September 16, 2018

Top 10 Things to do in Dhaka

Dhaka is one of the worlds mega-cities, with a population of over 19 million people, and growing by over 5,00 people a week.  Yet with a history going back over two thousand years and being the political and cultural capital of Bangladesh, the densely populated city is one of the best kept secrets in Asia.

Here are our Top 10 things to do in Dhaka:

1. Soak up the atmosphere
Just get out of your hotel and walk the steamy colourful streets. The smells of street food cooking by the side of the street, rickshaws driving madly across intersections, and the buzzing, teeming life of Dhaka. You never know what you will come across.

Near the Tejgaon railway station, the tracks are used as a shortcut to carry food to a nearby market. Chickens, bananas, eggs and pineapples were all carefully balanced on heads before a loud whistle heralded a train and everyone quickly moved out of its way, before jumping back on the tracks as the carriages disappeared into the distance.

2. See some stunning modern architecture
The American architect Louis Kahn designed the National Assembly of Bangladesh, the countries parliament. A juxtaposition of concrete and marble, amidst a moat-like water setting, it is a quite unexpected sight after emerging from the somewhat chaotic heart of Dhaka.

The light-filled rooms inside, filled with Bangladeshi art, are also well worth visiting. Head to the official Parliament website for more information on tours.

3. Catch a Ferry across the Buriganga River
One of the major rover crossing points in Dhaka, and the departure point for the unforgettable Rocket Ferries which will transport you around the country. Ferrymen vie for your trade, and for 5 Takka (US$ 0.05) will act like a Venetian gondolier and oar you across the teeming river, carefully avoiding the overladen boats carrying coal, and the large passenger ships with their horns blaring.

4. Learn a little about Bangladesh's history
Bangladesh is seen as a young country, only becoming independent in 1972, yet it has a history going back many thousands of years and has been fought over and ruled by many empires. The National Museum gives you a good insight into the past, bringing it up-to-date with some graphic photos and items from the war with Pakistan.

If the conflict is of interest, it is worth popping into the nearby Liberation War Museum for a more in-depth explanation.

5. Explore the Pink Palace
The home of the British appointed ruler of Dhaka in colonial times, the Pink Palace, or more correctly known as Ahsan Monzil, is one of the best historical buildings to visit in the city. Originally built by French traders the building was expanded, with a mosque added, to play a vital role in the political history of the city.

Incredibly crowded at weekends, go early during the week and you will have both the building and the small museum there to yourself.

6. Walk through a Ghost Town
Panam City, near Sonargaon, was home to rich Bengali traders and British expats during Colonial times. Huge European style mansions and lavish gardens were built and the area thrived throughout the 1800's. But with the end of British rule and growth of nearby Dhaka, it fell out of favour and most buildings were abandoned, falling into disrepair.

It is fascinating to walk amongst the silent and crumbling buildings with their unkempt grounds early in the cool morning.

7. Watch your step at the Keriniganj Shipyards
Backing onto an urban area are Dhaka's shipyards. Although not as impressive as the incredible expanse of the Chittagong Shipbreakers down south, this is much easier to visit. Ships are built, broken and repaired here, with the workers hanging precariously off ropes or attacking metal with welding torches and hammers.

Health and safety rules are not that rigorously adhered to here, so take real care as you wander around.

8. Eat like a local
If you are a fan of spicy food you will be in heaven in Dhaka. You will never be far from food, whether trying a spicy fritter from a street vendor or sitting down to eat at one of the ubiquitous Biryani restaurants, the taste and incredibly cheap prices, will keep you coming back for more.

As a fan of dhal, a spicy vegetarian lentil based dish, I was overwhelmed with the ten or more choices offered even at the smallest and most basic restaurant. Accompanied by fresh naan bread, I soon discovered that this simple tasty meal made for a great meal any time of day, including breakfast.

9. Go shopping at the Kawran Bazaar
One of the most photogenic places to visit in Dhaka. A riot of colour and activity, particularly early in the morning. An incredibly friendly place where you will be offered samples to try, and be encouraged to photograph the traders.

Dare to wander into the meat section where every imaginable part of an animal (and some I have never come face to face with before, goats brains served fresh in the skull for one) is available on bloody tables in the dim light.

10. Prove Andy Warhol right
Andy taught us that we all have 15 minutes of fame in us. Unless you are an aspiring Hollywood actor or boy-band crooner, Dhaka is probably the best place to experience this. Bangladesh does not get many tourists, I met one other foreigner while I was there for two weeks.

The locals, as well as being incredibly friendly, are also curious and almost all seem to own a smartphone. Once one or two people start taking photos of you, a crowd will soon gather and want that special 'selfie with a foreigner' shot. You will get to know how George Clooney feels in his daily life.

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