories, sarees to household items.
We kept a day for shopping with so much of request from friends and relatives for their various favourites. Some asked for Dhakai Jamdani Saree while some asked for leather items. The other important item that is exported from this nation, are fishes. And Hilsa from the river Padma is a delicacy for the Bengalis as well as others.
Every people we met in Bangladesh advised us to get a basket full of Hilsa to carry back to India. They said that the fishes are cheaper as well as tastier than those found in West Bengal. People go crazy by the name of Hilsa from the river Padma and one must bring back home a basket full.
There is a designated fish market which mostly caters to the wholesale buyers but does not disappoint the individual buyers too. After so much of persuasion we planned to get a basket of fish but finally dropped the idea as we could not make out time to purchase the fish and preserve it properly to carry back home.
After visiting a few other places in Bangladesh we were on our way back home. The remaining places will be covered in subsequent posts. Stay tuned to follow my trip experiences in various places in Bangladesh. On our return trip, we chose to travel by train to feel the excitement of crossing the border physically.
It was a strange feeling as we moved from one side of the barbed wire to the other side. The landscape, the topography, the soil, the weather, the people, the language – nothing changed. What changed, is the nation and our identity from a foreigner to a citizen.