(Delayed due to injury)
Friday 24 February: we take an all-day tour of Old Dhaka, which includes quite a few new bits as well. As Friday is the Holy Day for Muslims, most businesses and offices are closed and traffic is greatly reduced as a result.
Traffic observations: the same traffic ‘rules’ apply here as in India – he who has his nose in front goes first, regardless of which side he is approaching from. This basic rule is understood & we have seen no instances of road rage in any of the cities we have visited. I use the pronoun ‘he’ as we have seen no women driving cars or riding motorbikes in Bangladesh – no doubt largely attributable to the majority Muslim faith.
Motor cycle rules appear to be the same across the subcontinent – helmets, while supposedly compulsory, are seen as optional & even if a rider is wearing a helmet, it may not necessarily be
done up. Women (who generally sit side saddle) are not required to wear helmets (scarf hair is apparently preferable to helmet hair) & Sikhs are exempt if they wear turbans.
We have adopted a somewhat similar laissez faire approach to driving safety – most of our transport has not had easily accessible seatbelts & we no longer bother to check. Similarly, we take a cavalier attitude as pedestrians to crossing the road, the traffic is generally moving slowly, and not far in any one stretch, so we generally just walk out as it suits, patting the air in the direction of the oncoming traffic.
Points of difference: the auto rickshaws in Dhaka have caged in seating & the cycle rickshaws are decorated in colourful & elaborate designs & all vehicle number plates are written in Bangla letters & numbers.
Our guide Johnny takes us first to Parliament house which is a very modern building – Lea has previously been inside & states that it is very light & airy. Adjacent buildings of similar design provide accommodation for sitting members as many live far away from the capital.
Johnny comments that the opposition members are currently boycotting parliamentary sittings & only attend for an hour every 90 days to maintain their status as a parliamentary member. Can’t quite see the Liberals taking the same approach!
Next we move on to a local park where celebrations for Mother Language Day are being held. Language is the cornerstone of Bangladeshi identity – after partition, it was known as East Pakistan & it was decreed that Urdu be the official language. The later conflict with Pakistan led to the birth of Bangladesh as a nation with Bangla as its official language.
Next we move on to the grounds of Dhaka University – grand old buildings & a vast pool near student accommodation where we are assured students love to bathe in preference to their own ablutions …… looking at the water I’d choose the shower block every time!
Next we see a Hindu temple – not as impressive as others we’ve seen but it has a distinctive gate, and the usual Hindu acceptance of visitors.
We drive on to Kella Lalbagh, a 17th century palace & fortress which consists of an audience hall, a tomb & a 3 domed mosque as well as distinctive gateways.
Lunch is at a restaurant which has remained open for us with skeleton staff as most are at the mosque – Kerry & Lea have the opportunity to practice using the squat toilet, with unqualified success! Johnny is the first of our guides to eat with us, this reflects the pricing structure of the tour, and seeks our indulgence to eat with his hands.
Next is the distinctive blue & white tiled main mosque complete with geese in the pond outside, & then on to the Star mosque – Kerry feels conspicuous by her gender & returns to the car where Lea has remained to escape the heat.
Our next stop is a surprising find – an Armenian church built in 1781 by the then large Armenian community of traders. There are now only 9 Armenian families left in the city & the church & its grounds are tended by a Hindu man, just as it was by his father before him. He is more than happy to show us around & very proud of the work that he does. We light candles for our loved ones that are no longer with us & take the opportunity for some quiet reflection.
We also take a walk down Hindu Street, Ian and Kerry make an incense purchase. The nature of this street is especially familiar after our first two weeks in India.
We move on to Dhaka’s waterfront & wharf area – plenty of large boats being loaded with goods & many small craft ferrying people to & fro. The smell is quite overwhelming as is the amount of rubbish in the water & on the adjoining banks – we clamber on to one of the larger vessels, taking care not to fall into the putrid water – that would certainly test all of our vaccinations!
Our last stop is the aptly named Pink Palace where Dhaka’s nawabs lived a life not dissimilar to that of English Lords & Ladies. Our superstar status is again confirmed with Ian being swamped by children eager to have their photo taken. As our guide takes a group shot on the stairs, many others take the opportunity to snap a group of foreigners – I wonder how many photo albums we will appear in across the subcontinent!
We arrive home hot & tired, ready to rest up for the next day of shopping.