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5 unusual, visa-free destination for travelling Bangladeshis

Travelling has many benefits- it teaches you about other cultures, it helps declutter your mind, and it also gives you a clear idea about who you are.

In 2017, about 1.32 billion people travelled worldwide, and more and more people are taking an interest in it. However, for Bangladeshis, the formalities surrounding an international trip can often be daunting. For us getting a visa is fairly difficult. But does it mean your dream of travelling the world will remain a dream?

Many countries offer visa-free entry/ on arrival visas for Bangladeshis. So sometimes, all you need to do is pack a bag and get on a plane. And here are 5 countries that will gladly welcome you.

Read more: 5 Visa-free countries for Bangladeshis

Cambodia (On Arrival Visa)

Source: Unsplash

Cambodia is blessed with a vibrant culture and natural beauty. It is home to Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument ever built. The massive structure will take your breath away, but that is not all Cambodia has to offer. It has untouched beaches, historical sights, and ancient temples that will take you back in time. The visa process is very easy, and you can get an on-arrival visa at all the major airports like Phenom Penh and Siem Reap. All you need is passport-size photographs and a filled out form. And like a cherry on the top, Cambodia is not super expensive. So what are you waiting for? Hop on a plane!

Fiji (Visa-Free entry)

Source: Google

Despite being a breathtaking country with a warm, rich local culture, Fiji is often not on the radar of Bangladeshi travellers. It does not make sense- because Fiji offers visa-free entry for tourists, where you can stay up to 4 months! Fiji has over 300 islands and over 500 islets, making it the perfect destination for beach lovers. It also has a very interesting culture, delicious food and intriguing history. Did you know that cannibalism was widespread throughout the islands? Neither did we!

Kenya (On Arrival Visa)

Source: Google

Yes, we know that Kenya is not at the top of your bucket list. But it should be. Kenya is a leading safari destination in East Africa. It has a number of wildlife conservatories that you can visit, and they all boast the beauty of wildlife. Fun fact: The biggest five animals- rhinos, leopards, lions, buffalo, and elephants can all be found in Kenya. For travelling Bangladeshis, Kenya offers an on arrival visa. So pack your bag, and feast your eyes on how diverse the world is.

Madagascar (On Arrival Visa)

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

The name might remind you of the movie Madagascar, but real-life Madagascar is far more enthralling. There are only 17 countries in the world that are considered to be megadiverse, and Madagascar is one of them. This place is undoubtedly a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. You will get to see numerous types of lemurs, birds and chameleons. And no, there’s no lion or giraffes or hippos. From 500-year-old burial sites to labyrinths of limestones, Madagascar has a few well-known world heritage sites. But forget about all that. Visit Madagascar because it’s beautiful.

Bahamas (Visa-Free Entry)

Source: Lonely Planet

Does the idea of swimming with sharks intrigue you? If yes, then travelling to the Bahamas will be a great experience for you. With 700 islands and 2500 cays, the Bahamas will completely change your perspective of the underwater world. These subtropical beaches attract over five million tourists every year, and we see the appeal. They offer visa-free entry for Bangladeshis, so this might be the perfect place for you to explore!

Did we miss any of your favourite places? Don’t forget to let us know!

Everything you need to know about Indian visa

India, the country we love and support except for when it comes to cricket matches. Visiting India might not seem like a big deal because it’s a country that we visit so often, but for people who are planning to get their visa for visiting India for the first time and can’t find where to look or whom to go to, this article is for them. 

Read more: In Kolkata, the city of joy

Visa types

The first and foremost thing you need to do is find out what type of visa you need.  You could apply for 

  • A tourist visa
  • A business visa 
  • A short-term single-entry visa 
  • A long term multiple entry visa
  • Transit single entry visa
  • Transit double entry visa 
  • Medical visa
  • Student visa 
  • Research visa 

Now, here is the most important thing you need to remember while deciding which visa to get, unlike other countries which might be a bit more lenient, Indian airports or railway stations will reject your entry if you try to enter the country with a type of a visa that does not match your purpose.

Read more: 5 visa-free countries for Bangladeshis

This is the most recent law passed by the Indian government. So, if you are going to a conference, get a conference visa and not a tourist or business visa.  However, in this particular article, we will focus on what you will need to do to get a tourist visa for India being a Bangladeshi citizen. 

Visa validity

A tourist visa is applicable for either 3 months, 6 months or 12 months. you can choose whichever option you prefer along with either single entry or multiple entries.

In Kolkata, the city of joy
Streets of Kolkata

However, it is always better to apply for 6 months if you are aiming for a 3 months visa and to apply for a 12 months visa if you are aiming for a 6 months visa. This is because you sometimes may get a visa that is less than the time frame for which you applied. 

Required documents

  • NID/Birth certificate,
  • Bank statement/Dollar endorsement (Endorsement should not be older than 1 month at the time of submission)/Active international credit card / Travelcard (Issued by Indian Visa Application Centre or IVAC. Read on to find out)
  • Profession proof i.e. Photocopy of trade license if the employer is NOC, student ID card or salary receipt and trading
  • Last passport copies and all old passports. the passport must be signed and have 6 months validity beyond stay in India. It should also have at least two blank passport pages available for Indian visa stamps. 
  • One recent (not less than 3 months old) passport-size colour photograph depicting full face; Applicants would be required to scan and upload their photograph in the designated space provided in the online application form.
  • Photocopy of a utility bill (electricity bill, gas bill, phone bill)

Read more: 10 cities to visit under budget

Applying for a visa

You can go to the website http://www.ivacbd.com/existing/online_visa.php . This is the official website for the Indian visa application centre. You can download the form from this website. The documents you will be required are already mentioned above.

Darjeeling: An experience of a lifetime 36
Magnificent Darjeeling

Now, you can appoint an agent to do this for you if you don’t want to go through the tedious process. However, given the Indian visa form is very extensive, the chances of a mistake being made by the agent are very high. So, it is better to do it by yourself. Once you are done with filling the form, you have to make the payment. 

Visa fees and how to pay them

According to the most recent (5th August 2018) visa processing law in India, the visa processing fees is 800 bdt. You can pay this fee by yourself through Bkash, Rocket, DBBL Nexus, credit card, etc.

The number to which the money is to be transferred can be found on the IVAC website and this payment getaway link. This information will only be available to you after you fill the form.

Once you have made the payment, you will have exactly 3 days to submit the form at a visa application centre. If you do not submit the form within 3 days, the payment will be considered inapplicable for the form. 

Submitting the application

All Indian visa applications from Dhaka are now accepted only at the IVAC centre in Jamuna Future Park. When you submit the form, you will receive a receipt including your Name, Passport Number, Web file number and Date of delivery. You can use the Web file number to track your application status by logging into the IVAC website. 

It usually takes about a week to get an Indian visa. When your visa is done, you will get a text message and you can collect your passport using the receipt. 

As per the new rule, walk-in applications are also accepted at IVAC without prior application.

Read more: A guide to falling in love with Darjeeling

Necessary contact

Indian Visa Application Centre, Dhaka ( JFP )
Floor – G1, South Court, Jamuna Future Park,
Progoti Sharani, Baridhara, Dhaka-1229, Bangladesh Hot Line: 09612 333 666
E-mail: [email protected]
Website: www.ivacbd.com

Kacchi Biryani: The ambrosia of Old Dhaka

It was a Friday afternoon. The monumental city was waiting for us with all its glory and sparkling chaos. Right after entering into Old Dhaka (Puran Dhaka), we felt alive as if nothing there stops even for a second. It was all very happening!

Old Dhaka in all its charm

The unplanned, unorganized buildings smelling like warm shrubbery are archaic, the spindled creepers hanging from some of the houses make the pale concrete alive. None seems to mind the mild dust everywhere as if its presence is essential in adding more noise in this old city. Life is rush here, no time for complaints!

My friend Nitu and I came to Old Dhaka to get a taste of its famous Kacchi Biryani. We had been hearing a lot about it, and finally, we decided to pay Old Dhaka a visit.  

The tale of Kolkata Kacchi Ghor

We entered in the warm room of a renowned local restaurant, Kolkata Kacchi Ghor, with the expectation of having a good plate of Kacchi. The place smelled like butter and thyme. After waiting for four minutes, the aroma came from across the room; oh, they had started serving our biryani on the plates! We were hungry and impatient.  It took them two more minutes to bring the plates to us due to adding the beef Jali Kebab, sliced cucumber salad, a couple of pieces of lime and plum chutney to the side.

Visually, each plate looked like ambrosia.

A plate full of colours: white basmati rice with the pop of mustard yellow, one glazed piece of well-cooked mutton, a big piece of potato perfectly burnt on the sides and the salad and lime added a touch of green. We were salivating. We could not wait anymore and started digging in.

A culinary masterpiece

The non-sticky basmati rice was cooked to perfection. The slow rising steam was forming a piquant cloud. I gave the rice a taste first and right then I realized, it was the most delectable form of rice I had ever tasted. I started tearing the big chunk of well-cooked mutton. It was so tender that the flesh would tear apart just with a light pull of my fingers. My mouth was watering and without wasting a second, I ate it. The succulent meat was bursting out with flavorsome tenderness. Gingerly, while enjoying every mouthful, I started to add all the elements to it.

The potato was the highlight of the plate, the element that brought it all together. The charred sides tasted like salted savoury caramel. The texture in the middle was pulpy and roasted. The beef kebab was filled with goodness. It seemed like the match of the spicy minced beef and sweet chopped onion was made in heaven.

We cleaned up our plates completely. Luckily, there was no elachi on my plate to ruin it all! I was overwhelmed with the taste blast, but it was not over yet.

They came up with glasses of Borhani and small cups of Kheer. We started sipping the borhani slowly. It was like taking a breath of fresh air, we were revived. Conclusively, we wanted to end it with sweetness. I took the kheer with a little plastic spoon. Smelling like luxury, the saffron was very refined and mesmerizing. The sugariness of milk and boiled rice was not overwhelming at all but was light and airy. I was on cloud nine after finishing it. It was a FEAST.

A dash of old Dhaka hospitality

We went to the counter to pay the bills. The manager was sitting there. He had a handlebar mustache and a head full of thick dark hair. He looked at us curiously and with a big smile he said, “I can tell you guys loved the food, didn’t you?” We nodded joyfully. “We sure did and you will see us again soon!” replied Nitu. He laughed and said “Don’t forget to order the mutton leg roast next time!”

It is the hospitality that cannot be bought, and it can be found everywhere here in Old Dhaka. The friendly faces, the generosity and the cordiality; the ‘people’ is what differentiates Old Dhaka from another old busy city.

That day we came back home with little more than a satisfied tummy; a happy heart.

Visa Application 101: applying for a Thai Visa 

The demand for a Thai Visa in the recent times has been skyrocketing. Thailand has long been a dream travel destination for people all around the world. Growing up as a Bangladeshi, we all heard stories of shopping in Bangkok, partying in Pattaya and the pristine beauty of Phuket’s beaches.

At this point, most of the kids growing up on stories of Thailand are now young adults looking to go out into the world for their next great escape. But before anyone can do any of that, we need to get our hands on a valid Thai Visa first and foremost. Here’s a quick rundown as to what one will need and do to apply for a Thai Visa.

Read more: An Account of my Adventure through Bhutan

Essentials:

A Thai Visa applicant will require a number of documents depending on the type of visa he/she is applying for, but for simplicity’s sake, we point out the bare essentials one must have to apply for a tourist visa:

  1. Valid Passport of the applicant with at least 6 months validity
  2. Photocopies of the passport (at least the first five pages)
  3. Properly filled Visa Application Letter
  4. Photo with all the required criteria (size, background, etc) for a Thai Visa
  5. Bank Statement of the last six months and solvency certificate
  6. Cover letter or a travel letter
  7. Testimonial or a letter from the applicants’ workplace or the institution he/she is studying in
  8. Photocopy of work ID or school/university ID
  9. Photocopy of the national ID of the person sponsoring the trip.
  10. Photocopy of National ID/Birth certificate
  11. Letter of a parent or legal guardian’s approval in case of a minor i.e. anyone under 18.  

These are the essential document the applicant will definitely need to have in order to apply for the visa. We also encourage providing documents for a booked airplane ticket and/or hotel booking and will help with the application process.

How to apply:

Now depending on whether the applicant is applying for the visa through a travel agency or individually, there are two paths to take. If the applicant chooses to go through an agency, merely providing the aforementioned document to the agency should suffice. Although you should consider that applying via an agency will increase the costs due to service charges and fee and these fees are non-refundable, even in the scenario where the embassy rejects your visa application. If an applicant wishes to apply for the visa on his own, it will bring down the cost to a certain extent.

To apply for the visa, Bangladeshi applicants need to apply via the organization VFS Global which handles all Thai Visa matters in Bangladesh. They provide options for both online application as well as manual application process. The applicant can download the visa application form from their official webpage.  After collecting all the required documents and filling out the form, the applicant has to go to VFS Global’s office. The office is situated at North Badda, just past Gulshan 1(Check the webpage for exact address). Although they are open from 9am to 5pm, it’s wise to get there as early as possible. Once there, the security will issue the applicant a token. When called upon the token number the applicant has to head to the assigned desk where a VFS employee will check and verify the applicant’s documents.

Fees?

Once verified, the applicant should go to the bank counter where he/she is to pay the application fee. You can pay the Visa fees in cash at the Standard Chartered Bank counter located at the premises. This will be converted into a bank draft against which for every applicant the bank will charge a fee of 40BDT. Or, the applicant may bring a bank draft with him/her issued from any bank drawn in the name of ‘The Royal Thai Embassy’, payable at Dhaka. In addition to the visa fee and bank draft, the applicant will need to pay five hundred for service charge. In total, for a single entry tourist visa the costing would add up to around 3740bdt where the visa fee is 2900tk.

What’s next?

After making the cash deposit and submitting his/her documents, the applicant will receive a receipt. In it the time and date of passport collection will be given. Generally, it takes around 7 to 10 working day to issue the visa and doesn’t require an interview. But in some cases, the applicant shouldn’t be surprised if an official calls to cross-check the information in his/her form. The applicant can also track their application online through VFS Global’s website.

The passport collection process is almost exactly the same as submissions. The applicant will need to go to VFS Globals office to collect his/her passport. And by the end, the applicant will have his/her desired visa and ready to embark on their Thai journey.   

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

An account of my adventure through Bhutan 3

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.

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.

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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.

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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!