An account of my adventure through Bhutan

Bhutan is the land of the flying dragon, chili cheese and Gross National Happiness. The country is also one of the few countries that are visa free entry for Bangladeshis.

Tourism in Bhutan

Bhutan believes in high impact tourism, choosing the quality of tourists over the quantity. They charge a non-negotiable US$200 per day cost of entering the country; this applies to all visitors, expect Bangladeshis or Indians. This $200 is an all-inclusive charge, covering the guide, accommodation, transport, meals, taxes and trekking. This policy has resulted in a low volume of well-heeled visitors and avoided the tourist trample that destroys the natural beauty that attracted visitors in the first place (read, Thailand).

Read more: 5 countries you can travel to without a visa if you’re Bangladeshi

An account of my adventure through Bhutan

This is one of the rare instances when being Bangladeshi is advantageous. Bangladeshis are free to spend as much (or as little) as they want during their trip. Bangladeshis can also form their own itinerary and can travel without a tour operator. While guides are convenient, they are not a requirement.

Read more: 10 cities to visit under budget

Getting There

Druk Air has multiple flights to Thimpu airport each week. It is the only airline that flies that route and there are only a few flights each week, so plan ahead! You arrive at a super small and cute airport. There are no lines for immigration or the long wait for bags.

Thimpu

On the drive from Paro to Thimpu.

Thimpu is a short 1.5 hr drive from Paro airport. Our pre-booked driver was happy to be a guide and singer of Bollywood music (especially Govinda) of this week-long trip. Our first stop on the way from Paro to Thimpu was at Thamchog Lhakhang. We went for a short walk across the traditional iron link bridge built by Thangtong Gyalpo, the extraordinary 15th-century Tibetan engineer and all-over Renaissance man who opened travel routes all over the Himalaya.

Things to do in Bhutan

An account of my adventure through Bhutan 1

Hang out at Mojopark

We arrived past sundown, met up with a friend and he took us to this bar/lounge– great vibes, music and great company. We met farmers, entrepreneurs and farmer-entrepreneurs for riveting conversations and a peek into the Bhutanese way of philosophizing. Mojo Park is a live music lounge that has bands playing every Friday and Saturday. Lounge is open every night– Wednesday being the non weekend night that was lit.
Opens at 7pm. Chang Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan

Breakfast and views at Tiji Cafe

The next morning, we needed coffee to recover from the many, uhm, enthusiastic conversations at Mojocafe. Tiji cafe served continental breakfast and a had a little sitting area on the porch. The cafe was right at the center plaza; on the pricier side but I appreciated the location, good coffee and better views. Then we went to the immigration office to go to Punakha. The permit was ready by lunch time. Carry a passport photo, just in case.

Visit Buddha Dordenma

We went on a scenic drive to go up to this statue for some classic site seeing. The gigantic statue, stands at 57 ft and is very impressive. The statue commemorates the centennial of the Bhutanese monarchy,  celebrates the 60th anniversary of the fourth king and fulfills a prophecy.  It looks super old, but its not, it was completed in 2016 (just saying).
Open hours are 9am-5pm.

Others and lodging

Other things to do include visiting the Tashichho Dzong , the National Folk Heritage Museum and doing archery. We only had a day and wanted to get out of the city so we were already on the move.

Bhutan Suites is the best option. The hotel is close to Changangka Lhakhang and value for money. Each room had a kitchenette, small living room, balcony and mountain views. Clean. A short car ride from the center.

Punakha: Activities and Places

An account of my adventure through Bhutan 2

Dochala Pass

On the drive from Thimpu to Punakha, the pass is a short drive beyond Thimpu. Just take a moment to pause and stare at the Himalayas in the horizon.

Go white water rafting

The river in Punakha is a section of the Mo Chhu, which start high in the Himalayas and meets the Pho Chhu at the Punakha Dzong. “Mo” means female and “Chhu” means water or river, so this is the “Female River.” This section of river has easy Class I and II rapids combined with beautiful scenery, making it the most rafted section of river in Bhutan. We went in the last week of October, and the it may be called white water rafting but the water was relatively calm and felt more like a row-your-boat -down-the-river situation.

The overall experience included great guides who were super cognizant of the fact that it was my first time white water rafting, who were aware, who were acting upon safety procedures and had overall homie vibes.
Hiring rafts and guides 6000 Nu.-8000 Nu.

Walk up to the fertility temple Chinu Llakhang

So, this was a village nearby with a 15th-century Chimi fertility temple. That is what it is. It is also a chance for many visitors to be in shock and then snigger like 8 year olds at all the PHALLUS’ EVERYWHERE. Traditionally, Bhutanese believe that these phallic symbols help to dispel evil and to drive malicious gossip away. The Saint Drukpa certainly achieved his objective of showing us that the truth is uncomfortable.

Other things to do include visiting the Tashichho Dzong , the National Folk Heritage Museum and doing archery. We only had a day and wanted to get out of the city so we were already on the move.

Lodging and Food

Hotel Vara has good rooms with high ceilings and above the terraced rice paddy fields of the region. That being said, we had solid butter tea and breakfast at Hotel Lobesa, which will be our pick for next time. They had great service and some rooms that had direct entrance to a balcony overlooking the valley. Babee restaurant for lunch cravings.
St Wifi Restaurant for amazing dried pork and pea paneer.

Paro: Things to do

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Hiking up the Tigers Nest

Up in the mountains is the famous Paro Taktsang, often referred to as The Tiger’s Nest monastery. Built in 1692, this sacred Buddhist site sits at 3,120 metres above sea level and 900 metres above the Paro valley. We went to some bland Indian restaurant the night before, played with the puppies on the farm and woke up on time for this hike. I strongly recommend good quality walking boots for the walk itself. I had ACL surgery a couple of months before this trip so I gave my knees a break (and basically cheated) and hired a small horse to take me up to the cafeteria for 800 Nu. Even if you take the horse, you have to walk up from the cafeteria which is about half way or 1.5 hrs of brisk walking.
The way down from the monastery is picturesque and really, really worth the walk. Take you time as you take each stair through the valley.
Entrance fee is 500 Nu. Try paying the amount and getting your ticket before you start the trek.

Taking a hot stone bath after the hike

A hot stone bath is the most ideal way to deal with the inevitable muscle aches after that hike. We were staying on a farmhouse and had give the staff a few hours’ notice to draw the bath. They build a fire, heat the river stones for 4-5 hours and draw the bath with soothing Artemisia leaves.

Sunset at Namgay Artisinal Brewery

Go to karaoke: Karaoke seemed to be a part of nightlife at Paro. Our driver took us to a bar with old men, teenagers, confused tourists belting out local hits, Backstreet boys and Kal Ho Na Ho.

Lodging in Paro

We split our nights in between a homestay/ farm house experience and a night in a resort. It was the perfect balance between enjoying comfort and the luxuries of a resort and hanging out with locals and experiencing the simplicity at the farmhouse.
Navana Homestay delivered in its promise of clean rooms with high cielings.
We stayed at Udumwara  Resort. It is next to a flowing river and there are pleasant cottages, but the rooms were run down. Dechawara Resort came with better reviews and recommendations but was sold out.

Food in Paro

Our food journey in Bhutan was not one with variety, but lots of comfort. Bhutanese meals are primarily five items and a combination of chili, cheese, potatoes and lots and lots of comfort. I have never done this, but I ate at the same restaurant for every single meal in Paro. Kuzu Resturaunt is homely with the nicest chef whose motherly/sisterly presence was all I needed. She piled on rice, managed the boys’ multiple requests for more pork cheese and whiskey and gave me the recipe for my favorite dish (Sikkim Pa, beef jerky in cheese) by the end of the trip.

Staying Connected

Bought a sim at the airport, right before the exit. 600 Nu. Country code: 00 975.

Getting around

Our driver was dope. 14000 Nu for 6 days

Notre Dame: the cathedral that defines Paris

Notre Dame. Perhaps two of the most instantly recognisable words in the entire world. Immortalised by Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Disney Classic of the same name, the Notre Dame cathedral is one of  France’s most iconic landmarks. The finest example of medieval architectural work where art and engineering swirled into one another.

To travelers and patrons of beauty, Paris has always been one of the most cherished destinations. And Notre Dame has always been a subject of fascination to art and history geeks. Its gothic architecture, its rose-tinted windows, its collection of historic artefacts has always called to them.

Sanctuary, Sanctuary.

On the morning of 15th April 2019, to the world’s horror, the cathedral caught fire from ongoing renovation work and sustained significant damage. The iconic spire collapsed and two-thirds of its roof was destroyed including the complete destruction of its interior wooden frame.

Paris could only watch in shock and horror as the fire kept engulfing the cathedral. Parisians cried and sang Ave Maria in the streets as they watched their landmark burn down in front of them.

French President Emanuel Macron promised to rebuild and renovate the cathedral and we are sure it will be restored to its original structure once again. But a small part of history will be lost forever. The bricks and the woods that saw the coronation of Napleon I is no more. Neither is the altar that saw the celebration of France’s liberation in 1944.

The Notre Dame cathedral has been home to art and history lovers for centuries. The backdrop of Parisians’ daily lives and pride of Paris, the city of art. We hope Notre Dame returns to its former glory once again because Quasimodo waits to ring the bells again. Sanctuary, Sanctuary.

With Sabira Mehrin of Wander Woman: Creating a community of independent women travelers

Like many patriarchal societies, girls need permission to do basic things in life– to stay out after dark, to get a job, to make their own career choices. In this context, there are still women who are pushing boundaries and venturing out on their own. One big change is that more woman are now travelling and seeking adventure.

Read more: These 4 apps will make traveling a lot easier

What is Wander Woman?

Among many things, Wander Woman is a travel company– by women, just for women. Wander Woman started out as a Facebook group but is growing into so much more. The group currently has 10,030 members.

Wander Woman comes with one sole purpose – bringing all women together in one platform to share the love for travelling around the world.

Travelers post their tips, ask for help to navigate blocks in their journey and share their stories. Solo travelers can also coordinate with each other, form groups for short trips based on common interests.

Read more: 5 countries you can travel to without a visa if you’re Bangladeshi

Who is Sabira Mehrin?

Sabira Mehrin is the founder of Wonder Woman. She is full of life and full of determination. She is trying to bring women together, help them travel and see the world, while creating a community of cool explorers that help each other.

She is also efficient. She has to figure out how to deal with her biggest challenge in administering a facebook group and keeping the group authentic. “I was very picky! I only wanted member with authentic profile, with legitimate work portfolios- and it was extremely hard to administer the group. So I made the best use of all my time- in traffics, and such.”

Why Wander Woman?

In a little more than 12 months, Sabira Mehrin has turned a small Facebook group into a full-fledged start-up. But what made her want to create this group in the first place?

“When I was a student in IBA, I used to participate in global business competitions and conferences. All of them were organized by big companies. So whenever I traveled, I never faced any kind of hassle in the process of purchasing tickets and all. All of these were done by the professionals.

But when I got into job and started planning a self-funded trip for myself for the first time, I realized I only knew few people who could give me the right kind of information. Also, while researching, I came across very few Bangladeshi travel bloggers. So I saw the lack of information, the discrimination, and saw that the issues were mostly for the women. And I thought, how can I create a platform that makes it easier for women to travel? And my best friend gave me the idea to start the group- just to assess the situation. I opened the group and added 200 people. And from there it started to grow, and it didn’t stop!”

Why do people trust Wander Woman?

There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to woman and travel- including safety, reliability and of course, trust issues. However, the closed nature of the group, the direct interactions and careful moderation has led to a thriving community with trust.

When we asked this question, Sabira exclaimed with genuine surprise, “I don’t know! They just do! I have spoken to so many parents about permissions and stuff, and they all seem to come around after talking to me! And I feel privileged to be blessed with this type of trust. So if anyone has trouble getting permission for solo trips, just show your parents our group! Let them see that it is safe, and we will do our best to give you the best experience possible!”

What’s next?

What’s not next is a typical, commercial agency. Sabira keeps that in mind as she finds partners to help her build the community. “When we first started out, a lot of travel agencies reached out to us. But I soon figured they were all being very commercial. We would prefer if we could find people who were more interested in building the community with us.

Sabira has big plans for Wander woman for 2019. “Wander woman got registered”, she said. “We want to make travelling more accessible to the students in near future. And I know that people believe that wander woman is a little too niche, but I refuse to compromise the quality of our packages. So we might not reach out to the the mass market just yet. Let’s see what happens!”

Read more: 5 tips for the solo traveller in Bangladesh

Tips for a solo traveller?

Sabira is an avid traveller. So when we asked her for tips she said, “Solo travelling is about two things- courage and planning. You don’t have to be fearful, necessarily, but you need to be cautious. So while some places are safer than others, you can still make the best of your situation by being smart. I have come across so many helpful people, help was coming from unexpected places whenever I was in a pinch. That was really surprising for me.”

Read more: 4 Bengali traveling myths that are completely wrong

So if you are a girl and you love travelling, do check out their group! Because there is something for everyone!

6 places in Dhaka that remind us of our glorious past

Dhaka might be the second worst city in the world to live in, but it once had a glorious history. This four hundred-year-old city once boasted beautiful Nawab palaces, lush gardens, Mughal mosques, ancient temples and more. Dhaka, during the Mughal and British eras, was a prime example of urban settlement of the respective periods. Communities and diasporas like the Armenians, English, Portuguese and of course the native Bengalis, all settled here and made their own share of contributions to the growth of a great city.

The modern 21st century Dhaka has lost much of its old charm. But there are still places and landmarks in Dhaka that will take one back to the old glory days. Many of these places are now in near ruin due to mismanagement and a lack of interest in preserving their appearance. But if you’re looking for something off the usual path, these are the places to head to if you want a reminder of what Dhaka used to be and, perhaps, still can be.

Here are six such places for the history aficionados who want to reminisce about the golden days of Dhaka.

Bahadur Shah Park

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Bahadur Shah Park, formerly known as Victoria Park, is located in Old Dhaka near the Sadarghat area. In the late nineteenth century, the park used to be the city centre of Dhaka with several important colonial establishments built around it. It was the main node of the road network of urban Dhaka back then. This is the site where the British performed public execution of the soldiers who took part in the failed Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.

It was also the site from where the accession of Queen Victoria as the Empress of India was announced amidst much fanfare in 1858. Hence the name Victoria Park. It remained Victoria Park until 1947, after which it was renamed Bahadur Shah Park as part of the decolonizing that followed the Partition.

The park houses a memorial built by Nawab Khwaja, dedicated to the soldiers executed in 1857. It also has Dhaka’s only obelisk, erected in memory of the Nawab’s late son.

Bara Katra

Bara Katra old dhaka bangladesh travel heritage

Bara Katra is one of the oldest surviving Mughal palatial buildings in Dhaka. Built between 1644 and 1646 CE, it was built to be the official residence of Prince Shah Shuja, son of Emperor Shah Jahan. The prince later endowed it to his diwan.

Bara Katra boasted a magnificent Mughal architectural style and used to be one of the finest Mughal buildings during the time of its construction. In the 19th century, James Atkinson described it as a “stupendous pile of grand and beautiful architecture”.

Located near the Chawkbazar area of Old Dhaka and close to the Buriganga river banks, much of its grandeur is now lost due to the negligence of the authorities tasked with its preservation.

Armenian Church

Armenian Church Dhaka Bangladesh Travel Heritage

This magnificent church in Armanitola of Old Dhaka is a significant architectural monument. It bears testimony to the existence of the Armenian diaspora in the Bengal region in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Following the invasion of Armenia by the Persians in the 17th century, a significant number of Armenians were sent to Bengal for establishing an Armenian community overseas in the interests of self-preservation. The Armenians played a major role in the political and economic scene of Bengal back in the time. They were mostly traders and businessmen dealing in jute and leather, operating out of the Armenian district, which now bears the name of Armanitola.

In 1781, they built a church adjacent to an Armenian burial ground. After several years, a massive clock-tower was erected in the church. The bells of the clock tower could be heard from four miles away and people used to synchronize their watches according to it. It was destroyed in an earthquake in 1897.

In 1996, Mother Teresa stayed in the church compound during her visit to Dhaka. The Bangladesh Archeological Board recently recognized it as a heritage site, and personal efforts by an Argentinian of Armenian descent is looking to preserve the history of the Armenian diaspora in Bangladesh.

The Dhaka Gate

Dhaka gate travel heritage

Dhaka Gate, also known as the Mir Jumla gate, is located at what is now the Dhaka University Campus. It can be seen on the two sides of the road that leads to TSC from Doyel Chattor. The Dhaka Gate was originally built by Mir Jumla II during the reign of Aurangzeb, as a gateway to enter Dhaka from the North East side.

The Dhaka Gate marked the official entry to the capital city. Adjacent to it was the Bagh e Badshahi, the royal garden of the Mughals that added to the beautification of Dhaka. The site of the garden is now known as Suhrawardi Uddyan.

The Dhaka Gate was later damaged in an earthquake. Magistrate Charles Dawson re-erected it in 1825 in a mixture of Mughal-European architectural style.

Today, the Dhaka Gate lies in neglect but still bears the signs of its glory days.

Rose Garden Palace

Rose Garden Palace Dhaka Bangladesh Travel Heritage

The Rose Garden Palace is an elegant 19th-century mansion in K.M. Das Lane of Tikatuly, Old Dhaka. Zaminder Hrikesh Das built it as a Jolshaghor in the late 19th Century. Statues and fountains adorn the large garden in front of the main building. The main balcony of the building served as a viewing platform for the performances that were held in the garden.

At that time Jolshas, or lavish parties with music and dancers, were an important aspect of the social life of rich Hindu merchants and landlords. In 1936, Hrikesh Das declared bankruptcy due to his extravagant lifestyle and sold it to a wealthy Muslim businessman.

It was at this palace that the Awami League, the political party closely associated with the Bengali independence movement in 1971, was born when East Bengali liberal and social democrats converged here to form an alternative political force against the Muslim League in Pakistan.

Ruplal House

Ruplal House Dhaka Travel Bangladesh

The Ruplal House in Farashganj of Old Dhaka is a mansion built in the late 19th century by Armenian landlord Aratun. The Ruplal brothers bought it in 1835 and hired Martin and Co. of Calcutta for the renovation work. Ruplal House and Ahsan Manzil, which is nearby, used to be the architectural jewels of Dhaka back in the day. The area served as the residence for the rich merchant class and top-level British officers. Ruplal House hosted a significant portion of the cultural activity of the time. Gurus of Indian classical music like Ustad Alauddin Khan, Ustad Wali Ullah Khan and Lakshmi Devi regularly hosted shows here. Ruplal House was also politically important at times.

The Ruplal House was expensive to build on site. The structure features an Indo-Greek architectural style, massive blocs, porticos, tinted glasses, ballrooms and banquet halls. There used to be a clock tower at the top, which was damaged by an earthquake. The fall of Ruplal House began after the Ruplal family left during the Partition in 1947. Now the Ruplal House is jointly owned by several private and commercial owners and is in a state of disrepair.

How living in Kolkata as a Bangladeshi made me more culturally aware

In August of 1947, the Bengali nation found itself divided into two countries. But geopolitical borders can only separate people, not their cultures and souls. West Bengal and Bangladesh are two bodies with one soul, with their hearts beating within the people who contain a bit of both entities. The culture differences might be overwhelming to some, but to many, the similarities is where the harmony is strengthened. The capital of West Bengal, Kolkata is specifically loved by many Bangladeshis because of still containing the residue of original Bengali traditions and inspirations gracefully enough, while becoming a modern cosmopolitan city.

A tale of two cities

Kolkata is not just a city to many, it is also an emotion for being the heart of emergence of the historic personalities, events and art that have shaped the dimensions of our collective culture. It will forever remain precious since it has still preserved it all with simplicity, sincerity and joy.

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Read more: In Kolkata, the city of joy

Dhaka is different. It might not be as aesthetically pleasing but it has had the fortune of being the home of Nawabs. This 400-year-old city still preserves the faint scent of its lost glory days in the narrow alleys of Old Dhaka. Being someone who appreciates food and fraternity, my love for Dhaka is eternal since you will find it in loads here. The versatility of cuisines and food habits here beats some of Kolkata’s for me. Old Dhaka is undeniably the heart of likeable chaos and urban heritage. This is how it steals my breath, even after being overwhelmingly crowdy.

Read more: 6 places in Dhaka that remind us of our glorious past.

A tale of two teachers

I have been blessed with the fortune of having a residence in Kolkata, unlike many. Being a wanderer in nature, Kolkata as a city has always actively taken part in shaping my emotions, feelings, values and cultures. The city has a particular aesthetic that no other city could beat for me till now. This is a city for the people with a hearty appetite and curious eyes. Kolkata gave me so much more than a place to stay. It gave me comfort, peace, diversity and joy. So much, that I became addicted to its roads flooding with sodium lights, yellow ambassadors with loud Bollywood songs from the 80s, earthen tea cups that have their own flavour and so much more!  The air of this city has a distinct smell, the smell that will excite anybody who is familiar with the diversity it offers.

How life in Dhaka University changes you

Dhaka pampers you with unpredictability and availability. It gave me a home to grow up in and understand myself better. Nothing in Dhaka is too far but it consumes time like no other. Even then, it will still give you hope. From the delicacies to the nightlife, everything here is a trade. The trade of time, energy and sometimes, life.

Kolkata or Dhaka, why not both?

While Kolkata wows me with art and ethereal beauty, Dhaka prepares me for the worst. It is like Yin and Yang, balancing each other in harmony. Kolkata was originally inspired by the British. Their credit? They built it. Kolkata’s credit? It preserved and carried it, even today, like it’s their own. The historic buildings, churches, temples, mosques, offices.. everything gives you the feeling of being in the right place, no matter how many times you’ve visited the place already. The best thing about Kolkata carrying its cultures so devotedly even today is the candidness behind everything in this city. Nothing feels forced, nothing feels odd. Even the shady alleys will offer something to your thoughts.

6 places in Dhaka that remind us of our glorious past

Being a frequent visitor of Kolkata since the age of 4, I realized there’s more of Kolkata in me than Dhaka, as I am now labelled an adult by society.

The cultural similarity we share has been sowed within me by Kolkata and was nourished here in Dhaka. Every time I visit Kolkata, I learn something new, even if it isn’t directly associated with anything cultural.

A tale of two art forms

Dhaka has its own way of expressing itself. It will express its ‘sorrows’ through the sweat stains of a tired Rikshawala on a humid day, ‘happiness’ through the smile on the face of a mother when her child returns home, ‘fear’ with the speeding buses and trucks on busy streets, ‘anger’ with every innocent life lost, ‘hope’ with every warning a girl receives from random strangers when her orna is tangled to the wheels of a rickshaw and ‘joy’ with every cricket match Bangladesh team manages to win. We have our own graceful way of doing things here.

Rad more: 5 unique experiences in Dhaka that most tourists never see

In Kolkata, the city of joy 9

Kolkata is a living art. From Howrah to New Market, the extended roads with shadowy alleys, sodium lights and oversized billboards, the faint smell of incense coming from a distance and the classic yellow ambassadors lining up one after another in traffic, everything will please your eyes. Kolkata isn’t entirely modern but it doesn’t want to be it either. It is almost like a modern cosmopolitan woman draped in a saree, unpretentiously appreciating the combination. This effortlessly beautiful city has always been therapeutic for me, whenever I felt dilemmatic, whenever I needed a breath of fresh air. The discipline of this city despite the chaotic charisma as it may seem to many, is praiseworthy as well.

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Being in a love-hate relationship with Dhaka has enabled me to appreciate the best of both cities.

Dhaka will always capture a bigger part of my heart and a broader part of my understandings of culture. The city may not be as artistic and aesthetically pleasing, but it will make you appreciate the little things in your life. Dhaka lets you set priorities and act on it everyday. Dhaka will disappoint you, but some days it won’t and you’ll fall in love with it. The heart of Dhaka is not what it contains but the people who make this city liveable. Culturally, Dhaka has given me the concepts of assertiveness, relationships and the importance of being there for each other. Dhaka will destroy you first and then build you up better. Compared to Kolkata, Dhaka gives you hopes with conditions. Dhaka gives you freedom with restrictions. But Kolkata?

Divided by a border, united by culture

Kolkata lets you live, in all the ways you want to. As Dhaka keeps me grounded, Kolkata gives me the wings to fly. The combination of two didn’t only help me appreciate the beauty of the Bengal, but also it gave me a strong sense of security and cultural awareness.

If these words didn’t make enough sense to you as someone who’s yet to breathe the air of Kolkata, why don’t you pack your bags and board the next flight to make sense out of it? And if by any chance, you’re reading this from Kolkata, it’s never too late to visit this cousin city at least once.

Chattogram, shrouded in history, adorned by nature.

“A sleeping beauty rising from mist and water”. This description of Chattogram was given by Chinese explorer Xuanzang in the 7th century. And to this day, this description stands somewhat true. A 2000-year-old city, one of the largest ports of the East as described by Ptolemy in the 1st century, a mythical realm of hundred tribes and an exotic land where the mountains meet the ocean, Chattogram is a beautiful destination for history and travel addicts both. For those of us looking for a quick escapade this vacation, Chattogram is a destination that’s a package full of everything.

Getting to the promised land

Chattogram can be travelled to by bus, train or air. Daily domestic flights from Dhaka to Chattogram are operated by all the local air carriers. Both AC and non AC Buses to Chittagong leave every hour from Kamalapur bus station starting from the morning. But the best way to travel to Chattogram will surely be by train. The night train to Chattogram is a pleasant and comfortable journey and can be a part of the whole Chattogram experience if you consider it that way. Two night trains leave from Dhaka for Chattogram, the Mahanagar Express leaves at 9 PM and Turna Express leaves at 11 PM. Both will land you in Chattogram early in the morning. Consult the Bangladesh Railway website for details on the fare and timing.

Chittagong night train

What’s interesting about the night train journey is the small town stations it passes by on its way. Sometimes the train will stop at these stations for you to catch a quick glimpse of the lives at small towns. It’s like reading a short story, these small stations. It’s like the low lit platforms want to tell you a captivating story but rather decides to leave it unfinished as the train starts to move on, leaving a scintilla of mysterious enchantment.

Staying in Chattogram

Chattogram is the second largest city in Bangladesh and has all the elements of a mega city. There are cheap to mid-range hotels and reputed five and four-star hotels like The Agrabad or Peninsula. A good mid-range option is The Landmark hotel. Located right in the heart of the city and charging a modest price for quality bed and breakfast, The Landmark hotel is a good option for travellers with a tight budget and finer taste.

Places to visit and things to do

The long list of places to visit in Chattogram begins with the city itself. Chattogram metro, like any other city in Bangladesh, is not devoid of traffic and infrastructural woes. It has its fair share of traffic and pollution. And yet, with spiralling roads that run up and down on the hills and names of areas as beautiful as Cheragi Pahar, Agrabad and Pahartoli, the city screams grandiose. Only to be humbled by the kind-hearted Chatgaiya people who take a pride in the own distinct heritage and dialect.

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Cheragi Pahar

The city itself has a charming colonial vibe to it. From the grand red brick building of the old railway station to the historic old Circuit House, the city nurtures its history with a careful preservation.

You can climb up the Batali hills, the highest hill in Chattogram city and get a breathtaking view of the sunset over the city and the Bay of Bengal in the far.

Visit the Pahartali European Club, where one of the first struggles of Independence took place under Masterda Surya Sen during the British era.

Take a boat ride in the Karnaphuli river in the evening and top it off with a dinner at any of the local eateries with Chittagong special Kalabhuna beef and Mejban meal.

Travel to Chittagong
Chittagong Old Circuit House

When you’re in Chittagong, make sure you try Hydrabadi Biriyani from Handi at GEC moar and Dum Phoonk’s Dum Biriyani at Jamal Khan Road. Don’t forget to try the special faluda from New Liberty Drink House in New Market.

Adventure’s calling

Now for the adventures part, the first thing that you’d like to do is visit the Kaptai lake and kayak between the mountains. Get on a bus from Bohoddar Haat that’ll drop you in front of the Kaptai Kayak Club. The rent fee for kayaking one hour is 200TK.

Steering your Kayak slowly in the clear waters of Kaptai lake, through the mists, in between the lush green hills and forests, is one of the best experiences you’ll ever have.

Travel to Chittagong-HiFi Public
Kayaking in Kaptai

On your way back, you can take a CNG run auto rickshaw to reach halfway and the rest half by bus as usual. The road from Kaptai to Chittagong city is a rewarding one with Kaptai lake on one side and green hills on the other.

You can visit the Chandranath temple in Sitakunda. To get there, take any bus that goes that way from Alangkar moar and get off at the Sitakunda bazaar. From there, take an auto to reach the foot of the Chandranath hill. Climb up 1020 feet to reach the temple that’s dedicated to the goddess Kali and marvel at the magnificent view from the hilltop.

The Chandranath hill is shrouded in mysteries of ancient Hindu mythology. Monks in red overalls can often be seen sitting in temple doorsteps that forbid you to enter without permission from the priests. But the stories of Chandranath and its mythic adventures are for another time.

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View from Chandranath hills

You can also visit the Medhas Munir Ashram. Another mythical monastery on a hilltop and the place from where the first ever Durga Puja in the region started.

And of course, you can always extend your stay and take a trip to Cox’s Bazar. It’s just 4 hours away from the city and the largest sea beach in the world.

Goodbyes are hard

One does not visit Chattogram only once. From the deliciousness of the Kalabhuna to the mysterious journey atop Chandranath hills, Chattogram keeps calling you back for more. And perhaps the land of 12 awlias isn’t done with you yet.

Travel solo at least once in your life, it can be enriching

Traveling has always been one of our top choices for choosing what to do in upcoming holiday seasons. However, as our lives get hectic- the fond memories from our childhood of travelling with our family simply become memories that are difficult, or in most cases impossible to relive. In addition, knocking your best friends on Facebook to check their schedule and plan trips result in nothing but utter disappointment, as you find them drowning in deadlines or juggling a hundred things going on in their lives.

So, do you let go of your plans and spend the vacation like a typical weekend with Netflix and pizzas? Of course not.

Solo trips to the rescue! Although solo trips are not a popular choice or a choice for many at all, they are an incredible life-experience. Today, we bring you some reasons to consider travelling solo at least once to have the experience of a lifetime!

Confidence and Responsibility

Solo trips would surely help you gain confidence as an individual. You initiate conversations, get to know people and enjoy little things you normally wouldn’t. Moreover, as a solo traveler, you would also seem more approachable and locals might start the conversation themselves. As you explore and return from the trip, it would also clear your misconception of solo trips being anxiety-inducing, no-good trips. Additionally, solo trips teach you to be more responsible as you take care of your belongings, passport, and other documents and try your best to avoid any danger in the foreign country.

Moreover, solo trips are more peaceful and therapeutic as you escape from your daily life. You can get away from people you know and spend more time with yourself at a quiet cottage. This also means giving yourself the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone. Imagine giving yourself a fake identity to strangers like all those times in the movies; fun, eh?

Make friends along the way

One unique and wonderful aspect of solo trips is that it also gives you the opportunity to meet more locals. When going with your family, friends or your significant other to a trip- it is given that you would go to have all your meals with them or sit next to them in public transportations, movie theatres and amusement park rides. However, travelling solo lets you meet people along the way and do the activities with them, which can be very fun.

A big advantage travelling solo brings is the reduced waiting time. For example, from perceiving theme parks as a noisy, rowdy place filled with screaming kids, crowds and endless walking, you would perceive it as the truly magical place it is meant to be- simply because of the amount of time you save skipping lines and entering as a solo rider. I had a similar experience in Universal Studios Singapore and I cannot describe the sheer happiness as you cross the long queues, get on your ride as a solo-rider and look at all those people waiting in groups.

Step out of your comfort zone

A solo trip like any other trip lets you meet new people and experience new cultures, traditions and food. However, it also lets you do those to a greater extent as you step out of your comfort zone, transform into a more confident, responsible and ‘fun’ individual and surround yourself with people living their life to the fullest to be a part of them.

So go out there, plan a trip for yourself and experience the magic. After all, a solo trip can be exciting, nerve-wracking and rewarding all at the same time; let go of the fear, have one for the first time and you shall find yourself planning the next one soon enough!

5 perfect places in Bangladesh for camping adventures

As we skim through the calendar to check our schedules, we often struggle to decide how to spend our mini-vacations with holidays surrounding the weekends. Rather than visiting the eateries you come across in FoodBank, we bring you a more fun and exciting way to spend quality time with friends and family during vacation- five places in Bangladesh to go to for adventure/camping activities.

The Base Camp

Located in the outskirts of the city in Rajendrapur Chowrasta, Gazipur- Base Camp offers excellent accommodation and a number of activities. Some of their thrilling on-tree and on-ground activities for visitors include cycling, zip-lining archery, monkey-pass, forest trekking and of course, the ultimate ‘sitting-together-surrounding-the-camp fire’ experience! Base Camp offers accommodation in bungalow rooms, non-AC nature rooms and weatherproof tents as well as varieties of everyday meals- depending on your budget and choice.

Learn more about The Base Camp here.

Satchari National Park

Getting its name because of the seven streams flowing inside the forest, Satchari (meaning Seven streams) National Park of Sylhet provides an unforgettable experience like no other! Visitors indulge in the flora and fauna, surrounding themselves in the lush greenery of the beautiful forest. Being one of the best birding destinations of Bangladesh, this park provides you the opportunity to catch sight of some of the rarest species of birds. There are also tea gardens nearby for visiting; altogether, a trip there would surely mean a wonderful time amidst Mother Nature!

There are also quite a few adventure activities recently started in Satchori.

Nazimgarh Tent Camp

Imagine getting to choose between dining on the river-banks of the green-blue crystal clear Shari river or dining on a hill overlooking the mesmerizing Meghalaya hills. Indeed, Nazimgarh Tent Camp, also located in Sylhet showcases nature in its purest form. Offering weatherproof tent accommodation, Nazimgarh Tent Camp also provides cycling, boat riding, canoeing and kayaking, trekking and zorb balling activities. It also has three separate restaurants- one of which is set beside a beautiful river and the other on a hill with the beautiful mountains of Meghalaya in view.

Learn more about Nazimgarh Tent Camp here.

Munlai

Munlai gives its guests a memorable experience because of its uniqueness; unlike other places in Bangladesh focusing on simply giving you and your family/friends an enjoyable vacation, Munlai camp also involves the Bawm community. With a two-hour drive from Bandarban, the picturesque setting amidst lavish greenery, hills and the river Sangu- you reach in the serene land of the Bawm community who greet you with blissful smiles. Along with comfortable and hygienic homestays with necessary amenities, you also get to experience boating, camping, trekking, kayaking and the country’s longest zip-line. Moreover, enjoying the mouthwatering local Bawm cuisine served in native style using bamboos under the twinkling starry sky is definitely something you do not want to miss!

Learn more about Munali here.

Neocampers

Neocampers can be described as the family-friendly version of Base Camp; powered by Base Camp itself, Neocampers is ideal for family groups and school field-trips. Targeted at school children to indulge them in day-long fun activities and learn skills alongside mainstream education, Neocampers involves many enjoyable activities similar to Base Camp, guided by professional trainers. In addition to physical activities, workshops for carpentry, pottery-making, treasure-hunting, bird watch, campfire and basic BBQ facilities are also arranged here. Located in Savar, Neocampers definitely gives you a fun, challenging and learning environment away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Learn more about Neocampers here.

So, next time you unconsciously scratch the back of your head, struggling to decide where to go for an adventure the following vacation- don’t forget to check these five places out!

Staying at small hotels when traveling is the best thing ever, here’s why

I learned a new word the other day. Scintilla. Which means, a tiny spark of a feeling. Beautiful, isn’t it? Ever since, I’ve been dying to use the word properly, somewhere relevant. And when I got the green light from my editor to write about the hotels I stay in when I travel, I found an opportunity to use this word in a proper relevant context.

That’s right, a tiny spark of a beautiful short-lived moment is exactly how it feels to stay in small mid-range hotels. You see, hotels are not just a bed to sleep at night. They are much more than that. They are a collection of stories and experiences, a platform where travellers pass by and stop for a while, leaving their own stories and memories. When you think about it like that, hotels are no less than storybooks. And the small hotels? The stories formed in these small hotels are just cosier than the ones in five-star hotels.

Here are a few reasons why staying in small hotels is better than you think.

1. Easy on the ol’ wallet

Staying at small hotels-HiFI Public

To get the obvious out of the way, small hotels don’t take a toll on your wallet. Most of the small hotels are priced cheap to mid-range. There’s no point in paying a hefty sum of money to stay in a hotel if you’re planning to just spend the nights over there and go exploring the entire day. But of course no harm in paying for a bit of extra luxury either. No one’s judging.

2. A cosier environment

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Small hotels offer you something that high-end hotels won’t. A cosy homely feeling that you won’t find anywhere else. You’ll find fellow travellers as you crammed in a small lobby or small rooftop makeshift eatery that’ll serve you authentic local delicacies. Or the receptionist who’ll always greet you with a smile and go out of his way to help you travel a bit easier in the region.

3. Authentic cultural experience

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High-end hotels play it by the book. The more or less same amenities and the same experiences everywhere but in a different style. That isn’t the case with small hotels. Most small hotels are located in a local neighbourhood, run by the locals, offering the best of the local cultures. If you truly want to experience a region, try staying in one of the small hotels for the best authentic experience.

4. A story to tell

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There’s always something different about each of these hotels you’ll ever stay in. Each one has a different story to tell and a different experience awaits you in each one. I’ll never forget the lovely 2 AM conversation I had with the front desk clerk of Chinatown Inn in Kuala Lumpur. Or that one time I slept in and the family that runs Bich Duyen Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City cooked me a warm breakfast because it was too late in the day to find breakfast in the city.

These are the experiences that don’t go on your Instagram. But these are the experiences that make travelling worth your time and money.

I call myself a traveller when in reality, I really haven’t travelled much. But in this short span of my travelling journal, I have come across experiences that I’ll cherish forever and stories that I’ll keep telling every day. If you’re travelling somewhere new, don’t hesitate to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Because when you open yourself up to the new and the different, that’s when you truly travel.

The lost art of boat making in Bangladesh

The art of boat making is an ancient craft and one of the oldest living technologies in the world. The intricate craft of boat making is an essential part of the rich tradition and culture of Bangladesh.

Being a riverine land, boats were, and still are, an integral part of the rural life of Bengal. From the Moyurponkhi nouka of the prince from a faraway land or the Shampan of the fearless sea explorer, boats have been a crucial element in our folklore, folk music, and mythology.

The rich boat-building heritage and skills have been passed down orally, for thousands of years. However, those tales and skills are now on the verge of extinction with the advent of motor boats.

Bangladesh once boasted the largest fleet of wooden boats, exceeding over a million. These boats used to come in all shapes and sizes, with different functions and designs.

Here are some of the most famous boats from Bangladesh that you should know about:

Shampan

Indigenous to Cox’s Bazar and Kutubdia area, the Shampan was a large sea boat of Bengal with a triangular mast. Throughout history, many songs, folk stories, and poetry have been influenced by this beautiful vessel.

Shuluk

Indigenous to the Kutubdia area, Shuluk was the only known large sea boat of Bengal with a double mast. Although this boat was widely famous in its time, the Shuluk is now entirely extinct. Back in its days, this large watercraft was used for transporting salt and other cargo across the sea.

Goina

The opulent Goina was a dream houseboat which sailed on the narrow channels of the Padma river in Rajshahi. Goyna translates to ornament and much like ornaments, it’s beauty was a standout. Used by the Zamindars (landlords) for leisure, the Goina had a harmonious balance between elegance and performance.t

Chand-Nouka (Moon Boat) 

The arches of the crescent moon are reflected within the curving lines of the chand-nouka. These moon boats still dot the coastlines of Southern Bangladesh. The mid sized fishing vessels sail out to the open sea with the tide, only to return with the next. In earlier times, the celestial shape of the chand-nouka, allowed the boat to sail in either direction, although now, with the introduction of the engine the primary utility of the shape has forgone

Corpai

Starting its journey from the river banks of Potuali in Gopalganj Sadar, the illustrious Corpai treads along the native waters of the Modhumati River. A true symbol of the working class, the Corpai boat transports grains, rice, and heavy cargo.

Malar

One of the largest riverine boats of the country is the malar boat. Made on the banks of the Padma and Brahmaputra in the heart of Bengal, these majestic boats were primarily used for transportation of cargoes including livestock. With one of the most recognizable shapes, the malar frequently shows up in paintings of typical Bangladesh riverscape. The last remaining large sized malar boat has been converted to be used by tourism purpose by Contic cruises. The large red orchard sails outlined against the blue sky is a sight forever lost in Bengal.

Podi

A cross between a river and seagoing boat, the Podi which is found in the southern Khulna belt, is one of the few unique boats that have adapted to the saline water. Squat and wide, the Podi was specially made for carrying heavy cargo through the tidal rivers of the Sundarbans. Originally the Podi boat was used by the golpata gatherers during their seasonal foray into the mangrove forest. The golpatas, being the primary material for thatching in the southern belt, was then sailed back upstream with the tide.

Cultural preservation

Fortunately, Friendship, a non-governmental organisation, is saving Bangladesh’s boat building heritage from extinction through its activities on cultural preservation. Their activities include helping to create a sustainable livelihood for the boat builders. The organisation also documents the ancient techniques of boat building and raises awareness through exhibitions around the world. Handcrafted replica of model boats which serve as a record of boat building techniques can be purchased to further support their efforts.

Additionally, our heritage of boats and boat making is so rich that Bangladesh National Museum has an entire separate gallery dedicated to boats of Bangladesh. Do check it out when you can.

 

Facts, figures and photos are sourced from Friendship.