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.

Rubana Huq: breaking glass ceilings

Rubana Huq, the managing director of Mohammadi group, is the new president of Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). She is the first female in the history of Bangladesh to attain this position. Her panel secured a sliding victory at the biennial election.

Landslide victory

Among the 35 available posts for directors, Rubana Huq’s panel, Sammilata Forum, filled all the spots.

1492 out of 1956 voters had cast their votes in this election. Voters were from both Dhaka and Chittagong. The position is a two-year long tenure, resulting in relatively high turnout.

Her agenda

Huq addressed some of the major issues that the garments industry of Bangladesh faces in her victory speech. She stated “all the time people continue saying that Bangladesh is the country of cheap labor. Cheap is not good, but competition is good. We need to change this narrative of Bangladesh.”

Moreover, she understands that several small factories face the threat of being shut down. She emphasized on the need to stand beside them during such times. She plans on tackling such problems in her tenure. The voters resonated with her powerful vision for Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s garments sector is often under scrutiny by the Western media, especially around issues about low wage and abuse. However, Huq adds perspective and highlights inaccuracies in these negative campaigns. She aims to fix these issues and improve the image where the reality is better than it is being portrayed. She hopes to encourage better practices in pricing, introduce more innovation and policies for sustainability.

Huq, an exemplary person

Apart from being a celebrated entrepreneur, she is also a prolific writer, a poet and a philanthropist. In 2013 and 2014, she was in BBC’s list of 100 outstanding women. Her accolades include wining the SAARC literary award in 2006. She has also launched a literary magazine called Monsoon letters along other Bangladeshi writers.

Rubana Huq has actively worked towards empowering women– advocating for women’s economic independence, voicing challenges regarding female garment workers rights. She hopes to bring her perspective and provide solutions to improve women’s conditions. Over 5000 women work in factories managed by Rubana Huq; and believes that these women are slowly changing their own narrative through their work. Always humble, she acknowledges that there is still a long way to go. Most of these women are still not truly emancipated in their own lives, but the work continues.

Striding forward in a male-dominated industry

More often than not, women have lived in the shadows of men. We can see glimmers of hope in moments like these. Bangladesh’s cultural norm and practices continue to limit the capabilities of our women-especially when it comes to advancing to positions of authority. Rubana Huq has often spoken at length about the challenges in being a woman and paving her way in this industry. Often, she has felt alone and powerless in her journey, but we are very fortunate that she managed to cross the hurdles that she encountered.

Women like her are gradually changing the narrative for working women in Bangladesh.

each and every woman in Bangladesh is fighting in some way or the other to move forward. As more women are in positions of power, attitudes both at home and the workplace will shift.

She is truly an inspiration for all of us. Here’s to more women being in positions of power and striving to improve women’s lives collectively. We look forward to a day where a woman attaining a leadership position in Bangladesh won’t be the reason behind headlines everywhere, but rather it would be the norm.