I love being on the subcontinent…. , everything smells pungently of incense, curry spices and sweat! Traffic lanes don’t exist in Bangladesh and every journey is a crazy game of chicken between gutsy rickshaw wallahs, dented buses, aggressive tuktuks and the pristine cars of the wealthy. It’s a constant cacophony of horns. Crossing the street on foot here takes nerve. It’s a team sport, best undertaken with an expert between you and the oncoming homicidal traffic. But its fun!
I met up with a local guide and for our first few stops much of the discussion was on the liberation from Pakistan in 1971 and the 3 million Bangladeshis murdered during that war. There is still ongoing anger towards Pakistan for their historical oppression of the Bengali language. Yet another sharp reminder that my history knowledge is dire. I had made the naive assumption that being Muslim, Bangladesh would be friends with Pakistan. As it turns out they prefer their Indian neighbours, though they reckon the Indians are unfriendlier and cheaper than Bangladeshis.
After seeing Dhakaswari, the National Assembly, Shaheed Minaar, and the Sculptures Terrace (none of which were remarkable apart from the history) we headed out to Sonargaon to see the the lost city of Panam. Fortuitously we were half an hour early so we took a wander around a local village to kill some time. That ended up being my favourite part of the day –
Every house we walked by, we were invited in by the stunningly beautiful women who lived in them. We stopped at a few places for a drink and then some fruit as it seemed rude not to when everyone was trying to force us to sit down and visit
Most of these ladies’ husbands are off working in Saudi, according to these ladies it is good money but a horrendous lifestyle…..which doesn’t surprise me having seen how many immigrant workers are treated in the Arab states. It was a lovely way to pass some time, sitting having a gossip with the gorgeous local ladies. We also wandered by a local school. We wandered in to say hi – it was a Saturday so there were no formal lessons going on. The headmistress came to say hello and had the students practice their English on me.
Eventually Badal the guide got me moving and we went to see Panam. It is quite lovely, and we enjoyed a peaceful twenty minutes before five bus loads of schoolboys arrived. Panam City is part of the 15th century city of Isa Khan’s Sonaragaon. The buildings that remain are lovely but falling down at a rapid pace and it was disappointing to see the schoolboys rampaging all over the site, climbing up the walls and dumping rubbish everywhere.
One the bright side, unlike India, the hassle factor is manageable. The locals are delighted to see you, western tourists are rare, and I had many new ‘friends’ ask for photos of me with their offspring.
From Sonargaon, we headed back into town to check out the madness at Sadarghat – Dhaka’s river port. Getting to river port requires navigating the seething mass of humanity and road traffic in the old market to find another seething mass of humanity down at the port. The river is a major form of transport and there are about 50 large ferries docked at Sadarghat with all forms of accommodation available from lying on the floor of the open air decks, paying for a japanese style coffin box with a fan, all the way up to an aircon room with tv.
We were there early afternoon before the ferries started to fill up properly but families were already there staking out their claims to the upper deck. There were only 2 toilets for the open decks, which apparently can fit several hundred, I can imagine that class of travel may not be for the fainthearted or those with a good sense of smell. I loved the noise, the colours and the friendly people, and the sulphurous smell rising from the pitch black Buriganga river definitely left an impression on my nostrils!
I also visited the other main sites in town – the Lalbag Fort, the Star Mosque, and the Armenian church. Honestly, none of these is remarkable. More interesting is enjoying navigating around the old town getting stuck in the traffic and watching the passers by.
I had a wonderful time in Dhaka, probably because I had no expectations having read all the reviews. The very best thing about Dhaka is the people, who were all incredibly friendly, even when I was wandering down the street. I felt very safe everywhere, though I have no doubt there were a few pickpockets about.
The food was pretty fabulous also, and I would recommend eating as much Dal as you can! It is the best Dal I have ever eaten. I am looking forward to visiting again
Note that getting a visa on arrival is pretty straightforward at the airport. Also Uber works well in Dhaka and is much cheaper and easier as a foreigner negotiating with a taxi!
May 8, 2017 Dhaka, Bangladesh