It feels nice to get away from the city once in a while. It feels nice to go somewhere, away from all the hustle, dust, crowd and everything else.
What we lack is not the enthusiasm or the drive to travel, but time and money. And places near Dhaka which can be covered in a day are a blessing when it comes to getting away for a short time with a limited budget.
Here are 5 places you never knew you wanted to visit for a day tour:
About a hundred kilometres away from Dhaka, Chandpur is a quiet and calm city situated on the banks of Padma and Meghna. Interestingly, Chandpur is the point where the rivers Padma and Meghna meet and the spectacular view of the two rivers makes Chandpur a coveted yet somewhat undiscovered tourist destination.
Find a hands-on guide to a day tour to Chandpur here.
They say it’s never a bad time to visit Sreemangal. Sreemangal, called the Tea Capital of Bangladesh, is adorned with hill after hill of lush green tea gardens, rubber trees and of course, is home to the famous and mysterious Lawachara National Forest.
The best time to visit Sreemangal is either in the rainy season, when the rain makes the tea gardens greener and the smell of raw tea leaves you a little high, or in winter, when the dense fog keeps the forests and the tea gardens covered in mystery and you can enjoy one of the coldest climates in the country.
Find a hands-on guide to a day tour to Sreemangal here.
Cumilla is a famous and historical town with a bagful of surprises. With a rich history spanning from ancient Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms to the British Era, World War 2 and home to the famous Rosh-malai, Cumilla is one of the most underrated tourist destinations in Bangladesh.
Find a hands-on guide to a day tour to Cumilla here.
It’s called the mini Cox’s Bazar. And for good reasons too. The endless horizon of water and splashing small waves at your feet on the muddy banks does remind one of Cox’s Bazar.
Yes, talking about Moinot Ghat or Dohar as many prefer to call it. About one and a half hours journey away from Dhaka, Dohar is the perfect place to spend a day away from the busy urban life. The best time to visit Dohar would be now, as the continuous rain has filled the river Padma to the brink and the overcast sky and the calm Padma waters together make an unforgettable view to feast your eyes on.
Find a hands-on guide to a day tour to Dohar here.
Munshiganj, also known as Bikrampur is located about 33 kms away from Dhaka city. An ideal location for a day’s visit, Munshiganj is a little bit underrated as a travel destination and the lack of selfie savvy tourists is perhaps one of the best things about travelling to Munshiganj.
Find a hands-on guide to a day tour to Munshiganj here
Uttara is a nice little place to leave the city for a day, away from the hectic weekdays. Ideally, this little, somewhat primitive small city-state should not take more than 30 minutes to visit. But thanks to the adventurous route that leads to this place, it almost takes an entire day to visit Uttara and come back to the city, safe and sound.
So, if you’re tired of all the cliched places people visit these days like Sreemangal and Cox’s Bazaar (or you want to turn your image of a lazy duck who sits at home all day playing PUBG into that of a spontaneous traveller), buckle up. You’re in for the adventure of a lifetime.
Find a hands-on guide to a day tour to Uttara here.
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.
Dhaka has a long way to go before it becomes a conventional tourist destination. Nonetheless, tourism is common in the 400-year-old city. There is a fixed rounded up list of places that people always go to whenever they visit Dhaka. But Dhaka has more to offer than Lalbagh fort, Jatiya Sangsad and the National Museum. There are a ton of places to visit and things to do outside of what the brochure or your tour guides tell you about.
Whether you are visiting Dhaka for the first time, or you’re a local who wants to experience this city like never before, here are the 5 things you must do to complete your Dhaka experience.
1. Embark on a spiritual journey in Hussaini Dalan
The Hussaini Dalan serves as the main Hussainiya in Dhaka. The shrine is a major gathering place for Shia Muslims, followers of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. It was originally built during the latter half of the Mughal rule (17th Century) and patronized by prince Shah Shuja, son of Emperor Shah Jahan. The structure has an elegant Mughal and British architectural style. Followers of the Shia community come here to say their prayers; the atmosphere is amazingly calm and serene. You can feed the ducks in the adjacent ponds, listen to the sermon and exchange deep philosophical talks with the clerics.
Pro tip: Visit during the Muharram festivals. You can see and even take the part in the vibrant Muharram parades.
2. Visit the historic Ruplal House
The Ruplal house in Farashganj of old Dhaka is a mansion built in the late 19th century by Armenian Landlord Aratun. Ruplal brothers bought it in 1835 and hired Martin and Company of Calcutta for renovations. Ruplal House and Ahsan Manzil, which is nearby, used to be the ornament of Dhaka back in the day. The area was the residential area for the rich merchant class and top-posted British officers. Ruplal house hosted a lot of cultural activity of the time. Gurus of Indian classical music like Ustad Alauddin Khan, Ustad Wali Ullah Khan and Lakshmi Devi regularly hosted shows. Ruplal house was also politically important during the Renaissance period.
Ruplal house was expensive to build on site. The structure features an Indo-Greek architectural style, massive blocs, porticos, tinted glasses, ballrooms and feast halls. There used to be a clock tower on 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.
Beauty boarding is a famous hotel, or as its commonly known, a boarding house. It also has a restaurant that serves Bengali food in a traditional homely atmosphere. The building was originally a zamindar house. A local rented the house in 1951 and then turned into a boarding house and restaurant. Located near Banglabazar book market, the spot became popular with the local book traders, literature aficionados, poets, and artists.
In terms of its intellectual importance, Beauty boarding can be compared to the Coffee House in Kolkata.
The boarding was a regular spot for poet Shahid Qadri and Nirmalendu Goon who stayed for five years in the boarding. Poets like Shamsul Haque, Rafiq Azad and Shamsur Rahman used to gather for their evening tea.
Pro tip: Beauty boarding doubles as a great background for your photos if you want to keep some mementos of your visit to the land of Bengal.
4. Go book hopping in Nilkhet
Nilkhet is the second largest book market in the country and a heaven for book lovers. 2500 shops are crammed together. The shops sell local prints and second-hand copies of original books. Bookworms of Dhaka, especially the students, go to Nilkhet for the best deals on books.
Pro tip: Looking for a rare book? Chances are you’ll find an original first edition copy of it, tucked somewhere in the piles of books that are on display. Make sure you bargain hard to get the best deals.
5. Take a boat ride in Buriganga
Buriganga is the major river on which the city of Dhaka stands. On it, is Sadarghat, the largest river port in the country. Hire a boat for an hour from Sadarghat, for only 200 takas per hour. The boatman will take you on a river ride to the other side of Dhaka. On a clear sunny afternoon, see the Dhaka skyline. Ahsan Manzil, the palace of the nawabs of Dhaka, will be visible from the river. Stay to enjoy the sunset. You’ll see hundreds of people commuting and crossing the river on wooden boats.
Riding a boat in Burganga is a chance to spend time in the calm waters, away from the bustling city while getting intimate with the lifestyle of the locals.
The best part of Dhaka is its people. What the city may lack in traditional grandeur and glamour, is made up for by the kind-hearted, lovely and forever curious people of this magical city. Open up to Dhaka, and it will open up to you with its four hundred years’ worth of culture, history, and tradition.
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.
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:
Valid Passport of the applicant with at least 6 months validity
Photocopies of the passport (at least the first five pages)
Bank Statement of the last six months and solvency certificate
Cover letter or a travel letter
Testimonial or a letter from the applicants’ workplace or the institution he/she is studying in
Photocopy of work ID or school/university ID
Photocopy of the national ID of the person sponsoring the trip.
Photocopy of National ID/Birth certificate
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Bought a sim at the airport, right before the exit. 600 Nu. Country code: 00 975.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!”
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.”
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
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 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.
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, 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.