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.

It’s November, the perfect month to see the Himalayas from Panchagarh!

Sounds too good to be true? Welcome aboard this week’s travelogue that will take you on a journey all the way to the far north of Bangladesh, Panchagarh. The isolated corner of Bangladesh and the only place in the country where you can view the Himalayas from.

If you are, like me, broke to the bones and cannot afford a trip to Darjeeling or Nepal to bask in the magnificence of the Himalayas, fret not. Panchagarh is the hidden gem of Bangladesh’s travel scene and an exciting destination that has a lot more to offer than just the Himalayas.

Getting to Panchagarh

Buses to Panchagarh leave from Shyamoli every night. Hanif and Nabil Paribahan are two of the most trustworthy services in this route. Both AC and non AC buses are available and the tickets will cost you 1200 TK and 600 TK respectively. This will be one of the longest bus journeys you’ll ever take in Bangladesh, so prepare accordingly. Of course, the bus will stop on breaks two times on the way so there’s nothing to worry about.

The bus will drop you off in Panchagarh town in about 12 hours. By the time you reach there, it will be well past 7. Have breakfast in any of the local hotels. Take a minibus or an autorickshaw to Tetulia, the last border town in Bangladesh to the north. It’s a 1.5 hours ride from Panchagarh. If the weather favours you, the Himalayan mountain range will be visible on your way to Tetulia.

Where to stay

It’s November and it’s the perfect season to see the Himalayas from Panchagarh!
Tetulia Dak Bungalow

In Tetulia there are two mid-range tourist hotels and two government rest houses. To stay in the government rest houses, you must take prior permission from the officials. You can get the clearest view of the Himalayas from the government rest houses. Right behind the rest houses, there’s a river and on the other side of the river is the Indian border. At night, you can see the border lights lit up and BSF guards walking around.

Kangchenjunga!

It’s November and it’s the perfect season to see the Himalayas from Panchagarh!
Himalayas, or Kangchenjunga as the locals call it. From Tetulia

6AM in the morning is the perfect time to view the Himalayas as the sun rays fall directly on the peaks and that gives a clear and spectacular view of the mountains. Beneath the mountain range, you can see smaller hills and tiny lights flickering on and off. That’s Darjeeling. At night, you can often see tiny spectrums of car headlights running down on the spiraling roads of Darjeeling.

Although October-November is the perfect time to see the Himalayas, often it is not visible due to bad weather over at India. In case you’re unlucky this time, don’t worry. The daughter of Himalayas also has magnificent tea gardens, ancient historical ruins such as Maharaja Dighi and one of the smoothest and most beautiful roads in the entire country. Panchagarh won’t disappoint you at all.

November, perfect season to see the Himalayas from Panchagarh
Panchagarh has some of the most beautiful roads in Bangladesh to enjoy a drive.

The Himalayas are a magnificent sight. It cannot be boiled down to a few words of appreciation in an article. And we’re not even going to try. Pack your bags and head over to Panchagarh to see it for yourself. Let us know how it made you feel.

A guide to falling in love with Darjeeling

The majestic Kangchenjunga in the backdrop of a bustling small town, the echoing sound of the old steam engine train running through its streets, the captivating smell of momos and warm tea. Welcome to Darjeeling. 

People who grew up listening to Anjan Dutt and reading Satyajit Ray have an irresistible fascination for Darjeeling. Even if you’re not into any of those, the appeal of a small town lifestyle in the backdrop of the mighty mountains, the Tibetan culture, the sound of prayer bells and the colourful prayer flags is sure to call you back to Darjeeling over and over again.

Does this not want to make you go to Darjeeling right away?

Also, a trip to Darjeeling would probably cost you less than your usual trip to Cox’s Bazar. Did I get you hooked yet?

Is winter in Darjeeling a good idea?

Some people have an extremely low tolerance to cold. So, if you sleep with heavy blankets in 25 degrees, you probably should not go to Darjeeling in December. But winter in Darjeeling is beautiful. The temperature usually stays between 12 to 13 degrees, so with enough warm clothes, you will be set. Don’t forget to take multiple pairs of socks, gloves, and winter caps. Load up on moisturizers and dry shampoos. Also, make sure your hotel has a constant supply of warm water and a proper heating system. Checking on these before your trip will help you get the full winter experience in Darjeeling.

Darjeeling: An experience of a lifetime
A bustling city at the foothill of the Himalayas

Bon Voyage!

The route to Darjeeling is fairly simple. Want to go by road? Take a train to Panchagarh. The border is about an hour away from the rail station. Cross it and you will be able to enter through the Phulbari port. Make sure you apply for Phulbari while applying for the Visa. The immigration will not be too hectic, and you can reach Shiliguri in about another hour. From there, it is a two hour drive to your destination.

Another way to go to Darjeeling is by air. You will be dropped off at Bagdogra airport, and from there it will take a little more than an hour to Darjeeling. Pay attention to the fare, though. Everything in Darjeeling is a rip off if you are not careful.

Everything that Darjeeling has to offer

As tempted as I am to recommend that in Darjeeling, the best thing to do is just find higher ground and keep staring at the majestic Kangchenjunga, there are a lot of other things to see in Darjeeling.

A bustling city at the foothill of the Himalayas
An unworldly view from Tiger hill

When going to Darjeeling, take the long way through Mirik, and you will be amazed how organized and colourful everything is. It almost feels like someone handcrafted this entire place, and the creator put a lot of thought into the design.

You’ll see colourful little cottages decorated with flowerpots. You will see a billion types of flower bushes. The air will make you feel as if you haven’t breathed in years. The spiral roads, the echoes of the toy train, the colourful temples, the valley with a million tiny lights, and people with the friendliest smiles- everything about Darjeeling is heartwarming and perfect. Once you get there, hire a car with a package. The car will take you to all the tourist spots in Darjeeling. You can go paragliding/river rafting in Kalimpong too- so there will be plenty of food for your adventurous soul! But these sports are not always open. Ask around before you head out to Kalimpong.

Beauty and culture

Darjeeling has a beautiful Tibetan culture to show off. You’ll see colourful prayer flags hanging around from almost every other establishment in Darjeeling. Contrary to popular belief, the Tibetan prayer flags do not carry actual prayers or mantras to particular deities or Gods.

Darjeeling: An experience of a lifetime 40

It is believed in the Tibetan culture that the mountain wind will carry the messages of peace, compassion and wisdom that’s written on the flags and bring peace to the world.

And the best part? On every turn you take in the mountainous roads of Darjeeling, Kangchenjunga will peek out and welcome you. And that is a sight unforgettable.

Pro tip- Do not miss out sunrise on Tiger hill, as the first ray of the sun touch the peak of Kangchenjunga before dawn breaks upon the city. Visit Ghoom Monastery, Mahakal Temple, Rock Garden, and the zoological park. If you are into history, check out the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute Museum. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes because there will be a lot of uphill walking.

Eat like there’s no tomorrow

Darjeeling is a heaven for food lovers. From fancy English breakfast to street style Maggie- you will have way too many options and not enough space in your stomach.

Start your day with mouthwatering breakfast from Sonam’s Kitchen, a small cafe run by a lovely couple who’ll fire up a conversation with you. Treat yourself with momos, pakoras and other street food at Batasia Loop. Warm your stone-cold heart with a bowl of steaming Thukpa at Kunga restaurant. Lose yourself in the live music at Glenary’s while munching on delicious food and enjoy a scenic mountain view from their wooden deck. For such a small place, Darjeeling has a lot to offer. It’s your job to take full advantage of it.

Shopping in Darjeeling?

Darjeeling has a lot of souvenir shops and old Tibetan art shops. You can buy beautiful winter clothes, breathtaking silver jewelry, and simple trinkets as gifts. Go to mall road and take your pick. If you want branded stuff, go to Big Bazaar. But if you’re shopping from the streets, make sure to bargain. Otherwise, you will be ripped off, and you won’t even realize it until it’s too late.

Darjeeling: An experience of a lifetime 35

The night life!

Darjeeling at night is exquisite. But unfortunately, everything usually closes down by 9 because of the cold. This is the reason why, you will not get to dance your night away at clubs. However, you can still enjoy your evenings at a number of cafes, pubs and restaurants.

But that’s not it. You’ll experience an unworldly sight at night if you’re looking out of your hotel window, balcony or rooftop. You’ll see a sky full of a billion stars. And the entire Darjeeling city on the hills with its flickering white and yellow lights in the dark offer an illusion that the stars have come down on the dark hills.

In the distant, the white snowy peak of the Kangchenjunga will still be visible in the dark.

And you’ll hear distant sounds of prayer bells and hymns from temples. Words fall short in describing this ecstatic and unworldly experience.

Is it safe to roam around alone?

The thing I loved about Darjeeling was how safe it was. The people are helpful, and they will be kind to you as you are a tourist. As a result, travelling alone is not gonna be as hard as you might think. But even if you are alone, chances are that a kind stranger will help you find your way. Again, it’s India. It doesn’t hurt to stay on your guard.

Go easy on the ol’ wallet

Last but not the least, do not worry much about the money. As long as you have around 15,000 BDT in your hand, you can have a comfortable, three day tour (minus the shopping, of course).

What are you waiting for? Go explore this piece of heaven on Earth! And don’t forget to let us know about your experience!

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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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

With Sabira Mehrin of Wander Woman: Creating a community of independent women travelers

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.

Read more: These 4 apps will make traveling a lot easier

What is Wander Woman?

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.

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

Who is Sabira Mehrin?

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 next?

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!”

Read more: 5 tips for the solo traveller in Bangladesh

Tips for a solo traveller?

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.”

Read more: 4 Bengali traveling myths that are completely wrong

So if you are a girl and you love travelling, do check out their group! Because there is something for everyone!

Chattogram, shrouded in history, adorned by nature.

“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.

Chittagong night train

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.

Travel to Chittagong-HiFi Public
Cheragi Pahar

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.

Travel to Chittagong
Chittagong Old Circuit House

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.

Adventure’s calling

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.

Travel to Chittagong-HiFi Public
Kayaking in Kaptai

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.

Travel to Chittagong-HiFi Public
View from Chandranath hills

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.

Travel solo at least once in your life, it can be enriching

Traveling has always been one of our top choices for choosing what to do in upcoming holiday seasons. However, as our lives get hectic- the fond memories from our childhood of travelling with our family simply become memories that are difficult, or in most cases impossible to relive. In addition, knocking your best friends on Facebook to check their schedule and plan trips result in nothing but utter disappointment, as you find them drowning in deadlines or juggling a hundred things going on in their lives.

So, do you let go of your plans and spend the vacation like a typical weekend with Netflix and pizzas? Of course not.

Solo trips to the rescue! Although solo trips are not a popular choice or a choice for many at all, they are an incredible life-experience. Today, we bring you some reasons to consider travelling solo at least once to have the experience of a lifetime!

Confidence and Responsibility

Solo trips would surely help you gain confidence as an individual. You initiate conversations, get to know people and enjoy little things you normally wouldn’t. Moreover, as a solo traveler, you would also seem more approachable and locals might start the conversation themselves. As you explore and return from the trip, it would also clear your misconception of solo trips being anxiety-inducing, no-good trips. Additionally, solo trips teach you to be more responsible as you take care of your belongings, passport, and other documents and try your best to avoid any danger in the foreign country.

Moreover, solo trips are more peaceful and therapeutic as you escape from your daily life. You can get away from people you know and spend more time with yourself at a quiet cottage. This also means giving yourself the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone. Imagine giving yourself a fake identity to strangers like all those times in the movies; fun, eh?

Make friends along the way

One unique and wonderful aspect of solo trips is that it also gives you the opportunity to meet more locals. When going with your family, friends or your significant other to a trip- it is given that you would go to have all your meals with them or sit next to them in public transportations, movie theatres and amusement park rides. However, travelling solo lets you meet people along the way and do the activities with them, which can be very fun.

A big advantage travelling solo brings is the reduced waiting time. For example, from perceiving theme parks as a noisy, rowdy place filled with screaming kids, crowds and endless walking, you would perceive it as the truly magical place it is meant to be- simply because of the amount of time you save skipping lines and entering as a solo rider. I had a similar experience in Universal Studios Singapore and I cannot describe the sheer happiness as you cross the long queues, get on your ride as a solo-rider and look at all those people waiting in groups.

Step out of your comfort zone

A solo trip like any other trip lets you meet new people and experience new cultures, traditions and food. However, it also lets you do those to a greater extent as you step out of your comfort zone, transform into a more confident, responsible and ‘fun’ individual and surround yourself with people living their life to the fullest to be a part of them.

So go out there, plan a trip for yourself and experience the magic. After all, a solo trip can be exciting, nerve-wracking and rewarding all at the same time; let go of the fear, have one for the first time and you shall find yourself planning the next one soon enough!

5 perfect places in Bangladesh for camping adventures

As we skim through the calendar to check our schedules, we often struggle to decide how to spend our mini-vacations with holidays surrounding the weekends. Rather than visiting the eateries you come across in FoodBank, we bring you a more fun and exciting way to spend quality time with friends and family during vacation- five places in Bangladesh to go to for adventure/camping activities.

The Base Camp

Located in the outskirts of the city in Rajendrapur Chowrasta, Gazipur- Base Camp offers excellent accommodation and a number of activities. Some of their thrilling on-tree and on-ground activities for visitors include cycling, zip-lining archery, monkey-pass, forest trekking and of course, the ultimate ‘sitting-together-surrounding-the-camp fire’ experience! Base Camp offers accommodation in bungalow rooms, non-AC nature rooms and weatherproof tents as well as varieties of everyday meals- depending on your budget and choice.

Learn more about The Base Camp here.

Satchari National Park

Getting its name because of the seven streams flowing inside the forest, Satchari (meaning Seven streams) National Park of Sylhet provides an unforgettable experience like no other! Visitors indulge in the flora and fauna, surrounding themselves in the lush greenery of the beautiful forest. Being one of the best birding destinations of Bangladesh, this park provides you the opportunity to catch sight of some of the rarest species of birds. There are also tea gardens nearby for visiting; altogether, a trip there would surely mean a wonderful time amidst Mother Nature!

There are also quite a few adventure activities recently started in Satchori.

Nazimgarh Tent Camp

Imagine getting to choose between dining on the river-banks of the green-blue crystal clear Shari river or dining on a hill overlooking the mesmerizing Meghalaya hills. Indeed, Nazimgarh Tent Camp, also located in Sylhet showcases nature in its purest form. Offering weatherproof tent accommodation, Nazimgarh Tent Camp also provides cycling, boat riding, canoeing and kayaking, trekking and zorb balling activities. It also has three separate restaurants- one of which is set beside a beautiful river and the other on a hill with the beautiful mountains of Meghalaya in view.

Learn more about Nazimgarh Tent Camp here.

Munlai

Munlai gives its guests a memorable experience because of its uniqueness; unlike other places in Bangladesh focusing on simply giving you and your family/friends an enjoyable vacation, Munlai camp also involves the Bawm community. With a two-hour drive from Bandarban, the picturesque setting amidst lavish greenery, hills and the river Sangu- you reach in the serene land of the Bawm community who greet you with blissful smiles. Along with comfortable and hygienic homestays with necessary amenities, you also get to experience boating, camping, trekking, kayaking and the country’s longest zip-line. Moreover, enjoying the mouthwatering local Bawm cuisine served in native style using bamboos under the twinkling starry sky is definitely something you do not want to miss!

Learn more about Munali here.

Neocampers

Neocampers can be described as the family-friendly version of Base Camp; powered by Base Camp itself, Neocampers is ideal for family groups and school field-trips. Targeted at school children to indulge them in day-long fun activities and learn skills alongside mainstream education, Neocampers involves many enjoyable activities similar to Base Camp, guided by professional trainers. In addition to physical activities, workshops for carpentry, pottery-making, treasure-hunting, bird watch, campfire and basic BBQ facilities are also arranged here. Located in Savar, Neocampers definitely gives you a fun, challenging and learning environment away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Learn more about Neocampers here.

So, next time you unconsciously scratch the back of your head, struggling to decide where to go for an adventure the following vacation- don’t forget to check these five places out!