Chittagong port: Reliving the history of the oldest port in the East

The story of the seven seas

Remember Sindbad? The sword-wielding, brave, adventure loving Sindbad the sailor who sailed his ship through Africa and Asia, fighting monsters and mythical creatures? Or do you fancy about Pirates instead? The daring pirates in the sea, sailing on their ships, looting and hiding their treasures in deep jungles, destroying merchant ships in deep sea waters. What if we told you that Sindbad had probably moored his ship in Bengal or that an infamous pirate had, at some point in history, hidden his treasures in our deep enchanting jungles?

The finest port of the Eastern world

History of Chittagong sea port
Dutch Ships in Chittagong port, the 17th Century

In the 7th century, Chinese explorer Xuanzang described Chittagong as “A sleeping beauty rising from mist and water”. A 2000-year-old city, a mythical realm of hundred tribes and an exotic land where the mountains meet the ocean. As for its rich history, Chittagong area has been a recorded seaport since the 4th century BCE. In the 2nd century, the harbour appeared on Ptolemy’s map. The map mentions the harbour as one of the finest in the Eastern world.

Chittagong seaport has always been the trade hub between the East and the West. Records indicate frequent trade between private merchants of Europe and the merchants of the East during medieval times. According to the works of Fa-hien, Hieu-en tsng, lbn Battuta, the port of Chittagong mingled with the ancient civilization of the world.

Arab traders frequented Chittagong since the 9th century. The port appears in the travelogues of Chinese explorers Xuanzang and Ma Huan. The Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta and the Venetian traveller Niccolo De Conti visited the port in the 14th century. The historical port had ship trade with Africa, Europe, China and Southeast Asia.

In 1552 De Barros described Chittagong as the “most famous and wealthy city in Bengal” due to the port of Chittagong which was responsible for all trade in the region.

Turbulent times

History of Chittagong sea port
The Mughal-Arakan war in Chittagong that got the Portuguese expelled

The Portuguese settlement in Chittagong centred on the port in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Portuguese engaged in piracy, slavery and forced conversion in the region. After the Portuguese were expelled, Chittagong came under the rule of the Mughal Empire and was named Islamabad. It became an important shipbuilding centre, catering to the Mughal and Ottoman navies. After the rise of British dominance in Bengal following the Battle of Plassey, the Nawab of Bengal ceded the port to the British East India Company in 1760.

During WWII, Chittagong port was used by the allied forces in the Burma campaign.

Slave trade

History of Chittagong sea port
British slave trade

Chittagong port was also the hub of the slave trade between the East and the West during the 16t-17th Century. Slave traders would bring in African slaves to the port to sell them to local lords or transport them to the west. Often they would capture local boys and girls and ship them to Europe as slaves.

A chance to relive history

History of Chittagong sea port
Chittagong port in present times

If you’re planning a trip to Chittagong, do not forget to visit the seaport at least once. It might not look the same as before, but the touch of history is still alive. Standing on the same grounds where pirates and sailors of the seven seas once stood, you wouldn’t want to miss it for the world, would you?

All you need to know about the floating guava market of Bangladesh

Cover photo by Md. Moazzem Mostakim

To start off, the 200-year-old market is absolutely fascinating! You are surrounded by water and hundreds of boats filled with guavas. If you look above, you can see the blue sky with grey hues. The place is so serene that it feels calm, no matter how much noise you make. But, don’t make noises though.

For obvious reasons, the place has become quite a tourist spot lately. Here is all you need to know about the floating guava market.

When to go there

Every year, the market starts getting lively from the first week of July. The season stays till the first week of September.  The locals start picking guavas and the activities of the market happen between the hours of early morning and noon.

How you will go there

The floating guava market is mainly located in a village called Bhimruli. The village is a part of Swarupkathi Upazila in Pirojpur District. You can easily go there by road from Barisal City, passing through Jhalakathi and directly stopping at Atghar Kuriana (at Swarupkathi, Pirojpur). You will find many wooden boats and various types of trawlers waiting there to take you into the villages.

The journey is about 21 kilometres from Barisal City to Swarupkathi. It will take approximately one and a half hours to reach your destination if you go by road.

Read more: Day trips from Dhaka: 5 places you can visit for a quick fix

What you will see

Besides seeing boats and trawlers full of guavas, hog plums, bananas and other local fruits and vegetables around you, you will get to enjoy a view of the beautiful village landscape! There are shades of blue all around in the greenery.

There are about 30 villages in Swarupkathi containing more than 7,000 guava orchards! You can get a quick glance of them via taking the water transport. The one-hour boat trip gives you a taste of the local village lifestyle in this way as well.  

How much it will cost you

The cost of renting per small boat is around 300 BDT to 500 BDT.

Per medium to big boat costs around 500 BDT to 700 BDT.

The trawlers are clean and safe. They cost 1000 BDT to 1200 BDT.

The cost given here is including the fare of the skilled boatmen and helping hands of the boat/trawler you rent there. If you choose Atghar Kuriana as your starting spot, your one-way trip will be a little more than 2 kilometres, so safe to say your round trip will end up being more than 4 kilometres.

The price of guavas

Quick question. How much do you think per kilogram of fresh guavas can cost at least? In Dhaka, it costs around 60-80 BDT depending on the place you are getting them from.

So how low can the price actually get? 30 BDT per kilogram or maybe 20 BDT per kilogram?

Here, the guavas cost only 5 BDT per kilogram!

(We bought 20 kilograms of guavas with 100 BDT only! Distributed most of them in the neighbourhood and we still have a fridge loaded with guavas.)

A couple of heads up

It is safer to take a trawler than a boat if you cannot swim. Keep your belongings by your side and tightly grip your phone when you take the pictures. Remember, you are surrounded by water.

Most importantly, do NOT throw water bottles, packets of chips, or any kind of plastics into the water. The place is still quite neat, we do not want to ruin it, do we?

Lastly, there are some low bridges throughout the boat trip. Watch your head!

Pro tip: Take a pack of salt to make the garden-fresh guavas taste their best when you eat them during your trip! 

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

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

A tale of two cities

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

In Kolkata, the city of joy 14

Read more: In Kolkata, the city of joy

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

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

A tale of two teachers

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

How life in Dhaka University changes you

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

Kolkata or Dhaka, why not both?

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

6 places in Dhaka that remind us of our glorious past

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

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

A tale of two art forms

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

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

In Kolkata, the city of joy 9

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

In Kolkata, the city of joy 7

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.

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

Day trips from Dhaka: 5 places you can visit for a quick fix

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:

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

Chandpur:

Day tour from Dhaka: 5 places that you can visit for a quick fix

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

Sreemangal:

Day tour from Dhaka: 5 places that you can visit for a quick fix

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:

Day tour from Dhaka: 5 places that you can visit for a quick fix

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

Dohar:

Day tour from Dhaka: 5 places that you can visit for a quick fix

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

Read more: 5 perfect places in Bangladesh for camping adventures

Munshiganj:

Day tour from Dhaka: 5 places that you can visit for a quick fix

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

Honorary mention: Uttara

Day tour from Dhaka: 5 places that you can visit for a quick fix

Artwork by: Fahim Anzoom Rumman

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.

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

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. 

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.

5 unique experiences in Dhaka that most tourists never see

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 

Hussaini Dalan Muharram Dhaka
Hussaini Dalan during Maharram

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

Ruplal House Dhaka
Ruins of 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.

Visit Ruplal House to find bits and pieces of the old glory days of Bengal. Dhaka boasts a number of establishments which remind us of our glorious past. Ruplal House is just one of the many.

3. Grab lunch in Beauty Boarding

Beauty Boarding hotel Dhaka
Beauty Boarding

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 book market Dhaka
Nilkhet book market

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 river ride in Dhaka
Boatride 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.

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