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.

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. 

Day tour from Dhaka: Chandpur

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’s the getaway of the week: Chandpur. The place you never knew you wanted to visit.

About a hundred kilometers 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.

Getting to Chandpur

Chandpur is the only district in Bangladesh that is accessible by three transportation modes – bus, ferry and train. The best way to reach Chandpur is by ferry. The journey takes around three and a half hours and the view from the river is stunning. It’s better to start very early in the morning from Sadarghat ferry terminal. The first ferry leaves at 6.30 in the morning and there’s a boat every half an hour after that. You get to see the Dhaka morning on the river Buriganga as a bonus. Ferries usually cost a 100 taka for deck and 250 Taka for seats. If you want to have the full experience, go for the deck since you get a spot at the roof of the launch. The wind and the open view makes up for the lack of cushioned seats. And yes, it’s perfectly safe. The launch journey is one of the best parts of the entire Chandpur trip.

Things to do

After reaching Chandpur, you can have lunch at any local restaurant. Do try Hilsa – Chandpur is famous for the abundance of our national fish. Try the famous sweet shop “One Minute” in the Kalimandir area.  Roam around the city if you want. Every place has something new to see, something different. Here’s a secret – take a rickshaw to the city stadium and keep walking to its left. You’ll come upon a railway track. Follow the railway track to the left and keep walking. It’ll lead to an unexpected pristine getaway within the somewhat dull city. Tall green trees and village houses, the rail track crossing through this tiny forestry. There’s a small pond there by the houses. If you’ve always wanted to visit the famous rail tracks in Lawachara (Sreemangal) but never really got the time, this one is a nice little substitute.

Boro Station Mohona, Chandpur

Take an auto rickshaw to Matlab. The journey takes about 30 minutes and auto rickshaws cost 50 Taka per person. The road to Matlab is a beautiful one. Canals and green paddy fields on both sides, tall trees bending over to the road, small village bazaars and a unique technique of fishing in these canals will leave you awestruck. Matlab has a marketplace where you’ll find a famous “kheer”. Don’t leave Matlab without trying it.

Getting back

Get back to the Chandpur city before sunset and take a rickshaw to Boro Station Mohona. This is the point where Meghna and Padma meets. You can find boats there that’ll take you for a ride on the river for an hour or two for 200 Taka or so and let you enjoy the sunset in peace, floating on the waters of Padma. The time spent there are times to be remembered.  The boats can drop you off at the launch terminal and from there catch a ride to Dhaka to get back before 9PM.  Let the cold breeze and a sky full of stars accompany you on your journey on the dark waters and keep Chandpur your to-go destination for a short getaway.