5 unique experiences in Dhaka that most of us miss out on

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.

An expatriate’s Pohela Boishakh in New York

Pohela Boishakh in New York City is both weirder (and more ordinary) than you think. Weather is a big, big thing here, and although there aren’t millions of Bengalis here, nearly everyone appreciates the good tidings brought by spring (and its promise of summer).

Read more: The story of how Bengalis owe Pohela Boishakh to Mughal emperor Akbar

Far from home

Of course, there’s no Mongol Shovajatra to see in Queens. But there is Jackson Heights, which holds Pohela Boishakh celebrations every year at the Diversity Plaza. The same place is home to a variety of Bengali restaurants, such as Ittadi, which often serve their own versions of Panta and Ilish on the day.

It’s especially hard for me to find more traces of Pohela Boishakh here because I was never into celebrations myself back in Bangladesh. But we get to see people embrace the inner Bengali inside them more frequently than expected, often arranging small events in their own communities, such as those in Astoria or Ozone Park. Perhaps, absence does make the heart fonder.

Pohela Boishakh is just one festival

There are other ways to celebrate spring too. Sakura festival celebrates the coming of spring (and cherry blossoms), taking place throughout 28th to 29th April. There’s already been a Cherry Blossom festival on Roosevelt Island, but the only train station on the island was swarmed with people afterwards, as escalators broke down and trains arrived infrequently. The MTA later rerouted other trains to the island station to relieve overcrowding, while the police helped to direct and control the crowds.

So far, I have only had one fried Hilsa fish and some sweets. Dieting doesn’t really allow me to stuff myself, but it was pretty good, all things considered. If you happen to live abroad as well, do let us know how you are spending your Noboborsho today. Especially if you have weird and exciting stories to share.

The lost art of boat making in Bangladesh

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

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

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

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

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

Shampan

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

Shuluk

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

Goina

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

Chand-Nouka (Moon Boat) 

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

Corpai

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

Malar

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

Podi

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

Cultural preservation

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

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

 

Facts, figures and photos are sourced from Friendship.