I usually am not one for organized tours, but it seemed to be the safest thing to do to get to see a little Dhaka. So many people have been warning about the dangers, I have become paranoid! I needed an ATM which was less than 2 blocks away and the hotel wanted to drive me there! I did however go in one entrance and came out another … just in case. Balance. On-line, I found Tours by Locals, a company that, you guessed it, have guides who are living and working in the city, and can show you another side of Dhaka if you so wish. I did a little due diligence and decided to go for it. Roni (my guide) is a young law student from a place called Barisal (many hours south of Dhaka), and besides studying at Dhaka University, works as a guide and also as a fixer. A fixer is a person who paves the way for journalists, coordinates their interviews and access to various places etc. He does this for mainly international newspapers. For instance, he was fixer for the New York Times a year ago with the collapse of the garment factory in Saver. He told me he took part in some of the rescue efforts too, everyone did. You could hardly stand by and watch. He’s pretty clear he does not want to go the traditional route for work, wants to combine his law degree (when he gets it) with humanitarian work. If he has to go abroad at all, he will always come back to Bangladesh to contribute to society he says. It was refreshing to hear. His contact details: Email email@example.com & Facebook.
We could have these long conversations whilst in the CNG, waiting on Dhaka traffic. CNG stands for compressed natural gas and these little things are like low-powered scooters with a covered 2-seater seat behind the driver. The cover keeps the sun off but there are no windows, only grills (to fend off pickpockets), but this also means the fumes of every vehicle on the road makes it’s way into the CNG. And I thought Kathmandu was bad?! Begging was significantly more than in Kathmandu, en route home, once they saw there was a foreigner in the CNG, it took much ignoring to have them move on. Quite frankly it broke my heart but I know enough not to open the door.
We arrived to Terminal Shadarghat on the Bhuriganga River where many ferries leave for various ports in Bangladesh, but all seemed to be tied up when we arrived. We got walked through one ferry (nothing like the queen of Cap I can assure you) where I noticed many people asleep on the inside decks while the boat is docked, more pleasant than sleeping outside I guess. From this ferry we stepped onto a traditional boat which looked to me like a more pointed currach with a shallower hull. We sat down and off we went.
The water was much to be desired …. there is much dumping of waste from the shipyards, tanneries and garment factories and together with the garbage , it means the water is black and soup-like. Unbelievable. And the stench. Man oh man. We saw some kids swimming and they waved and called out incessantly, it was all I could to tell them get the heck out of the water. It’s a busy river though, lots and lots of activity between the ferries, commuting from the Terminal to Keranigang on the other side, to the movements of all sorts of goods up and down the river.
Then the shipyard is across the way. Very noisy there!
Check out this this movie to give you an idea of the sounds.
After about an hour on the river, we finally docked. Along the ride though, I got many a curious stare, there are not that many tourists in Bangladesh, and any tourists who do come, don’t tend to ‘boat’ along the River Bhuriganga. I got quite a few smiles and ‘hellos’ and many motioning for me to take their photo – so many of the people you see in these photos, gave their permission. I hope they see them one day.
From this point on, I do not have many photos. Mainly because the camera would be nicked while we were on the rickshaws. We headed to a restaurant for lunch. Roni offered to take me to a tourist place but seeing as I knew we were close to the university, I asked where he usually ate. So he brought me there. Upstairs off a crowded street, with long tables and benches, no menu, you just get a choice of what they cooked that day. Our choice was beef curry or chicken curry, so we got one of each. Plus vegetables and other lightening hot (spicy) sides, and a bowl of rice that would have done 6 people. We could not finish it all!
From there, we caught another rickshaw to Dhaka University and walked around the grounds there.
The university covers about 21km an area so many of the faculties are spread out. They have however, a students meeting place where the canteen is, and there was a Freshers Film Festival underway …. I noticed my favourite film of all time – Nepta knows this one 🙂 – played there yesterday – darn! How cool would it have been to see Cinema Paradiso in Dhaka. From here, we went to see the Pink Palace, by rickshaw again. Jolene – the streets are better paved than in Kathmandu so less bumpy for sure, and the chain stayed on, all the time!
The Pink Palace otherwise known as Ahsan Manzil was the palatial home of the Nawab Family – a philanthropic family in Dhaka in the mid 1800s who introduced the first water filtration system to Old Dhaka, as well as had a role in bringing electricity to Dhaka – a visionary family for sure. Read all about it here. Photos were banned but managed to take one from outside.
Next we headed to The National Museum, which really gives a great outline of what Bangladesh is all about, quite good and interesting.
By this time, it was nearly 3.30pm and we were both pooped. We basically only covered the south of the city, so much much more to see, but that will be for another day. Roni said most people he takes already have a car, so it can be a little easier to get round, instead of CNGs and rickshaws. but ti be honest, going local is all part of the experience! So thanks Roni. Tomorrow I move into a short-term rental one-bed apartment in Gulshan – the foreigners ghetto in Dhaka. Not what I had envisaged for myself, but it is 10 times more complex a place to live than Banepa, Nepal and I think this first visit I will give myself a break, and take the relative easy route. Next visit can be a little different once I get to know the city a little more. Yes, I have a distinct feeling this will not be the last time I am in Bangladesh! And another thing …. BRAC is a huge huge huge organisation with a huge cross-section of areas of focus. Rather than me confining myself to microfinance off the bat, I have opted to take part in a BRAC immersion program, give me a taste of a few other options before I decide what to do. I like this idea, so am meeting Rana, the guy who will help me custom- build the immersion program based on my interests. Perfect!